Sri Lanka: White lies and brute force =NDTV=

True vs Hype The propaganda wars in Srilanka


Political Future of the New Constitutional Reform

Political Future of the New Constitutional Reform Interview by Dr. Pakiyasothy Saravanamuttu

Forum Human Rights in Sri Lanka and Australias Role Speech by Dr.Sam Pari

Part 01

Part 02

Thirumavalavan demands white paper on genocide of Tamils

Memories of war, dreams of peace


By Nalaka Gunawardene

The long and bloody Sri Lankan war is over, and not a moment too soon. I really want to believe it. The alternative is too depressing to consider.

Of course, there is no independent verification – it has been a war without witnesses for the past many months, with no journalists or humanitarian workers allowed access. We know that history is written by victors, not losers. I am willing to take a leap of faith if that’s what we need to usher in the long-elusive peace.

As we stand on the threshold of peace, I am overwhelmed with memories of our collective tragedy. I hope we can once again resume our long suspended dreams for a better today and tomorrow.

I have lived all my adult years with this war providing a constantly grim, sometimes in a highly disruptive backdrop. I had just turned a teenager when the Tamil separatist agitations turned into a nasty guerrilla war. I have seen the war in its many different phases, including several uneasy lulls when guns were temporarily silent and truces were negotiated.

I watched most of my own friends join the exodus of genes and talent from a land where they saw no hope or future. I chose to stay on, but questioned the wisdom of it each time a major atrocity took place. I went through six jobs and one marriage, and raised a child who would soon be the same age as I was when the war started.

It’s hard to believe that I survived this seemingly never-ending war. I realise that it has scarred me emotionally, perhaps forever.

But I am among the luckier ones: I have lived through it all with my life and limbs intact. Hundreds of thousands of my fellow Lankans haven’t been so lucky. The official death count, often quoted in the media, has been stuck at 70,000 for far too long. We may never know exactly how many lives perished in the name of liberation, patriotism, anti-terrorism and national security.

We have only ballpark figures for how many were driven away from their lands and homes, or separated from their loved ones. No family has been spared. No one has escaped unscathed. This has been everybody’s war.

Lost generation?

We can assume that most combatants knew what they were fighting for, even if some were not convinced about the cause or process. In contrast, the larger number of innocents caught in the cross-fire often had no idea what they were dying for, or fleeing from.

Suddenly, the labels and divisions seem to matter less. In my mind, all the Burghers, Muslims, Sinhalese and Tamils (to list them alphabetically) who perished in this war have joined a grim roll call of Sri Lanka’s lost generation. Among them were people I knew, worked with or cared for.

Two classmates who joined the official war effort soon gained wings: smart young men with expensive (and deadly) flying machines. One crashed in the prime of his youth. The other deserted soon afterwards; he has been living in exile since.

Some were dreamers and creators. Like my ex-colleague Sudeepa Purnajith, the talented cartoonist who died in a bomb attack on a crowded train in Dehiwala, in July 1996. He was 29 and about to get married.

Others suffered from both nature’s fury and man’s inhumanity to man. Like tsunami survivor Thillainayagam Theeban, 16, who was shot dead in Karaitivu, on the east coast, by unknown gunmen in March 2007. I had tracked his story for a year after the disaster as a story teller. Apparently he was killed for refusing to be recruited as a child soldier.

I want to believe that these cannot and will not happen again. We must not forget the suffering and sacrifices, but if we want healing to begin, we must start forgiving now.

I remember the helpful words of William Makepeace Thackeray: “Good or bad, guilty or innocent — they are all equal now.”

I first invoked these words when the Asian tsunami wreaked havoc in December 2004. As 40,000 of our people died or disappeared within a few calamitous hours, some of us naively hoped that the pounding from the sea would help end the war. That was not to be — much more blood had to be spilled before we reached now and here.

This 30-year war has cost at least thrice as many lives as the tsunami – young and old, soldiers and rebels, men and women, girls and boys. It has cut right across our various ethnic, religious, caste and class divides. “Good or bad, guilty or innocent — they are all equal now.”

Lasting peace, at last?

Now that the war is officially over, will this mark the beginning of real peace? I want to believe so. I want to audaciously dream of peace. The alternative is too dreadful to consider.

I remember the views of my mentor Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who called Sri Lanka his home for half a century. He lived in Colombo through two youth insurrections and much of this bloody war, never once giving up his hope for eventual peace and reconciliation.

He was a master dreamer, but a realistic one. Listing ‘three last wishes’ in his 90th birthday reflections in December 2007, he said: “I dearly wish to see lasting peace established in Sri Lanka as soon as possible. But I’m aware that peace cannot just be wished — it requires a great deal of hard work, courage and persistence.”

