21 November 2006
The first cases of death from starvation have been reported from the Jaffna peninsula. Stark reality is staring us in the face. This is not happening in some distant land. It is on our doorstep, in our homeland.
Since the closure of A9 highway, the Jaffna peninsula has been cut off from the rest of the island. And that was in August.
A humanitarian catastrophe has since broken. Large numbers of people are starving. A shortage of medical supplies and doctors has worsened matters.
The same thing is happening in the east. Tens of thousands are being starved in Vaharai.
Food and medicine is being blocked as artillery and airstikes pound the region where 40,000 people who fled the military’s offensives in Trincomalee have sought shelter.
International aid agencies are being prevented from going in, wounded civilians are not being allowed out.
All this can happen because the victims are Tamils.
The refusal of the Sri Lankan government to open the A9 highway and access routes to Vaharai so as to alleviate the urgent needs of the people has unmistakably demonstrated that it doesn’t care about the welfare of the Tamil people at all.
The government’s preparedness to starve an entire community as a way to win the war reveals its true nature. Food is a weapon of war.
Meanwhile, the military and its sponsored paramilitaries have gone on a killing spree amongst Tamils in government-controlled areas. Anyone can be arrested or shot. Abductions, executions, torture, is reported from every area.
Unimaginable terror is gripping the Jaffna peninsula and Army-controlled parts of the east. Fear underlines the daily struggle for survival: “will it be starvation or a bullet that will claim my life?”
Yet the atrocities by the government of Sri Lanka against those it claims as its citizens have failed to stir the hearts of the donor states, the rest of the international community or even India.
The most they are prepared to do for us, as some of them already have, is to issue meek statements of ‘regret’ and declare that the LTTE and the government must find a “compromise.”
This is just window dressing to pretend they have some concern for our people. They will not lift a finger to avert the human tragedy that is unfolding minute by minute in the Northeast.
They know very well who is to blame for the blockades. But they are not prepared to blame the government for fear of jeopardising their own interests.
We always knew the international community would always look after its own interests. Now we know this is true even when the slightest action on our behalf might risk these interests.
From the outset the Tamil freedom struggle has eagerly sought the support of the international community to confront the tyranny of the Sinhala state. Without success.
Now we face this tyranny again, this time in full view of the international community – and the world turns its face away.
Last July, when irrigation water to the fields of a small part of the Trincomalee district was cut off, there was outrage and uproar against the LTTE.
And when, in breach of the Ceasefire, the Sri Lankan government launched a military offensive to open the water supply, the world watched approvingly.
Even after the LTTE had agreed to reopen the water supply, Sri Lanka escalated the offensive. Even then the international community did not restrain the government.
Perhaps the international community’s logic is that military violence is justified when humanitarian needs are at stake.
Now hundreds of thousands of people are being denied food and medicine by the Sri Lankan government.
Yet there is international silence - or some mild protests and the usual call for ‘talks’. Colombo’s violence is being endorsed by the world.
The Tamil people are, as always, very much alone.
We therefore need to find our own way out of this.
We must take responsibility for not only finding a way to end this humanitarian crisis, but to ensure we can never be put into this situation again.
We must set our differences aside for now and unite behind this goal.
When the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) swept the 2004 elections in the Northeast it was on the platform of recognising the LTTE as ‘sole representatives’ of the Tamil people and on the need for a self-governing interim authority for the Northeast.
That popular mandate – and responsibility of leadership - was given to the LTTE, albeit through the TNA.
The LTTE must now respond to the humanitarian crisis in the Northeast.
Just as it acted decisively after the devastating tsunami of December 2004, the LTTE must take the lead in finding a way forward.
Enough is enough. The well being of our people simply cannot be left in the unwilling hands of others.