ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 32

Diverting attention by creating a hate figure

The assertion in the article titled ‘Germany takes over EU, trouble for Lanka’ (The Sunday Times December 31, 2006) that I am a ‘key mover’ behind Germany’s aid freeze on Sri Lanka is misleading. Well before the decision to list the LTTE was taken, there was widespread concern in Europe that a measure taken against one of the parties engaged in the delicate peace process would destabilise the situation further.

Many concerned voices argued that the EU action against the LTTE would give Sinhala hard liners the confidence to seek a military solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. Recent events have convinced many more that these concerns should have been heeded and the US/British pressure for the EU to ban the LTTE should have been resisted.

Exaggerating my role to a ridiculous level only serves to divert readers away from the issues that the German development ministry is trying to address and instead concentrate it on an individual hate figure that can be held responsible for the situation. The spin that you have put on my church sanctuary in Britain 20 years ago also serves to embellish this image that you want to create in your readers minds.

Viraj Mendis

Here are some corrections and different interpretations. While I did say that because I supported the right of the Tamil people to self-determination, that I would face persecution and death if I were deported to Sri Lanka, I did not, as you suggest specify that I faced particular threat from the JVP. However the campaign to defend me was broad based and certain organisations and individuals would have specified the JVP (see: for some selected material about the case).

Although I can confirm that I was not killed during the year that I spent in Sri Lanka (not six months as you state) over 60,000 Sinhala people were not so lucky when the Sri Lankan armed forces turned their guns on the support base of the JVP. I was safe only because the existence of the high level of international publicity about my case ensured that it would have been bad for both the British and Sri Lankan governments if something did happen to me. But, I can assure you this ‘insurance’ only lasted for the first few months and during the second half of 1989, when, daily, hundreds of bodies appeared on the streets burning on ‘pyres of tyres’, the death squads who were responsible had no international political sensitivity. I, like others, tried my best to bring the terrible humanitarian catastrophe to international attention and worked closely with Sinhala students who were themselves facing death threats from the armed forces. I helped ‘Students for Human Rights’ make an appeal to the ‘Paris Aid Group’ not only in 1989 but also for several of the following years – to stop financial aid to Sri Lanka because of the terrible human rights violations in the country. I am sure a call to Somawansa Amarasinghe would confirm this. It was after Richard de Zoysa was killed, when it became impossible to maintain my security that I fled to Germany.

What drove me to defend the Sinhala youth when they were being slaughtered during the second half of 1989 is the same thing that drives me to support Tamil people’s rights, and to support a negotiated peace in the island.

By Viraj Mendis, Bremen, Germany

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.