[Joe Higgins- Former member of the Irish Parliment and Honorary President of SST. Following is the republication of his column in Irish Mail]
United Nations agencies are highlighing the desperate plight of 100,000 civilians from the Tamil population trapped in the Wanni region of northern Sri Lanka as the Sri Lankan Army moves to wipe out the Tamil Tigers(LTTE) who have conducted a military campaign for a separate state for the past thirty years. At last International attention is being directed at the vicious war waged by Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse to crush any hope of the Tamil minority securing its independence.
Earlier this year we had 24 hour media coverage of the murderous assault by the Israeli army on Gaza, of the killing and maiming of innocent civilians trapped in an enclave of a few dozen square kilometres. Yet while this was going on, the civilian population in northern Sri Lanka were enduring a similar nightmare but without the attention of the world, and consequently a freer hand for the Sri Lankan government to pursue its military objectives with great brutality. Agencies estimate that 3000 people have been killed in the past few months, with hundreds of thousands displaced, many of these suffering greatly from lack of adequate food, water and medicines.
Over 60,000 civilians who were able to flee from the immediate war zone, are caged in government camps surrounded by barbed wire fences controlled by the Sri Lankan army. There are disturbing reports that government paramilitaries are given access to these camps to single out alleged Tamil Tiger activists and that there have been disappearances and violent abuse of young women.
Like Israel, the Sri Lankan government has banned the media from the conflict areas. Tamil migrants around the world have protested about the slaughter and suffering of their people but the governments of Britain, which colonised Sri Lanka, and of India which has a population of 70 million Tamils, have glossed over the war push of the Sri Lankan government. So has the US, Russia and China, all of which have strategic interests in the area.
Sri Lanka has a population of about 21 million, eighty percent Sinhala and about ten percent Tamil, with distinct languages and cultures. Since his election in 2005, the government of President Rajapakse has deliberately whipped up a frenzy of chauvinism in parts of the majority Sinhala population, against the Tamil demand for an independent state and in preparation for the war it is now waging.
Rajapakse has branded those opposing his war as ‘traitors’ and ‘terrorist supporters’. Arbitrary arrests of government opponents are common as well as abductions, disappearances and extra judicial murders. Nine journalists have been murdered in two years, causing Sri Lanka to be considered the fourth most dangerous place on earth for journalists.
I visited Sri Lanka some years ago. As the plane touched down, the pilot said over the public address, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to Paradise!’ And a paradise Sri Lanka could be, with immensely beautiful land and seascapes, very fertile agricultural land capable of producing magnificent fruit and vegetables and indeed much of the tea we consume here, great fishing around the coasts and a warm and friendly people.
However, there is shocking poverty there. The Tamil tea plantation workers live in shameful conditions of virtual destitution. Successive governments, making a mockery of the country’s official name, The Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, aped the neo liberal economic policies of the major capitalist countries and dismally failed to harness the natural and human potential of the country.
The solution to the Sri Lanka crisis is to grant the Tamil people self determination and then have Sinhala and Tamil populations cooperate and work together to make the ‘paradise’ that the country could be. Giving meaning to the ‘Socialist’ in the country’s name, key resources would be removed from the control both of the multinational corporations and the Governments cronies and developed democratically by the Sri Lankan working class for the benefit of all.
The ordinary Sinhala people are not responsible for the current disaster,the Sri Lankan government is. But the tactics of the Tamil Tigers have not shown a way forward. Amnesty International has severely criticised the LTTE, along with the Sri Lankan government, for widespread violations of human and democratic rights. As well as that LTTE terror attacks in Colombo and elsewhere have alienated potentially wide support in the Sinhala community.
Still, brave human rights advocates and political activists, such as my co thinkers in the United Socialist Party and their well known General Secretary, Siritunga Jayasuriya, at great danger to themselves, fearlessly advocate national rights for the Tamils, highlight the common interests of working people, Tamil and Sinhala and oppose the repression and the right wing policies of the Rajapakse government. Now that the horror in Sri Lanka is becoming better known, the international labour movement and human rights advocates everywhere should mobilise to support them.