Switch gears

Indeed, there is a huge gulf between war mongering and peace building. Can a generation raised on war cries and war drums easily switch gears? Just as the absence of illness is only the beginning of good health, the silencing of guns is merely the starting point on the long road to peace. I want to believe that we can sustain peace with the same fervour with which we pursued or supported the war – on one side or the other.

Can we as a nation finally stop glorifying the war and its weapons, and return to our cultural heritage of ahimsa? How do we turn the current opportunity for peace into something tangible and lasting, so that we don’t allow political violence and war ever again? Do we have what it takes to go beyond chest thumping and finger pointing, and begin to care and share? Would we eventually be able to liberate our minds from our deep-rooted tribalism that sees everything through the prism of us and them?

Can we expect the state to be magnanimous in victory, and begin to unify our utterly and bitterly divided people? Will our governments finally stop pleading perennial emergency and national security as stock excuses for side-stepping the rule of law, ignoring rampant corruption and other lapses of governance?

I have these and many other questions. For a long time, we were told to be good boys and girls, to keep our mouths shut until this war was over. It is, now, so I hope we can talk freely again.

Without fear of bombs

We want to resume our interrupted lives and dreams. I dream of a land where the only label that counts is Sri Lankan, by descent or conversion. I have visions of not being suspected or presumed guilty by the authorities until I prove or protest my innocence. I want to live without fear of bombs, abductors and goon squads.

I dream too of a rapid return to the real norms (not rhetoric) of a functional democracy. This isn’t utopian: as children, my parents’ generation witnessed their country gain political independence, and they grew up in a land where people were free to discuss and debate issues; ask nagging questions when necessary; and change governments regularly at non-violent elections. These are norms, not privileges, in a free society. Norms my generation has forsaken, either out of patriotism or in fear of reprisals.

When will our state start trusting all our people again, irrespective of our origins, allowing everyone the freedom of movement, expression and dissent? Can our society relearn how to react to each ’song’ and not probe the pedigree of its ’singer’?

Just as important, how soon might we as a nation become tolerant and accommodating of each other – allowing the full diversity and choices in political belief, religious faith, intellectual tradition and sexual orientation? Would we see in our lifetime a pluralistic society that once thrived on this maritime island through which genes and ideas have flowed freely for millennia?

Our political leaders, in whom we entrust our collective destiny, now face a historic choice. Leaders of other nations have stood at such crossroads and made radically different choices. African analogies can go only so far in Asia, but at this juncture, it is tempting to ask: would our leaders now choose the Mandela Road or the Mugabe Road for the journey ahead?

We can only hope that presidents  Mahinda and Mandela share more than just five of the seven letters in their names.

— Groundviews

Riz Khan – What now for Sri Lanka’s Tamils? – 25 May 09

After a military victory for the government in a civil war that has torn the country apart for decades, Sri Lanka now begins a process of national reconciliation.

Part 01

Part 02

Why the West ignored the Tamils’ pleas

Brian Stewart

Western leaders seemed genuinely surprised at the rapid end to Sri Lanka’s 25-year-old internal war and the collapse of the Tamil Tiger insurgency.

Not so taken back, however, that the Canadian, U.S. and European governments did not know, virtually in unison, what approach to take: do as little as they could semi-decently get away with.

It was just such diplomatic minimalism that compelled Tamil demonstrators in Toronto and elsewhere to take to the streets in rage and frustration. Still, for all the attention their flag-waving and traffic-blocking protests received, there was no way it was going to change the approach of the West.

Canadian Tamils protesting on Parliament Hill in May 2009. Large protests also took place in many European capitals and at the UN in New York. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)Canadian Tamils protesting on Parliament Hill in May 2009. Large protests also took place in many European capitals and at the UN in New York. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press) These countries had their own agenda and it did not involve any efforts to use diplomatic or economic leverage to force the Sri Lanka government to accept yet one more ceasefire in this seemingly endless war.

However cold-blooded it may have seemed, it was clear in diplomatic circles that the dictates of realpolitik and national self-interest would trump humanitarian calls to action.

What the world saw was foot-dragging in its purest diplomatic form.

A checklist for non-action

A lame European call for the Sri Lankan government to hold off “a final assault” was still only in draft form when representatives of the 27 European Union governments broke for the weekend, just as the fighting entered its last 48 hours.

“So far there have been only statements issued by the most powerful bodies in the world, the UN the EU, G8 and Western governments. But here has been no follow through in terms of action,” observed David Poopalalillai of the Canadian Tamil Community. “The international community has failed the Tamils by not fulfilling its obligation to protect civilians caught in this armed conflict.”

Why did this happen, despite a sympathy that exists in international circles for the Tamil sense of abandonment?

