Sri Lanka: Tamils in the North-East protest at last

By: Brian Senewiratne

On the 24th September 2016, there was a massive protest in Jaffna, in the Tamil North, where some 15,000 Tamils took part in the biggest protest since the end of the armed conflict 7 years ago. The protest called ‘Ezhuka Thamizh’ (Let Tamils rise), saw thousands of Tamils from all eight provinces in the North and East come to Jaffna. It was a long overdue protest.

To deal with this most important event, there must be an understanding of the ground situation in the Tamil North and East.

The situation on the North and East

After the end of the armed conflict in May 2009, the entire (Tamil) North and East was handed over by the then President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to the (Sinhalese) military to do what they want with no accountability. It is, and has been, an area under military occupation. It is a Police State. This has resulted in major problems for the Tamil (and Muslim) civilians living in the area.

In January 2015, Rajapaksa was replaced by Maithripala Sirisena. It was hoped that the situation would improve under a man elected to power entirely because of votes from the Tamils in the North and East. Unfortunately, where the Tamils in this area are concerned, the change from Rajapaksa to Sirisena has been just a name-change. The same violations of human rights have gone on. There is documented evidence that it has increased (see the recent British Tamils Forum publication which will be referred to below).

The current ground situation in the Tamil North and East

1. Fear. The atmosphere that exists in the Tamil North and East is fear – fear of the (Sinhalese) Armed Forces who can do what they want with no accountability, fear of the (Sinhalese) Police, the most corrupt in the world, fear of Sinhalese brought into the area as workers and settlers who can do what they want being protected by the Armed Forces and Police, and fear of Tamil paramilitaries and others supporting the Sri Lankan Government. This lack of accountability includes acts of sexual violence and even murder – as has been detailed in a recent publication by me – “Sri Lanka: Sexual Violence of Tamils by the Armed Forces”.

2. The massive number of Armed Forces. There are some 200,000 members of the Armed Forces in the Tamil North-East. The ratio of Armed Force personnel to civilians is 1:5 – ie for every 5 civilians there is a member of the Armed Forces. This is a ratio not seen in any country in the world – not even in a dictatorship.

After her 2013 visit to Sri Lanka, the then UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navanethem Pillay said that “the prevalence and level of involvement of soldiers in the community seem much greater than is needed for strictly military or reconstruction purposes.”

She went on to say that the high militarization was “seen by many as oppressive and intrusive, with the continuing high level of surveillance of former combatants and returnees at times verging on harassment.”

3. Intimidation by the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces have to be informed of any civilian activity, even private functions such as weddings, funerals or birthday parties in the North and East. This is not needed in any other part of the country. The Armed Forces and Police maintain an extensive network of informers in every village in the Tamil areas to keep them informed of what is going on. This is a degree of intimidation that is not seen in any other country, even in a dictatorship.

4. Arbitrary arrests, detention and ‘disappearances’ by the Police and Armed Forces. Tamil civilians in the North and East can be, and are, arrested and detained without charge or trial. A reason is not necessary and if it is, the notorious PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) can be used. Tamil civilians in the North and East can and do ‘disappear’. Sri Lanka has the second highest rate of involuntary ‘disappearances’ in the world.

‘White van’ disappearances have started again in the North and East.

In 2015, Prime Minister Wickremasinghe casually said in Jaffna that it should be assumed that all missing persons are dead! He offered no details of how tens of thousands of Tamils who were taken into custody by the Sri Lankan military could have died in custody.

In his recent (6 February 2016) visit to Sri Lanka, UN Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid said:

“…the Prime Minister’s recent statement that nearly all the disappeared persons are dead has created great distress among families, who until then still had hope. This statement must be followed by rapid action to identify precisely who is alive and who has died or been killed, properly account for their deaths – including whether or not they were unlawful – identify the location of their remains, and provide redress”.

5. A legal system that has collapsed or is totally corrupt. Tamils do not bother to file action for violation of human rights, including sexual offences and even murder, by the Armed Forces, Police and Sinhalese in the North-East because it will not be dealt with in an acceptable manner legally. The legal system is stacked against the Tamils. Those who have the courage to file action almost always have a ‘visit’ by the Armed Forces or Police with disastrous consequences. The case is usually dropped by the complainant for obvious reasons.

6. The land grab. Of 69,992 acres of land in the North occupied by the Armed Forces during the Rajapaksa regime, only 2,565 (3.6%) have been returned so far, leaving 67,427 acres in the hands of the military. Soon after Sirisena was elected President, he said that lands will be returned to their rightful owners. This has not happened.

