Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

The Sri Lankan Solution

Wall Street Journal editorial, August 28, 2008

The government of President Mahinda Rajapakse has long promised to put greater power in the hands of local Tamil politicians in the east and north. So far it hasn't. The newly elected local and provincial councils in the east have little power to set economic policies in their areas, for example. The government has stalled on any proposal to vest more authority with local governments.

Sri Lanka's military is now two months into a full-on offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels in their northern base. An end finally may be in sight to the war that has roiled the country for a quarter century.

The government claims control of large areas in the region and could soon take the Tiger "capital" at Kilinochchi, an important symbolic victory. The operation, which has made surprisingly fast progress, could be over within six months to a year. But winning the conventional war is only a start to winning the peace.

Colombo is following the pattern it set in 2006 in the eastern provinces: launch a major offensive against Tamil fighters, then establish a democratic government. Two eastern elections this year were marred by some violence and charges of voter intimidation, but the peace seems to be holding.

The Tigers, a guerrilla fighting force par excellence, won't be easy to subdue. Despite the government's latest progress, there's speculation the Tigers have been holding back their best fighters up to now. Even if the government wins, enough remaining Tigers are likely to fade into the jungle to carry on a guerrilla campaign. The 25-year-old conflict has already claimed more than 100,000 lives, according to the International Crisis Group.

So as the military operation continues, Colombo needs to offer moderate Tamils a political settlement to separate them from the rebels. The government of President Mahinda Rajapakse has long promised to put greater power in the hands of local Tamil politicians in the east and north. So far it hasn't. The newly elected local and provincial councils in the east have little power to set economic policies in their areas, for example. The government has stalled on any proposal to vest more authority with local governments.

To break the cycle, the government needs to allow the All-Party Representative Committee, a body charged with negotiating a comprehensive devolution plan, to push forward toward an agreement. Colombo could also show good faith by reinstating the independent Constitutional Council that's supposed to oversee important institutions like the Human Rights Commission and the National Police Commission. Both steps would signal to moderate Tamils the government's seriousness about a political compromise between the ethnic Tamil minority and the majority Sinhalese.

Part of the problem is that President Rajapakse lacks the political will to follow through. He rode to power in 2005 on appeals to Sinhalese nationalism. The military solution plays well at the polls, and his coalition won big victories over the weekend in two provincial elections billed as referendums on the government. The political follow-up is more controversial.

Taking the battle to the Tigers in the north is an important step in ending the war. But lasting peace will be built on a political deal with the moderate Tamils left behind when the rebels are gone.

Related Web News
•  Sri Lankan army captures 'massive' rebel base  Aug. 17, 2008  cnn.com
•  Aid groups: Sri Lanka fighting displaces thousands  Aug. 15, 2008  news.aol.com
•  CORRECTED: Thousands displaced by fresh Sri Lanka fighting| International  Aug. 14, 2008  reuters.com
•  Thousands flee homes in S Lanka  Aug. 14, 2008  news.bbc.co.uk

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Letter to the Editor by Roy Ratnavel, August 28, 2008

While I appreciate your editorial arguments [The Sri Lankan Solution, Aug 28, 2008], there is a lot more that can be said about this issue. Through six decades of independence, Sri Lanka has proven to be good at only one thing – “ethnic politics.” If they gave out Olympic medals for poor governance, Sri Lanka would take the gold, silver and bronze. The Sri Lankan ethnic crisis is a self-inflicted wound and an accurate description of poor governance by its leaders since independence from the British in 1948. What is less accurate is lack of its reputation that Sri Lanka is a terror state whose predatory territorial aims are anchored in intolerance, discrimination and destruction of Tamil minority.

Decades of bellicose response from the ‘government’ brought forth negative sentiments among the Tamil minority, so they assembled, organized and resisted, first peacefully, then by armed insurrection – to contend or suggest otherwise is, at best, poor history. Tamils much prefer a homeland of their own, which includes ample constitutional protection with no room for abuses by the state, than one in which they are currently living where atrocities are inflicted upon them daily by a thug state run by goons in suits masquerading as defenders of democracy and eradicators of terror.

Any people who have suffered oppression as the Kosovars did deserve to be free. The recent independence of Kosovo is an injustice redressed and a victory for the free world. It is high time for Tamils to be able to live in a country of their own without looking back, given the less than hospitable treatment that they have received from Sri Lanka. We, in the democratic tradition, must respond in kind by firmly supporting indigenous peoples’ right to freedom and right for their own state after such protracted suffering – a state that seeks to protect and advance the welfare of Tamils and dwell in peace and harmony with neighbors. The sad reality is that Sri Lanka’s aim is more about eradication of Tamils than eradication of terror, while the West looks on tacitly supporting Sri Lankan tyranny.

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