Tamils surprised by Ranil’s speech
Some international media reported that, President’s visit to Jaffna, during Thai Pongal festivals, was cancelled due to the pressure of radical Tamils.
‘Amid widespread protests by Tamils, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena cancelled his scheduled visit to Tamil areas to celebrate the annual Hindu festival of Thai Pongal on 15 January. Elaborate arrangements were made to organize this festival, but at the last minute the Sri Lankan President cancelled his visit and instead sent his Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, for the event. Visiting British State Minister for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hugo Swire and several diplomats also joined this festival.’
Whatever the reality relating to this event is, there is a campaign to depict that the democratic revolution, that happened last year, has not changed in any way the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It is a truth that the democratic people in Sri Lankan have been protesting for not giving equal rights in the current Constitution, to all nationalities in Sri Lanka. This included the protest against the special rights given to Buddhism, which made the latter the only State religion in Sri Lanka. There are calls to give equal rights to all religions or to make Sri Lanka a secular State and to remove the special status given to Buddhism in the new Constitution.
However there were no serious campaigns launched by minority communities on this issue. The real issue for them was the attacks organized by fascistic ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ groups to harm religious centres of other religions. The democratic revolution defeated such campaigners and legal action was taken to suppress such criminal action.
There were protests held in Colombo and in Jaffna, also in many other areas, where Sama Samaja leaders too participated, to highlight the failure of the Sri Lankan Government – even after one year in power – to fully address the plight of thousands of Tamils who disappeared, continued imprisonment of Tamil political prisoners and the heavy presence of the Sri Lankan military in the Tamil areas. In the case of the disappeared, the government has indirectly admitted that many were killed in the course of the battle. Such uncounted include thousands of Sinhala soldiers too. However, the Sri Lankan State has to bear the responsibility for all these missing persons and bring redress to their kith and kin. The continued imprisonment of Tamil political prisoners is a real tragedy.
Ranil has announced that the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is an unacceptable piece of legislation. Still a few prisoners are held under the Section 15/1 of the PTA. The four prisoners held in Boossa camp have been there for six years and ten months now. Kanakaratnam Athithan, Nadaraja Sarawanabawan, Selvaraja Kirubaharan and Thangavel Nimalan are facing charges but their cases are going on indefinitely. They are supposed to be highly trained fighters. But how can they be kept prisoners when LTTE top leaders are given amnesty! This is a complete violation of Buddhist principles as the Buddha said that intention is primary and action is secondary!
The very heavy presence of the military, giving the picture of Sinhala military occupation is certainly a problem. However, the government has taken steps to reduce numbers and to dismantle High Security Zones and release land to the owners. It is impossible to discharge soldiers and send back home without a job. Abandoned soldiers could create a serious social and political problem; using them in development projects takes some time. The government has taken steps to remove soldiers from check points, police work and operations. Two recent reports by the International Truth and Justice Project and Freedom from Torture indicate, continuing abduction of Tamils and sexual violence against Tamil women. However, the Committee for Investigation into Disappearances has reported that no disappearances of a political nature or sexual violence of a communal nature have taken place in the Tamil homeland, in the past year after the democratic revolution.
After the Thai Pongal event there was enthusiasm among the masses. There was pressure on the Northern Chief Minister to go along with the TNA leadership. Supporters of these leaders’ visit believe that their visit may be a signal to give equality, autonomy and the right of self-determination to the Tamil people. They expect a revolutionary change in the coming period as indicated by the speech made by the Prime Minister.
Even those who planned the protest, spearheaded by organizations representing families of the disappeared, families of the political prisoners and Tamil war widows were surprised by the frank and elegant speech he made. They believe that the Sri Lankan Government will respect the UN request to hold an investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity, for the large scale killings of Tamils and rape of Tamil women during the military operations. Naturally Left organizations including that of Sama Samajists have totally committed themselves for the implementation of the democratic programme provided to the people.