By Sara Flounders, Workers World, May 6, 2009
The government of Sri Lanka, with U.S. arms and military aid from Israel and Pakistan, is waging a brutal war against the Tamil people of Sri Lanka.
The Tamil population there is a nationally oppressed minority. They have waged a long, strong struggle for self-determination in Sri Lanka, a large island country of 20 million people located southeast of India.
The Sri Lankan government’s present campaign is justified as an effort to destroy, with a so-called “final offensive,” the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Yet the Sri Lankan army has opened a new attack against the entire civilian population.
The government has moved tens of thousands of Tamil into strategic hamlets and concentration camps. Hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians have been displaced. Recent military operations include mass arrests of civilians fleeing battle areas, torture and targeted assassinations. Many prohibited weapons designed to create terror among civilians, including napalm, white phosphorus and cluster bombs, are provided to the Sri Lankan military by U.S. military aid.
The Boston Globe reports: “The United Nations estimates that some 6,500 civilians have died and 14,000 have been injured in the government’s merciless offensive against the Tamil Tigers in the northeast of the country. ... 100,000 refugees need medical care, food, and shelter, and another 50,000 are under shelling in a five-square-mile war zone.” (April 25)
Sri Lanka’s military declared on May 1 that their troops had cornered Tamil Tiger rebels, who have been fighting for an independent homeland since 1983, in a five-kilometer-long strip of territory in the northeast and were poised for their final assault. The LTTE has said that they will return to guerilla warfare tactics if they are forced out of the area they have held in the north of Sri Lanka.
On May 2 the Sri Lankan Army fired artillery shells on the only remaining makeshift hospital at Mu’l’li-vaaykkaal, in a government-declared ‘safety zone’ in the Mullaittivu district of the northern war zone. The attack killed at least 64 patients and attendees, including a volunteer doctor, and wounded 87. The online news service TamilNet, the Associated Press and Reuters all reported on this civilian massacre.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces, and Defense Minister Gotabahaya Rajapaksa, his brother, have banned international aid groups, human rights monitors and independent journalists from the entire region. Defense Minister Rajapaksa has dual U.S. and Sri Lankan citizenship. He has often compared the Sri Lankan war against the LTTE to the U.S. “war on terror” against Islamic militants.
Imperialist policies of divide & rule
The problems of Sri Lanka today are rooted in the racist divide-and-rule policies established under British colonial rule of the island, then known as Ceylon. Along with the indigenous Tamil population, the British brought in more than a million Tamils as indentured slaves to work the tea plantations on the island in the late 18th and 19th century. Singhalese chauvinism was encouraged.
When British imperialism was defeated in the whole South Asian subcontinent in 1948, the British handed the government in Sri Lanka to the dominant Sinhalese nationality. The Sinhalese continued the policy of imposing their language as the only official language and limiting access to health care, schools, universities, civil service and all forms of political participation for the impoverished Tamil community.
Repeated attempts by moderate Tamils to effect change were met by fierce government repression. Communal violence by chauvinist Sinhalese, backed by the Sri Lankan government, killed thousands of Tamils in racist pogroms in 1956, 1958, 1977 and 1983. Tamil homes and small businesses were burnt in many villages. These systematic and government-sanctioned attacks led Tamil youths to take up armed struggle as the only means to defend their people.
Just as the U.S. government demonizes national liberation movements in Palestine, Lebanon, the Philippines, Nepal and Colombia as terrorist, the LTTE is on the U.S. list of “terrorist” organizations. But the real terror is the tactics used against nationally oppressed people to suppress justified resistance.
The Tamil diaspora in the U.S., Canada and Europe has condemned the atrocities by the Sri Lankan army against civilians and organized many demonstrations and protests calling for an immediate halt to the brutal offensive being waged by the Sri Lankan army against the Tamil people.
A statement by professor Jose Maria Sison, chairperson of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle, “condemns the criminal use of chemical weapons, nerve gas, cluster bombs and other types of bombs and artillery fire by the Sri Lankan army against the Tamil people. Under the auspices of the U.S., the Sri Lankan regime gets open political support from India and its military acquires its war materiel from Pakistan, a notorious military proxy of the U.S. in the region. The blatant use of banned weapons constitutes a war crime under the Geneva conventions.”
As with many other struggles for self determination and sovereignty, this struggle of the oppressed Tamil nationality deserves international support. It is essential that progressive organizations raise their voices in solidarity with the Tamil struggle and against the brutal U.S.-financed repression in Sri Lanka today.
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