Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Winning Heart and Minds of the North

The Bottom Line editorial, September 10, 2008

The problem is this – do the people of the north see the east as a great model of democracy? Does an election, a far from free one, reflect true democracy? The Eastern Province is run by a former terrorist of whom, mothers are demanding their abducted children. He is a former child soldier, President Mahinda Rajapaksa says, but he is also culpable in the forced conscription of child soldiers, first for the LTTE and later, for the break-away Karuna group. Today, as the representative of executive power in the eastern region, Pillaiyan is being accused of conducting a revenge killing spree, targeting family members of LTTE cadres. He has denied these charges vehemently, but suffice it to say, Pillaiyan’s hands are not squeaky clean.

Democracy then, is yet to come to the east. The northerners, no doubt, are watching this situation closely. They have heard EPDP leader claim already that he will be offering himself up as candidate for the Northern Province. If the north and east are to be apportioned in equal shares to Devananda and Pillaiyan, what liberation are the Tamil people to expect?

Last month, when Indian National Security Advisor M.K. Narayan claimed that the government of Sri Lanka was winning battles but losing the war because it did not have the Tamil people on its side; Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa responded that during its ‘campaign of liberation,’ Sri Lanka had failed to convince the world.

Over the last fortnight or more, the northern Wanni region has seen some of the worst fighting of Eelam War IV so far. Not only are there multiple thrusts towards LTTE strongholds including Kilinochchi from several directions, but Sri Lanka Air Force fighter jets have been conducting almost daily sorties over the skies of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.

Information about life in those areas is scant and we cannot make an accurate judgement about civilian life in the Wanni today, except to say that it is extremely volatile. Large scale displacement is apparent and international aid agencies have vouched for this fact. Building makeshift bunkers outside their homes or, taking shelter in large public buildings, which show up prominently on air force radars to avoid air raids, the people can’t be having it easy.

There is an argument to be made that all these sacrifices are in the name of ending the terrorists’ grip on the region. Indeed, the government might even claim this is a necessary evil, citing its ‘victory’ in the east.

The problem is this – do the people of the north see the east as a great model of democracy? Does an election, a far from free one, reflect true democracy? The Eastern Province is run by a former terrorist of whom, mothers are demanding their abducted children. He is a former child soldier, President Mahinda Rajapaksa says, but he is also culpable in the forced conscription of child soldiers, first for the LTTE and later, for the break-away Karuna group. Today, as the representative of executive power in the eastern region, Pillaiyan is being accused of conducting a revenge killing spree, targeting family members of LTTE cadres. He has denied these charges vehemently, but suffice it to say, Pillaiyan’s hands are not squeaky clean.

Democracy then, is yet to come to the east. The northerners, no doubt, are watching this situation closely. They have heard EPDP leader claim already that he will be offering himself up as candidate for the Northern Province. If the north and east are to be apportioned in equal shares to Devananda and Pillaiyan, what liberation are the Tamil people to expect? Abductions and murders carried out under a name that is not the LTTE?

The time has come for the government to follow through on promises about life being ‘better’ under the state. Democracy is not a show piece; it needs to be seen to be established in the day to day workings of any ‘liberated’ piece of land. The military offensive to rid the north and east of the LTTE must be lauded, but what of life after the victories? Show them a difference. Give them a reason to hope that when the air raids and shelling are over and done with, life in the north will be better. That true peace will come. It is not only the world the government needs to convince about its liberation campaign. A whole citizenry craves reassurance.