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 Post subject: Tigers at the door
 Post Posted: Thu May 17, 2007 1:57 pm 
Tigers at the door

It is unfortunate that the staunch unilateral condemnation of terror by the British parliament following the July 7 London bombings does not apply when another country's capital is being continuously bombarded. It is also somewhat amusing that this reaction comes from Britain at a time when the French, Americans and Australians have all recently cracked down on Tiger fundraising.

Sadiq Khan, who represents Tooting - which has a significant Tamil population - spoke extensively of human rights violations against "Tamil-speaking people". But, being a Muslim himself, he failed to mention the serious violations Tamil-speaking Muslims have been subject to by the Tigers, including abductions, torture, killings and extortions.

By Farah Mihlar
@ guardian.co.uk / May 16, 2007


Belated perhaps, but with new impetus, Britain is finally responding to a severe escalation of fighting in Sri Lanka that has resulted in more than 3,000 deaths in the past year. The horrific violence following the breakdown of a ceasefire signed in 2002 forms the latest chapter in a two-decade war between the Tamil Tiger militants and Sri Lankan government forces.

The Tigers want a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils, accusing the majority Sinhala Buddhist state of continuous discrimination. The latest British response to the Sri Lankan conflict came a fortnight ago, almost simultaneously, in the form of a parliamentary debate, the creation of an all-party Tamil group and finally a partial freezing of aid to the country. Some of these initiatives will certainly be helpful to the country but hints of partiality and incoherency in the overall response threatens to negate the positive effort.

The move to create parliament's first ever all-party Tamil group by its title itself is likely to draw the most controversy. MPs who lead this group, like Keith Vaz, are clearly responding to their significant electorate of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees turned UK citizens. But the general partisan approach of some parliamentarians to a conflict that also affects the majority Sinhalese and minority Muslims is outrageous to say the least.

The reference to "Tamils" is unclear as it implies a non-existent homogeneity. Part of the recent violence against Tamils has come as a result of brutal opposition between the Tigers, old militant groups and a new Tiger breakaway faction called the Karuna group. The general tone of some MPs' speeches appeared to also recognise the Tigers as the sole representatives of the Tamils - a claim most moderate Tamils oppose and for which they have paid dearly, having lost many of their leadership to Tiger suicide attacks.

The debate also lacked an understanding of the ethnic nuances in the conflict. Sadiq Khan, who represents Tooting - which has a significant Tamil population - spoke extensively of human rights violations against "Tamil-speaking people". But, being a Muslim himself, he failed to mention the serious violations Tamil-speaking Muslims have been subject to by the Tigers, including abductions, torture, killings and extortions. In 1990, in a horrific ethnic cleansing campaign, the Tigers gave some 100,000 Muslims 24 hours to leave the northern areas under their control. Sixteen years later many of them remain in displaced camps.

Suggestions to lift a ban imposed by the British government on the terror group in 2000 could also be seen as reflecting a sense of bias. It is shocking that the parliamentarians advocating this refused to sufficiently consider the internal impact. The ban has helped to reduce extortion and attacks against Sri Lankan expatriates by Tamil criminal gangs with Tiger links.

Funds collected from Tamils in Europe, Canada, Australia and the US has, through the years, helped the Tigers progress from being the pioneers of suicide bombings to forming their own air force. Four air attacks in two months on Colombo have engulfed the capital in fear.

It is unfortunate that the staunch unilateral condemnation of terror by the British parliament following the July 7 London bombings does not apply when another country's capital is being continuously bombarded. It is also somewhat amusing that this reaction comes from Britain at a time when the French, Americans and Australians have all recently cracked down on Tiger fundraising.

Even the rationale of lifting the ban on the grounds it would give the Tigers parity of status at future negotiations is unconvincing. The ever-changing field of conflict resolution provides varied modalities of engaging terror groups while they are outlawed. At the least even for the ban to be suspended the Tigers should display more commitment to peace negotiations and democratisation.

Despite the Tigers' deadly reputation, they are certainly not solely to blame for the current humanitarian and human rights crisis in the country. The worst impact of the latest fighting is seen in the east of Sri Lanka where the government, in a bid to flush out the Tigers, has intensified its military campaign. Incessant shelling of Tamil villages has displaced some 150,000 people in just a few months. A little away from the towns, the bare land is dotted by a sea of small white tents as far as the eye can see. Families, some with four or five children, are cramped under the tiny flimsy white plastic covers that the scorching sun burns through. Food is rationed, water and sanitation are problematic. In the main towns, the renegade Karuna militants move freely with arms. Their offices stand adjacent to army camps but the government denies any association with the rebels.

Across the country, reports of extra-judicial killings, abductions and disappearances are soaring. Colombo's response has been to completely quell accusations of human rights violations. NGOs, human rights activists and the few media groups that defy the environment of fear are threatened and antagonised.

