Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Speech by TNA's MA Sumanthiran

by TamilCanadian, October 30, 2011

The Diaspora has a very constructive role to play in the future and well-being of our people in Sri Lanka because of the numerical strength and also due to the commitment that the people in the Diaspora have demonstrated. Some years ago, there was a religious dignitary who came to Sri Lanka from Rwanda and after all the terrible things that had happened in Rwanda, he had a message that he gave to the Sinhalese people. He said well if you want to live peacefully in your country, you better treat your brothers, the Tamils, as equals. Because if you don’t do that, their brothers who have gone abroad will make sure you never live in peace here. I thought that it was very good advice that was given.

TamilCanadian had an exclusive interview with TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran. The interview was conducted recently in Toronto, Canada by Sarujan Kanapathipillai.

Sarujan: Today, we have Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP, M.A. Sumanthiran here to speak to Tamilcanadian.com. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us. Since the end of May 2009, this is the first TNA has come to North America in a formal capacity. What brings TNA to North America, who do you plan to meet, where do you plan to stop and what do you expect to accomplish?

M.A. Sumanthiran: Well, this visit is as a result of Assistant Secretary of State of US State Department, Robert Blake extending an invitation to us that we come to the US State Department and hold some discussion with them. We have been talking to several high officials in the US State Department for three days in Washington. We also made use of the time that we were to meet with various congressmen and senators. We are also due to meet with some officials in the United Nations in New York. So in between the two, we thought of coming to Canada as well. Tomorrow, in Ottawa, we have some meetings in the foreign ministry and also an open forum for parliamentarians in which we will explain the situation back home.

Sarujan: Since the end of the war, especially in the beginning, there were perceptions that there were divisions in the TNA. If we look at where we are two years later, TNA is stronger than ever before; did very well in the elections especially in the municipal election. Could you give us a brief insight into what has happened in TNA in the last two years? Is it a united political organization now?

M.A. Sumanthiran: The TNA is not a political party. It is an alliance of few political parties in Sri Lanka. As you would expect with any alliance, there will be always bound to be differences in opinion, more than in a single political party. Even within a single party, there would be diverse views. The TNA I must say with regard to our particular objective at this for Tamil people, has been united. Even amongst the different political parties, there is no difference in opinion as such. It is focused as to what we are ought to accomplish. That is finding an acceptable political solution by way of arrangement where the Tamil people in the northern district have greater autonomy and where we are working towards an end. Our continued electoral success and better performances increasingly due to the people reposing confidence in the way that we have been working since the general election in 2010.

Sarujan: In that regard, we hear the word colonization thrown around here and there. Could you give us a better insight into the ground situation in Sri Lanka. We hear about Buddhist temples being put in places that traditionally have had Hindu temples and other scenarios of militarization.TNA's MA Sumanthiran in Canada October 30 2011

M.A. Sumanthiran: This problem of colonization has been there since Independence. The population in the Eastern provinces has changed drastically in character. The demography was forced to change by successive governments. Now after the military victory, the government has decided that they could use this opportunity to accelerate the process. Now there are programs in place that which in certain cases, changes overnight the demography composition of our areas. Naturally, when there is a military victory, the government is in a very strong position because there is no resistance as it were on the ground for them to implement anything . When they take over territory not available to them, it is the military that takes over the territory. There will be a transitional phase before the civil government functions can start.

So the government has utilized that space and delayed the transfer of governmental politics of civilian authorities, and kept it within the control of the military and used that time make changes on the ground. So cultural places have been destroyed, many of our places of worship have been destroyed. Buddhist places of worship, Buddhist statues have come up in areas where we don’t even have a single Buddhist civilian living. Showing that there is a heavy military presence to and that they might want to worship in a Buddhist temple. But there is no reason why they should establish those places of worship where there are civilians.

There is a program of work that the government is carrying on while they talk to the TNA and while they project talks with the TNA and various other superficial activity to the international community to convince them showing that there is a serious process of reconciliation that is going on and therefore, the international community should not disturb that by interfering in our affairs while they are held back on the ground, they are changing the ground situation. So that in a couple of years, they will present us with a fait accompli which can’t be reversed. This is a matter that we have constantly complained about. On Friday October 21, we called for an urgent debate in parliament and at that in my speech, I tabled a comprehensive document detailing all of the activities that the government is doing. Once that is placed in the parliament, we have now distributed it all over world with pictures and other various evidence to show what the government is actually doing. While telling the world that there is a process of reconciliation going on, they are doing everything that is in the opposite direction.

Sarujan: Does this situation differ in the different regions of Sri Lanka? So say, in rural areas like in Mallavi or in a more populated region like Jaffna town, do the Tamil people in different regions face different issues or are some of these common issues that you spoke of earlier?

M.A. Sumanthiran: There are common issues and also there are different issues related to the different regions. Particularly in the coastal areas, there are huge issues of migrant fishermen from the South and West being brought and settled in areas that our people lived and carried on with their work. Now these people who are brought are being given licenses to fish in certain areas, even exclusive licenses while those who have carried their work in that area for 40, 50 years are unable to get even close to the coast. In other areas, they have brought people who do some diving work. All diving equipment is given freely and they live in houses and places where our people lived. The Tamil people have been reduced to the status of displaced persons. Even there, in one particular area, one side of the road between the coast and the place is where they lived and now even that area has been fully taken over by p9oeple from outside given . Now the original house owners and landowners have been sent to the other side of the road in detention centres. This kind of thing is going on in other places like maybe in England, the military decides that there is a particular area that is strategically important to them, and they just take it over. The people who live there are not permitted to get back to those places. Sometimes, they are offered alternate places to live in if they have been resisting. In recent times, the last 7000 odd people who have been left in the camps, they have been asked to go to different places like jungle places; not the places that they have used to live in. Those people have agreed to go as life in the camps is worse to live in. This kind of thing is still going on.

