By Sujatha Fernandes
After 17 years of rule by the right-wing United National Party (UNP) government in Sri Lanka, the People's alliance (PA) was elected to government in August 1994 on a wave of popular support. One of its main promises was to solve the Tamil dispute peacefully. The proposed peace package, coming very late, involved the division of Sri Lanka into nine provinces. The largely Tamil-populated Northern province would have substantial autonomy in education, local government, housing, agriculture and industrial development. It would have its own police and courts, and raise its own taxes. The national government would still control foreign affairs and national security.
The package would have to go before a parliamentary select committee. Then it has to be passed by a two-thirds majority in parliament. After this the decision has to be passed by a referendum.
According to the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP) spokesperson in Australia, Neville Jayakody, the PA is not committed to implementing the package. He said that if the PA really wanted to implement the proposal, it would have built up a base of popular support for it among the people. It would have made alliances with left-wing members of parliament. Rather, the strategy of the PA has been to negotiate with the right-wing UNP and accordingly dilute its proposals.
In April the government dropped its facade of a peace plan and declared war against the Tamil people, presented as a war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elaam (LTTE). In a move to wipe out resistance, the government sought to fuel anti-Tamil, Sinhala chauvinism. Posters carried slogans like "Save our country — Save our race", while one newspaper carried the headline "Kill Tamils".
The "disappearance" of Tamils has resumed, and there are confirmed instances of the abduction and torture of Tamil youth in the ethnically mixed eastern areas. The aim has supposedly been to "flush out" LTTE cadre, but dozens of unarmed civilians have died in the indiscriminate violence of the government armies.
The government is trying to recruit 60,000 Sinhala people for its army. Through the "White Lotus movement", the government has been recruiting young people through schools, and many other sections of the Sinhala population to its army.
In a military offensive called "Operation Leap Forward", the government armies attacked the northern city of Jaffna with 10,000 troops, suffering heavy losses at the hands of the LTTE. The government is now in the process of carrying out a second "Operation Leap Forward".
Some 50,000 civilians have been killed so far. In the Jaffna Peninsula, people are starving through a blockade on food and necessities. Hundreds of thousands of people are internally displaced, and hundreds of thousands more are refugees around the world.
Jayakody said, "The Tamil people want a peaceful solution. They do not support the strategy of the Tamil Tigers. But the war waged by the government has forced the people to look to the Tamil Tigers to defend them. The demands of the NSSP are that the government stop the war immediately and lift the economic embargo on the north. They must also appoint a committee with proper representatives from the Tamils to draw up a peace settlement."