You Preach Peace, But Conduct War


Her Excellency Chandrika Kumaratunga
President of Sri Lanka
Colombo 1
Sri Lanka.

May 4,2001

Dear Madam President,

Your May Day Address to the People in Jaffna

You keep talking to the people in Jaffna without listening to what they or a substantial number of Tamils around the world are saying. Trying to make an end run around the LTTE using those Tamils who are dependent on the SLG is not going to bring peace to Sri Lanka. The LTTE is the only leadership the Tamils feel can achieve the Tamil aspirations.

You said, “… talks have been delayed during the past five months due to the LTTE’s insistence on new demands and conditions. The Government however remains committed to finding a negotiated political settlement to the ethnic conflict.”

The LTTE did not put any demands on any substantive issues of a solution. They asked you to lift the embargo under which Tamil people suffered for 11 years. You and your armed forces are restricting the free flow of food and medicine, thus forcing the people to accede to your political solutions and are attempting to force the LTTE to come for talks on your terms in exchange for food and medicines for the civilians. Such a policy is against the Geneva Protocols and is a form of terrorism. Your insisting that you will not respond to the ceasefire until the LTTE begin talks is, itself a condition for talks. Your proscribing the LTTE and wanting to talk without lifting the proscription is to put your negotiators in a position of a legal authority talking to an illegal entity. As you know that only happens in a court of law and not between leaders of two communities who are equals and want a negotiated solution to the war. You cannot expect, in our culture, for one arm of each of our community to be fighting while the other arm is shaking hands. Reductionist minds may be able to do that. Ours, I think, are predominantly holistic minds.

I am not sure why you keep repeating that, “We believe the people of Jaffna would be able to persuade the LTTE to abandon their violent ways and agree to a solution that upholds democracy.” The Tamil people asked the LTTE to enter into talks and declare a ceasefire for you to respond and begin talks. They accepted the wish of the Tamil people for which the Tamils resoundingly demonstrated during the Pongu Thamil and appealed to you to reciprocate. You ignored the appeals for four months with excuses not becoming of a President of one of the world’s oldest nations. You preach peace, but conduct war. Tamil people have been appealing to you to lift the restrictions on the movement of food, medicine and educational materials ever since you were elected President in 1994.

You probably don’t know that the Provincial Ministry of Sports or individuals cannot take sports equipment and materials to schools and clubs in the Vanni without the defence forces permission. You are not hurting the LTTE but you are hurting the Tamil children in the Vanni. When the forces relent and allow sports materials to be taken in, they only permit it for use for training and then the used materials must be brought back to the South. Under such circumstances, is it fair for your Ministry of Sports to insist that the Tamil sportspersons travel to Colombo and compete with the Sinhala sportspersons? Their participation of course makes good photo opportunities and international propaganda. With such restrictions Tamils can only compete with their hands tied behind their back.

If you or your Minister of Higher Education look into the programme of the National Institute of Education you will see that the Science Teacher Education degree programme is offered in Sinhala Only and not in the Tamil medium. But then, Tamils are used to such imposed disadvantages in sports, education and other sectors. Tamil youths would rather fight and die so that the future generations of Tamils can build their own institutions and determine their own future without dictation or approval from the Sinhala politician or administrator.

You may know that your Ministry of Sports conducts One-Year sports courses for Sports Officers in Sinhala Only. The Tamil Sports Officers have to follow instruction in Sinhala, but are given the option, as a concession, to take the examination in English. This has been going on for more than twenty years under the UNP and the PA governments. Tamils are used to carrying such load. They keep bending their backs to make a living and you keep piling the load higher and make them go up steeper hills. The LTTE is their only chance to straighten their back and hold their head high. I wonder whether you know that the yearly promotion “Bar Examinations” for sports officers are held in Sinhala, but the invigilator helps the Tamil candidates by translating the questions on the spot into Tamil. The answer to the Sinhala questions translated to Tamil of course will only be as good as the translation. Many attempts to remedy the situation have failed. I have brought this and many other similar problems to the Ministry in an official report, a copy of which I sent you in June 1999. Even though the Sinhala Only Act is no longer in the books it is indelibly imprinted in the minds of most of the Sinhala administrators, policy makers and politicians. What have you done about it? Should the Tamil leader ask the Sinhala people to persuade you to remedy these and other problems? You would probably appoint another Language Commission! Mr. Pirapakaran’s and his deputies’ have understood the problem since the seventies. Their foresight, competence and commitment are such that I will not support anyone else but the LTTE to represent the Tamils at the negotiation.

The Tamils have appealed to you personally to stop your armed forces from killing, torturing, and detaining Tamil youths without trial and raping Tamil women. Your reaction is to appoint a commission and make appropriate promises, which results in nothing. Your administration composed of 97% or more Sinhalese does not have the will to carry out your directives on Tamil rights issues.

