Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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The Problem and its Solution are in Sri Lanka, Not in the US

by editorial, January 6, 2006

There need be no Norway, no Japan, no EU and no anybody outside to help seek a just solution. It is for the majority community, led by the political parties of the Sinhalese, to come to realization that Sri Lanka belongs just as well to the Tamils and other minorities as to the majority Sinhalese; neither less nor more.


Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera seeks to get Washington’s attention to bring about an end to the resources of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He says that the LTTE has been waging a war against the Government of Sri Lanka since 1983 with the aim to carve out a separate state for the Tamils. When he met the US Secretary of State Ms Condoleezza Rice, he requested that the LTTE be treated as a terrorist organization just like Al-Qaeda by her government. He also conveyed to the US his government’s firm commitment to a negotiated settlement to the ethnic conflict.

Subidcham draws the attention of the Government of Sri Lanka to some of the factors that have caused the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

Firstly, this conflict has been entirely fueled by Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism which has been riding uncontrolled for nearly half a century. The problems began with the passing of the infamous piece of legislation in 1958, the Sinhala Only Act. Ever since that time, the Tamils have been continually discriminated against on many fronts and reduced to a state of second class citizens.

Secondly, no government whether led by the United National Party (UNP) or the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), has ever made an honest effort to ensure that the rights of the Tamils were redeemed, to be on par with that of the majority Sinhalese. The government headed by President Chandrika Ranatunge Bandaranaike did make some efforts in this direction, but these got entangled in the labyrinth of Sri Lanka’s post-independence politics. Divisive forces taken root in the country. The LTTE is one of these forces. But for the untold discrimination the Tamils have suffered and the utter helplessness of their lot, the LTTE would never have gained acceptance among them.

Thirdly, there were far too many racial riots directed against the Tamils and Colombo governments unashamedly turned a blind eye to them. In 1983, a crucial year when the LTTE became a major force, the horrendous racial riots - planned well ahead with government assistance - was virtually a genocidal pogrom against the Tamils. Among the many atrocities that have been committed against them and their properties, individuals, families and even children have been burnt alive in Colombo, its suburbs and other parts of the island by Sinhala mobs. It was at this time that it became increasingly clear that the Tamils would do well to seek a separate state for themselves. This separate state had been a historical fact before the Portuguese capture of the country’s Maritime Provinces during the early part of the 16th century.

Fourthly, two governments, that of Junius Jayawardene and Srimavo Bandaranaike, had huge majorities in Parliament and both could have made the necessary changes to create the circumstances necessary for racial amity in the country. There were also coalition governments in which Tamil Members of Parliament had cabinet positions. Yet these opportunities were ignored because the urban vested interests reigned supreme. These interests had neither the vision, nor the courage to curb the growing plague of Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism.

Finally, what exactly does Minister Samaraweera want from the US apart from getting some kind of moral satisfaction from this superpower? His Washington rhetoric that his government is firmly committed to a negotiated settlement to the ethnic conflict is a load of hogwash. This claim has been made so often over the years that it has become utterly meaningless and threadbare.

Mr Samaraweera should understand that the problem is in Sri Lanka, and the solution too, is on the island, not in Washington, Oslo, Tokyo or Bangkok. This is all because Colombo has failed by denying the Tamils their just rights.

It is for the Government of Sri Lanka to undo all the damage done in respect of race relations in the country, re-establish the rightful position of the Tamils as citizens of Sri Lanka on par with the majority community and honour the principle that the traditional homelands of a distinct community are inalienable.

After half a century of oppression no Tamil in his right senses would accept any political solution that overlooks the right to territories that are historically that of the Tamils. Furthermore, the Sinhalese and Tamils are two distinct cultural communities and their differences have been further extended and expanded by determined legislative and other measures since the country became independent.

There need be no Norway, no Japan, no EU and no anybody outside to help seek a just solution. It is for the majority community, led by the political parties of the Sinhalese, to come to realization that Sri Lanka belongs just as well to the Tamils and other minorities as to the majority Sinhalese; neither less nor more.

When Sri Lankan ministers go gallivanting to the capitals of various countries with an anti-LTTE intention, they must also realize that, but for the Tigers, the Tamils would have been history in Sri Lanka by now, and every statement they make, just like what Mr Samaraweera did in Washington, is directed against the Tamils.

Since 1958 Colombo has conducted its affairs in such a way as to force the Tamils into the arms of the Tigers. It came to a desperate situation when the Tamils had to choose either the devil or the demon - both highly destructive to their interests. The community has chosen the demon that speaks Tamil.

The ball is firmly in Colombo’s court. It has tarried there far too long. Why should anybody blame the Tigers now? The only way to neutralize the LTTE is to uphold the rights of the Tamils, appropriately enshrine them in the country’s constitution and assure those rights in daily practice.

In the pages of Sri Lanka’s history there are accounts of how a certain king of Kotte sought the help of the Dutch to get rid of the Portuguese. And don’t we know what followed immediately afterwards? We hope in seeking Washington’s help, or whatever Mr Samaraweera has in mind, history is not repeated.