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Syed A Kamal: Tamil Tigers And Ethnic Cleansing

Tamil Tigers And Ethnic Cleansing of Sinhalese & Muslims in Sri Lanka-Kusum


Mr. Kusum Balapatabendi

*****

By
Syed Akbar Kamal


Sri Lanka’s top diplomat in the Pacific region Mr. Kusum Balapatabendi paid a visit to New Zealand recently on the occasion of Sri Lanka’s 60 years of independence. Incidentally it was his first trip to Auckland at the invitation of New Zealand Sri Lanka Foundation.

The celebrations were unique with participants drawn from Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist & Christian communities coming together to form a fusion of cohesiveness and understanding.

Sri Lanka is a beautiful island country located in the Indian Ocean, a little bigger than our own North Island and the population is about 20 million people. The majority of the people in the country are Sinhalese, mostly Buddhists, consisting of 73% of the population. The rest of the population consists of Tamils and Muslims.

Since time immemorial, they have lived in harmony, embracing each other’s cultures and religions. According to the last census the total Sri Lankan population in New Zealand stood at 8,542.

Sri Lanka’s pristine beauty with natural surroundings makes it an international tourist attraction with ocean waters, breathtaking scenery and smiling people. This beautiful island famous for its hospitality and laid back attitude with children running care free and bare foot in paddy fields personifies the true meaning of a simple way of life in harmony with nature.

Since decades, the country has witnessed the sleepy way of life giving way to a nightmare of death and devastation.

The Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Australia Kusum Balapatabendi in this exclusive interview gives an insight into the conflict and talks about the current situation in Sri Lanka.

Darpan-The Mirror: 60 years of independence and there’s a big celebration out here in Auckland-what exactly are your feelings after this long journey?

Kusum Balapatabendi: Well, I feel that we have had successes, achievements and also failures. As a nation we have had failures and achievements. So, taking it to a balance, we feel that we have achieved more than what we have failed because failures are our own creation.

So this creation of failures could be recovered and corrected by unity among all the peoples of our nation. This is exactly what we achieved by getting independence. That was a united action of all the communities in my country.

So the failure started when the disunity arose 25-30 years ago; so this disunity has to be corrected-that correction has to go through our own efforts-no one from outside can do that. It has to be our own action among our own communities as one nation. That’s how it can be restored.

Darpan-The Mirror: You raised a very important point when you said the problems started about 25-30 years ago, could you be specific on that?

Kusum Balapatabendi: Well, the problem started when the terrorists started working against their own people. If you analyze what they have done, they have done more damage to the Tamils than anybody else has done to the Tamils. They have killed the largest number of Tamils in their own country, their own people; and not only the people of our country but even the Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi.

So this is something that is unforgettable, this is unpardonable because this is a destruction of a nation. Destruction of natural assets of our country, destruction of the assets of 20 million people in our country.

We cannot allow 5,000 terrorists to run the country. We cannot allow the 12% population of Tamils to go under the hammer of the terrorists and suffer. And they also must have a future; and their future generations have to survive. And they have to survive in an atmosphere of harmony and peace. This is exactly what we are trying to do.

So while we try to suppress them in one way, the other way we are trying to resolve the conflict. And we are on the correct path. We are on the track to finding the solution-the solution acceptable to all the people. And that solution can come only by talking to all the minorities and all the majority people in our country.

This is what exactly our President has done-President Mahendra Rajapakse of Sri Lanka. He appointed a committee of 13 political parties, representatives of the Parliament that’s called the Association of representatives of Parliament. And they have worked out a solution.

Now the President has said “we now start working on a working paper.” The working paper is based on the 13th Amendment which was brought in 1987. It’s a verbatim record of the Indian Constitution brought by Rajiv Gandhi. Now that will be the beginning.

So whatever additions or whatever improvements necessary to suit the minority communities- Tamils, Muslims, Burgers and Malays- as much as resolve and as much as to satisfy the majority. To satisfy everybody there’s going to be a solution in that.

Darpan-The Mirror: In the conflict, it has been brought to the attention by several sources from the media, one of the British journalists (Yvonne Ridley) that had gone in there; she was of the opinion that the Muslims are caught in the cross-fire between the government and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) you need…

Kusum Balapatabendi: Well, I must say this when the …when the last government that was a temporary government for two years of the present leader of the opposition, he entered into a CFA ceasefire agreement with the LTTE. He had never thought of the position of the Muslims in that context who were living in the eastern province of the country and in many parts of the country. So, they were shut out.

And this ceasefire agreement was between the government and the LTTE only. They recognised LTTE as the sole representatives of the Tamils when there were 5,000 odd people in our country and he gave an equal status to the terrorists. And the Muslims were forgotten; they agitated; the Muslims agitated; where are we, let us also come to discuss this, this affects us also; we are in the eastern province of the majority; why are you allowing all the terrorists to discuss about this?; why are you joining north and east together when we are in the eastern province?

So this abrogation of the CFA (ceasefire agreement) enables the Muslims to come forward and put up their stake in this whole problem. And this allows all the minority peoples in the country and all the majority people to find a compromise solution. And the solution is available through the majority community 74% of Sinhalese, want this problem resolved, want this problem resolved; they do not want military resolution.

