EAST TIMOR AND TAMIL EELAM
By Ana Pararajasingham
After a twenty-four year struggle, East Timor is about to emerge as an independent state. Despite the genocidal violence unleashed against the East Timorese and the covert and overt support extended to the Indonesian Government, the will of the East Timorese nation has finally prevailed. The East Timorese people have shown their indomitable spirit by braving the Indonesian backed militia to vote for independence. It is now up to the International Governments to back this show of courage by supporting the Timorese people in this hour of their greatest need.
The East Timorese story is the story of all oppressed people whose quest for freedom can never be suppressed. Governments may well try to beat the population into submission and for a time may even succeed in keeping the rebellion in check through collaborators, mercenaries, 'moderates' and to use a term that has come into vogue in the East Timorese context-integrationists.
The East Timorese tale is a testimony to the power of the human spirit. It is also a tale of human depravity, greed and hypocrisy.
Within two months of the occupation of East Timor by Indonesia in 1975, 60,000 East Timorese were killed and thousands of young women were raped. In the last twenty-four years more than 200,000 East Timorese have died as a result of this occupation during which massacres and 'disappearances' had become everyday occurrences. Western countries not only failed to condemn these atrocities but, instead, have provided overt and covert support to the Indonesian regime while professing and preaching human rights to the rest of the world..
The US President Ford was in Jakarta two days before Indonesia's occupation of East Timor and there is little doubt had given his approval to the Indonesian action.
Canada has either abstained from voting on UN General Assembly resolutions on East Timor or has voted No in support of Indonesia. Indonesia has been one of Canada's top recipients of country-to country aid for a very long time.
The West's rationale was best articulated by an official of the Australian Foreign Affairs in the mid 1970's, who had this to say,
Like the East Timorese, the Tamil people too have suffered much. They have been driven out of their homes and almost a million have been made internal refugees, half a million have fled the Island, at least 60,000 Tamil civilians have been killed, their main city (Jaffna) has been occupied by the Sri Lankan army and is now an "open prison" and a "hell hole" ( ABC's Foreign Correspondent 28 June 1999). Mass graves, massacres and disappearances continue to occur. Yet, the Sri Lankan Government has been unable to beat the Tamils into submission. On the contrary, the Tamil people have shown their defiance by silently enduring their suffering while boldly exposing the Government's atrocities. The Sri Lankan Government, has been unable to suppress the news of mass graves in Jaffna or the disappearances of Tamil youth in the hundreds. The use of mercenaries to suppress the only free newspaper in Jaffna has been thwarted because the Tamils have defied the army's presence (Tamil Monitor 3 September 1999) to protest.
The role of the West in respect of the situation in Tamil Eelam has not been any different to that in respect of the East Timorese. The Tamil rebels have been deemed "terrorist" by the US State department and the "Green Berets" have been dispatched to provide training to the Sri Lankan military. The Australian Government's policy has been to support the Sri Lankan Government in that the atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan regime are pointedly ignored while the Tamil rebels are condemned for acts of violence. This is so despite mounting evidence of the genocidal nature of the Sri Lankan Government's actions. Canada and the UK are more circumspect but their policies are no different. The West European countries (Germany, France and Switzerland) home to over 250,000 Tamil refugees have remained aloof despite having to pay an economic price. Meanwhile, the West in general is bankrolling the war by providing aid and loans through various institutions.
The Tamil quest for independence began twenty-two years ago when they voted overwhelmingly for the party that stood for the restoration of Tamil sovereignty by electing 18 of the 22 members to parliament at the general elections held in August 1977. The TULF manifesto read:
Almost seventy percent of the Tamils in Tamil Eelam cast their vote for independence.
