In an official gazette notification last month, President Mahinda Rajapakse declared that the extensive network of army camps established during the war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) will be made permanent.
The number of army camps in these two provinces, which have a population of about 3 million, has increased to 147. Two of the LTTE’s former strongholds—Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu—will become security force headquarters and permanent forward maintenance areas. And in addition to the new military camps, at least a dozen new police stations are said to be planned for the northern Wanni area (a former LTTE stronghold).
French TV also carried a story which is emblematic of the “internal colonialism” agenda that drives the Sri Lankan government’s policy – evicting Tamils from key tracts of the northeast and settling Sinhalese personnel and setting up military camps in those areas by using development aid and military in civil uniform to keep the media out, so continuing the policy of unseen oppression.
In the editorial published after his assassination, Lasantha Wickrematunge warned that “…a military occupation of the country’s north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self-respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering “development” and “reconstruction” on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity.”
As a leading Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) commentator notes, when President Rajapakse repeatedly stated that the world was flat – i.e., there was no ethnic problem – he was simply positioning himself as a Sinhala supremacist. Concrete actions have accompanied this ideological shift, not least the unitary state has been declared unalterable. Today even the 13th Amendment – a rather moderate approach to some regional autonomy – is “dismissed as unnecessary and undesirable by a government intoxicated by its victory over the LTTE and disinclined to countenance devolution to gain Indian goodwill”.
It is therefore deeply ironic that the Government of Sri Lanka has recently criticized Israel over the fate of Palestinians. Whether this is deep denial, rank hypocrisy or both it is hard to tell. But what is clear is that the same sort of oppression Palestinian face is now the fate of Tamils in Sri Lanka unless much more assertive action is taken by those who are concerned.