When the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid al-Hussein visited the North-East in February 2016, a report was handed to him that over 5,000 acres of land remained occupied by the Sri Lankan Army in Valikamam North. This large area have been designated as a High Security Zones(HSZ) by the Armed Forces. The Sri Lankan government and military are working to make the Valikamam HSZ and others into permanent military cantonments. This means that Tamil civilians who own this land can never return to their homes. No compensation has been paid. The land was simply taken. Much of this land has been used for non-military (commercial) activities by the military (see below).

Those who have lost their land cannot do any agriculture (a major activity in this area).

Those who live on the coast have been relocated away from the coast which prevents them from fishing. Sinhalese fishermen have been brought from the South to replace them.

As such, the people in this area have been deprived of their main sources of income (agriculture and fishing).

7. Business activities of the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces (Army and Navy) have large-scale property developments, golf courses, farms, holiday resorts, restaurants and innumerable cafes doted on the roads in the North and East. These resorts and businesses are located on lands that were previously home to the local Tamil people. The local people are reduced to foraging through the belongings of the many people who died in the area, looking for things to sell.

Not only has the military invaded the local business space, but have issued threats to businesses engaged in similar fields to refrain from such activities or become competitive.

8. ‘Buddhistization’. A new word to describe the making of non-Buddhist areas into Buddhist areas. A large number of Buddhist shrines and statutes have been erected in the North and East where the people are Hindus or Christian. There are no Buddhists in this area except those in the Armed Forces.

1, 2, and 3 have been fully documented in the June 2016 British Tamils Forum publication :“Land grab and Cultural genocide of the Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka”. It is on the net. The publication has the largest collection of photographs to document all this.

9. Detention without charge or trial. Hundreds of Tamils have been held in detention without charge or trial. Their relatives do not know where they are being held or whether they are even alive.

10. Sexual violence of Tamil women and girls. There are hundreds of female-headed household where the males have either been killed in the war or have been locked up. This has been extensively documented in my recently released 225-page book. Sri Lanka: Sexual violence of Tamils by the Armed Forces. So have others. Human Rights Watch (HRW): “We will teach you a Lesson. Sexual Violence against Tamils by the Sri Lankan Security Forces” (February 2013) and Yasmin Sooka: “An Unfinished War: Torture and Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka 2009-2014” (March 2014)

After her visit to Sri Lanka in 2013, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, expressed her concerns at a press briefing in Colombo:

“I was very concerned to hear about the vulnerability of women and girls especially in female-headed households, to sexual abuse and harassment. I have raised this issue with several Ministers, the provincial governors and senior military commanders who attended my meeting with the Secretary of Defence. I challenged them to rigorously enforce a zero tolerance policy for sexual abuse”.

11. ‘Sinhalisation’ of the Tamil areas. Thousands of Sinhalese from the South have been relocated in the Tamil North and East. These Sinhalese have the support of the (Sinhalese) Armed Forces and (Sinhalese) Police.

War monuments glorifying the army are being erected and cemeteries where Tamil militants (and even Tamil civilians) have been buried are being bulldozed, so that the Tamils cannot even grieve. Street names are being changed from Tamil to Sinhala to wipe out anything that is Tamil – even a street name.

In addition, and of serious concern, is the demographic change to make the Tamil homelands into Sinhalese areas. The electoral consequences are obvious. This is similar to what happened some years ago in Amparai in the Batticaloa area in the East. Amparai was a Tamil area. The massive relocation of Sinhalese has now made this into a Sinhalese area. That is ‘Sinhalization’.

12. Alcohol and drugs into Jaffna. The Armed Forces have flooded Jaffna with drugs (especially heroin) and alcohol. These were unheard of in the past. It is destroying the area and is having an adverse effect on health, education and employment.

13. Triumphalism The Sri Lankan government has built a series of triumphalist structures at the site of the last battles in the closing stages of the war. Tens of thousands of Tamil and Muslim civilians were killed on this spot, yet developments at the site demonstrate the extent to which their suffering is ignored. The local “war museum” allows visitors to see a “terrorist swimming pool” and a crass war memorial adorned with statues of celebrating soldiers. All attempts by local residents to grieve for the dead are brutally suppressed by the military.