It is this situation that makes some aspects of the British response positive. The decision to freeze aid sends a strong warning to Sri Lanka. The parliamentary debate was welcome but there were some unanswered questions on issues such as military aid to Sri Lanka and Britain's forthcoming role as head of the UN security council. In that capacity Britain can play a crucial role that can range from insisting on international human rights monitoring to imposing UN sanctions.

With the Norwegian peace facilitators struggling to get the warring factions to negotiate, Britain can make a significant difference. But with the stigma of being the former colonial master, Britain will have to tread carefully. Its effort must be sincere, impartial and sensitive to the complex nature of the conflict. After Afghanistan and Iraq, Britain certainly can't afford another international mess.


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 Post subject: misunderstood and misrepresented
 Post Posted: Wed May 23, 2007 1:59 am 
misunderstood and misrepresented

My biggest fear is that Sri Lanka is becoming a country of extremes, with potential victims at one end and born killers on the other. The thing is that there seems to be no Sri Lankan leader (political or military) that does not use the language of violence...past or present.

The tensions within Sri Lanka, as in many areas of the world blighted by conflict, have been misunderstood and misrepresented by a media constantly looking to 'market' a cause celebre, root for an underdog or even back a winner. It's all so depressingly Hollywood-simple for some. Sri Lanka has had a complex history with three successive imperial powers (Portuguese, Dutch and British) each leaving a legacy, let alone the complex modern political developments since 1948.

My biggest fear is that Sri Lanka is becoming a country of extremes, with potential victims at one end and born killers on the other.

The thing is that there seems to be no Sri Lankan leader (political or military) that does not use the language of violence...past or present.

My parents (Tamil) left Sri Lanka in the 1970's and I was just a child. I went back in 1982 and saw first hand how social cohesion between the ethnic groups had broken down. My uncle and aunt were being sheltered by Sinhalese friends from Sinhalese mobs and police - The fear and retribution shared between neighbours. I also went back in 1990 and witnessed the brutality of the Indian Army and the kidnap and ransom of my (Tamil) uncle by LTTE fighters.

Confusing? It is not so easy to spot the bad guys is it?

The last time I returned was in November 2004. It was a different place. For the first time there I detected a mood of hope. My family in Colombo were starting up their own business, my energetic cousin walking around in a business suit talking the latest marketing babble. The LTTE and the government were actually talking. I met so many young Sri Lankans (denied education during the worst years of the 'troubles') determined to make a success of themselves in the economy rather than the battlefield.

Then the Tsunami happened, and I have to say the poor management of disaster relief may well have been the catalyst to the renewed violence. The east (predominantly Tamil) of the country was practically ignored, the focus being on the Sinhalese south. The primary aid provision to people in the east came from the Tamil diaspora.

Maybe it was not the knock-on effect I describe, but I have no other way to explain how things have changed so radically prior to the Tsunami. Sri Lanka needs to be rid of the influence of the haughty Buddhist Theocrats that have interfered for too long in the country's political decision making.


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 Post subject: inaccurate details and a distorted view
 Post Posted: Wed May 23, 2007 2:03 am 
Inaccurate details and a distorted view

Sure, the militants have done wrong things have well. But what they have done is minimal compared with what the Sri Lankan Government has done - your article doesn't reflect this. I suggest that the next time you sit down to write, get your facts straight please.

Hi Farah,

You have given inaccurate details (see below) and a distorted view of the Sri lankan ethnic conflict, nevermind the British involvement. You have twisted the story to accomodate a personal point of view and at certain points, some of the points that you raise is based on misconceptions.

Lets recap - Group A kills 100 in retaliation Group B kill 5 - You are talking about group B alot. Authors, journalists have a moral resposibility to understan the ground situation.

I was living in Jaffna when the when the Tigers "gave some 100,000 Muslims 24 hours to leave the northern areas under their control" - This is true. I remember feeling very sad that my commerce teacher (a muslim) had to leave the province due to the actions of a few other muslims.
But "Muslims have been subject to by the Tigers, including abductions, torture, killings and extortions" - What are you talking about? (see facts below)

You say "country's capital is being continuously bombarded" I am amazed at this statement - What are you talking about again? The tigers have bombed Colombo 3 times with the small puny air planes, the Sri lankan forces would have bombarded the North and East COUNTLESS times.
When I lived in the North (just for a few years) I would experience at least 20 air bombings. As a 12 year old girl, I had run away from helicopter fire terrified, as the helicopter indescriminately fired at the ground.

FACT 1 - Tamils are 99% of the victims when it comes to torture, extrajudicial killings, RAPE, indescriminate shellings and bombings.
FACT 2 - I lost a beloved cousin and an uncle - thanks to one of the many many air raids by the Sri lankan air forces.
FACT 3 - One of my childhood acquaintances was gang raped by 10 sri lankan soldiers and strangled to death. Her body dumper into a well. The poor girl was on her way to a tuition class. This was a high profile case (Krishanthy Kumarasamy) since she came from a middleclass backgound. But what about the poor people who have no voice against the countless atrocities of the Sri Lankan army??

