Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Hard to Achieve Peace When 'They Just Want the Tamils... Wiped Out'

by Stephanie Nolen, The Globe and Mail, Canada, January 28, 2009

"This government says all the right things but they speak with forked tongues," said a Western diplomat who is not authorized to speak on the record. "They just want the Tamils crushed and wiped out."

The diplomat suggested that traditionally Tamil areas would likely continue to be under heavy military occupation, while a few showpiece development initiatives are undertaken.

Mr. Ranmohan said that Tamils are worn down by the fighting and living under both regimes - either Tiger or Sinhalese-majority government - and have little energy left for anything but survival. "Probably we will be like your ... Indians, pushed into a reservation," he said. "It's going to be a terrible ending and the scar will be there for generations."

Reaching a political solution to conflict in Sri Lanka seems next to impossible

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA — Sri Lanka's National Peace Council has long had two goals: first, a negotiated end to the country's 25-year-old civil war, and second, a political solution based on federalism.

"I suppose the first goal is gone," Jehan Perera, the council chair, remarked with a bit of dry despair a few days ago.

There seems to be little hope for a negotiated settlement, as the Sri Lankan armed forces claim to be within days of taking complete control of the island country, ending the rule in the north of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

So what of the peace council's second goal: a political solution to the conflict that would incorporate both the demands of the Sinhalese majority as well as the minority Tamil population, long the victims of legally sanctioned discrimination?

Dr. Perera is an optimist and hopes the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa - who with his brother Gothabaya, the Defence Secretary, launched this crushing strike at the Tigers 18 months ago - can be magnanimous in victory.

"The hope lies in the fact that the President was in the past a human-rights campaigner, when he was in the opposition," Dr. Perera said.

"Because he has been fighting a war he had to have the Sinhalese extremists with him, but once he wins the war he won't need them. Maybe then the President will surround himself with different advisers. That's what we have to hope, that when the situation on the ground changes that our leaders will change accordingly."

Yet it seems unlikely that President Rajapaksa has any plans to negotiate. His stated goal is to eliminate "any trace" of the Tigers. And two weeks ago, his government "proscribed" the Tigers, making it illegal to talk to them.

Nor is it clear whom the President could have negotiated with, in any case: The Tigers, in their iron reign over the area they called a homeland, moved with cold precision against anyone else who tried to speak for Tamils.

"The Tigers wiped out genuine leaders of the Tamil people - now they have neither guns nor political leaders of any eminence," observed Dr. Perera, who is Sinhalese. "For peace to be just, it has to be negotiated between equals" but such a dialogue is now impossible, he said.

Many Tamils agree that their community is woefully without a representative. "We have never had good leaders," said Ram Ranmohan, a Tamil businessman in the eastern city of Trincomalee who is a respected community elder and advocate of a non-violent resolution to the conflict. "But then, we have had no place for good leaders."

A Norwegian-led peace process that had in the past led to ceasefires and some confidence-building measures has been moribund since President Rajapaksa, seemingly intent on solidifying his own political fortunes, and utterly indifferent to calls for a negotiated settlement, launched his multipronged military offensive in 2006.

Few observers of that peace process believe the Tigers participated in those talks with any sincerity: Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran would seem either to have had a misguided belief his movement could win a military victory or because of his egomaniacal desire to rule even his small fiefdom at the expense of pursuing a greater peace that would erode his power.

President Rajapaksa has promised Tamils their "peace and freedom" will follow the end of the LTTE, a pledge met with considerable skepticism by international observers here. "This government says all the right things but they speak with forked tongues," said a Western diplomat who is not authorized to speak on the record. "They just want the Tamils crushed and wiped out."

The diplomat suggested that traditionally Tamil areas would likely continue to be under heavy military occupation, while a few showpiece development initiatives are undertaken.

Mr. Ranmohan said that Tamils are worn down by the fighting and living under both regimes - either Tiger or Sinhalese-majority government - and have little energy left for anything but survival. "Probably we will be like your ... Indians, pushed into a reservation," he said. "It's going to be a terrible ending and the scar will be there for generations."

Dr. Perera, however, clings to the hope that the country now has, at the very least, the opportunity for change. "Maybe on the positive side, the problem that has blocked progress in Sri Lanka for 30 years - at least that is over and the stalemate is broken and there is possibility of progress. The focus will move from the military and open up space for political issues," he said.

"When war diminishes, people will once again demand freedom and the space to articulate their views."

snolen@globeandmail.com

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