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Great Expectations

These are momentous times for the Tamil liberation struggle. On the one hand, the Sinhala state has escalated its genocide, slaughtering civilians in the Vanni with impunity. It is doing so in plain sight of the international community, including those Western states that have long styled themselves as the global custodians of human rights, states' responsibility to protect and so on. Let's be clear. Sri Lanka's genocide is financed, armed and legitimized by the international community: under the slogan of 'fighting terrorism', the Sri Lankan state has been given a carte blanche to annihilate the Tamil challenge to its authority. And as far as Colombo - and some of Sri Lanka's allies - are concerned, the mass killing of civilians is not an unintended consequence of defeating the LTTE, but an integral part a strategy for crushing Tamil insubordination to Sinhala rule: 'shock and awe'.
 
One the other hand, the Tamil nation has come together as never before. Across the Diaspora, Tamils are agitating, organising protest marches, petitions, and hunger strikes. The protests are directed squarely at the West and the demands are simple: an immediate and permanent ceasefire, recognition of their right to independence from the murderous Sinhala state and recognition of the LTTE as the Tamils' representatives. Even in those parts of the Tamil homeland under the terrifying rule of the Sinhala army, Tamils are expressing their solidarity with their people being bombed and starved in Vanni. The point here is not that these things will in themselves stop the slaughter, but rather that the Tamil nation has begun mobilizing in resistance.
 
This newspaper has oft-repeated the truism that it was deepening Sinhala oppression since independence that has spurred escalating Tamil demands. It is often forgotten that the demand for an independent Tamil Eelam emerged and was democratically endorsed by the Tamils several years before the LTTE's first major attack. Similarly, it is international efforts to coerce and discipline the Diaspora into accepting Sinhala sovereignty that has resulted in the strident commitment to Tamil Eelam that is visibly sweeping the Diaspora. Last weekend, a staggering 200,000 Tamils, over two thirds of those living in Britain, marched through London. Equally striking was the message sent by the 10,000 large Tamil Eelam flags fluttering in the chill.
 
Whilst Western states, looking at Sri Lanka through a 'security' lens, believe that the island's conflict will soon be settled by the Sinhala military's offensive and that peace will thereafter follow, in fact the possibilities of any reconciliation between the communities has long disintegrated, along with the shredded bodies of thousands of Tamils. No amount of development aid is going to bridge the gap between the two peoples now. The strident chauvinism amongst Sinhalese that has been fuelled by international support for their war against the Tamils is matched by renewed determination amongst Tamils that independence is the only goal acceptable to them. Internatio-nal intervention in Sri Lanka has rendered liberal peace an impossibility and, until Tamils are free, perpetual war a certainty.
 
There is no doubt that the international community very much hopes - even expects - that the LTTE will be annihilated in the coming weeks. Whilst, as always, we will refrain from making tactical military predictions, we can confidently assert that the conditions for protracted struggle for Tamil liberation are fast emerging and that includes near hegemonic support for the LTTE's project. Those who cared to listen to the chants of the Tamil crowds which marched through Western cities in recent weeks will know this. Those international actors who expe-cted Tamils to turn against the LTTE in response to the Sinhala onslaught have woefully misunderstood the dynamics of Sri Lanka’s ethnic politics. Instead, it is the international community which stands to lose its respect and moral authority amongst the vast majority of Tamils.
 
Notably there has been no effort by the West or other states to restrain the Sinhala state. Whilst there has in recent days been an increasing effort by some Western states, including the US and UK, to engage with Diaspora - the Indian government has also started to cast about for some sign of concern to show - it very much remains to be seen if this will amount to much. Indeed, the assurances from Western capitals that 'everything possible' is being done have only served to raise expectations amongst those sections of the Diaspora. If the genocide in Vanni continues, it will soon dawn on the majority of Tamils that they, and only they, are capable of ensuring the future safety and security of their people.