14. Breakdown of trust. A problem is a breakdown of trust. People are too afraid to talk even to each other, not knowing where the information will end. Such cases are described in my book on sexual violence. The information was obtained from Tamil asylum seekers. One of them told me that every time he was about to escape from Sri Lanka, the Navy seemed to know the details. He later found out that a close relative of his was selling the information to the Navy.

The intention of the Sri Lankan government is to make multilingual, multicultural, multireligious, multiethnic Sri Lanka into a Sinhalese-Buddhist country. This might not be reversible – hence the urgency to do something to stop this.

15. Abandonment. There is a feeling among the Tamils in the North and East that they have been abandoned by the International community, including the USA, now that the US has achieved what it wanted – a regime change from the Rajapaksas who were close to China, to Sirisena who prostrates himself in Washington. The USA is no longer interested, nor is the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid al Hassan. Those who expect the UN Human Rights Council to do anything for the Tamils in March 2017, have not done the necessary reading of the geopolitical situation to know that nothing will be done. It is important to realise that this is our problem and intentional powers will not help. Hence the importance of the protest in Jaffna.

16. Domestic investigation into what happened at the end of the Armed Conflict Sri Lanka has refused to allow international judges and lawyers to investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the final phase of the war from 2008-9. President Sirisena has said that there are perfectly competent people in Sri Lanka to do this and despite commitments given to the UN Human Rights Council will not allow international investigators.

Sri Lanka (under the then President Rajapaksa) conducted its own closed door Military Court of Inquiry into allegations of war crimes, but to date has not released its deliberations or findings. The Defence Ministry said the inquiry exonerated the security forces, who had strictly adhered to the President’s “zero civilian casualty directive” This is despite overwhelming well-documented evidence that the civilian death toll in the final phase of the conflict in 2009, was very high, running into tens of thousands.

During her mission to Sri Lanka on 31 August 2013 the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, remarked that, “appointing the army to investigate itself does not inspire confidence.”

Action (or the lack of it)

The members of Parliament elected by people in this area, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), have done nothing about this serious situation. Some of their ‘leaders’ are more supportive of the Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) Government rather than do anything about the plight of those who elected them.

With the Tamil politicians doing nothing, on 19 December 2015, the Tamil People’s Council (TPC) was set up. The Council consists of representatives and dignitaries from the North and East, and members of some political parties and civil organisations in the North and East. Politicians of other political parties and civil forum members would be added. Currently the co-chairs are Justice C.V. Wigneswaran (Chief Minister, NPC), Dr P. Lakshman, Senior Cardiologist, Teaching Hospital, Jaffna and T.Varatharajah, Secretary, Batticaloa Civil Society. The Action Committee Members are an impressive collection of academics, politicians, members of the clergy, and others. There is no doubt that the TPC is a very powerful organisation which will make the TNA irrelevant.

It is now possible to look at the recent protests in Jaffna.

On the same day, a smaller protest of Tamils took place in Colombo in the Sinhalese South. This was mainly to demand the release of Tamil political prisoners held in prisons without charge or trial

This article will deal mainly with the protest in the North (Jaffna).

‘Ezhuka Thamizh’(Let Tamils rise) protest in Jaffna on 24th September 2016 Busses from across North and East transported thousands of people from all 8 districts for the rally in Jaffna. A procession from Nallur joined another from Jaffna university to meet at Muttaveli for the main rally. After speeches from the Northern Provincial Council Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran (Chairman of the Tamil Peoples Council – TPC), Dr P. Lakshman, a cardiologist in the Jaffna teaching hospital and a co-chairman of the TPC, T. Vasantharajah, Secretary Batticaloa Civil Society, another co-chairman of TPC, and Gajen Ponnambalam, a member of the Tamil National Peoples Front, the massive crowd surged through Jaffna town. All shops in the peninsula were closed in solidarity with the rally.

I watched a recording of it. I have never seen anything like this before, nor did I think it possible. Jaffna, which I know so well, ground down to a halt. It was an excellent example of ‘people power’, that should have sent shock waves to those running the country as to what is possible when people decide to act. 200,000 members of the Armed Forces is no deterrent. The crowd could not care less.

This is what is needed, not guns or violence. This is what Gandhi did when he had to take on the British Empire. At a time when Britain was at the height of its power, it could not cope with a ‘half-naked’ man in a loin cloth. Every time he was thrown into jail, Gandhi said, “I have won”. And he had. So did the 15,000 people who marched across Jaffna. I was not there and do not know what was said. All I can do is to quote what has been reported.

