Disappearances and extrajudicial killings of Tamils are once again on the rise in Sri Lanka. In Jaffna a simmering terror campaign by government-backed paramilitaries has escalated with several people going missing and the bodies of others, bearing horrific wounds, being dumped in public spaces.
The victims include business people and prominent members of the community. And it is no coincidence this is happening amidst international efforts, led now by India, to restore normalcy in the Tamil areas and kickstart the economy there.
Firstly, despite the rhetoric, Sri Lanka has no interest in allowing Tamil entrepreneurship and business to flourish. Instead, the state is seeking to establish a hierarchical economy in which state-backed Sinhala interests dominate the northeastern economy, with the population there serving as little more than a desperate pool of labour for the former’s profits.
The only exceptions are the commercial interests of the Tamil paramilitaries such as the EPDP and TMVP through which Colombo continues to keep Tamil areas unstable and insecure.
Secondly, Sri Lanka is opposed to societal revival in the Tamil areas. With economic progress and the restoration of normalcy will undoubtedly come renewed Tamil demands for political rights, including greater freedom from Colombo's rule and stronger links with the globalised economy and world community.
Which is why eighteen months after Colombo declared victory and the end of the armed conflict, Jaffna, Vanni, Trincomalee and Batticaloa remain places of militarized terror and economic decline. The 'High Security Zones' – once justified as necessary to prevent LTTE assaults on military bases – are largely still in place, or expanding, preventing the resettling of hundreds of thousands of Tamils. Last month the government ordered the ICRC and UN agencies out of the Tamil areas.
It is worth recalling that Jaffna has been under government control since 1995, Batticaloa since 2007 and Trincomalee always. And that Sri Lanka has for over fifteen years received billions of dollars in international aid for both rehabilitation and peacebuilding development.
As a recently Wikileaked US cable showed, sections of the international community are well aware of the commercial interests of the government-backed paramilitaries. Apart from illicit enterprises – stripping of sand for construction, for example, paramilitaries ran forced prostitution and child trafficking rings, kidnapping for ransom, extortion and appropriation of relief aid. Both paramilitary leaders and senior state officials have long enriched themselves through these activities.
Through the war - and the Norwegian-led peace process - international actors tacitly accepted the government’s use of paramilitaries, as well as their sordid sources of finance, as an integral part of its counter-insurgency against the LTTE.
Today these murderous actors are being deployed by the Sri Lankan state, alongside the military’s own harassment of Tamil business and civil society activity to actively deny the conditions – physical security and societal stability - necessary for a fully fledged post-conflict revival.