But that mandate was ignored by the Government which sought to 'solve' the problem by beating the Tamils into submission. The result was the state-sponsored massacre of 1977. The democratically elected TULF was helpless and despite its readiness to accept even limited autonomy its plea was ignored. In 1981, the Jaffna Public Library with a collection of over 95,000 books (including several rare manuscripts and books) was burnt down by the Police running amok in a further attempt to beat the Tamils into submission by destroying their cultural heritage. In July 1983, Tamils living in the South were subject to the worst pogrom in years. Over 3,000 Tamils were killed within a fortnight and property belonging to the Tamils destroyed by squads armed with electoral lists which enabled the “goons” to identify Tamil homes. Since then the Tamil death toll has mounted.
The parallels between Tamil Eelam and East Timor are many and varied.
Both people have been treated by the dominant nation as 'minorities' to be integrated into the dominant nations.
In February 1990, Indonesian Foreign Minister at that time, Benny Murdani, had this to say: "there is no such nation as a Timtim nation (the Indonesian name for East Timor), there is only an Indonesian nation.. If you try to make your own state it will be crushed"
In February 1994, D B Wijetunge, Sri Lanka's President at that time had this to say "The majority community in this country are the Sinhalese. Therefore the Sinhalese should govern the country. They governed the country in the past and will do so in the future"
Both the Indonesian Government and the Sri Lankan Government have sought to impose their dominance by changing the demography of the region which they have sought to control.
Indonesian authorities over the last twenty-four years have actively encouraged Indonesians to migrate to East Timor under the guise of relieving population pressures. Land given to the Indonesians is land formerly owned by East Timorese who were forcibly relocated or land declared 'underutilized'. As a result by 1992 almost one seventh of the population of East Timor was made up of Indonesians.
Similarly Planned state sponsored settlement of landless Sinhala peasants in the Tamil Homeland has been the policy of all of the Sri Lankan Governments since the 1950's. According to Dr. Selvanathan of the School of International Business Relations at Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland: “One of the most vicious forms of oppression of Tamils by successive Sri Lankan Governments is the destruction of the national identity of the Tamils through government-sponsored aggressive Colonisation Schemes....( Selvenathan E A, The Oppression of Tamils in Sri Lanka, Sacramento: Proceedings of the Tamil Eelam Research Conference, 1991.)
It is a view supported by the observations of two British parliamentarians (Robert Kilroy Silk MP and Roger Simms MP) who visited Sri Lanka as members of the UK Parliamentary Humans Rights Group in 1985 who had this to say: “We can say, without much doubt, that the government is driving the Tamils from their homes and does intend to settle Sinhalese People in these areas”.
However, in one crucial aspect the Tamil people have been fortunate. Whereas, Indonesia with its superior fire-power and huge Western support was able to militarily crush the FRETILIN (The East Timorese rebel forces), the Sri Lankan Government has not been able to crush the Tamil resistance militarily. On the contrary, the LTTE has become even more capable of resisting the attacks and defending their people. The defeat of the FRETLIN was made partly possible because Indonesia's success in weakening the FRETLIN by encouraging a rival faction (UDT) to take up arms against the FRETLIN. The major reason of course was Indonesia's superior firepower and utter ruthlessness in massacring anyone suspected to be a FRETLIN fighter or even a potential fighter.
The LTTE has not only survived but has emerged even stronger because of its ability to be acutely aware of the dangers posed by collaborators in the guise of 'moderates' and its leader's politico/military capabilities. The LTTE's decision to withdraw into the Vanni along with 400,000 people in the face of Sri Lanka's superior fire-power in 1995 was indeed a decision which has, today, saved thousands of young Tamils from a fate similar to the East Timorese in 1975.
The current situation in East Timor is a powerful reminder that despite all the goodwill and sympathy of decent people, no nation can afford to rely on goodwill alone. The East Timorese who are being hunted down like animals by Indonesian backed thugs have no army to defend them. Those who are so anxious to preach to the oppressed about the virtues of non violence (like our Foreign Minister) can only wring their hands while East Timorese are being slaughtered or express hollow sympathy and concern while the massacres continue unabated.