You also said, “Today, the people of Jaffna are free to hold May Day rallies. The Government was able to restore democracy in all parts of the country. I know that the people of Jaffna value democracy and peace. We hope to usher in peace to the North-East without delay.” You probably did not know that people in the LTTE controlled areas had always celebrated May Day. You know the President and the armed forces using the ER and PTA have enforced a dictatorial rule in the NorthEast. You blame the war for all this but refuse to establish the environment to begin negotiation. The Tamils elsewhere in Sri Lanka are subjected to a de facto pseudo democratic rule under the ER and PTA. Many individual Tamils, Tamil organizations, and international NGOs have brought these facts to your notice and you have done nothing to resolve the problems. But still you ask that the Tamils persuade the LTTE to give up their violent ways, even when you do not respond when they declare a ceasefire.

I am glad to hear that, “…the Government has given priority to the economic and social development of war affected areas.” But, you have publicly expressed, what everyone knows, that corruption is rampant in your government although you campaigned to eradicate the legacy of corruption in government. But the government is not able to control corruption, let alone eradicate it. In Jaffna there was no corruption during the LTTE government. But now it is rampant. If you want, I can give you the cost of bribes to get a permit to transport goods from Colombo, or to get a telephone in Jaffna. There is actually a non-written bribe price list that the lay person knows. I am surprised you have not appointed a commission to look into it. I would not support the SLG or its Tamil allies being in charge of reconstruction of the NorthEast because, as you will agree, too much will be lost to the corrupt officials and politicians, not to mention the middlemen. I hope the international donors will make sure this does not happen when a solution is found.

It is heartening to hear you say that, “As a matter of policy, the Government seeks to guarantee equal rights to all communities and to find a solution to the ethnic conflict.” I would like to ask what has happened to the Equal Opportunity Bill you presented to the Cabinet in September 1999 and which when the Cabinet opposed it you sent it to a committee to study. That Bill is dead I am sure. Knowing your administration’s implementation of policies that relate to Tamils or Tamil areas I will not advise the Tamils to hold their breath for the Bill to be revived.

In the same speech you said that, “No problem can be solved by war alone and the Government firmly believes that war is not the answer for problems faced by the minorities.” You define us as a minority community. We were considered a minority community under the Soulbury Constitution, which your father violated, and your mother did away with without realising the consequence. You, who inherited their legacy but have the benefit of the events of the past forty-five years, continue to think of the Tamils in terms of a minority community. You are right that Tamils are a minority community in Sri Lanka, but as Justice C.V. Vignesvaran observed, Tamils are a minority in the nine provinces but a majority in our traditional Homeland. I hope you read his address.

Since 1948 the government has been trying to make us a minority in our traditional areas. A recent example is in Trincomalee. If you take helicopter ride over the Trincomalee Colombo road, you can see the housing scheme the government and its armed forces have built and are continuing to build, and settling Sinhala families, since early 1998, on both sides of the road near Trincomalee, in lands that the Tamils were forced to vacate in 1958, 1983 and 1988/90. Tamils are also aware of new settlements and government plans to settle disabled soldiers and their families in Trincomalee. While you talk peace, you not only want to conduct war, but also continue to colonise and change the demography of Tamil areas. I doubt whether you will set up a commission to look into it. We no longer want to be a constitutional minority being subjected to the racial whims of a majority community legislature and its armed forces.

In concluding your address you said that, “A political settlement to the ethnic conflict was the aim of the proposed new Constitution, which we could not pass in Parliament as the UNP refused to cooperate. We have not given up efforts to find a solution to this vexed problem and remain hopeful of establishing peace in the North-East soon.” It is the habit of the government in power, even when they had a two-thirds majority to blame the opposition on the question of a solution to the ethnic problem. Lalith Athulathmudali said to me on February 4, 1985 that it would be political suicide for the UNP to offer federalism to the Tamils as a solution. As an astute politician you know that Athulathmudali’s statement is still valid. It is public knowledge that many Ministers and MPs did not support the draft constitution. If it was presented to the Parliament the draft, which had no Tamil support, would have been defeated by a substantial majority or even by a two third majority. The bottom line is that neither the SLFP/PA nor the UNP will do anything that will not keep them in, or bring them back, to power. Fortunately for the Tamils the LTTE will never let the Tamils be intimidated into a solution by force of arms and embargo or the vagaries of Sinhala politics.

It is the consensus in the Tamil community that the government and NGOs in the South, directly and through meetings are trying to get Tamil opinion leaders to put pressure on the LTTE to accede to the wishes of the government. The political reality is such that in so far as the Tamils are concerned it is the leaders of the Tamil struggle, the LTTE, who has the responsibility to mobilise the Tamil people and lead, not the SLG or NGOs in the South. The Tamils long ago abandoned the leadership of the Sri Lankan government to achieve their aspirations. It serves no purpose nor is it realistic for Sinhala political leaders, even if they are in national elected offices, to continue to pretend that they are the leaders of the Tamils.

I hope my observations will help you to make decisions to cease all hostilities and get the negotiations with the LTTE started soon that would solve our violent conflict without further loss of life. The nightmare that both communities are experiencing can end if you can pull the rope to ring the bell of peace, justice and freedom to wake up the people from their nightmare. This is the chance for the President to rise above politics to the status of a Statesperson rather than go down in history as the last Head of State who presided over its destruction.


N. Ethirveerasingam, Ph.D.