Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Embrace the Tamils to ensure long-lasting peace

I wish to share the opinion expressed by the renowned journalist, Mahendra Ved , from India. The following write-up of Mahendra Ved gives an insight of the Tamils and LTTE problems in Sri Lanka:

THE last time I wrote on Sri Lanka developments in this column, there was an angry letter from a Sri Lankan Tamil woman. Besides dubbing me "a north Indian, insensitive to Tamil aspirations", she wrote, somewhat contemptuously, that my first name resembled that of her president.
I noted the sentiments. My argument that the Tamils of the island nation deserved all support and sympathy, but not the Tigers, had not washed with her.

She is, perhaps, representative of the anger of millions more who have for the past two decades come to identify their aspirations with those of the Tigers.

Actually, they had no real choice as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had decimated every other Tamil group that advocated a different line and did not agree with its violent struggle.

I had met moderates like Appapillai Amrithalingam, Umamaheswaran and others in the 1980's, only to read later of their assassinations. The LTTE did not allow any other opinion to exist.

Here lies the crux. Here lies the tragedy.

The end game in Sri Lanka has been won by a determined government that gagged the media, disregarded international opinion and concerns, and ruthlessly carried the military campaign to its logical conclusion. The Tigers have been all but destroyed in their home base.

There were reports as the battle entered the last phase that some Tigers might escape to Southeast Asia and keep the resistance alive till they regain a foothold back home and in southern India. Some would have escaped to other parts of Sri Lanka as well. This is possible. If it happens, several governments that have banned the organisation have a serious task at hand.

While this is in the realm of informed speculation for now, there is no end to the woes of the Tamil populace. More than 200,000 are displaced and went through hell in the last phase. The numbers of dead, maimed, sick and homeless are still being compiled as the international community rushes in help.

According to the United Nations, roughly 7,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed between January, when a military offensive pushed back the rebels into a tiny enclave in the northeast, and the first week of this month.

The Tamils may feel relieved, but also fearful of retribution from the majority Sinhalas, going by the current triumphant mood after the military victory.

The vast Tamil diaspora feels angry and humiliated. In Canada, they want to try the Sri Lankan leadership for "war crimes". In some other capitals, from the safety of distance and democracy, resolutions have been passed to bring the Sri Lankans "to their knees".

This anger is understandable, considering the years of distrust from discrimination and ill-treatment that successive governments in Colombo meted out to the Tamils. Laws were passed to keep them suppressed and on the periphery of society. Violence was met with violence even among civilians. Discontent prepared the ground for resistance.

A critical look at the role of the Tigers has been long overdue. Violence was the basis of their quest for a homeland. They transformed from an armed resistance group to a guerilla force and eventually into a terrorist organisation, complete with an army, navy with submarine vessels and a small air wing.

Money kept pouring in and so did arms and ammunition. For years, Colombo kept up its carrot-and-stick policy. Only, the carrot was not juicy and sweet enough and the stick was not strong enough. For lack of political will on both sides, the conflict lingered on.

For years, the military proved a poor match to the highly motivated and organised Tigers, who killed at will not only fellow Tamils considered "traitors" but also top ministers and leaders. Even the present army chief was hit just outside his office.

At the centre of it all was the LTTE supremo, Vellupillai Prabhakaran. Much has been written about his grip on the minds and bodies of the Tamils who lived in the north and east of the island for a quarter of a century.

Now that he has met a violent death, it remains a moot point how much they loved and how much they feared him and his cadres.

The bloodletting -- more than 90,000 killed -- and Prabhakaran's own bloody end could have been averted had both sides shown sagacity. Colombo played to the Sinhala chauvinists, while the LTTE utilised each ceasefire to regroup and strengthen its hold over the territory inhabited by the Tamils.

The worst, one hopes, is over. Winning the peace will call for a clear political outline of the future by the government. Rebuilding the country will call for the government to abjure the thought of victor and vanquished.

At the end of the day, what matters is the degree to which Colombo will accommodate the Tamils in the future constitutional and administrative framework of the country.

It will be President Mahinda Rajapakse's task, therefore, to ensure the removal of such feelings through meeting the genuine demands of the Tamils. That will mean granting them equality with the Sinhalas in every sphere of political and social activity, in order for the former to identify with the rest of the country.

One cannot ignore the rather justifiable bitterness Sri Lanka's Tamils have felt about their place in the country's scheme of things. Such bitterness can only be wiped off through guaranteeing Tamil rights -- to education, to government service, to pursuing their own language and culture -- in the country's constitution.

It is time for Rajapakse and his men to show a measure of wisdom and understanding. Otherwise, their triumph will only pave the way for years of guerilla and conventional warfare.

Worse, violence that is now being window-dressed as a victory extracted by the Sri Lankan army will likely strengthen the military top brass' aspiration for power and influence in state affairs. Sri Lankan society will have to resist this phenomenon, so common across South Asia.

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