Sarujan: With people coming out of the camps, there has been stories that ex-cadres, especially women cadres are not being reintegrated into society and some are rejected from society. Do you have any insight into that?

M.A. Sumanthiran: This rehabilitation process of the ex-cadres is two-faced. One is the work that they have been doing with them in the rehabilitation camps. Although their detention in the camps were illegal, there was no formal detention orders or anything like that. Yet the program of work that was implemented in the rehabilitation camps were exemplary. So I have spoken about that in the parliament and commended the commissioner general for the rehabilitation work that they have done without taking away from the fact that it was illegal detention. Nevertheless, the components of the rehabilitation program were very good. But then beyond that, when they are supposedly reintegrated into society, we have also heard about lots of mishaps and problems that I think due to previous tensions surfacing and so on. But a lot of these people who have been released from their rehabilitation camps and been sent back to their villages want to get out of the country. They think their stay is temporary because they don't want to stay there and later be picked up again. There have been some instances where they’ve been rearrested. That’s a concern that needs to be looked at fairly carefully. If the rehabilitation process is to end properly or to succeed, we need to be involved in the process a little more.

Sarujan: in recent times, the international community has been fairly vocal about not being satisfied with what the Sri Lankan government has been doing, and Canada included. Looking back, there is UN reports, there is documentaries by Channel 4, human rights watch, Amnesty International and the likes that have indicated that gross human rights violations occurred in the last phases of the war and that up to 40,000 people may have been killed. With regards to war crimes, where does TNA see this going? What would it like to do and what is on the agenda for TNA-run programs?

M.A. Sumanthiran: With the report by the expert panel appointed by the UN secretary that came out in March of this year, we were the only political party in Sri Lanka that welcomed it. We welcomed the report and we explained that many of the matters that they have described as scheduled allegations were in fact spoken by ourselves contemptuously in parliament as they happened. So it was not something new. We know that those things were actually true. We welcomed the recommendations which included various accountability processes including propane investigation and time has not changed that.

Sarujan: With regards to Diaspora, what do you think the Diaspora’s contribution has been in the past and what role do you think the Diaspora should it take?

M.A. Sumanthiran: The Diaspora has a very constructive role to play in the future and well-being of our people in Sri Lanka because of the numerical strength and also due to the commitment that the people in the Diaspora have demonstrated. Some years ago, there was a religious dignitary who came to Sri Lanka from Rwanda and after all the terrible things that had happened in Rwanda, he had a message that he gave to the Sinhalese people. He said well if you want to live peacefully in your country, you better treat your brothers, the Tamils, as equals. Because if you don’t do that, their brothers who have gone abroad will make sure you never live in peace here. I thought that it was very good advice that was given.

TNA MA Sumanthiran Interview in Canada October 30 2011

Sarujan: With the Diaspora, especially the second generation, does TNA see any plans or does TNA have plans to get the second generation to get them more engaged or keeping them engaged for years to come?

M.A. Sumanthiran: the TNA has a vision to engage the youth in SL and harness their energies, mobilize them into a very responsible, non-violent movement to impact the rights of the Tamil people there. In that effort, we do look, towards the Diaspora second generation to also contribute to what they can particularly in the areas of expertise that they have and if the second generation Tamil Diaspora, many people can come and live for in Sri Lanka for certain periods of time in SL, we can organize certain programs that they can empower youth in SL so that we become a vibrant, responsible and a force to reckon with in terms of our people’s political rights.

Sarujan: Some people are scared about that. There are lot of people, young and old, to come back to SL because they have been vocal in speaking out against the SL government. Do you think there is validity in being careful about returning to SL?

M.A. Sumanthiran: There may be justifiable fears in that. Each one must decide for himself or herself. They must decide that in the background of their involvement in matters here. But if all were to be scared and not be ready to do this, then we will fail. That is again, a test of their commitment. Of course, they may not be foolish and act wisely and it may be different for each person.

Sarujan: In recent times, there have been more organizations among the youth where they have been encouraging dialogue between Tamil and Sinhalese people. There have been organizations that have brought together young Sinhalese and young Tamil and have created dialogue. What do you think about that?

M.A. Sumanthiran: I would strongly support that kind of effort because that’s the kind of thing we are trying to do in Sri Lankan as well even as a political party. One of the biggest weaknesses of the Tamil political parties in the past has been that we have never spoke to the Sinhalese people directly. My sense is that if we have done that, we would’ve had a lot more Sinhalese people on our side. As it is, what happened is that their leaders who told them what the Tamil leaders stood for and it was not always accurate. We are now trying to create a situation in which we talk to Sinhalese people directly and try to convince them that we are not asking for anything outrageous. What we are asking for is just and reasonable and which is something that you find in most of the parts of the world. And that they must also support that cause if they also believe in justice and equality and all of those principles. I think that it’s a very good move to have that kind of dialogue because we believe that our demand for political autonomy is based on truth and justice and reasonableness.

Sarujan: What do you hope to see happen in the next year, next 5 years, and next 10 years? What is the vision of TNA?

M.A. Sumanthiran: The vision of the TNA is to become a potent political force that will have the confidence of our people; that will function in a very responsible manner and take forward this 60-year struggle to a point where we win back the rights of our people in terms of political autonomy, degree of self-rule in our areas.

Sarujan : Thank you for your time.