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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2614

Bridge the trust deficit, a Tamil diaspora leader tells President Rajapaksa

By K.T.Rajasingham

Copenhagen, 06 April, ( ‘My eldest brother must pave the way for the Tamils living abroad to come back and work for Sri Lanka’, Mathi Kumaraturai (38), a leader of the Tamil Diaspora from Denmark, told the Asian Tribune, saying ‘For me Sri Lanka President is my eldest brother. He must remove the trust deficit that is responsible for the ethnic divide in the country’.

'It was the Sri Lankan Tamils who were the live-nerves of the war for Tamil Eelam. And if Sri Lanka Government wanted the support of the Tamils living abroad, they should come forward to embrace the Tamils as their own brothers and sisters and allow them to live in Sri Lanka with honor and dignity', said Mathi Kumaraturai.

Lalith Weeratunga,  Secretary to the President of Sri LankaLalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President of Sri LankaA nephew of Late A. Thangathurai MP and a veteran TULF leader, Mathi Kumaraturai was in Colombo on March 28 and 29 to attend a dialogue the Sri Lankan government held with the Tamil diaspora. He and 20 other leaders of the Overseas Sri Lankan Tamils community from nine countries attended the brainstorming session hosted at Mount Lavania Hotel.

It was the first such interaction by the Sri Lankan authorities which has the potential of breaking the iron-like grip the Tigers hold on the overseas Tamils. Yet the meeting was shrouded in mystery with the media kept at a distance on ‘security considerations’.

"Sri Lanka Government seeks Partnership with Diaspora for Reconciliation and Peace building in the North," a press release put out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said at the end of the deliberations but most participants were put off by the star-studded official delegation’s approach.

'The government leaders led by Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama lectured to us instead of listening to us' lamented a visiting Tamil leader. It is a wrong approach if Sri Lanka Government wants the support of the Tamils living abroad, said another, pointing to the presence of several ministers and top officers at the conference. They included Prof. Tissa Vitharana, D.E.W. Gunasekera, Lalith Weeratunga, Dr Palitha Kohona, Suhada Gamlath, Dr P. Ramanujam, V. Jegarajasingham, Ajith Nivard Cabraal and Chandra FernandoForeign Minister Rohitha BogollagamaForeign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama

The Government side is not available for its comment.

Reflecting the general mood amongst the overseas Tamilians of Lankan origin, Mathi Kumarathurai said they participated in the conference to urge the Government to save the 180,000 of innocent Tamil civilians trapped in the Vanni War Zone.

His brother Vathanan Kumarathurai also attended the conference. The brothers run a very popular website in Danish language, called ‘Shadow’ They were teenagers when they landed in Denmark in 1986. Humiliation at the hands of the government who detained him at the high security Welikada prison with no charges and torture led their father Arunachalam Kumarathurai leave the country. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) killed his eldest brother Arunachalam Thangathurai, TULF MP on July 5, 1997 in Trincomalee

Excerpts From The Interview

Asian Tribune: Tell us the reason for your participation in the two-day conference held in Colombo?

Mathi Kumarathurai: The main reason for us to participate in the conference is the humanitarian issues. You may be aware there is growing concern for Tamils in the Vanni conflict zone. In Vanni many Tamils, said to be more than 160,000 of them, are in the stranglehold of the Tamil Tigers; they are continuously being killed by them and in the firing of the Sri Lankan Security forces.

We consider safeguarding the lives of these Tamils, as one of our sacred duties. As a Tamil, I want to place it as an allegation against the Tamil Tigers as well against the Sri Lanka Government which failed to temporarily halt military campaigns till innocent Tamils are safeguarded.

In this context we felt that we can only ask or appeal to the Government to safeguard our Tamil brothers trapped in the war zone. Safeguarding our innocent Tamil people is the duty of the Government of Sri Lanka and not that of a terrorists’ organization.

Dr. Palitha Kohona - Secretary to the Foreign MinistryDr. Palitha Kohona - Secretary to the Foreign Ministry

Asian Tribune: Ok. You mean safeguarding the lives of the innocent Tamil civilians is the duty of the Sri Lanka Government and not of the LTTE, which, you have described as a terrorists’ organization

Mathi Kumarathurai: Kindly understand how we view this issue. For example if a plane is being hijacked and if the highjackers are Tamil Tigers. Whose responsibility it is to rescue the hostages. Certainly it of the government. Even if one life is lost in the rescue operation then it will be attributed as a failure on the part of the Government.

