The Sunday Times on the Web News/Comment
20th June 1999

Front Page|
Editorial/Opinion |
Business | Plus | Sports |
Mirror Magazine

Front Page
Mirror Magazine

Sinhalese are not racists -NMAT

The National Movement Against Terrorism is warning the government of serious consequences if effective steps are not taken to defeat the objectives of what it sees as Tamil racists and expansionist.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, NMAT leader Champaka Ranawaka said the tolerance of the Sinhala people in the face of more than 100 provocative attacks since 1983, had proved to the world they were not racists. Instead it was the racists in the north, who had carried out the worst forms of ethnic cleansing.

He said the NMAT was not forming a political party of a Sinhala army but its objective was to defeat terrorism.

By Nilika de Silva

Q: What is the role the NMAT is playing today ?

A: Our main objective is to obtain public participation towards ending terrorism.

Q: People often confuse the NMAT with the Sinhala Veera Vidhana. Are there links or differences ?

A: There are several differences. One is that the SVV is attempting to build up businesses and improve the economic process among the Sinhalese. It is an organisation with broad socio-economic objectives.

Our objective is to eradicate Tamil racist terrorism. Therefore we hold demonstrations.

Q: Is the NMAT is turning into a political party ?

A: No. No. But, we hope to influence decisions taken by the two main political parties when it comes to national issues,

Q: There are reports that an unofficial Sinhala army is being built to protect the Sinhalese.

A: There is no truth in it. I don't know about others, but the NMAT has no such idea. Through the army of the government we hope to defeat terrorism, and to obtain the support of the people towards this effort.

For example, we have put forward a national plan against terrorism. We have proposed some steps which could be taken by the government. In Sri Lanka today there is a serious problem about providing security for Sinhala people.

If you take the issue of law enforcement, it does not exist for some Tamil racists like Thondamans and Kumar Ponnambalams. Whatever they do they get away with it. The law does not touch the EPDP, TELO or the PLOTE.

But in the case of the Sinhalese the law is always enforced.

If you take the April 30 incident in Nuwara Eliya, even Thondaman's people came armed in vehicles without number plates. We told the police to arrest them but so far the police have not done so. But a case has been filed against the organizer of our group. The President said recently that in the case of such organizations, probably meaning ours, she would use her executive powers. But she does not use her executive powers on racist Tamil groups.

For example emergency regulations say that anyone who talks to banned LTTE will have to serve a seven year prison sentence. But for people like Jayalath Jayawardena, Wickremebahu Karunaratne or Thondaman this law is not applicable.

We see that the Government today is favouring Tamil racists. Therefore the idea that all are equal before the law is lost.

Take the Madhu refugee issue. The people who talk about the Tamil Catholic refugee problem do not talk about Kekulawa, which is now called Kokilai and the Sinhala refugee problem.

If a Tamil man becomes a refugee, if a Tamil man is killed, if a Tamil man is arrested, it is a human rights violation. Only if it is a Tamil man.

What we are all telling the Government is that if the situation continues in this way, it can bring dangerous consequences.

Q: What steps are you taking to introduce your organisation to the people ?

A: We started after the Maradana bomb explosion. We began a program to help the families, and through it we went among the people.

The people's lives are being destroyed. And there is no evaluation of this. There is no one to talk of it, no one to protest. Last year we held seven rallies. No other organisation has done this.

This year our target is to visit a lot of towns.

We are making videos about the activities of the LTTE. We will show these videos.

At the end of this year we plan to hold an anti-terrorist conference. All foreign organisations against terrorism will be invited.

We will also use the Internet and e-mail to link all the Sinhala organisations. We will create a main linking centre.

Q: How big is your group ?

A: More than 5,000 with a core group of 350.

We have formed a national committee, and every Tuesday a public meeting is held and decisions made.

Q: There have fears that your group might create communal disharmony.

A: Our objective is to defeat terrorism. Others can also join this organisation, not only the Sinhalese. The Government has a preconceived notion that the Sinhala people are racist.

Since 1983, the Tamil people have attacked the Sinhalese 128 times. Amidst this provocation the Sinhala people have not retaliated in the past 17 years.

The Sinhalese people have proved to the world that they are not racists.

Tamil society is passive. They are given orders by people who have guns. Tamil society is a dead society.

Racism means subjecting a race over a period to a systematic attack.

Since 1983 the Sinhalese have not engaged in a systematic process such as this. But the Tamil people are not like this, they have attacked in a systematic way.

They have selected as their base the North and East areas. No other people can live in these areas. Therefore an ethnic cleansing has been done in these areas. The second phase in this is the joining of the hill country to this. The third phase is the destabilising of Colombo.

That is what is known as pure racism. The Tamil people have, phase by phase, worked towards their objective of taking over Sri Lanka. This is Tamil expansionism.

Q: What was the need to form such an organisation? Did you feel that the government was not taking enough steps to look after the Sinhalese?

A: Yes, not only the Sinhalese section of the population but also the Tamil section which is not Tamil racist they are also afforded no protection..

The Muslim people who lived in Jaffna were chased away.

That is why we started looking at this problem from the common man's angle.

Q: Why do you say the CWC has violated the rights of the Sinhalese ?