As for me, just looking pictures of uniformed men in the newspapers makes me shiver.

Sure, the militants have done wrong things have well. But what they have done is minimal compared with what the Sri Lankan Government has done - your article doesn't reflect this.

I suggest that the next time you sit down to write, get your facts straight please.

Thanks, Janani


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 Post subject: Farah Mihlar, the Internally Displaced and Ethnic Cleansing
 Post Posted: Wed May 23, 2007 2:09 am 
Farah Mihlar, the Internally Displaced and Ethnic Cleansing

Ethnic cleansing has a long history in independent Sri Lanka. One of the first pieces of legislation in the country i.e. the Ceylon Citizenship Act was to disenfranchise one million “Indian” Tamils in 1948.

May 21, 2007
By Dharman Dharmaratnam


Farah Mihlar had written an opinion piece entitled Tigers at the Door in the UK-based Guardian newspaper on 16 May, 2007. The Daily Mirror in Colombo duly reproduced this as a feature article on 18 May, 2007. She had commented on the British parliamentary debates on human rights in Sri Lanka. I had written to the Daily Mirror to point out her flawed data but this was not published!

Farah Mihlar mentions that the Tigers had resorted to a “horrific ethnic cleansing campaign” that resulted in the expulsion of 100,000 Muslims from the North. She exaggerates the numbers. The Department of Census and Statistics in Sri Lanka had enumerated 50,831 Muslims in the Jaffna, Mannar, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya districts in 1981. Kilinochchi formed a part of Jaffna then. It was this population that was expelled in 1990 purportedly in retaliation against reported attacks on Tamil villages in the Amparai district by Muslim home guards. One can add a few thousands more to account for the natural increase in the Muslim population in the North between 1981 and 1990. Many Muslims subsequently returned to Mannar and Vavuniya. I refer her to the Department of Census and Statistics publication Population by Ethnic Group and District, Census, 1981.

The eviction of Muslims in the North took place in the context of attacks on Tamil villages in 1990 such as Kanjikudichiaru, Karaitivu, Komari, Sagamam, Sorikalmunai, Tirukovil and Veeramunai in the Amparai district.

Farah then mentions that “Incessant shelling of Tamil villages has displaced some 150,000 people” in 2006. She down plays the numbers in this instance. UNHCR figures place the number of displaced at 302,000 in April 2007! The overwhelming majority of the new IDPs were Tamils. The Government ensured that the 40,000 odd Muslims IDPs were swiftly resettled in Mutur West last year. However, it is unclear whether the Tamil displaced from Sampur and Mutur East in August, 2006 would ever be allowed to return!

Ethnic cleansing has a long history in independent Sri Lanka. One of the first pieces of legislation in the country i.e. the Ceylon Citizenship Act was to disenfranchise one million “Indian” Tamils in 1948. These were the descendents of indentured laborers who were brought to work the coffee, tea and rubber plantations from 1823 onwards. About 350,000 were repatriated to India under what could only be described as “ethnic cleansing by treaty” following the Sirimavo Shastri pact in October 1964.

Independent Fiji, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa did not expel its “Indian” minority. Sri Lanka did. However, it merits acknowledgement that the high caste Jaffna Tamils led by G.G. Ponnambalam and Sunderalingam did not oppose the move. This remains an indictment on the history of Tamil nationalism in the island!

One can also refer to Manal Aru or Weli Oya, a strategic piece of real estate sandwiched between the Northern and the Eastern Provinces in Sri Lanka. 13,288 Tamil families living in 42 villages were ordered to vacate their homes by Gazette notification on 16 April, 1988. The land belonging to 14 Tamil entrepreneurs on a 99 year lease was abruptly revoked as well. The entire area was then brought under the Mahaweli Authority and declared as the Mahaweli L Zone. 9,289 Sinhalese families were settled in 15 new villages protected by 25,000 military personnel. Weli Oya represents an instance of “ethnic cleansing”.

Tamils were displaced in the 1970s and 1980s in what is today known as the Gomarankadawela, Moraweva and Seruwila divisions not to mention Kantalai in the Trincomalee district. One wonders whether the same fate is in store for the tens of thousands of Tamils displaced from Mutur East and Sampur in the Trincomalee district which the Government hopes to declare a special economic zone complete with its very own coal-fired power plant.

Farah Mihlar may not be aware of the many instances of ethnic cleansing perpetrated by different actors in her narrow zeal to focus on the Muslim displaced. While she is entitled to her opinions, she can not bandy about incorrect data. She needs to double check before she writes an opinion piece.


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