The Government celebrated the 4th anniversary of the military defeat of an armed separatist uprising yesterday with a polished display of the men and machines of the Security Forces. The Government does not want the people of this country to forget one of its most significant success stories. Cries of exhibiting triumphalism come from certain [...]


Diaspora must walk the talk, help the north


The Government celebrated the 4th anniversary of the military defeat of an armed separatist uprising yesterday with a polished display of the men and machines of the Security Forces. The Government does not want the people of this country to forget one of its most significant success stories.

Cries of exhibiting triumphalism come from certain quarters, both at home and overseas with nary a word from the critics of similar events marked annually even 68 years after the end of World War II. The defeat of violence by violence and its celebrations are as old as history. It is also a commemoration of the great sacrifices, including the supreme sacrifice, by men, women and children in battle and as a result of battle. It is a poignant moment to reflect on the past, the present and the future.

The West, however, egged on by a vociferous Sri Lankan Diaspora has not let the Government savour the fruits of this victory over terrorism. It has used the final days of the military onslaught on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorist organisation as its raison d’etre to pin the Government to a wholly different agenda of its own.

It has been taken out-of-context to the bigger picture and it, therefore, does not go down well with the people of this country who suffered the most — irrespective of race and religion — during the three decade-long insurgency. The problem could not be cured by swallowing pills. Surgery had finally to be performed. And you cannot perform surgery without spilling blood.

In all these four years that the Government and by extension the Security Forces, had to stomach barrage after barrage of criticism, especially from the West, there has been comparatively little blame placed on both the LTTE for its fascist brutality, and India, that instigated the insurgency in the early years.

While not forgetting the past, little purpose is served by those who live in the present and look to the future by harping on the past. How has the Government then performed since the end of the ‘war’? That will be the legitimate question for any Sri Lankan to ask.
There already is debate on whether the Government that won the ‘war’ has lost the ‘peace’. There is an element of truth to this argument even though the Government may hotly deny the fact and feel somewhat aggrieved by the accusations.

For one, it was only in the face of international pressure, again from the West, that the Government reluctantly agreed to a commission of inquiry on post-war reconciliation. This helped it ward off an external probe into allegations of violations of International Humanitarian Law during the last stages of the military campaign against the LTTE. But now, the Government is dragging its feet in implementing the recommendations of this commission.

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) findings were accepted by a broad spectrum, both locally and by foreign governments, but the Government is in no hurry to see them through. These findings embraced not just the Northern people of this country who arguably suffered the most at the hands of the LTTE’s reign of terror.

The President has said elections to a ‘lame duck’ Provincial Council in the Northern Province will be held in September. Who on earth wants such a council when the other councils in the rest of the country are ‘white elephants’ is a mystery; unless there are other geo-political agendas in all of this as this Government has been forewarned.

There is an unfortunate dichotomy in the North. On the one hand, the people want to be left alone to recover from the tragedy of recent years that affected their lives and livelihood. On the other, they want the helping hand of the Government to bring them into the modern world they missed out on for three decades. If they see the Provincial Council as the panacea for their problems, it is sheer wishful thinking. India forcing President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s hand to set up this council has other connotations where the ordinary lives of the Northern citizenry do not come into play. If India was so concerned about them, it would at least ensure that South Indian fishermen do not blatantly poach in Sri Lankan waters.

The presence of the Security Forces in the North remains an issue. “It hits you in the face,” said one resident. The Ministry of Defence which is responsible for national security has its own version. It does not want history repeating itself. In the early months after the ‘war’ ended, soldiers repaired wells and rebuilt damaged houses in an effective ‘hearts and minds’ operation. This welcome programme has slowed down now and the Government has taken over with massive development programmes, especially road projects.

Student agitation however, is smouldering — a fire to which the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is pouring kerosene. As if the local politicians of the North haven’t learnt a bitter lesson by fanning these flames and using the youth as their cats-paw for narrow political ends only to be mauled when these cubs grew up. An element of democratic freedom must be permitted in the North as it wobbles back into normalcy. The TNA will recall how anti-LTTE groups were decimated and its own leaders were assassinated. It is the Security Forces that have cleared the North for even a semblance of democracy.

Finally, the question is what the oh-so vociferous Diaspora is doing for the North? Other than pressing foreign governments to pressurise the Colombo Government into action, their contribution to the socio-economic development of the North is zilch. Unlike the Israeli, or Indian or Pakistani Diaspora that remit millions of dollars they have earned in the affluent West to their original homes, no big bucks seem to filter to the North of Sri Lanka.

They may fund a close relative, or a temple, or their old school, but a plethora of problems in the North, ranging from the lack of medical facilities to issues of war-widows to technical skills for the youth to investments in small scale industry to jump-start the economy have not received the desired level of financial support from the Diaspora, which once was a source of income for the violent insurgency.

It almost seems as if the Diaspora wants the North to remain poverty stricken, destitute and down in the dumps so that the can keep on blaming the Sri Lankan Government for the misery of ‘their people’. The Diaspora is no doubt familiar with the jargon of the West; to ‘walk the talk’ and put their money where the mouth is. The Northern Province needs the infusion of this capital and the Diaspora has a vital role to play in reconciliation and rehabilitation — four years after the end of what was indeed a tragic chapter of this country’s history.

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