There’s a rather long checklist of reasons for the non-action of Western governments.

First, there was consensus that anything that ended Sri Lanka’s brutal, on-and-off-again civil war would be far better than letting the conflict continue.

Diplomats may have seemed deaf to humanitarian calculations, but they had their own numbers in mind: this war had already killed more than 80,000 people, had forced hundreds of thousands to flee and had become a permanent blight on Sri Lanka’s hopes to develop economically and politically.

In this Sri Lanka government photo, a soldier carries a young Tamil boy near the town of Mullaittivu, the area of the final fighting between the government and the Tamil Tigers. (Sri Lanka military/Reuters)In this Sri Lanka government photo, a soldier carries a young Tamil boy near the town of Mullaittivu, the area of the final fighting between the government and the Tamil Tigers. (Sri Lanka military/Reuters) Also, past international attempts to broker progress during three former ceasefires had crumbled to dust in the breakdown of talks between the Tamil minority, the insurgent Tamil Tigers, and the Sinhalese and Buddhist majority.

Ceasefires can be very dangerous in some conflicts. As was the case in Sri Lanka in the past, they can leave the warring sides more intransigent and better armed than before, which makes any eventual resumption of fighting all the bloodier.

No sympathy for the Tigers

Add to this the view that the Tamil Tigers were seen as a deeply dangerous force wedded to terrorism, assassination and the use of child soldiers. Its very presence was yet another potential explosive charge in the tinderbox of South Asia’s hostilities.

Then take the tactical situation on the ground. The Sri Lankan military was so close in the last weeks to capturing the final Tamil Tiger positions that few world leaders, whatever their public posture, could really blame the Sri Lankan government for trying to seize a final victory.

As a Canadian source close to the conflict told me: “Let’s be blunt, in their position we’d have done the same thing, and even used the example of Lincoln ending the U.S. Civil War as an historic justification.”

The Western calculation was that outside pressure would best be employed in the aftermath of the fighting to ensure Sri Lanka acted to heal the wounds and deal honourably with the Tamil community.

That may be just wishful thinking, of course, especially given the very low opinion in the West of Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a hardline Sinhalese nationalist with little regard for world opinion or, seemingly, human rights.

Relief groups in the country remain properly more skeptical about the president and are already complaining that their repeated attempts to help Tamil refugees are being blocked by the authorities.

China’s hand

Still, in this post-George W. Bush world, Western government are keenly aware that there is a new power reality surrounding certain events, such as this final, bloody confrontation in Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa simply didn’t have to worry much even if Western displeasure or criticism had surfaced with force because he had two allies that matter to him far more: China and India.

India, the closest neighbour, offered quiet, but critically important support, including using its efficient navy to block arms shipments to the Tamil Tigers (the group behind the assassination of then Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991).

It was China’s support, however, that proved decisive. Expanding its clout across Asia at dizzying speed, China has positioned itself as a warm, uncritical friend of Sri Lanka at all international gatherings, including the UN, which is a place where no one wants to offend Beijing.

In return, Sri Lanka has agreed to host a huge, Chinese-built port at Hambantola, currently under construction. It will be the third, large Chinese port being built at strategic locations across the Indian Ocean, including one in Myanmar and another in Pakistan.

Though planned in large part for civilian traffic, the Sri Lanka port will give China’s expanding navy an extraordinarily valuable base overlooking South Asian trade routes and make Sri Lanka a firm and well rewarded ally.

Limited influence

In moving forward from here, Western governments will undoubtedly have some say when it comes to Sri Lanka’s post-war recovery because they are still large aid donors and trading partners.

But, flush with victory and happily in bed with its new big-power partner in Beijing, Sri Lanka now delights in telling the West that its influence has strict new limits and that these limits apply especially to countries such as Canada that permitted large Tamil protests in recent weeks.

One of the sad ironies of the Tamil protests in Canada is that the more the marchers demanded this country use its influence on their homeland, the less influence Canada was being accorded in any peace effort there.

This new chill in relations with the West is worrisome precisely because Sri Lanka has such a strategic location in the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean. Militaries and strategic think tanks here are strongly telling Western governments that they cannot let Sri Lanka slip into a future, Chinese-power orbit, which is another reason why our leaders were so anxious to avoid a direct clash with Sri Lanka over this war and why they went out of their way to shun Tamil protesters in Canada and Europe.

Tamils around the world were trying to push foreign governments into a showdown with Sri Lanka at the very time that these governments were trying to win back whatever diplomatic footholds they still had there.

This is not meant to defend diplomatic behaviour, simply to explain it and to note why these Tamil protests seemed so especially forlorn given the new power realities reshaping our world.

Source : CNN

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