25 October, 2008
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By Dr John Whitehall
The silence of Western media and government has emboldened the majority Sinhalese to embark on a renewed campaign to dispossess and kill the Tamil people. Dr John Whitehall reports.
The Tamil-controlled north-east of Sri Lanka thunders "day and night" under bombardment from the forces of the Sinhalese government in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo as they attempt to destroy Tamil autonomy.
Against this backdrop, "a great human tragedy" is also "exploding", according to Fr James Pathinathan of St Theresa's Church in Kilinochchi, the administrative capital of the de facto government of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
From the eye of the storm, Fr Pathinathan, who is also president of the local Justice and Peace Commission, reports that "deaths, injuries, displacements and attendant misery pervade the lives of innocent Tamil civilians... and the draconian economic embargo imposed slyly... has become a monstrous obstacle in giving relief and solace to the 170,000 persons recently displaced".
The Sri Lankan Government's economic embargo, involving the closure of roads and ports of access for food, medicines, and fuel for an already destitute population, has been compounded by its eviction of aid agencies from the north-east as it has increased the tempo of war in an apparent attempt to put a military end to Tamil aspirations for some kind of self-government.
War has broken out on various fronts in recent months, and the bombardment of Kilinochchi began a few days ago. Government forces have driven Tamil civilians from their homes and farms, which, at least in the south, are in the process of being occupied by Sinhalese settlers. This has extended a long process of violent colonisation, according to Tamil sources.
Church and aid agencies report that over 200,000 people have been "displaced" in the east of the Tamil homelands in recent months, now to be joined by 170,000 in the north.
Hopes for Sinhala victory lie not only in their numerical advantage, but also in the sheer quantity of explosives at their disposal and their ability to launch them from long range or from the skies. Meanwhile, the silence of Western media and governments embolden the Sinhalese to embark on their campaign of pillage, rape and destruction.
The Tamils' defensive actions are driven by desperation that their race is threatened by genocide. The depth of commitment of these people to Tamil Eelam, or the Tamil Motherland, is vividly demonstrated by sheer numbers. Some 17,000 or more young Tamil men and women have already sacrificed their lives in the struggle for national liberation.
It is easy to see how Tamils believe that the Sinhalese are bent on wiping them out. In 1948, Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) gained independence from the British. Not long after, in 1956, the Sri Lankan parliament passed a Sinhala Only Act. This relegated Tamils to the status of second-class citizenry.
It also exposed them to the repeated violence that culminated in the disgraceful race riots in 1983 when Sinhala mobs guided by voting-lists set out to destroy Tamil homes and even antiquities such as the library in Jaffna.
Sinhalese forces themselves invaded Jaffna and subjected the local population to barbaric treatment.
They were even prepared to murder journalists in their bid to intimidate the Tamil press.
Every day, Tamils in non-combat areas "disappeared", having been taken away in the backs of notorious white vans.
Underlying this conflict lies deep racist sentiment. I personally have been astonished by the number of educated Sinhalese who boast of an "Aryan" heritage, compared to the "Dravidian" origin of Tamils. The former implies some northern origin from lighter-skinned and educated forebears; the latter implies an origin in the jungles of India. This antagonism is fuelled by fundamentalist Buddhist proclamations that ancient texts identify "foreign devils" who should be expelled.
This racism is supported in practice by the Marxist-Leninists of the People's Liberation Front (JVP) which holds 40 of the 225 seats in parliament and is part of the government coalition. Proclaiming Lenin's doctrines of central dictatorship by the vanguard of the proletariat, it has vigorously urged military destruction of Tamil hopes for autonomy.
As bombs have begun to fall on the town of Kilinochchi, causing the population to flee, Fr Pathinathan has declared that "the call of the hour is urgent" and pleads for "the people of goodwill all over the world" to "protect the people of Wanni [north-east Sri Lanka] who are threatened with death and destruction and dehumanisation".
But few people seem interested. With the Tamil homelands cut off more effectively than Biafra in the Nigerian civil war, who wants to see pictures of starving children?