Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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War Games and Peoples' Lives

Pay Heed to Criticism

by Shanie, 'Notebooks of a Nobody,' The Island, Colombo, November 18, 2006

We wish more articles like this one were forthcoming from Colombo. When civilians are starved, killed, and driven from their homes, it is hard for them, their relatives, their friends, and their neighbors not to believe that the Tamil population is the target, not any particular armed force. After a generation of war, this consequence of attacks on civilians should, indeed, be crystal clear.


IDPs killed by SLA shelling Kathiraveli School November 8, 2006 - 'TamilNet'
Vaharai, photo courtesy TamilNet, November 8, 2006

Is it a sign of our utter moral decadence that neither our security forces nor the LTTE act as if the lives of people mattered in the least. The latest massacre in the Vaharai area is an unbelievable act of brutality. The security forces were well aware that the Kathiraveli School housed hundreds of displaced persons who had fled their homes out of fear. From the explanations given by both the military and political spokespersons, it is clear that these poor, innocent and helpless persons were the deliberate targets. Among the over fifty dead are women, children and the elderly. Hundreds more have been injured, many would be physically or mentally maimed for life. No remorse, no apology and no sympathy for the affected families.

Whether the LTTE used the Kathiraveli School for their own purposes or if they directed artillery fire at the Army from the school does not justify this brutal massacre. Even if it is true that the LTTE fired at the Army with long-range missiles, does that justify targeting a civilian camp known to house several hundred displaced persons? It is sad to note that for many apologists the issue to be debated is whether the LTTE used the Camp to fire first. Obviously, there is no concern that several hundred civilians have been killed or injured. There is no wish to initiate a debate as to what measures need to be taken to ensure that civilians are not subject to this kind of action in the future. It only adds strength to the propaganda that deaths of civilian Tamils is of little concern to the establishment in Colombo.

Vavuniya November 19, 2006 -'TamilNet'
Vavuniya, photo courtesy TamilNet, November 19, 2006

It now appears that the shelling at refugee settlements continues, forcing these helpless people to keep moving. The strategy seems to be to force these people to move out of LTTE controlled areas. Again, it is simply a cynical political power game. The LTTE’s strategy is to force people to move into areas under their control. The thinking behind these strategies is that people must be manipulated to serve the war games of the contending parties. Their lives seem to matter little. They are forced to move from one refugee camp to another just to serve the political agenda of one or the other of the contending parties.

It is time that President Rajapakse took control and said enough is enough. The people who carry out these wanton massacres undoubtedly enjoy political patronage from some quarter. They do these with impunity because they seem to think they will be immune from any form of accountability. Despite promises from time to time, no independent investigations have been done into the almost daily incidents of abductions, disappearances, massacres or extra-judicial killings. This time around, the UN, Amnesty International and many local parties including the private media and the UNP have swiftly condemned it and called for a fair probe. This must be done to ensure the credibility of the Government and the Presidency. One is left wondering if the people who goad the security forces into these outrageous actions are really trying to tarnish the reputation and good name of the Presidency.

We now understand that a Committee has been appointed to investigate and report on specific instances of killings, beginning with the Lakshman Kadirgamar assassination. It is a daunting task for a committee that comprises eminent fair-minded persons, though short on judicial or investigative experience, to investigate so many killings. But it is at least a fair start. Let us hope that the committee will see it fit to issue interim reports as and when they finish investigations into specific cases.

The Raviraj Killing

Nadarajah Raviraj was the second Tamil parliamentarian to be assassinated in recent months, Joseph Pararajasingham was killed as he attended Christmas Mass in Batticaloa.

Both were the more personable of TNA parliamentarians who enjoyed a good rapport with a wide cross-section of Sri Lankan society and who were willing to engage in dialogue with others who differed from them in their politics. It is a mark of fascists that they target only such democratic persons who have the ability to persuade by listening and by constructive engagement with others.

There is no doubt that the Government must take responsibility for not being able to arrest the regularity with which these killings take place. Abductions have also been taking place in Colombo in recent months. It is true that, despite stringent security measures, it will not be possible to totally eliminate such crimes. But the impunity with which these killers and kidnappers carry out their crimes raises an alarm which the Government must tackle as a matter of real urgency.

The rapidly declining security situation should be of concern not only to the Government but also to all in civil society. There is no alternative to dialogue and healthy participation in the affairs of the country. The real danger is not that Sri Lanka will lose international support and financial and technical assistance. The greater danger is that our society will become brutalised and polarised and that we will lose our human values. We have cherished the pluralist values we have inherited from our ancient civilisation. This brutalisation of this conflict and the manner in which fascistic elements are exploiting it spells danger. President Rajapakse by iinstinct is a politician with an agenda for consensual politics that recognises the rights of all. He needs to take control.

A Lost Opportunity

A drastic change of strategy is required if the deteriorating situation is to be arrested. The present strategy does no good to the image of either the Government or the Presidency. The MoU with the UNP was a good start. He must extend it by constructive engagement with the North-East civil society and with the democratic elements within the Tamil and Muslim polity, which includes some within the TNA. This is why the assassination of Raviraj and Pararajasingham diminishes the democratic elements of the Tamil polity with whom Presdent Rajapakse could have engaged in dialogue. But it is never too late to make a fresh start.

The Government missed an opportunity to make this fresh start by refusing the request to allow Raviraj’s cortege to be taken along the A9 to his home town of Chavakachcheri for the funeral rites. Undoubtedly there would have been elements who would have wanted to exploit this. But the modalities could have been worked out to avoid political exploitation of such a movement and a military escort provided. The family would not have wanted any political exploitation or confrontation in such a tragedy for them. The Government and the country would have gained hugely from such a gesture. President Rajapakse would have stooped to conquer.

Facing up to reality

Many international observers and foreign missions have been raising questions in recent months about the deteriorating situation in the country. If the country is to move forward, we need to pay heed to the observations and criticisms that are made. The international and indeed the local civil and political observers who make these criticisms do so in order that wrongs may be corrected. The people on the ground know the correct facts. For instance, the people in the Batticaloa District know quite well the armed group that is behind the spate of recent abduction of children. Allan Rock of the UN is stating a fact known to the people when he says that both the LTTE and the "Karuna Group" are guilty of child conscriptions. And it is also known that the "Karuna group" has its camps close to the check points of the security forces. Denying this is not going to convince the international community or the local people. We should commit to put things right.

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