Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Sri Lanka Should Offer Tamils Hope

Toronto Star editorial, January 30, 2009

Rae also called on Harper to lobby the Sri Lankan government to "recognize the civil and human rights of the Tamil community" by introducing much needed political and constitutional reforms.

Canada is well-positioned to do this because Ottawa has designated Prabhakaran and his forces as terrorists. This stance gives Harper leverage to press for generous, provincial-style autonomy for Tamils in that part of the country where they comprise a majority.

After a year of bitter fighting, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has all but made good on his vow to crush the independence-seeking Tamil Tiger insurgents, who have waged one of Asia's longest-running wars. Since 1983, the conflict has cost 75,000 lives.

Rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran's forces once controlled a Tamil mini-state of 15,000 square kilometres in the north and east of the Indian Ocean island. But they were chased from their stronghold in Jaffna back in 1995, and more recently from Kilinochchi and Mullaittivu. They are now penned into a 300 sq. km. pocket of jungle, fighting a losing battle behind a shield of 250,000 civilians trapped in the war zone.

Canada's large Tamil community has watched in growing alarm while family and friends are "caught up in the shelling and crossfire as the theatre of war shrinks on a daily basis," as Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae put it this week.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has voiced "deep concern" over the humanitarian crisis, and urged both sides to spare civilians. But Rae wants Ottawa to press for a United Nations envoy to monitor human rights, and to step up aid. Harper should heed his call. Rae knows Sri Lanka well. He was a constitutional adviser there.

Rae also called on Harper to lobby the Sri Lankan government to "recognize the civil and human rights of the Tamil community" by introducing much needed political and constitutional reforms.

Canada is well-positioned to do this because Ottawa has designated Prabhakaran and his forces as terrorists. This stance gives Harper leverage to press for generous, provincial-style autonomy for Tamils in that part of the country where they comprise a majority.

While Sri Lanka's population of 21 million is three-quarters Sinhalese, the Tamils and other minorities number in the millions. If Sri Lanka is to enjoy real peace, the Tamils must feel they have a stake in the nation's success, instead of being marginalized. Otherwise, the insurgents will regroup over time and launch a new terror campaign.

As India's foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee reminded Rajapaksa this week, "military victories offer a political opportunity to restore normalcy" in regions that have been traumatized for decades.

When the fighting ends, Rajapaksa promises to devolve power to the Tamil regions, with political clout and rights they now lack. He calls it his "Four D" approach: demilitarization, democratization, development and devolution. But past leaders have made similar pledges that turned out to be hollow. This time, change must happen.