Date: Thu, 14 Dec 1995 16:42:22 CST
Sender: Activists Mailing List <>
Subject: Behind the War in Jaffna/GreenLeft Weekly

Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit
from Green Left Weekly #215 12/13/95

Behind the war in Jaffna

Green Left Weekly, Issue no. 215, 13 December 1995

The recent offensive by the Sri Lankan army against the Tamil people hasn't been criticised by the world's capitalist powers. Green Left Weekly's ANA KAILIS spoke to DR A.E SELVANATHAN, sub dean of the Department of Asian and International Studies at Griffith University and spokesperson for the Tamil Sangam, Queensland about the background to the war.

Tamil and Sinhalese communities have lived in Sri Lanka for more than 2500 years, Selvanathan said, but traditionally as separate kingdoms, with different languages, religions and culture. The island was only forced into one nation after British colonisation in 1795.

"Previous colonisers, the Dutch and Portuguese had ruled the island with Tamil and Sinhalese kingdoms intact. Trading and administrative interests guided the actions of the British who were keen to exploit the natural resources of Sri Lanka. The two kingdoms were crushed and the British created 'Ceylon' with its administrative hub in Columbo.''

After 150 years of colonial power, the British left Ceylon with a parliamentary system that favoured the Sinhalese majority. Gradually the rights of the Tamil minority were whittled away.

"In 1949, Tamils who had been brought by the British from India to work on the tea plantations were disenfranchised. In 1956, Sinhala became the official language. Public servants were required to speak a level of Sinhala designed to limit the number of Tamil civil servants. Between 1956 and 1958 anti-Tamil riots resulted in the death of hundreds of Tamils. Since this time, there has also been encroachment on Tamil land by Sinhalese settlers [which have] displaced the Tamil people. Access to jobs and education also became extremely limited for the Tamil population.''

The decision by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) in the 1970s to take up arms brought new waves of repression from the Sri Lankan authorities. A Tamil convention in Jaffna in 1976 passed a resolution calling for the "restoration and reconstitution of the free, sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam''.

In 1983, a genocidal campaign in Columbo led by government ministers and Buddhist monks ended in the deaths of over 6000 Tamils. Another 75,000 became refugees.

A LTTE-called boycott of local government elections in 1983 was supported by 90% of Tamil people. This was a clear rejection by the Tamil people of the Sri Lankan government which continued its war against the LTTE.

In the mid-1980s India attempted to broker a peace deal, but with little consultation with the Tamil people. The deal was to provide a rehabilitation program for those who had been displaced and some other concessions. To ensure the success of this deal, the Indian government deployed thousands of troops to Sri Lanka, but the plan collapsed in 1990.

Some 35,000 troops were sent to the north and an economic embargo (including food and medical supplies) was imposed on Jaffna. Heavy bombing by the Indian and Sri Lankan armies killed 5000 Tamils and displaced 1 million.

The unpopularity in India of this intervention - in which hundreds of Indian soldiers died - forced the Indian government to withdraw its troops. This allowed Jaffna to be captured by the LTTE in September 1990 after which it set up a de facto state government.

"Wealth in the region was redistributed to give homes to the homeless. The reactionary caste and dowry systems were abolished. Development programs were implemented as well as the development of alternative energy sources as a means of getting around the embargo. Laws supporting equality for women were promulgated. Today 50% of LTTE guerilla fighters are women'', Selvanathan said.

In 1994, with the election of the Popular Alliance (PA) government, a coalition of parties including the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, there were again hopes of peace. A cease-fire was declared and peace talks started in January 1995.

The PA had proposed to devolve power to the northern Tamil states giving them control over education, local government, housing, agriculture and industrial development. But the plan had to be passed by either a two-thirds majority in parliament, or by a referendum of the Sinhalese people. Without an extraordinary campaign among the Sinhalese population this would have been impossible.

However, the Sri Lankan government's lack of action on promoting this plan prompted the LTTE take up arms again in April. Some have said the "peace plan'' was a cynical attempt to attain international support before attacking the Tamils, said Selvanathan.

But the fall of Jaffna could be a hollow victory for the Sri Lankan government. Having deserted the peninsula area, Tamil refugees have fled south to the LTTE stronghold in the jungle. The Sri Lankan government is attempting to draw independence fighters out into the open for a conventional war. But given the unequal military capacity of the two sides, Selvanathan said that the LTTE prefers to wage a guerilla struggle from their jungle strongholds.

Sidebar: Forum supports Tamil rights in Sri Lanka

BRISBANE - "The Sri Lankan government thinks the capture of Jaffna is the end of the matter. It is really only the beginning'', Dr K Nava, a committee member of the Tamil Association of Queensland, told a Green Left Weekly public forum on December 6.

Nava explained the background to the crisis in Sri Lanka, in which the majority Sinhalese-dominated government has launched a genocidal war against the minority Tamil people in the north of the island. A video, smuggled out of the Tamil area, showed the deaths of hundreds of civilians in the bombing of a Catholic church by the regime. Nava called on the Australian government to sponsor a fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka, and for international pressure to force the Colombo regime to end its military offensive against the Tamils and to lift its economic embargo on the north.

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