(Text of speech made in Parliament on December 7th, 2012 by Tamil National Alliance Leader and Trincomalee District MP Rajavarothayam Sampanthan)
The war that raged in the North and the East of Sri Lanka for several decades has come to an end more than three years ago. The Tamil people want to put the war behind them and they want to get on with their lives.
There seems to be a rather mistaken belief among some people in this country that the Tamil people want the armed forces out from the North and the East. That is not correct.
I may put it on record that we realize and we accept that the armed forces have got to be present in the North and the East as they are in the whole country. We only ask that the presence of the armed forces in the North and the East is not in such a manner that is oppressive to the Tamil people, so as to subjugate the Tamil people, as to make them feel that they are not equal citizens in this country and as to make them feel that they are inferior citizens in this country. That is what we do not want.
We, the Tamil people should be able to exist with self-respect and dignity in the North and the East while the armed forces according to the numbers required, according to the numbers necessary in a reasonable way, will also exist in the North and the East and carry on with their work. – [Interruption.]
Sir, in this context, I need to talk about the history of the Tamil struggle. The Tamil struggle commenced shortly after Independence. It has a long history. It commenced for various reasons, with various grievances, with the legitimate grievances which have been recognized by very tall leaders in this country like the late Hon. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and the late Hon. Dudley Senanayake.
There was the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact. There was the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact. If those Pacts had been implemented this country will not be in this position today. We were never a violent people. We carried on a legitimate, democratic, non-violent political struggle. We performed Satyagraha, we observed Ahimsa. When we did all that, there was violence unleashed against the Tamil people. It happened in 1956; it happened in 1958; it happened in 1961; it happened in 1977; it happened in 1981 and there was a genocidal Tamil pogrom in 1983.
These are indisputable. We were prepared for a reasonable political solution within the framework of a united and undivided Sri Lanka. My Leader, Mr. Chelvanayakam very clearly enunciated that position. There can be no question about it, there can be no denial in regard to that matter. Therefore, that was the history of our struggle and it was because these reasonable political demands which were advocated in a democratic non-violent way were not accommodated and because there were repeated consistent anti-Tamil pogroms that took place over a long period of time, it was in those circumstances that the LTTE emerged.
One must understand the true circumstances in which the LTTE emerged. I have always taken the view that the LTTE was not created by the Tamil people, that the LTTE was in fact created by successive governments in this country which did not accommodate legitimate Tamil political aspirations and when the Tamil people carried out a non-violent, peaceful, civil disobedience struggle, they were subjected to violence. That was the reason why the LTTE emerged.
There were legitimate reasons for the emergence of the LTTE. Nobody can deny that. It came to be termed as a terrorist organization when it attacked civilians: Sinhalese civilians, Tamil civilians, Muslim civilians, when they started attacks on civilian leaders. That was the time that the LTTE came to be termed as a terrorist organization.
They never observed human rights; they never observed democracy. These were their failings. A lot of people claim credit for destroying the LTTE. I say the LTTE destroyed itself by not observing democracy, by not observing human rights and that was the truth. The late Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar, our former Member of Parliament, a most respected Member of Parliament and my good Friend, played a very leading role in ensuring that the LTTE was weakened, that the LTTE was paralyzed, that the LTTE structures in many countries the world over were dismantled.
He was largely responsible for the support of the international community to Sri Lanka to defeat the LTTE. If the Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar was living today, he would indeed be very horrified at many of the things that are happening today and many of the things that are being said today. So, we must remember this.
Sir, my own leaders, my own Colleagues were killed by the LTTE. I was on the hit-list of the LTTE. Why? You call us the LTTE proxies. Do you call us proxies because we were to be killed by the LTTE? Do you call us proxies because we were on the hit-list of the LTTE?
When they came into the Ceasefire Agreement and entered the process of negotiations, then naturally everybody had to work with them to ensure that there was a political, peaceful resolution to the conflict. Now that the LTTE is no more there, that the LTTE has been removed, it has gone away, some people think that Tamil issue has also gone away. The Tamil issue cannot go away like that. The Tamil issue will remain until a reasonable, workable, acceptable and durable political solution is found to the Tamil question. The Tamil issue has only acquired greater moral strength and greater legitimacy as a result of the demise of the LTTE. The Tamil issue cannot go away.
Now, I want to refer to something. I do not want to be misunderstood. What is wrong in observing a remembrance day for those who died during the war? The 27th of November this year also happened to be a very religious day for the Hindu people where we lit lamps and prayed to Lord Murugan. Karthikai Deepam is a great festival. It so happened that there was also the remembrance day for the LTTE cadres.