I am of the opinion, if and when the Government comes forward to safeguard its own people without the loss of lives of its citizen, then only the military campaign against the Tamil Tigers will be victory to the Government.

We decided to participate in the two-day conference was to urge the Sri Lanka Government to safeguard innocent Tamil civilians trapped in the war zone for safety.

But the truth remains that innocent Tamil civilians are being killed by one way or other. This is a grief-stricken occurrence which makes our heart to bleed.

The second reason is about the IDP camps. How people are treated in those camps. Unfortunately I have to return to Denmark immediately after the Conference, but I learnt that other members in our Group were taken to the IDPs’ camps.Prof. Tissa VitharanaProf. Tissa Vitharana

You may be aware that in the Western countries protests and rallies are going on regarding this issue. There are so many rumors floating around regarding this subject.

We are of the opinion that the IDPs should be treated as human beings. They should be provided with all the necessary facilities in the camps.

Furthermore there is no need to confine all the IDPs to camps until such time they are resettled in their original habitats. Keeping the elderly people, children and mothers in camps affects not only the Tamil people but also brings bad name even to the Government.

We are of the opinion that government should take immediate steps to resettle them with the quickest possible time.

The third purpose for me to go to Sri Lanka to participate in the conference is to urge the government to bring about an immediate political solution to the issues affecting the Tamils and the minorities in the in general and the country in particular.

I am of the opinion that a reasonable solution has to be reached without any further delay. In arriving at a reasonable solution, with a consensus to all the communities in the country, the Government and the country should take into serious consideration that this is an ethnic issue which is there for well over fifty long years. I am of the opinion that in the beginning, the Tamil youths who took to an arm struggle was a justifiable alternative to urge for an acceptable political resolution.

Asian Tribune: So you justify the armed-struggle that was launched in the beginning?

Mathi Kumarathurai: Yes I agree cent percent. You may be aware in those days that the successive governments which came to power entered into so many unfinished agreements with the moderate Tamil leaders. In the end the those agreements were reneged and even Late SWRD Bandaranaike tore into pieces the Banda – Chelva pact in front of the Buddhist clergies who were protesting in front of his ‘Walavu at Rosmead place, Colombo.

When the Tamil youth came to a conclusion that the moderate Tamil leaders were unable to convince the Government leaders to come up with a solution to their problems, then only they took to arms, began to launch an armed campaign against the Sri Lanka Government. I justify the initial stance of our youth in taking up to arms against the Government.

But the struggle to win the lost rights of the Tamils through armed struggle was hijacked by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam when they began to subdue other Tamil groups, ban them and proclaimed themselves as a mono-ethnic organization, as the sole representatives of the Tamils by threat and intimidation. Thus the struggles of Tamils has been waylaid and taken on a wrong track.

Though the LTTE misled the struggle of Tamils on a wrong track it should not be construed that the demands put forward by the Tamils as wrong demands. They are all correct and acceptable by the whole community which reflects their basic genuine aspirations.

Asian Tribune: Do you justify the demand for Tamil Eelam and a separate state for Tamils?

Mathi Kumarathurai: It was a correct demand at that early period of time. You must view it in a historical perspective. You must look at the genuine and reasonable aspirations of the Tamils in a united Sri Lanka in the beginning stages just after the country’s independence. Sinhalese leaders started ridiculing the demands of the Moderate Tamil Leaders and always agitated against the Tamils and Tamil leaders. And successive Sri Lankan Governments failed to take into consideration the appeals and pledges put forward by the then moderate Tamil leaders. Sri Lankan leaders considered and treated Tamils as worst than second class citizens and crushed all our demands.

There were riots orchestrated by these Sinhalese leaders since from 1956 to 1983. Tamils were butchered and killed by Sinhala goons. Then only Tamils youth came to the conclusion that Sinhalese leaders were not prepared to accommodate Tamils as equal citizens of this country, and then they had no other choice left other than to fight for their own safety and homeland. Therefore at that point of time, that was a reasonable stance. The demand began to dawn on the Sinhalese leadership of their follies and the very demand of the bifurcation of the country brought sense into their thinking.

Sinhalese leaders began to understand their narrow minded parochial approaches which allowed them to think of accommodating the Tamils Muslims and other minorities as their equal counterparts in this country.

Once this sense of togetherness has begun to emerge in the midst of the Sinhalese, the majority community in the country, then we are not going to insists on a separate state or for a Tamil Eelam.

Asian Tribune: So you mean to say that when the Sinhalese were chauvinistic and of their predilections for a Sinhala Buddhist state, you mean to say the demand for a separate state was a justifiable demand. But as commonsense has begun to dawn on the Sinhalese, you agree that the demand for Tamil Eelam as an outdated one?

