By P Ramasamy
Azman Ujang’s piece titled “Peace pays off for Sri Lanka” in his column “Off the Cuff” (The Sun Daily, May 16), seems to be an exercise that is echoing the propaganda efforts of the Sri Lanka government rather than critically examining who really benefited from the end of the civil war that raged for more than 30 years.
Yes, peace dividends might have brought benefits to political elites, foreign investors and tourists but what about the locals and Tamils in particular? The civil war ended with the defeat of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), not a terrorist organisation, but a Tamil liberation movement.
If not for the harsh and brutal policies of the Sri Lankan government, the LTTE would not have arisen in the first place. Wanton killings of Tamils, ethnic massacres, and discrimination against Tamils in education as well as employment contributed to the rise of the liberation movement.
One can hardly talk about the dividends of peace, when major human rights issues concerning the Tamils in the north and east have not been settled yet. The call by international human rights agencies for the Sri Lanka Government to undertake reconciliation measures by accounting for the hundreds of thousands of Tamils who have gone missing, the more than one hundred thousand, mostly innocent women, children and the elderly who were killed during the height of the civil war as well as the rapes and torture inflicted on Tamil women, have not been addressed.
The new government of Maithripala Sirisena has failed to punish those responsible for war crimes. Unfortunately, despite calls by international human rights agencies including the United Nations, countries like India and the United States have shown no interest in addressing the human rights violations in Sri Lanka.
The war might have ended, but the civilian Tamil population, particularly in the north and east, are being robbed of their properties and land by the Sri Lankan armed forces. Hundreds of thousands of parcels of land belonging to Tamils have been grabbed by the armed forces in the name of security. Tamil fishermen have been refused entry to certain areas in the sea due to security impositions by the Sri Lankan navy.
Small-scale businesses owned by Tamils in the past have been taken over by organisations affiliated with the armed forces. A large number of houses owned by Tamils have come under the control of the armed forces simply by listing these properties under the security list.
Former LTTE members who underwent rehabilitation face the prospect of unemployment. The armed forces and personnel of various security agencies continually harass many of them. Tamil women continually face sexual and other forms of harassment from armed forces personnel as well. Many Tamil women, who have been widowed and are without employment have resorted to the world’s oldest profession – prostitution.
So what exactly is Azman referring to when he talks about peace dividends? One or two visits to the country do not make him an expert on the political, social and economic situation in Sri Lanka. Perhaps he should travel to the north and east to ascertain the true conditions of the Tamils there, a community that certainly is not the beneficiary of the end of the civil war.
The Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Malaysia, Ibrahim Ansar cannot be the only source of information for Azman. If Azman is a journalist, he needs to have an open mind to understand how events have unfolded in Sri Lanka over the last 30 years or so.
Can Azman tell us how Tamils benefitted from the investments by Telekoms, Maxis and Khazanah Malaysia?
There might be improved communications, frequency of flights and so on, but they have had no impact in improving the socio-economic situation of Tamils in their own homeland.
P Ramasamy is Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang.
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