What is wrong in a brother lighting a lamp for his dead brother? What is wrong in a mother lighting a lamp for her dead son or what is wrong in a Tamil lady lighting a lamp for her dead husband? The JVP commemorates their day of celebration. Nobody complains about it. Nothing is done. Why can we not do the same, do it as a fundamental right? It happens the world over; it happens in every country where people have laid down their lives and made a sacrifice, maybe for a good cause, maybe for a bad cause, maybe for good reasons, maybe for bad reasons, but that is a fundamental right to which people are entitled and that should not be stopped and that certainly should not be stopped by force.
I am very sorry, Sir, that there was this unnecessary incident regarding the students in Jaffna. Now, I am told that of the four students taken into custody, one had been released but three are still in custody. It is my very well-considered submission that the army should not have entered the university premises on the evening of 27th of November. There was no violence there, there were no guns there, nobody was engaged in violence.
If at all they were going to light some lamps, observe some silence and pray for their deceased brothers which they were entitled to do – it also happened to be a day of Karthikai Deepam when lamps are lit in prayer to Lord Murugan – I think the army was wrong. It was an unwarranted entry, an unwarranted interference with the activities, perfectly legal activities of the students of the Jaffna University.
They were assaulted. Their hostels were damaged. Their property was destroyed. Four of them were taken into custody the next day and three of them are still in custody. I would very strongly appeal to the Government to look into this matter more carefully. We do not want confrontation. We do not want a situation to build up in this country. We would appeal to the Government to look into this matter and ensure that the boys who are in custody are released.
Of course, Sir, we are concerned about the activities of the armed forces in the North and the East which are a hindrance to our living with self-respect and dignity in the areas in which we were born and in which we have lived. We have asked for demilitarization, not for the removal of the military. Out of the 20 divisions in the Sri Lankan Army – according to the information I have – 15 divisions are in the North, two divisions in the East and three divisions in the rest of the country. I am told that if there are 15 divisions in the North, that would mean that there at least 150,000 soldiers in the Northern Province.
That is a very very large number of soldiers, given the fact that the number of people in the Northern Province is probably in the region of 600,000, which means that you have one soldier for every four civilians. This is not acceptable, Sir. The army had been interfering in other matters. When the first meeting was held in Jaffna, just prior to the Local Authority Elections, the armed forces went in and assaulted the persons who had assembled in a school building and that meeting was disrupted. On the day prior to the election to the Local Authorities in Jaffna, particularly in the Wanni, in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, they went around and confiscated people’s ballot cards and identity cards.
I had to make representations to the Commissioner of Elections in regard to that matter and certain action was taken, and those people were able to vote. When the Provincial Councils Elections took place in the Eastern Province recently, army intelligence personnel played a part in regard to that matter. They went and intimidated persons who were working for the Tamil National Alliance. They were told not to do that. They were told, “If you work for the elections for the Tamil National Alliance, there might be consequences which you will have to face after the elections are over”. People were frightened; people were not able to freely partake in the elections.
With such activities of the army, we are surely concerned. The army is occupying large extents of land in the North particularly, and also in the East. We do not want tension to build. We want to live in a state of normalcy. We do not want trouble in our areas. We do not want a confrontation with the armed forces. We want to live in peace. We do not want them there in such large numbers because when they are there in such large numbers, their presence is oppressive. Their presence is a humiliation to us. Their presence has an impact on our self-respect and dignity. It makes us unequal. It makes us second-class citizens. That is what we do not want.
Now, Sir, our people have not been able to resettle in Valikamam. Our people have not been able to resettle in Sampur. The Government has made commitments to the Supreme Court that the people can resettle in these areas in Valikamam and Sampur. People are not able to settle on their lands in Mullaitivu in Keppapulavu and they have been sent to a place called Kombawil some long distance away. Five hundred and fifty one houses in Jaffna are still occupied by the army.
Three hundred eight camps in Jaffna are on private lands. There are army camps in 153 Grama Niladhari Divisions in the North. This is what we complain about, this excessive presence. We do not say that they should not be there. They can be there in certain camps, do their activities as before the war, maintain their intelligence, have their surveillance. There is no problem in regard to that matter.
That is their duty. We only do not want the armed forces to have an adverse impact on the lives of our people and make them feel that they are some inferior people in this country, not equal people in this country that is what we do not want.
West of the Iranamadu Tank Sir, East of the A-9 highway on 4,600 hectares of lands approximately 12,000 acres of land, approximately 10,000 houses are being built for the army, something very different from army being accommodated in camps. Ten thousand houses are being built for the army. This is a large housing scheme.
Majority of them are going to be soldiers from other parts of the country. They will come and settle down with their families – [Interruption.] Please do not disturb me. Please talk later. Please be civilized. They are going to become permanent residents there, they are going to become permanent voters there – [Interruption.] Sir, we must have some order in this House.
In order to give this whole thing a measure of some balance, from an ethnic point of view, recently the armed forces have started recruiting some Tamil females into the army. They are being paid Rs. 35,000 per month. I am told that 118 females were recruited recently and that they are also recruiting some people to the Civil Security Division called the CSD with black T-shirt with the yellow marking CSD on the T-shirt.
