Peace and Justice for Sri Lanka’s Tamils
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd March, 2009
This afternoon I spoke at a large gathering of London-based Tamils in Alperton (Brent), who were there to hear what Liberal Democrats had to say about the appalling humanitarian situation in the Vanni area of Sri Lanka. Though there has been comparatively little coverage in the British media (partly because the Sri Lankan government has kept journalists out), the Tamil civilian population there has come under horrendous and protracted bombardment as the government has tried to crush the separatist LTTE. Colombo says it believes the rebels are almost beaten, but as I said in my speech, there can never be a permanent military solution to the Tamil question on the island. That can only be resolved through negotiated/political means, which means delivering peace with dignity and justice and a substantial degree of self-rule to the predominantly Tamil areas, whether that is as an autonomous region within a federal state, or a separate entity; it is not for an outsider like me to judge.
I was dropped into the deep end of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict in the summer of 1983, when, by sheer fluke, I flew into Colombo on the very morning when the anti-Tamil incidents flared up. As I was driven into the city from the airport, Tamil businesses and homes were literally going up in flames and later I saw gangs of youths being disgorged from minibuses, armed with machetes, knives, sticks and other improvised weapons, ready to lay into anyone of the wrong ethnic group. It is a tragedy that more than a quarter of a century later, the issue has not been satisfactorily resolved. Britain as the former colonial power must engage more proactively in the situation and the EU itself should use its undoubted clout to promote true democracy and human rights on the island.