SRI LANKA: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Mass carnage of Tamils in war without witnesses
, June 13, 2009
While the war in Sri Lanka has ended, the underlying causes of the civil war have not been addressed, writes Peter Westmore.A civil war of merciless atrocity, in which tens of thousands of Tamils have been killed recently by the Sri Lankan army, came to an end last month when army troops finally occupied the territory controlled by the Tamil Tigers in north-east Sri Lanka.
While the war has ended, the underlying causes of the civil war have not been addressed, and, arguably, have been exacerbated.
Most of the rest of the people are Sinhalese. They are Buddhist, and have their own language and culture.
A brief outline of the history of the Tamils in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is necessary to understand the current struggle.
The people of Sri Lanka are thought to be descended from settlers who originated in northern India in the 6th century BC. Their religion was Buddhism. At some time in the 14th century AD, a Tamil kingdom was established in northern Sri Lanka, which was predominantly Hindu. The Tamils were ethnically different from the Sinhalese, and had a different language and culture, but constitute a significant minority (19 per cent) of the population.
The Tamils themselves are divided into two groups: Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils, who were brought in to work in Sri Lanka's famous tea plantations.
The original European colonists, the Portuguese and the Dutch, administered the Tamil north separately from the Sinhalese south; but after Ceylon was ceded by the Dutch to the British during the Napoleonic Wars, the British established a central administration, based in Colombo.
Since Sri Lanka gained independence over 60 years ago, the majority Sinhalese population established a unitary government which marginalised the Tamil minority, leading to calls for regional autonomy which were ignored for years by the central government.
A policy of repression of the Tamils followed, with hundreds of thousands of Indian Tamils forced to return to India, widespread killing of Tamils and the destruction of their villages.
This prompted a violent reaction from the Tamil minority, leading to the formation in 1976 of the Tamil Tigers who have waged a bloody war against the central government, seeking independence for the predominantly Tamil north and east of the island, in a state called Tamil Eelam
When discrimination and anti-Tamil violence continued, the Tamils took up arms, leading to the commencement of civil war in 1983. One of the Tamil groups which emerged in this period was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), known universally as the Tamil Tigers.
It was founded by an extreme and violent Tamil nationalist, Veluppilai Prabharkaran, who initially waged a war against other Tamil groups as well as against the Sri Lankan government.
Prabharkaran pioneered the use of suicide-bombers, including female suicide-bombers — one of whom killed the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991, after Indian peace-keepers were introduced into Tamil areas. The Tigers raised large amounts of money from Sri Lankan exiles in various countries.
In 1996, Tamil Tigers suicide-bombers drove a truck laden with explosives into the Central Bank of Colombo, killing 90 and injuring a further 1,400 people, most of whom were Sri Lankan civilians.
At its strongest, the Tigers controlled as much as a third of Sri Lanka.
After the attack on the World Trade Center, New York, on September 11, 2001, the Tamil Tigers were put on an international terrorist list, and many governments took action to freeze the funds of the Tamil diaspora which were fuelling the civil war in Sri Lanka.
After the last cease-fire collapsed in 2006, the Sri Lankan army commenced a war of attrition against the Tamil Tigers in the north-east of the island.
Since then, an increasingly bitter war has taken place as the Sri Lankan army, using its substantial military might, pushed the Tamil Tigers into a smaller and smaller perimeter in the north-east of Sri Lanka.
The Tamil Tigers reportedly used civilians as human shields. The Sri Lankan army simply ignored the plight of the civilians and continued to fight on, refusing to allow any humanitarian organisations, media or UN agencies to monitor the situation.
The London Times
reported that "China appears to have become the biggest arms supplier to Sri Lanka in the 1990s when India and Western governments refused to sell weapons to Colombo to use in its civil war ...
"Beijing appears to have increased its arms sales significantly to Sri Lanka since 2007 when the United States suspended military aid amid human rights concerns." (The Times
, May 15, 2009).
Although the United Nations' local representatives knew of the brutality and barbarity of the fighting, when West European countries raised the matter at the United Nations, the UN Human Rights Council refused point blank to consider the matter.
The UN Human Rights Council instead considered a resolution submitted by Sri Lanka itself, which welcomed the "liberation" of tens of thousands of the island's citizens, condemned the defeated Tamil Tigers, made no mention of the shelling of civilians and kept silent on the desperate need to allow the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups into the camps where some 200,000 Tamil civilians have been forcibly interned.
The UN's whitewash of recent events in Sri Lanka, and the continued detention of hundreds of thousands of Tamils in what are virtually prison camps, will reinforce the council's critics in the West.
The UN Human Rights Council's decision was strongly supported by China, Russia, India and Pakistan, all of whom supported the Sri Lankan resolution, on the grounds that the conflict there was an internal matter and that the council should not intervene in it.
They were supported by Asian and Muslim countries, also wary of outside inspection of their own human rights record, who also saw this as a precedent for similar votes in the future.— Peter Westmore
(The above article, uploaded on June 29, 2009, is a corrected version of one that appeared in the printed edition of News Weekly