My President never wants a military solution. He is always for peaceful negotiation. It’s on the cards.

Darpan-The Mirror: Yeah but how come now the Muslims are being subjugated and terrorised by, you know, both the entities…

Kusum Balapatabendi: No they don’t have…they don’t…they can’t do that because we have liberated the Muslims…we have liberated the eastern province through war we have to liberate. And they are no longer under the Tamils. They are no longer under Tamils. They are liberated and they are autonomous group of people and they have the right and stake to come up in the local government politics which are round the corner.

Darpan-The Mirror: And now…the ceasefire was being observed for such a long long time and only till recently…it has been forsaken and the government issued a statement saying that it has run out of patience.

Kusum Balapatabendi: Well, I must say it was never observed. It was a dead letter. From the very beginning it was a dead letter. They (LTTE) never came to settle. They never raised one issue with the then government at that time.

It was breached 7,000 times, more than 7,000 times by the LTTE. So there was no agreement to breach. There was no agreement in existence in the first place. And it was the right step that was taken to abrogate it… at least on paper because it was not available in action. It was a dead letter. Yeah.

Darpan-The Mirror: Why this problem has cropped up of (demand for) a separate nation-a nation within a nation?

Kusum Balapatabendi: Yeah. This is exactly the point you know. There is no need for a nation inside another nation. And there cannot be one country in another country. That’s a very small area in which they are living-they have confined themselves in.

But they were not alone by themselves; what they did was ethnic cleansing; they threw out all the Sinhalese, they threw out all the Muslims out of the Northern Province to show that this is their old native land when it was not so.

And they say this is our homeland; there is no homeland. That is the homeland of all the Tamils, the whole of the country is the homeland of all the Tamils; the homeland of all the Sinhalese and the homeland of all the Muslims. There are no separate places for anybody. It is one nation.

There are Tamils living in the south of Sri Lanka, 54% of Tamils are not living in the north and east. So that is the situation. So there’s no need for a small state in one part of the country. That’s a very small country of just 65,000 square kms.

Darpan-The Mirror: So Sri Lanka is absolutely not seeking any outside mediation from friendly countries?

Kusum Balapatabendi: Yeah, we welcome any foreign country coming to help us in this matter. We welcome. We are inviting India our great neighbour to come and help us.

We are inviting any country who wants to come and help us, yes, we welcome. Because- it is something that they should do because of global terrorism now. It is raising its head; it’s raising its ugly head and it is causing lot of problems in the entire world.

So all nations must get together not only Sri Lanka but the other neighbouring countries in the SAARC region, and even the European countries must get together, and in fact they have the EU and 25 countries together they have banned the LTTE. USA banned the LTTE; UK banned the LTTE; India banned the LTTE; Japan banned the LTTE; so they have proved that these are fellows who do not want peace; that is why they have banned LTTE.

So there is a kind of cooperation from the rest of the world but it is not easy for us to give up, you know, retaliating when they attack. As a government we cannot do that. We cannot allow them to destroy busses, we cannot allow them to destroy trains, we cannot allow them to destroy our resources which they are doing.

They are killing innocent civilians-people can’t go in a bus; people can’t go in a train today-that’s the situation. In such a situation the government has to act; government has to respect the sovereignity and the territorial integrity of the country; that’s the top priority.

Darpan-The Mirror: Like it might be so fascinating to see all the different religious ethnic groups live in peace and harmony outside the shores of Sri Lanka but in Sri Lanka itself there is another picture…

Kusum Balapatabendi: Well, that is confined to a particular area only. But the rest of the country if you take 95% of the population, they are united, there’s total harmony. These 5000 fellows (LTTE) are creating problems in the north, not in the east as they were totally thrown out.

In some parts they come as small suicide bombers, you know, suicide kits that ladies come with the bombs tied to their breasts and they explode.

So the other religions people, you know, we have lot of inter-marriage in our country between people of all religions. Even here and even there we have Sinhalese getting married to Tamils and yesterday I was talking to somebody about this. There is a kind of harmony existing. All the unpleasantness and the problems are created by the terrorists.
That is not the order of the day. That’s more the exception than the rule.

Darpan-The Mirror: Are you looking anything in specific from New Zealand?

Kusum Balapatabendi: I expect all the Sri Lankans out here to live together-united whatever their differences be and help their country Sri Lanka to achieve prosperity and peace.

Darpan-The Mirror: Just a couple of weeks back a Sri Lankan independence day was celebrated by a different organisation and then we have this celebration out here-your thoughts?

Kusum Balapatabendi: Well that’s the fundamental freedom people have. Freedom of expression is there, anybody can get together. And that is your freedom of expression and freedom of association is there. And it may be the identity that they maybe in their own country that they have come together here and have different roots. But they are not differently together or differently opposed. They have their own views but of course all working towards the same aim targeted to achieve peace and prosperity to the country.

Darpan-The Mirror: Thank you very much.

Kusum Balapatabendi: Thanks!

*****


Syed Akbar Kamal is producer/director for current affairs programme Darpan-The Mirror.

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