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A reply: Terrorists or tomorrow’s allies?

High Commissioner Senaka Walgampaya’s letter to the Editor of The Canberra Times in response to the article titled “Terrorists or tomorrow’s allies?” written by Mr. Bruce Haigh and published on 01st September 2009.
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By Senaka Walgampaya

(September 24, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) I write with reference to the article which appeared yesterday in the Opinion Page of your newspaper titled “Terrorists or tomorrow’s allies?” by Mr Bruce Haigh. I wish to address you on two major concerns contained in this article i.e. the distortion of the national flag of Sri Lanka and facts presented by Mr Haigh on Sri Lanka.

At the outset, I place on record the objections of the Government of Sri Lanka that a reputed newspaper such as yours published a distorted version of the National Flag of my country which accompanies this article. The national flag of a country is not something to be made a mockery of as it is a source of pride and dignity for the citizens of that country. You would agree, many citizens of Sri Lanka live and work in Australia and contribute immensely to the growth of this country. They would be appalled to see the national flag of their country insulted in such an undignified manner. It is a totally unethical act and unprofessional conduct on your part to let this go to print. I should hope that your Newspaper would take appropriate steps to address my concerns in this regard.

In the aftermath of the conflict several so called ‘experts’ have emerged in the Australian media, one being Mr Haigh, claiming to know the facts on the situation in Sri Lanka. I have read with interest the several articles he had written in the past and thought it ill advised to respond to such rants. However, I feel it is important at this stage to state some facts for the benefit of your readers so that they become aware of the correct situation in Sri Lanka. I presume that you will accord the same publicity as you have done to Mr Haigh in your newspaper to my response, hopefully accompanied by the correct national flag of my country.

Mr Haigh categorizes the conflict in Sri Lanka as a civil war, which it was not. It was a conflict between a ruthless terrorist organization and a Government military. During the course of the conflict over 54% of the Tamil population of Sri Lanka lived outside the North and East together with the rest of the ethnic communities. Throughout the course of this conflict persons of Tamil ethnicity have been elected and have served in the Sri Lanka Parliament, have had access to Government and Private sector jobs at the highest possible levels (several leading CEOs of blue chip companies in Sri Lanka have been of Tamil ethnicity) and during the peak of the conflict the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka was an ethnic Tamil i.e. the Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar.

The LTTE, which was infamous for crushing dissenting views, has been at the forefront in assassinating moderate Tamil leadership since the inception of their struggle. Beginning with the killing of the Mayor of Jaffna Alfred Duraiappa in the 1970’s they continued to assassinate moderate Tamil leaders and intellectuals such as Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam (intellectual and constitutional expert), A Amirthalingam (leader of the TULF & former Opposition Leader), Kumar Ponnambalam (Leader of the Tamil Congress), J Pararajasingham( Tamil National Alliance MP), Nada rajah Raviraj (TNA MP), Ketheshwaran Loganathan (Deputy Secretary General of the Government Peace Secretariat), and Former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, to name but a few. While Mr Haigh presents the view that the LTTE were fighting for the rights of the Tamils, the question then remains what exactly were they doing killing eminent ethnic Tamils in the country. This is not all. The terror of the LTTE was not just directed at ethnic Tamils it was also directed at the Muslims. In 1990 the LTTE killed 103 Muslims and 70 others while they were praying at the Meera Jumma Mosque in Kattankudy. Later in the same year the LTTE engaged in ethnic cleansing evicting 90,000 Muslims from Jaffna. The purpose of the LTTE was to create a mono ethnic separate state in Sri Lanka, a country which has had a long tradition of a multi ethnic social fabric. The atrocities of the LTTE are endless. They were directed at civilians, civilian installations and the military alike. In placing before you the aforementioned facts my attempt is to make it clear to your readers that the LTTE were not freedom fighters as Mr Haigh20attempts to portray them, but a ruthless terrorist group.

Interestingly, Mr Haigh cites examples from history on attacks on Tamils by the Sinhalese but avoids mentioning the fact that since 1983 no such attacks have taken place despite extreme provocations by the LTTE with their suicide attacks which resulted in the deaths of several hundred civilians and vast destruction and damage to property.

