Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Silence on Sri Lanka

Morning Star Online, April 14, 2009

The lack of news coverage on Sri Lanka has been absolutely extraordinary. The war has been going on since 1983. It has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people in the north and east of Sri Lanka, where Tamils have suffered at the hands of the army, and in attacks on the capital Colombo and elsewhere.

It has also damaged civil liberties in Sri Lanka, leading to the deaths of a number of politicians and the disappearance of journalists.

Last Saturday saw an enormous demonstration in London which, with the honourable exception of the Morning Star, many papers simply refused to cover at all - despite the fact that well over 200,000 people were present, overwhelmingly from the Tamil diaspora.

The protesters have also occupied Parliament Square and two of them have been on hunger strike in order to force the pace of British demands for a ceasefire.

The British government has appointed ex-defence secretary Des Browne as its peace envoy, but even his appointment has been rejected by the Sri Lankan government. Norway, which has played a positive role in the past and once negotiated a ceasefire, has been told that it can no longer speak to the Sri Lankan government.

The rally on Saturday demanded an immediate and unconditional ceasefire as a prelude to negotiations. The Sri Lankan government has announced a two-day new year ceasefire, but couched its announcement in terms of allowing civilians to leave the enclave at Varina rather than as part of a longer-term peace process.

The Sri Lankan government has pursued the war with incredible intensity and ferocity over the past few months, with ominous reports of civilian targets being bombed and the use of illegal weapons.

The UN security council found itself able to meet at a few hours notice after North Korea launched a rocket which was apparently a mechanism to put a satellite into orbit. The launch killed no-one, no-one was injured and no country was attacked.

But the continuous death toll in Sri Lanka has so far not yet warranted a special meeting of the security council, although one is now apparently to be scheduled.

Sri Lanka is well armed with weapons purchased from all over the world and its economy has been buoyed in recent years by huge tourist income, despite a raging war a few hundred miles away from the Europeans sunning themselves on the beaches.

The war in Sri Lanka is in effect a legacy of the British colonial period and while the Sri Lankan army clearly has succeeded in reducing the military capability of the Tamil Tigers, it has not solved the basic cause of the problem or put forward any strategy for doing so.

The very least that Britain can do is halt tourism and any strategic weapons supplies to Sri Lanka and assist in promoting talks and recognition of the Tamil people.

It’s tragic that the Tamil people should turn out in such huge numbers in London last week but very few others seem willing or able to show their support.

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