Two thousand five hundred people have been recruited recently, both males and females. They are being paid a salary of Rs.18,000 per month, but they are largely engaged to work as labourers in army camps. Now, this is not the sort of economic activity that our people want. Our people want to start their agriculture, our people want to start their fishing.
Our people want to start their livestock and animal husbandry development and our people want to start their industries. What is being done in those areas? You want to get some people who will oblige you, give them some salaries and in order to give the semblance of doing something for the Tamil people, recruit some Tamil people into the army. You are recruiting some of these people and putting them into some activity largely serving your own purposes, the requirements of the armed forces.
In Iranamadu, 25 acres of land are being cultivated by the army with vegetables; in Theravil, almost 150 acres of land are being cultivated by the army with fruits; in Vellamkulam, about 600 acres of land are being cultivated by the army with cadjunuts; in Mukkombu, 100 acres of land are being cultivated by the army with coconuts; in Chunnavil, 600 acres of lands are being cultivated by the army with cadjunuts. These are all in the Wanni. A large extent of paddy fields under village tanks are being cultivated by the army.
The army is engaging in all these activities where civilians should be engaged and where civilians should be involved. Civilians cannot go to these areas; civilians cannot live in these areas and civilians cannot walk in these areas because these areas are under the control of the army. A displaced family is given a maximum of one fourth acre of land to live and to carry on his occupation.
Can he live in that land? Can he survive with that land while the Army is occupying such large extents of land? I am informed, Sir, very reliably that behind the Iranamadu Tank, between the Iranamadu Tank and the Army settlements, at Dollar and Kent Farms and behind, there is Welioya, there is the move to establish a link over a distance of 70 or 80 kilometres. Over a distance of 70 or 80 kilometres of land, their effort is to establish a link. Sir, such steps must inevitably have sinister objectives. It is not something that we can keep quiet about that we can watch or not speak about or hear about and not speak about.
Armed forces are being used in my submission by their large presence in the Northern Province in particular, to achieve political objectives. That must not be allowed. That is not the work of the army. Army fought the war. The war is over. Army must be confined to its camps and engage in other legitimate work that it might require them for. But, you must not use them in such a way that the Tamil people are being deprived or subjected to harassment.
These steps also, Sir, quite apart from achieving certain definite political objectives bring about substantial demographic changes in the North in particular now, it has also happened in the East and is still happening in the East. And these changes, Sir –
There will not be one Sinhalese person who will complain that I have ever harmed him. Hon. Basil Rajapaksa, you know that your Members of Parliament who have been to Trincomalee, your Ministers who have been to Trincomalee, have met with the Sinhalese people and they have said that. Sir, that is our position. It maybe there was ethnic cleansing by the LTTE; there was ethnic cleansing of Tamils during all these racial pogroms. How did this diaspora come about?
That is now complained about. The diaspora came about on account of the fact that during these pogroms that took place in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. People went out as a result of violence. That is how the diaspora has come about. So, Sir, we do not support ethnic cleansing. It is our view that all people must be entitled to live wherever they have lived.
That if their fundamental right, irrespective of whether they are Sinhalese, whether they are Tamils or whether they are Muslims. The only thing we have opposed is people being settled by the State in such a manner as to change the demographic composition of the areas which is what the Bandaranaika-Chelvanayakam Pact and the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact provided against. That is all that we have advocated, that is all that we have demanded.
We have never demanded anything more than that. We have never taken any objections or whatever to any person of any ethnicity coming into the North and the East, settling down and carrying on his enterprise. We have never opposed that. That is the position Sir. [Interruption.]
I think the time has come now; three and a half years after the war for the Government to take action to ensure that the Tamil people living in the North and the East are able to live in peace, are able to live with self-respect and dignity, not with the sense of inferiority because that is fundamental to reconciliation.
If there has to be reconciliation in this country between the different ethnic communities and if such reconciliation is fundamental to progress in this country, it is also fundamental that we must be able to live as equals with self-respect and dignity with our rights restored. The way I have been treated in this House today, Sir, does not inspire such confidence.
So, this is my plea, Sir. We want all these army occupied territories including the new housing that is coming up to be abandoned, not to be used for military purposes. We make that request on the Floor of this House as we are entitled to because these are deliberate efforts to alter the demographic composition of these areas by enhancing the strength of the military by bringing those families into the North and the East and settling them there.
When the army cultivates various lands in such large extents with different types of crops, when these armed forces are demobilized, they will have their houses, develop the lands from which they can eke out their existence. They will have their livelihood made out and they will become permanent residents of the North and the East.
There is a programme that is presently happening, that is being very diligently executed by the Government and we would earnestly urge that this be brought to an end.
I thank you, Sir.