EDITORIAL: Financial Times (London): August 11 2009
After the government of Sri Lanka finally and violently crushed the 25-year-old insurrection by Tamil rebels last May, there were hopes this sparkling island in the Indian Ocean would finally emerge from its dark history into the light. That is already looking forlorn.
Put simply, while the conflict has ended, Sri Lanka is careering back to where it was when the conflict began. Its precarious identity as a mix of ethnic and linguistic, cultural and religious influences is in danger of being swept away by a triumphalist wave of Sinhalese chauvinism.
True, partial local elections on Saturday returned some Tamil nationalists in northern towns on the fringe of the former fief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. But the real purpose of the poll seems to have been to test the popularity of President Mahinda Rajapaksa before he calls an early general election to secure a second six-year term, in the afterglow of military victory. Mr Rajapaksa’s machine steamrollered through the southern province of Uva. That will, no doubt, have added to his sense of invulnerability.
What really happened in the elections is hard to know; foreign journalists were banned from the north, just as all journalists were during the final stages of the war.
The government has stepped up its intimidation of dissidents, lawyers and human rights workers as well as journalists. Five doctors who were the sources for the outside world on the final civilian bloodbath in the Tigers’ last redoubt have somehow been persuaded to recant in public, downgrading the number of civilian deaths to a tenth of UN estimates.
Meanwhile, 280,000 Tamils are being held in camps largely sealed off from aid workers. The notion of devolution to deal with Tamil grievances has been taken off the table. The government no longer wishes to discuss minority rights, only individual rights within the new national identity it intends to forge. US and British officials fear this may involve the forced dispersal of Tamils across the island so they can no longer cluster.
Even before last month’s $2.5bn reconstruction loan package from the International Monetary Fund, Mr Rajapaksa’s ability to find new sources of finance, especially from China, had made him relatively immune to international pressure.
His victory seems to have convinced him force is the answer. Yet unless the Sinhala majority shows magnanimity and gives the Tamils control over their lives, their cause will surely reignite from the embers of this war.