Mathi Kumarathurai: We have passed all these stages now. I can accuse the Government and the Government can on the other hand come up with its own arguments and blame that our stance was wrong. These blaming game stages are all over now.

We will view the demand in today’s present context. The present Government came to power by the end of 2005 in fact on 19th November 2005. Up to now this Government has not put forward any resolutions to the issues the Tamils face. But after April 2006 the issues of the Tamils have been put in the back burner and the Government launched the so called fight against terrorism, an armed campaign, a war is being waged thus distorting the issues of the Tamils.

Even in the conference in Colombo, Government leaders avoided the existence of an ethnic issue in the country. They very tactfully gave prominence to fight against terrorism and once the battle to defeat the terrorists is over then they will endeavor to bring about solutions to issues confronting the Tamil community. They just simply lectured to us.

But it has to be put into the heads of the Government leaders very strongly that their campaign against terrorism is different and resolving the issues connected with the Tamil community is a different one. We are not opposing the Government’s fight against terrorists and to end the scourge of terrorism in the country. Let the Government go ahead with that campaign.

But I wish to point it out to the President of Sri Lanka and the people of Sri Lanka that the Government without bringing a reasonable and acceptable solution to the issues affecting the Tamils, it will never get either my support or the support of the entire Tamil Community who are in Sri Lanka as well as from those like me living in foreign countries.

No one should think that I am saying this with some ulterior motives. I just expressed, as a Tamil, the views of Tamils.

As a Danish passport holder I am not expecting any favors from the Sri Lanka Government. As a professional I will have thousands of opportunities in the First World countries to enhance my livelihood. But I have to say this as a Tamil -- political issues connected with Tamils should be addressed immediately without any further procrastination. This will allow youths in all the communities – Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims to have opportunities similar to what I have in the First World to also enhance their livelihood in Sri Lanka.

When I was in Colombo, I noticed that the leaders of this Government showed the right inclination to come up with some sort of a solution to the ethnic issues confronting the country.

I was able to note this marked change in the Government’s approach only after going to Sri Lanka. But earlier I had a different view about the Government of Sri Lanka.

I am not willing to go into the inability of the government in implementing the 13th amendment. Tamil language is also an official language of the country according to Country’s Constitution, but it is just a dead letter; so far Government has failed to implement what is in its own constitution.

I wish to point out if the Sri Lanka Government genuinely and honestly comes forward to implement those articles that are enshrined in its own constitution, then more than 50% of the issues of the Tamils would have been solved by now.

Also I wish to point out that we as people living outside Sri Lanka; we have to contact the Government’s representative offices – Sri Lanka Embassies in the Western countries. It is a pity that with majority of the Sri Lankan Embassies in Europe, we are unable to contact them in Tamil language. You don’t have even a Tamil peon in these Embassies. Almost all the ambassadors are Sinhalese. The diplomatic staffs right from the Minister up to 3rd Secretary are Sinhalese.

Just imagine that this Government which speaks of equality for the Tamils actually suspects the integrity of the Tamils to give them diplomatic positions and postings. This is the true state of affairs prevailing in the Sri Lankan Embassies in the Western countries.

Tamil lose confidence in the Sri Lankan Government because they don’t practice what they preach.

We consider the President as an honest person. We observed that he wanted to solve the issues and win the hearts and minds of the people. Unfortunately he hasn’t got one right thinking Tamil man as his advisor to advice on the Tamils’ mentality.

It is unfortunate. All those surrounding him wanted to make him an uncrowned leader of Sinhalese, but they failed to advise him to be a Sri Lankan statesman. We are thankful to the President for making some portion of his address also in Tamil language in the last UN General Assembly.

It is high time President Mahinda put in practice what all he preaches to win the Tamils. It is the duty of the Government to build the trust and confidence. Once this is done only there will be lasting peace in this country.

If I would have been given an opportunity to meet the President this time, I would have asked him "Brother when can I come home."

I would not have addressed him as "Excellency". Because as a President, I consider him as my "Elder Brother". Therefore it is his bounden duty to treat the Tamils as his own brothers and sisters and win their minds and hearts.

He should understand that outside Sri Lanka there are thousands and thousands of Tamil who are professionals who can help him in building the country and also invest in the infrastructure of the country. These Tamil professionals are itching to come to Sri Lanka and build it with all the others. But it is the moral duty of the President, Government and the people of Sri Lanka to make these Tamils living abroad to feel that Sri Lank as their home.

-Asian Tribune –

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