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Too Much Talk

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Amid seething tensions between the Tamil population and Sri Lankan security forces, the ceasefire continues to fray in a storm of landmines, grenades and gunfire. There have been clashes at sea and more extra-judicial killings on land. Amidst all these, there was a particularly vicious attack this week, the murder of Joseph Pararajasingham, MP. A veteran politician, he was associated most with his fearless championing of the human rights of his people and of the Tamil cause. As far as the Tamils are concerned, blame for his killing – like that of other sons of Batticaloa murdered this year, Kausalyan and Sivaram, - rests with the Sri Lankan state. The triggers may have been pulled by Tamil paramilitaries or intelligence agents, but it was in service of the state that the killings were executed. The contempt demonstrated for religious sentiments and common decency by those who unleashed a hail of bullets within the Batticaloa church – on Christmas Day, no less – speaks volumes of the nature of the state the Tamils must overcome to secure our freedom.

Mr. Pararajasingham’s killing ought to give the international community pause for thought. For too long those advocating the peace process have skirted around a problem that generations of Tamil political activists have repeatedly found: the Sinhala-Buddhist state cannot be reformed by the gentle pressures of global norms or international censure. Let us see – if matters do not overtake us first – whether the Sri Lankan state will find, let alone punish, those who strolled into a packed church in the middle of government-controlled territory, gunned down a prominent public figure and then made good their escape through streets thronged with Sri Lankan soldiers and police. We doubt it. But it might prove us wrong and give some credibility to the idiotic notion that the solution to the Tamil problem is reform of this Sinhala-Buddhist state and not its dismantling and the creation of a new or –better still - two new ones.

It is all very well to talk of peace. All Sri Lankan leaders, even as they turned the screws of oppression have talked of peace. The last President, Chandrika Kumaratunga was, so committed to peace, she even launched a bloody war against our people in its service. Her successor, Mahinda Rajapakse, is also chanting the same mantra – that he is for peace, for talks, for equality – that we have heard amid the gunfire for so long. But what, pray, is he going to talk about? He has already dismissed our very existence as a political entity, rejecting the concept of a Tamil homeland and nation. He has already ruled weakening of the unitary state with a vehemence that his subsequent obfuscation of ‘unitary’ and ‘united’ cannot mitigate. Notwithstanding this impenetrable impasse, the global community has been urging talks. We wonder, is it blind faith in the goodness of man or confidence that silent guns will suffice for their own interests to proceed that spurs such calls?

Immediate talks must be held, we are told, for the ceasefire to be stabilised. True, but what chance progress given prevailing sentiments? The problem, as many, including this newspaper, have become hoarse arguing, is the shadow war being waged by the state against the Liberation Tigers, their supporters and the wider Tamil cause. We repeatedly pointed out to no avail that the paramilitary problem, left unchecked, would destroy the peace process and ceasefire, in that order. We argued that the security implications of the state’s proxy war would eventually compel a robust response from the LTTE and if unchecked, a spiral of violence would be inevitable. Now that bloody dynamic is playing itself out.

Instead of taking concrete and meaningful steps to end the paramilitary campaign being waged by his military, President Rajapakse is pursuing international pressure to be brought to bear on the LTTE. But it is not a question of the LTTE’s will to peace, but that of its day-to-day security. The Tamils are thus bracing for a regrettable but, under the circumstances, inevitable escalation of the violence. The international community’s alarm, dismay and frustration is palpable. But if there is to be reversal of Sri Lanka’s inexorable slide towards the abyss, key states must bring pressure to bear on Colombo to unequivocally and unambiguously implement Clause 1.8 of the ceasefire.

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