Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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An Open Letter to Most Rev. Dr. Oswald Gomis, Archbishop of Sri Lanka

by Dr. Victor Rajakulendran, December 24, 2008

Most Rev Gomis, in your comments on the Vatican Radio accusing the LTTE of using the people of Wanni as a human shield for their protection and not allowing the people to come to the safer or liberated areas as insisted by the government, without mentioning any of the facts given above, is tantamount to your intention of misleading your listeners. 

You have used the terms “safer or liberated areas.”  I would like to ask you, is there any place in Sri Lanka safer than Wanni for the Tamils, if not for the aerial bombing and shelling by the security forces?

As you well know, LTTE is trying to make use of this human shield for their protection and the government has insisted that these people should be released to come to the safer or liberated areas, but this is not allowed to happen.  So there is so much of suffering.  We have therefore appealed to the LTTE that they should let these people free and then not hold them captive and we have enough evidence that lot of children are also being conscripted …. They have to join their rebel army not willingly but by force.  So we know that there is a serious situation with the people here who are suffering and unable to escape from these areas and at the same time the government being unable to help them and we have insisted that the government should quickly come forth with a political solution and this morning papers in Sri Lanka report about all the parties have agreed to a political solution, how?, they have not published it as yet, because only this morning the papers reported it.”

Archbishop of Colombo, Most Rev. Dr Oswald Gomis to Vatican Radio – The voice of Pope and Church in dialogue with the world – on the 13th of December 2008.

Dear Most Rev. Dr. Oswald Gomis,

I have to write to you this, on Christmas-eve, as I came across this news only this afternoon.  I was shocked and could not believe my eyes for a while, that an Archbishop of Sri Lanka, like the Buddhist priests of the Jathika Hela Urumya (JHU), has started to get involved in politics and take sides in the longstanding ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

Most Rev Gomis, as you are well aware, and many Sri Lankan governments including the present one have acknowledged, the Tamils in Sri Lanka have been ill-treated by the successive Singhalese-dominated governments of the island.  You are also well aware and fully accept the fact that the armed Tamil militancy is a by-product of this ill-treatment and not the cause for this conflict.  Therefore, you and others in Sri Lanka will agree that the LTTE is not the cause for the present ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, but a manifestation of the unresolved ill-treatments the Tamils in Sri Lanka have been met with under the successive Singhalese-dominated governments from the time of independence from the British Empire in 1948.  This is why the LTTE legitimately claims to be the saviours of the Tamil people.

Most Rev. Gomis, you will be well aware that from 1983, when the worst anti-Tamil pogrom happened in Colombo and the south of the island, during which government-sponsored Singhalese thugs armed with electoral lists to identify Tamil homes and businesses, beat, chopped and burnt to death more than 3000 innocent unarmed Tamil civilians, Tamil people decided to support the Tamil armed militancy as the only way of protecting themselves.  You and I would not have even dreamt in 1983 that this armed militancy the Tamil people decided to take cover under, for their protection from the Singhalese chauvinism, would one day manifest itself in the present day LTTE.

Most Rev Gomis, I do not need to describe here how this Tamil militancy grew into an LTTE that has its own military, a navy and a fledgling air wing and has been running a parallel administration devoid of corruption in the North East of the country which is the traditional homeland of the Tamil people, until recently when President Rajapaksa decided to find a military solution to this ethnic conflict.  You are also well aware that the LTTE could not have built such an Army, Navy and an Air Wing without Tamil youth volunteering to take up arms.  In recognising all this, the International Community, particularly the Co-Chairs of the Norwegian-facilitated peace process, decided to have LTTE-controlled areas and government-controlled areas separated by no-man zones to maintain a ceasefire. 

You are also well aware that both sides accuse each other for violating the ceasefire as the reason for the collapse of the peace process, although the real reason for the collapse is the intransigence of the Sri Lankan government in accepting an Interim Administration for the North-East Province and the failure of the Sri Lankan government to fulfil the basic features of the Cease-Fire Agreement, that is to withdraw from High Security Zones, releasing the schools, temples and other public and private properties entrapped in these zones, for the use of the civilians. Your President’s decision to separate the North-East Province into two separate provinces now is the clear evidence for the unwillingness on the Sri Lankan government's part to accept an Interim Administration.

Most Rev Gomis, when your President took control of the country, although ostensibly he was continuing the peace negotiations with the LTTE, his armed forces were involved in eliminating the leadership of the LTTE.  This eventually led to the breakdown of the peace process and the rest is recent history.  The present stand of the President that there will be no peace talks until the LTTE lays down their weapons demonstrates clearly that he never had the intention of finding a non-military solution to this conflict.