He also avoids mentioning the fact that the Sinhala only policy has long since been abandoned and the Tamil language is recognized by the Constitution as an official language. A glance at a passport of any Sri Lankan citizen would make this clear.

The Government continues to make efforts to implement in full the 13th Amendment to the constitution so that Tamil language is used more widely by the Police and Administrative Officials.

Attributing the heinous crimes committed by the LTTE as “random acts of terror” to the Tamils, he is doing innocent Tamil civilians a great disservice. The Tamil Tigers do not represent and are not the sole representatives of the Tamil people.

The allegations made by Mr Haigh that the Sinhalese employed the use of torture and terror is totally unsubstantiated and false.

With regard to references made to conditions in the camps, the Government has currently given access to 52 International Non Governmental Organizations and other non governmental organizations to work side by side with Government officials in complementing the efforts of the Government in catering to the needs of the IDPs. Several UN agencies are working in each and every one of the welfare camps. Since January 2009 over 170 international media personnel and groups have been given access to the North to visit liberated areas and have been provided access to IDP welfare camps.

Mr Haigh has deliberately subverted the truth stating that20“around 300,000 were rounded up and put in concentration camps”. Mr Haigh ought reasonably to be aware that the 300,000 or so persons were in fact kept hostage and used as human shields by the LTTE in the last phase of the conflict and were rescued by the security forces.

In the task of resettling the IDPs the Government is faced with several interlinked challenges. Apart from the provision of humanitarian relief services to the IDPs in temporary accommodation facilities, de-mining, restoration of civil administration, infrastructure development, provision of a means of economic survival through livelihood development and ultimately the restoration of popular political institutions that will enable democratic decision making by the people through freely chosen representatives are some of the main tasks to be achieved.

Allied with this is the rehabilitation of child combatants (the LTTE recruited children as young as 14 years) and the demobilization, disarming and reintegration of other ex-combatants throughout the country which are also high on the list of priorities. In order to sustain these initiatives the Government needs to guard against any attempts to revive and revitalize separatism, disunity and destabilization. The Government of Sri Lanka will continue with its efforts to weed out terrorists who have infiltrated the ranks of IDPs and the civilian population. Towards that end a screening process has been introduced in the IDP welfare camps and those identified as LTTE cadres are sent for20rehabilitation in established centres. These are enormous challenges which Sri Lanka faces. Arm chair critics such as Mr Haigh, sitting in the comfort of his home, can scarcely begin to grasp the enormity of the task at hand. Hence his comments of the Government taking too long to resettle the IDPs are to be expected. The Government of Sri Lanka more than any other entity, organization or individual is supremely cognizant of the need to resettle these people early. The responsibilities to the citizens of our country are paramount to us and will never be taken lightly whatever their ethnicity maybe.

Successive Governments of Sri Lanka with the truest and sincere intentions of restoring peace and normalcy held six rounds of peace talks with the LTTE. However, every such period was used by the LTTE to regroup, rearm and induct new cadre and to recommence terrorist activity.

Certainly it is disappointing to see a former diplomat, who has served in Sri Lanka, lacking in any real affection for a country in which he has served and attempting to malign its name by distorting the truth.

I wish to recall excerpts from a statement made20in 2003 by Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar who was then an opposition Member of Parliament:

“Mr. Speaker, Sri Lanka has become a carnival ground for international players, a sort of Hawkers Street for foreign experts peddling their wares. Do we really need foreign experts to advise us on how to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the State. Surely, our own Service Commanders, native to our soil, know best what needs to be done. What we in the Opposition say to these worthy experts, there are many from different nationalities, who come to advise the government is this please remember that the Sovereignty of Sri Lanka is precious to us its citizens, to the members of this House, to our people. It may be a plaything in the hands of others, to us it is not a marketable commodity; it is not negotiable; it cannot be compromised. If any of these expert reports make recommendations that impinge on our sovereignty we of the Opposition will be duty bound by our people to denounce such reports whoever the author may be. He who pays the piper calls the tune.”

The Government of Sri Lanka will continue to take all measures to maintain the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and crush terrorism in all its forms, as it has so successfully done in May of this year. Had it not been for his assassination by the LTTE, Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar, an ethnic Tamil and former Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka would have lived today in a country free from terror, a goal which he relentlessly pursued and for which he laid down his life.

-Sri Lanka Guardian

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