SRI LANKA: Kevin Rudd silent on the plight of the Tamils

April 16th 2011

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CANBERRA OBSERVED: Nation braces itself for tough Budget

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ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Why a carbon tax is self-defeating

SRI LANKA: Kevin Rudd silent on the plight of the Tamils

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Kevin Rudd silent on the plight of the Tamils

by John Whitehall

News Weekly, April 16, 2011

It is two years since the civil war ended in Sri Lanka between the majority Sinhalese government in Colombo and the Tamil minority struggling for autonomy in their north-east homeland.

The Tamils were crushed by overwhelming, undiscriminating firepower that rained down on them from the Sinhalese air force and ranks of artillery.

Only when the guns fell silent were civilians separated from soldiers. The former were herded into largely known concentration camps while the fate of the latter is still unknown.

The entire Tamil population of the north-east was caught up in the conflict. According to the Catholic bishop of Mannar, the Rt Revd Rayappu Joseph, almost 150,000 Tamil men, women and children remain unaccounted for — still missing after two years and feared dead — and almost all of them civilians.

This humanitarian disaster happened under the presidency and family rule of Mahinda Rajapakse in Colombo, while Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister of Australia.

Mr Rudd was, and remains, silent about these well-attested civilian atrocities in Sri Lanka, even though our two countries are fellow members of the Commonwealth and play cricket together. In the meantime, Rudd has developed a passion for civilians in Libya, to the extent of vociferously calling on the West to engage in military action to protect them from the brutalities of their dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

However, when Rajapakse was dropping cluster-bombs on Tamil civilians in 2008-09, Mr Rudd said nothing about Sri Lanka’s flouting of United Nations rules of war.

Today, while an estimated 7,000 Tamil soldiers remain in secret concentration camps, denied any access to the International Red Cross, or any protection enshrined in UN rules about treatment of prisoners of war, Mr Rudd remains mute.

The triumphant Rajapakse and his generals are in the process of seizing land and natural resources, and repopulating Tamil areas with Sinhalese, in what numerous UN declarations define as an act of cultural genocide. Still there is not a word of protest in UN forums from Australia’s normally loquacious foreign minister.

It is only the recent plight of civilians in Libya that has suddenly aroused Mr Rudd’s indignation and prompted him to stand on a UN platform to inform that country’s dictator that he should “go” because his people, our people and the people of the whole world want him to “go”, and to warn that we will use our air forces to help him on his way.

Does he think the oppressed Tamils of Sri Lanka have any less reason to abhor Rajapakse and his dynasty, than the Benghazi faction in Libya has reason to abhor the Gaddafi dynasty? Is he unaware that Sinhalese oppression of the Tamils began decades before Gaddafi seized power?

A Sri Lankan-born former Australian diplomat with dual citizenship, Palitha Kohonoa, returned to his homeland in 2006 at Rajapakse’s invitation. He is now Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, where he has proceeded to whitewash Rajapakse’s dirty war against the Tamils. Kohonoa is busily ensuring his country escapes being held accountable for war crimes, as accused by the International Crisis Group.

Mr Rudd might ponder the irony of one of his department’s former employees — and a fellow citizen — busily covering up for civilian atrocities in one part of the world while he (Mr Rudd) is discovering them elsewhere.

And where exactly is our involvement in Libya going to lead? Even Mr Rudd concedes that “it will be a long process”, which will be “very difficult, very complex, very time-consuming, very resource-intensive”. In other words, it will be another military involvement in the Middle East without a clear objective, and for whom?

Who is this ululating rabble who appear to be firing more bullets in the air than at their enemy? No one knows: but few could guarantee that the country won’t fall to some form of anti-Western Islamic fundamentalism.

Look at Australia’s double standards in international affairs. In Orwellian double-speak, Tamils seeking freedom in their traditional homelands are routinely dismissed as “terrorists”, while the unknown boys from Benghazi are presumed to be “democrats”.

Is it any surprise that one of the governments criticising Mr Rudd’s call for the bombing of Libya is none other than Sri Lanka?

Now quoting rather than flouting UN ideals, Sri Lanka’s external affairs minister G.L. Peiris, in a recent speech of breathtaking hypocrisy, unctuously declared that the “air attacks on Libya by US-led forces” were “harmful to civilian life and … violate the territorial integrity of Libya”.

It should not be forgotten that President Rajapakse visited Colonel Gaddafi in October 2009, as did his son and heir-apparent, Namal, in January this year, after which the media in both countries applauded their pursuit of common interests.

Lastly, the commander of the Sri Lankan army has invited representatives from governments and armed forces of over 50 countries to an “international seminar” in Colombo, entitled “Defeating terrorism — the Sri Lankan experience” (May 31 to June 2, 2011).

The advance publicity boasts that Colombo “transcended” traditional approaches to combating terrorism, although it is not prepared to admit to the government’s cluster-bombing of civilians and the imprisoning of survivors in concentration camps.

And that is precisely the reason no-one should attend. Given Rajapakse’s abominable crimes against humanity, Australia and other democracies should boycott this gabfest.

Foreign minister Rudd should direct some of his recent humanitarian concern towards the long-suffering Sri Lankan Tamils and ask in international forums where the missing 150,000 have gone.

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