Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Responses to the Ambassador

in the Washington Times, February 22 and 23, 2008

The ambassador claims that it is the Tamils who are pursuing the agenda of a separate state and that they are doing so through violence. He again fails to mention that long before the civil war officially began in 1983, the mainstream Tamil politicians tried peaceful and democratic means of fulfilling the Tamil desire for self-rule. In the end, they too declared that the only way left for the Tamils was through a separate state: a platform on which they won the majority of the seats in the north and east of Sri Lanka in the 1977 election...

The Tamil struggle for independence is not driven by ideologies, nor it is about re-establishing past glories. On the contrary, it is about survival. Whether the ambassador admits it or not, there is ample evidence why the Tamils cannot continue to coexist with the Sinhalese. No one in his right mind could expect Tamils to remain sitting ducks at the mercy of the Sri Lankan state. Secession was the last resort for Tamils and the reasons only become stronger by the day.

Disingenuous about Tamils
Sri Lankan Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke claims his country is a democracy ("Tamil homeland fantasy," Commentary, Sunday). A generous assessment of Sri Lanka will quickly reveal that it has systematically crushed all organized political dissent by Tamils. Sri Lanka does not operate on the principle of doing what is best for its citizens, but rather on doing what best supports its goal — the destruction of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The obtuse ambassador ignores these obvious facts and therefore needs to be reminded that the Sri Lankan style of democracy has a heavy bias against Tamils.

His attempt to draw some equivalence between al Qaeda and the ongoing struggle of Tamils in Sri Lanka is disingenuous. A troubling and continuous process of ethnic disenfranchisement and displacement underpins the latter. The civilized world must expose such deceptive and despicable tactics used by Sri Lanka to score points in the war against Tamils in Sri Lanka. However, most Western nations, including the United States, have bought into Sri Lanka's less-than-honest modus operandi.

I am a Canadian of Tamil decent who supports Sri Lanka's right to exist, and exist in peace. I also support the idea of a Tamil homeland, for everyone should and must have a land to call his own. Tamils intend to express to the Western world our discontent and indignation that the Sri Lankan government is spending its energy inventing deceptive ways to destroy the Tamils rather than to embrace them. It is past time for Western leaders to say whether they are or are not willing take a tough stand against such sham democracies to keep true to Western heritage and values.

The civil war that has been bleeding Sri Lanka for decades is basically a creation of a long line of deceptions. Compounding this is the angry deflecting bravado of successive leaders unable to admit the flaws of their country and their own ample share in the common disaster. A visionary leader would pay attention to solving these problems instead of accusing the disenfranchised minority.
ROY RATNAVEL
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The Sri Lankan ambassador claims in his column "Tamil homeland fantasy" that the notion of the north and east of Sri Lanka being the traditional homeland of the Tamils is a fantasy, but he puts forward no proof for his assertion. He has conveniently omitted that the Indo-Lanka peace accord of 1987 and the 13th amendment to his country's constitution are based on the recognition of the north and east of Sri Lanka as the traditional homeland of the Tamils. He also fails to mention that the Jaffna library that held proof of such claims was burnt down in 1981 under the supervision of two government ministers who have never been brought to justice.

The ambassador claims that it is the Tamils who are pursuing the agenda of a separate state and that they are doing so through violence. He again fails to mention that long before the civil war officially began in 1983, the mainstream Tamil politicians tried peaceful and democratic means of fulfilling the Tamil desire for self-rule. In the end, they too declared that the only way left for the Tamils was through a separate state: a platform on which they won the majority of the seats in the north and east of Sri Lanka in the 1977 election.

The president at the time responded to this overwhelming mandate for separation by excluding the victorious Tamil parties from parliament and changing the constitution in 1978 to the present "unitary" constitution, which all but stifled any democratic means of redressing Tamil grievances. The ambassador also fails to mention that while the Tamils were trying to address their grievances through peaceful and democratic means, their efforts were met with violence. I refer to the anti-Tamil riots of 1956, 1977 and 1983, in which more than 3,000 Tamils were killed and their homes, possessions and businesses were looted and torched.