Chief Minister Northern Provincial Council, C.V.Wigneswaran

Wignewaran, Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council and Chairman of the Tamil People’s Council (TPC) said that this was not a rally against the Sinhala people but one that was for the rights of Tamils. Despite promises, Tamil political prisoners remain detained, fishermen were losing their livelihood, and there has been a widespread introduction of drugs and alcohol especially heroin.

This is a rally to demand our rights to the world. The only acceptable political solution is autonomy for the North East.

Dr P. Lakshman –Senior Cardiologist, Jaffna Teaching Hospital and Co-Chair of the TPC

Outlined the main demands. They included international investigation into genocide, a federal political solution, recognising the Tamil nation’s right to self-determination and a halt to state-sponsored Sinhala colonisation in the Tamil homeland.

T.Vasantharajah – Secretary, Batticaloa Civil Society, and a Co-Chair of the TPC Called on all Tamils regardless of political affiliation and region to unite behind a call for Tamil rights, and the call for federalism for the North-East.

Prof. S.K. Sithampalam – ITAK Said the Tamil people would not accept Sinhala colonisation in the name of reconciliation. Suresh Premachandran – former MP and Head of EPRLF Said the struggle for Tamil rights was not yet over. He drew on the previous Ponghu Tamizh rallies and the LTTE leader Prabhakaran, to speak on the demands put forward by the Tamil people.

Gajen Ponnambalam – Leader of the TNPF Said that despite talks of a new constitution for the island, Sinhala leaders had made it clear that only a unitary solution was acceptable (to them). This rally has made clear the Tamil people’s political aspirations and if they were not fulfilled, rallies such as this would grow and spread across the North-East and diaspora.

A long list of problems faced by the Tamil people was displayed:

1. Stop Sinhala-Buddhistizaton of the Tamil homeland. 2. Federal solution recognising the Tamil nation, its sovereignty, and its right to self-determination. 3. International investigations for genocide. 4. Remove occupying forces 5. Ensure the safety, security and dignity of Tamil women and children. 6. Stop harassing former combatants. Let them live with dignity. 7. Return our lands. 8. Stop plundering our maritime resources. 9. Prevent unlawful and forcible encroachment and fishing by southern fishermen into our seas. 10. Release political prisoners unconditionally 11. Ensure justice for the forcibly disappeared 12. Stop seizing our traditional lands 13. Stop destroying our culture 14. Stop subjecting us to total economic deprivation. On the political solution:-

This rally declares that a federal solution based the constitutional proposals submitted by the Tamil People’s Council (TPC) be adopted to ensure non- recurrence of the direct and indirect repercussions described above, of the war, and as a solution to the Tamil National question. We strongly believe that this government is attempting to force minimal power devolution within a unitary State on the Tamil people.

We demand that the proposed constitution reflect the political aspirations of the Tamil people. We also condemn attempts made to malign and discredit attempts made by the Tamil people to air their genuine political aspirations through democratic means. Hence, this rally would wish to declare the following;

1. We firmly believe, from lessons learnt from the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the present constitution and from the Sinhala- Buddhist majoritarian State structure, that a Unitary State structure would never be the solution to the Tamil National question.

2. We believe that a viable solution to the Tamil National question could only be achieved by establishing a sovereign federal unit through recognising the Tamil people of the North and East as a distinct nation, while also acknowledging and respecting their right to self- determination, as proposed in the constitution proposals submitted by the Tamil People’s Council (TPC).

3. We further state that recognition the Tamil nation and thereby its right to self-determination could only be institutionally established through a federal structure.

4. This rally further stresses that a solution that is unclear and one which does not recognise the distinctness of the Tamil nation and its right to self-determination can never be accepted as a final solution to the Tamil National question.

5. It is disconcerting to the Tamil people that the new constitution is being drafted in utmost secrecy. The report which followed the consultations for the new constitution also completely failed to include the genuine political aspirations of the Tamil people.

As a Sinhalese from the majority community who has supported the struggle of the Tamil people from Independence in 1948, when a million Plantation Tamils were disenfranchised and decitizenised in one of the most deplorable acts of any government anywhere in the world, followed by systematic discrimination of the indigenous Tamils from 1956 onwards, I think the Tamils have put up with a lot of nonsense and have, at last, decided to act. I applaud this long overdue action.