Most Rev Gomis, in your comments on the Vatican Radio accusing the LTTE of using the people of Wanni as a human shield for their protection and not allowing the people to come to the safer or liberated areas as insisted by the government, without mentioning any of the facts given above, is tantamount to your intention of misleading your listeners. 

You have used the terms “safer or liberated areas.”  I would like to ask you, is there any place in Sri Lanka safer than Wanni for the Tamils, if not for the aerial bombing and shelling by the security forces?  The international community is well informed by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other Human Rights groups that any area under the control of the Sri Lankan security forces, including Colombo, is not safe for the Tamils.  A country representative for Sri Lanka of a UN agency told in public in Sydney recently that his agency is only interested in the well-being of the Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and for some reason IDPs are not willing to move south, but they are willing to move into Jaffna.  Therefore, it is beyond doubt that the people of Wanni, irrespective of whether the LTTE is willing to release them or not, are not going to move to the so-called liberated areas of their own free will.  Most Rev Gomis, what happened to the very few who moved out into the so-called liberated areas?  According to the latest HRW report, for more than 3 months now, these people have been held in special detention camps run by the security forces.  Do you think that after hearing this, more and more Tamils will venture out to move into the so-called liberated areas?  Then why are you singing chorus to your President’s song?

Most Rev. Gomis, you have shed crocodile tears for these Tamil people of Wanni by saying that these people are suffering and the government is unable to help them and, therefore, you have appealed to the LTTE that they should let these people free and not hold them captive.  First of all, where were you when the Sri Lankan air force bombers bombed and killed more than 60 schoolchildren in Wanni last year and then when again the same bombers recently dropped 16 cluster bombs on an area designated safe for IDPs, destroying 26 of their temporary shelters, and killing three people and injuring more than 25, including 7 children?  Why you did not go on the Vatican Radio then and play the Good Samaritan role and ask the whole world to condemn this barbaric act?

Most Rev. Gomis, you have said on the radio that the government is unable to help these people who are trapped in Wanni and unable to escape.  Are you saying then that you did not know about the government embargo on medicine, clothes and many other essential commodities that should be going into Wanni?  Did you not know that for the last 6 months even the clothes necessary to make school uniforms for the children have not been allowed into Wanni?  Are you trying to say that you did not even know that the delivery of the well-publicised 80,000 parcels of food and other essential items collected and sent by the Tamil Nadhu people to the IDPs in Wanni through the ICRC are being purposely delayed by the Sri Lankan authorities? 

Most Rev. Gomis, I do not have to remind you what Jesus said in Mathew 25 41-43: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me’.”

Last but not the least, Most Rev. Gomis, at the end of your comments on the Vatican Radio, trying to preach to the government too, you have said that you have insisted that the government should quickly come forth with a political solution.  But right away you came to the rescue of the government by declaring that on the same day the morning papers in Colombo were saying that all the parties have agreed to a political solution.  At the same time you have covered up in a hurry by saying that the details of the agreement had not been released as it was too early.  There is no doubt that you have mentioned what has happened in the All Party Conference for the umpteenth time.  Most Rev Gomis, the Holy Spirit is watching you. May your heart be touched to say whether you deny that your beloved President is using this All Party Conference to hoodwink the International Community, which is insisting on a political solution and not a military solution. The President has repeated the same trick for the last 3 years by saying a consensus hax been reached or is about to be reached at this conference whenever he is pushed into a corner.  If that is the case, could you deny it if I accuse you of singing chorus to President Rajapaksa’s political songs?

What more evidence do we need than the following, to prove that you are not taking an impartial stand in this conflict.  When the Holy Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu was taken over by the Sri Lankan armed forces, the priests fled with the statue of Our Lady of Madhu.  Now the statue has been returned to the shrine, but although the Shrine is in the Tamil District of Mannar, Tamil people have so far been denied access to this shrine.  You have kept a guarded silence on this matter.  Not only this, some chauvinistic Buddhist monks have even claimed the site of this shrine as an ancient site of importance to Buddhists.  You again, did not come to defend the church on this matter.  Can you deny that you also have accepted the position the Sri Lankan Army Commander, Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka has recently expressed that Sri Lanka belongs to Singhalese Buddhists and other minorities are only 'allowed' to live there?

Most Rev. Gomis, on this Christmas day, you may have to say Mea Culpa! Mea Culpa! Mea Maxima Culpa! For what you have spoken over the Vatican Radio on the 13th of December, share my views with your beloved President and persuade him to listen to the advice given by the International Community to prevent further bloodshed in your country.

God Bless you!

Merry Christmas and a Peaceful 2009.

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Another discourse on the subject here.

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