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No victory if Sri Lanka cannot win the peace

By Graham Cooke - posted Thursday, 12 July 2012

It is time the Sri Lankan Government came clean over what exactly is happening in the country in the aftermath of the brutal civil war that ended in May 2009.

To the victor the spoils – that is inevitable – and for the Tamils, being on the losing side means a need to recognise their dream of a separate state on Sri Lankan soil will now never be realised, and that their best hope is to engage in reconciliation and partnership with the majority Sinhalese. That is what the Government in Colombo would have us believe is the course being taken, but so much evidence points to the contrary.

It is difficult to get a good handle on exactly what is happening in the areas of the country once under the control of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) because unrestricted access is routinely denied to international journalists and other fact-finders on the grounds of security and safety. The official line is that the process to reintegrate refugees and former low-level Tiger fighters back into the mainstream of civil and political life is proceeding apace and any suggestions to the contrary are simply mischief-making by LTTE elements still active outside the country.


The Sinhalese-dominated Government points to the fact the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) holds seats in Parliament and that Tamils have a place in the political life of the nation. Less publicised are the grievances regularly expressed by TNA Leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan over the treatment of Tamils generally and especially LTTE members who are still in detention.

Speaking in Parliament recently, Sampanthan described the detainees as political prisoners and called for their immediate release. He claimed many had been detained for years without trial and there were cases of prisoners dying in unexplained circumstances.

"If legal proceedings cannot be initiated against those who are kept in detention why not release them under amnesty? Tamil political prisoners are being tortured and this raises serious human rights concerns," Sampanthan told Parliament.

These and other allegations are alarming Sri Lanka's giant neighbour, India, to the point where it recently sent its National Security Adviser, Shivshankar Menon, to Colombo on a fact-finding mission.

Menon's main tasks were to discuss the rehabilitation of Tamils displaced by the war and express concern that their problems were not being sufficiently addressed by the central government. With a large and restive Tamil population within its own borders, what happens in Sri Lanka matters to New Delhi.

During his short visit Menon held talks with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the three brothers who between them dominate Sri Lankan politics. A meeting with Sampanthan was also squeezed in.


The official communiqué issued later was suitably bland noting that the resettlement of displaced persons, infrastructure development projects in which India has a hand and "areas of common concern" were discussed. What was not mentioned was Menon's insistence the former LTTE areas still effectively under martial law be demilitarized and that free provincial elections be held there.

A more strident version of the talks appeared a few days later in the Sunday Leader. Under the headline 'Indians get tough with Sri Lanka' the newspaper's political correspondent, Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema, said President Rajapaksa could no longer take India's support for granted.

"President Rajapaksa has lost credibility with the Indian Government," Abeywickrema reported, putting this down to "bald-faced lies uttered by Colombo" over supposed progress towards reconciliation.

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About the Author

Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.

He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.

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