If Sri Lanka is to be a Sinhala-Buddhist nation, there is no alternative to a separate Tamil State, Tamil Eelam. It is as simple as that. Looking at what was presented in the protest in Jaffna, it is important to look at the outstanding publication by the British Tamils Forum which I have referred to earlier, titled “Land grabs and cultural genocide of the Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka” released in June 2016. This provides facts and figures, and above all, photographic evidence of the ground realities in the Tamil area.

This crucial document deals with:

1. Land grabs by the Armed Forces in the Tamil North and East 2. The spread of Buddhist structures in an area (the North and East) where the people are Hindus and Christians, the only Buddhists being members of the Armed Forces) 3. Business activities of the Armed Forces

The Appendix deals with the situation in the Valikamam High Security zone in the north of the Peninsula. There has been a staggering increase in non-military structures in this area, especially in the past two years ie with the new President Sirisena in power.

This is a must-read document which shows the very real concerns of the Tamil people in the North and East. I will deal with this important document in another article.

My only comment with this publication is part of the title: ‘cultural genocide’. It is much more than that. It is physical genocide (by starvation), educational genocide, economic genocide, religious genocide, structural genocide and cultural genocide. I have elaborated on all this in an article which is on the net “Sri Lanka: If this is not Genocide, then what is it?”

Getting back to the rally in Jaffna, the massive presence of brutal and murderous Armed Forces in the Tamil North and East did not prevent people from protesting. Although Tamil paramilitary forces tried to prevent the rally, they failed miserably. So did the elected parliamentarians in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) who opposed the rally.

The TNA opposed the rally claiming that they were in serious negotiations with the Sri Lankan government and that a protest such as this will have a negative impact on these negotiations. The problem is that they have ‘negotiating’ for years with nothing to show in terms of benefits for the Tamil people. What it does show is that the TNA is effectively part of the Government and are unconcerned with the plight of the Tamil people. Their credibility is at stake. The more I see of people in the TNA such as their spokesman, M.A. Sumanthiran, the more I feel that he is virtually part of the government.

A serious problem in Sri Lanka has been the lack of a committed Tamil leader. The one and only Tamil leader was S.J.V.Chelvanayagam – the ‘father of the Tamils’ – who died in 1977, has not been replaced.

I had the good fortune to meet this extraordinary man because one of his sons was a class-mate of mine and my father-in-law, a Tamil, knew him well. When I met him, he was seriously disabled with Parkinson’s disease and progressive deafness. Despite these disabilities there was no doubt that he was a leader, the nearest to Gandhi that Sri Lanka has ever produced.

After his death, there was no Tamil leader of any consequence from 1977 to date. This might now be addressed with an emerging leader, C.V.Wigneswaran, Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council. A former judge of the District Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, he retired from the legal profession in October 2004. He was elected to the Northern Provincial Council in 2014 and as the Chief Minister in October 2014. Despite not being a parliamentarian, Wigneswaran is fast becoming the leader of the Tamil people. He deserves our wholehearted support.

The reaction in the Sinhalese south (the area I come from) was interesting. As expected, the yellow-robed men with not-so-clean shaven heads were having a demonstration demanding that Wigneswaran be arrested and charged. They do not realise that this was a protest by a massive crowd of ordinary Tamil people. Wigneswaran is only one person and getting rid of him will not solve the problem.

This is similar to what was said of the leader of the Tamil Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran. He was not the cause of problem but the result of the problem. The problem was Sinhala-Buddhist ethno religious chauvinism – that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist country. If Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist country, there is no option but to have a separate Tamil nation, Tamil Eelam. Tamil Eelam is not the creation of the Tamils but the inevitable consequences of Sinhala-Buddhist ethnoreligious chauvinism. Similarly, the current protest in the Tamil North and East is not the work of Wigneswaran or the Tamil People’s Council (TPC) but is due to the failure of the Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) government to understand the very real problems facing the Tamil people in the North and East. Getting rid of Wigneswaran will achieve nothing.

The members of parliament elected by the Tamil people (the TNA) must realise that they were elected to address problems faced by those who elected them – not to get into bed with the Sri Lankan government (which is what they are doing). They will achieve nothing except to put their credibility on the line (which they have).

Oppressed people can be oppressed only for a time. After that they will revolt and demand justice. All they need is a leader, and in Wigneswaran and those in the TPC they have got not one but many.

This was best seen during the previous Rajapaksa regime in Sri Lanka. This was the most repressive and brutal regime that has ever governed Sri Lanka. The clear intention was to remain in power for ever oppressing everyone except themselves and their numerous relatives. Yet, despite their iron-fisted rule and Rajapaksa even saying that he would be the only candidate – implying that no other person would care or dare to contest him, he was thrown out at the Presidential election in January 2015.

