Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalism blamed for war

[TamilNet, Friday, 16 October 1998, 12:00 GMT]
(News Feature)Mr. Kumar Ponambalam, leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, while addressing the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London yesterday, said that the mindset of Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalism was central to Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict. The audience, which included NGOs, academics and British government officials was also addressed by Mr. Visuvananthan Rudrakumaran, one of the Liberation Tigers' legal advisors, Mr. Barry Gardiner, a British MP and Dr. Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham, a Tamil academic.

Mr. Malcom Rutherford of the Royal Institute, opening proceedings, said that the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Mr. Laxsham Kadirgamar had addressed the audience in April, and it was felt that the Sri Lankan situation had warranted "further discussion".

Mr. Kumar Ponambalam, leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress.
First to address the audience, Mr. Ponambalam said that the concept that Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalese and that the Tamils are 'interlopers', as often propagated by Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalists was a root cause for the continuation of the war.

He criticised recent comments made by the Sri Lankan President during her South African where she had reportedly said "Tamils are a minority community" and "not the original people of the island", as perpetuating this mindset.

"To say that the island belongs to one people is absolute nonsense", he said, saying that the Tamils and Sinhalese had been living on the island for thousands of years.

He said that previous Sri Lankan Presidents had also made disparaging comments about the Tamils, including referring to the Tamils as "vines and creepers on the Sinhala tree".

Systematic discrimination against the Tamils by Sinhala governments had taken place since independence from Britain he said.

"Tamils have been thrown out of [Sri Lanka's] decision making process" he said. "Dismantling of the Tamil homelands by colonisation" was also taking place he said, adding that Tamil areas were being renamed with Sinhala names.

Mr. Ponambalam condemned the conditions of the detention camps in Vavuniya "which the Sri Lankan government calls welfare centres", where thousands of Tamils are being held.

"Tamils are forced to live a dog's life [there]", he said.

The Sri Lankan government must negotaite with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which he said was a "politico-military organisation representing the aspirations of the Tamil people".

He said, the LTTE was "the sole representative of the Tamil people", not the Tamil groups in Parliament, whom he termed "quislings".

The LTTE had repeatedly stressed that it would readily negotiate on the basis of the Thimpu principles he said, adding that any solution which did not satisfy these principles (which had been signed by all the Tamil movements in the mid eighties) would fail.

He observed that the Sri Lankan government's devolution package went directly against all these principles. Furthermore, the package "had been diluted and diluted again" and had become "an embarrassment", so much so that the government did not mention it any more, he said.

The Tamil parties currently supporting the Sri Lankan government had also abandoned these principles, he said.

In reference to Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Laxshman Kadirgamar's declaration that the issue in Sri Lanka was only one of terrorism, Mr. Ponambalam asked the audience to "come to Sri Lanka and see [the situation] for yourself before branding people as terrorists".

Mr. Visuvananthan Rudrakumaran, one of the Liberation Tigers' legal advisors said that "The international position on the conflict in Sri Lanka is based primarily on geo-political cosiderations".

Mr. Visuvananthan Rudrakumaran, one of the Liberation Tigers' legal advisors.
Mr. Rudrakumaran said that there were several parallels between the conflict in Kosovo and that in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

"The Kosovan people were stripped of their democratic rights in 1989, as the Tamils were. Peaceful protests by Kosovans were crushed with Serbian military force, just as Tamil peaceful protests were crushed by Sinhala military force" he said.

The Serbian government was using food as a weapon of war in Kosovo, just as the Sri Lankan government was maintaining an embargo on the Tamil areas, he said. Atrocities are being committed against the Kosovons by Serb troops just as the Sri Lankan Army was committing atrocities against Tamil civilians, he said.

However, whilst the international community was willing to intervene on behalf of the Kosovons, its attitude to the Tamils was quite the opposite, he said, citing the geo-political interests of various countries as a key reason.

He observed wryly, that perhaps Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's mistake was, unlike the Sri Lankan government, in not presenting a 'devolution package' whilst waging war in Kosovo.

Mr Barry Gardiner, a British MP from the ruling Labour Party said that Britain was willing to help bring about a solution to the Sri Lankan conflict.

Mr. Gardiner said the British Foreign Minister, Mr. Derek Fatchet was due to visit Sri Lanka soon, and that, whilst he was not privy to what the agenda of the visit was, he hoped that Mr. Fatchet would impress on the Sri Lankan government the need to seek a negotiated settlement.

He cited recent statements by Sri Lankan industry bodies protesting at the exorbitant cost of the war and its impact on the economy. He also voiced concern about Sri Lanka's human rights record, but admitted "military equipment" had been sent to Sri Lanka, including possibly torture equipment, drawing criticism from human rights organisations in the audience.

Mr. Ethirveerasinghe spoke on the Tamils as constituting a people, on self determination and the armed conflict in Sri Lanka.

He said safety clauses in the post independence Ceylon constitution underwritten by Britain had been discarded by the Sinhalese in 1972, and the only forum to peacefully challenge this, the Privy Council, had been removed by the Sri Lankan government, allowing recourse to arms as the only option.

He appealed to the British government to redress the balance by helping the Tamils regain their democratic rights.


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