Last but not least, the ambassador tries to claim that his country is a democracy that needs America's support. A country where dissent is stifled, where disappearances of minority Tamils are not investigated, where opposition politicians have their security detail withdrawn if they oppose the government and where the president and his brothers (some of whom are unelected) control 75 percent of the country's budget is democratic in name only. To claim otherwise is pure fantasy.
PRAJEEV RASIAH

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Tamil victims in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke cites a few Sri Lankan court cases to create the illusion that justice prevails in Sri Lanka ("Tamil homeland fantasy," Commentary, Sunday). Noticeably, cases like that of Kirishanthy Kumarasamy are absent from Mr. Goonetilleke's list. Kirishanthy was an 11th-grade Tamil schoolgirl who was abducted by the Sri Lankan State Army, gang-raped and buried in one of the many Tamil mass graves. Kirishanthy's mother, brother and a neighbor who subsequently went looking for Kirishanthy also ended up in mass graves.

Mr. Goonetilleke argues that because Tamil people live and work among the Sinhalese in the south, the Tamil claim of state-sponsored oppression is a lie. What the ambassador conveniently forgets is that these risk-taking Tamils fell victim to the repeated state-sponsored pogroms of 1956, 1957, 1977 and 1983. There are Americans who risk their lives to find employment in Iraq and Afghanistan. Does this mean those American workers think Iraq and Afghanistan are better democracies than the United States? People have worked under risky conditions since the beginning of civilization. The ambassador shows how desperate he is for examples to establish his fiction of "Sri Lankan democracy."

In Sri Lanka, being born a Tamil is reason enough to get thrown into one of the cruelest prisons of the world — Welikada. It was in this prison, during the 1983 state-sponsored pogrom, that Tamil detainees faced the inhumane fate of having their eyes plucked out by mercenaries. Twenty-five years later, not much has changed. Yet when the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, visited Sri Lanka on a fact-finding mission, the state denied the commissioner access to the prison. She was denied the opportunity even to meet freely with regular Tamil civilians. Does the ambassador believe these actions of the state are telltale signs of an enviable democracy?

The Tamil struggle for independence is not driven by ideologies, nor it is about re-establishing past glories. On the contrary, it is about survival. Whether the ambassador admits it or not, there is ample evidence why the Tamils cannot continue to coexist with the Sinhalese. No one in his right mind could expect Tamils to remain sitting ducks at the mercy of the Sri Lankan state. Secession was the last resort for Tamils and the reasons only become stronger by the day.
SATHEESH THADCHANAMOORTHY

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The Sri Lankan story
Sri Lankan Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke has put a good but inaccurate face on the Sri Lankan Sinhalese majority's conflict with the Tamil minority ("Tamil homeland fantasy," Commentary, Sunday).

First, he says weighting examinations was never intended to discriminate against us Tamils. I took the common Advanced Level exam in 1969 and was admitted to the engineering faculty.

The government then redid the admissions after adding some 28 marks to the four-subject aggregate of Sinhalese students.

I lost my seat. They effectively claimed that the son of a Sinhalese minister in an elite Colombo school was disadvantaged vis-a-vis a Tamil tea-plucker's son. Unable to defend this, in 1973 they created the statistical scheme equating Tamil and Sinhalese averages with regional preferences to which the ambassador refers.

Tamils were still shut out.

Second, Sri Lankan democracy: The ambassador is justly proud of Sinhalese democracy with universal adult franchise since 1931. However, promptly upon independence, half the Tamils - those in the tea plantations - were denied citizenship.

The rest of us Tamils began losing our franchise in 1981, when the government rigged the District Council elections, ironically meant to devolve power to us.

By 1983, our parliamentarians, set upon by government hoodlums, fled to India. The vacuum was filled by the virulent Tamil Tigers. They claim to be our sole representative, forcibly recruit our children and murder those standing for election without their blessings.

They have massacred innocent Muslim and Sinhalese villagers. Cornered by the Indian peacekeeping force from 1987 to 1990, they got a new lease on life when the Sri Lankan government accommodated them in five-star hotels and armed them.

His excellency laments the loss of our rights without acknowledging his government's hand.

Zeal for denying democracy for Tamils is evident as it promotes a breakaway faction of the Tigers fielding candidates for elections while recruiting children, bearing arms and terrorizing Tamils, the very methods of the Tigers that the government excoriates.

Finally, there is the suggestion that Tamils prefer living under the government to living in Tiger territory: I for one loved living in the Tamil neighborhoods where I grew up. But my ancestral house was destroyed, and innocent locals disappeared.

Tamil shopkeepers visited by soldiers for cigarettes and public servants have been murdered by the Tigers. Few dare live there in these circumstances.

Sri Lanka's real story is the more complex oedipal unfolding of inexorable Sinhalese nationalist communalism meeting its ugly little baby, Tamil fascism. We ordinary Tamils struggle under the two.
S. RATNAJEEVAN H. HOOLE

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