President Sirisena should appreciate that he is where he is because of the votes he got from the Tamil people in the North and East. Had they not voted for him or not voted at all (as occurred when Sarath Fonseka contested Rajapaksa), Sirisena would have been ‘seven feet underground’ as he put it. He should be reminded of this that should there be another election, the Tamils in the North and East might not vote for him if he does not address the problems faced by the Tamil people. The country might end up with the dreadful Rajapaksas who are waiting in the wings.

What disturbs me most is that my people, the Sinhala people, cannot see the injustices done to the Tamil people for more than half a century. I have addressed this in a recent article ‘What the majority Sinhalese must know’ which is on the net:

To militarily crush the Tamil people is not a ‘solution’. The Sinhalese, especially the rabid supporters of the Government and, of course, the yellow robed men who have been a curse in Sri Lanka, seem to believe it is. To them what happened in Jaffna is treason and should be dealt with as such. They are in for a shock because this is just the beginning of a continuing process until there is peace with justice. Where a solution is concerned, several speakers in the rally called for a Federal solution. There are Federal arrangements and bogus Federal arrangements. They should be aware that what might be on offer from the Sri Lankan government is a bogus Federal arrangement where the Sinhala government in Colombo holds most of the powers. This is clearly not a solution to the Sri Lankan ethnic problem, although it could be a starting point for the Tamils. The modern dilemma of international law is to ensure that States remain unaffected through the assertion of the principle of territorial integrity but at the same time ensure that the rights of ethnic groups within states are protected. The was done in the Resolution on the Friendly Relations between States which effectively preserves the territorial integrity of States but provides that this is subject to the proviso that all peoples within the State are treated equally. To re-word this important point, territorial integrity is premised on the equal treatment of the ethnic groups within the State. It is implicit that where an ethnic group is not provided equality, it has the right to secession. International law has thus reconciled notions of self-determination, equality of peoples and territorial integrity. It has done so, firstly by giving the State the right to its integrity by ensuring that all peoples are treated equally and secondly by giving the right of secession to ethnic groups as a sanctioning right in situations where equal treatment is not forthcoming. The reports of the recent meeting have stated that in Wigneswaran’s address he said that the only acceptable political solution is autonomy for the North-East. I completely agree with him. However, it could be a violation of the 6th amendment to the Constitution. It is imperative that pressure is mounted on the Sri Lankan government to remove the 6th Amendment to the Constitution because it violates the right of the Tamil people to secession, if this is what they want (see below). What is needed is not what Wigneswaran, the Tamil People’s Council or the writer of this article want, but what the Tamil people in the North and East want. The only way to find this out is by having a Referendum. It has to be a proper Referendum such as was held in East Timor by the UN. It is not possible to have a Referendum in the North and East of Sri Lanka with a murderous Sri Lankan military right there. The Sri Lankan military will have to be replaced by a UN Force for a meaningful Referendum to be held.

Judging from the reaction of the 15,000 people who attended the rally, the answer seems to be predictable. This is why a rally such as this is so important.

The current government of Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremasinghe must look at the recent protest in Jaffna and realise that time is running out. As Gajen Ponnambalam said at the rally, if the Tamil people’s political aspirations are not fulfilled, protests such as this would grow and spread across the North and East and the diaspora.

The Tamil people in the North and East must be applauded for having the courage to come for this rally. With a murderous Army in large numbers in the area, it is certainly not risk-free. Nonetheless they came in their thousands and made their presence felt.

There is no question that the most urgent need is to force the Government to withdraw the Armed Forces from the North and East. There is no armed conflict in this area today and as such no justification for the presence of Armed Forces. The Sri Lankan government will most definitely refuse withdraw the Armed Forces. Both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe has stated this repeatedly. So has the former head of the Armed Forces, Sarath Fonseka, who in now part of the government.

There is an answer to this. It is to do what was done so successfully on 24 September 2016 – grind the place to a halt. The next protest rally should be arranged in other parts of the North and East. The intention strategy is to make the North and East ungovernable till the Sri Lankan government comes to its senses. There is no alternative. All this talk of ‘negotiations’ is nonsense. My publication, “Why National reconciliation in Sri Lanka is not possible” deals with this in detail. It is on the net

Brian Senewiratne
Brisbane, Australia.
2 October 2016