A: Mr. Thondaman gives political security to a crazed terrorist process. He does not allow Sinhalese to get one inch of land.

Just because he is a leader of a minority race we cannot allow him to do whatever he wants.

Q: Do you justify pulling down the CWC flag ?

A: We had no such intention. They said we burnt the flag, that is a lie. He removed all the Buddhist flags in his ministry. He did nothing in our nationalist struggle for independence. In 1947 when Soulbury came what Thondaman said was not to grant us independence. It was only Mr. Abdul Aziz who wanted independence. Since 1983, there were 128 attacks on the Sinhalese people and 3,500 died. Did Thondaman issue one statement condemning these attacks. For these innocent people all he did was deify Prabhakaran.

Q: What do you feel about Mr. Thondaman's protest which he had planned for Friday and called off at the last minute?

A: Let him hold protests. This is not Jaffna. This is not a society dead with the fear of guns.

Their May Day was totally racist we have it all recorded. If we say such things, we would be arrested.

It is now time this game was stopped. We have been tolerant for long enough. Thondaman should go in rallies praising the Sinhalese for not doing more in the face of all the attacks by the Tigers.

The thin red lines for the ICRC

By Frederica Jansz

The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) has the right of initiative in the humanitarian aspects but no right of interference in any conflict, its delegation chief Max Hadorn told The Sunday Times.

In an interview, he said the ICRC was totally impartial and was in Sri Lanka to help the warring parties to abide by international standards of humanitarian law. Excerpts:

Q: What is the ICRC is playing in Sri Lanka?

A: Whether it is here or any country where there is armed conflict, our mandate is to protect innocent victims. This is a broad mandate. It not only includes civilians but also protection for combatants who are no longer able to fight such as prisoners or the wounded.

In Sri Lanka, we are helping both parties in humanitarian issues. This includes assistance in medical or other essential services, helping the civilian population and acting as a neutral intermediary whenever required. For example we have facilitated the smooth flow of food into the Wanni. Our role in this case is strictly to protect food convoys, for which we sought the understanding of the LTTE and the Sri Lanka Armed forces. We requested security guarantees that while these convoys were proceeding there would be no military activity. Once the convoys are on the other side of the line, then it is the responsibility of the Government Agent to take care of the distribution. Our role is strictly to provide a solution to this problem but not to interfere in the distribution.

Q: But are there instances where the ICRC does play a more functional role like running its own programmes?

A: Yes. For example if the medical infrastructure is non-existent or inadequate, the ICRC does run its own programmes. We run mobile clinics in Wanni, Trincomalee and Batticaloa. The ICRC assists returnees from the Wanni, who cross the Jaffna lagoon, from Kalmunai Point. We also support the Sri Lanka Red Cross mobile health clinics.

Q: What kind of protection does the ICRC provide combatants who no longer fight or cannot fight?

A: If combatants are taken prisoner by either side, we ensure they are respected by the captor. To do this in Sri Lanka, we have a dialogue with both the security forces and the LTTE. This enables us to visit the prisoners. Through us they could write to their families.

Q: Do you find human rights violations on both or either side here in terms of the way prisoners of war or detainees are treated?

A: I cannot comment because the discussions we have with the detainees are confidential and their concerns can only be raised with the relevant authorities. The Sri Lankan Government in 1989 signed a Memorandum of Understanding which enables the ICRC, to visit any person who has been detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act or Emergency Regulations. The procedures is that ICRC must have access to all detainees within its terms of reference, must be allowed to interview detainees without a witness and must be able to repeat the visits and register the detainees.

Q: Has the LTTE also signed a similar document to facilitate the work of the ICRC?

A: Yes, we have an oral agreement allowing the ICRC to visit detainees. In 1988 the LTTE made a declaration of intent whereby it committed itself to abide by the provisions of international humanitarian law.

Q: How do you protect detainees from any violation of their human rights?

A: The legal reference for ICRC work is international humanitarian law and not human rights. There is a difference. International humanitarian law can be construed as the law of war. This set of rules is in line with the Geneva Conventions ratified by most countries, including Sri Lanka. The role the ICRC plays here is to make sure that the parties to the conflict abide by these rules. We do hold regular discussions with the army, the police or government leaders and report our findings and recommendations.

Q: But the LTTE is still continuing to target civilians. For example some 80 fishermen from down south have disappeared without a trace after fishing in eastern waters. Recently the rebels attacked a fishing village at Kokilai. Since the ICRC does have contact with the LTTE, have the Tigers indicated why they attack local fishermen and continue to target civilians?

A: When it comes to civilians being attacked, we bring it to the attention of the party concerned. There was an instance where the ICRC helped some fishermen to return to their homes after they were taken in by the LTTE. I do not have the answer as to why the LTTE continues to attack civilian targets. Even if I had an answer, ICRC does not make public statements on such issues.

Q: What guarantees do the security forces offer when conducting search operations? How does the ICRC protects civilians from just disappearing given that Sri Lanka has been rated by a UN body as the second highest in the world for disappearances?

A: Our role is not to question why these things are happening. The conflict is still ongoing and things are taking place. Our role is to ensure that the Army when conducting these cordon and search operations takes necessary measures to see that people are respected and their dignity maintained. For example in case of arrests such measures would mean that the Army issue an arrest receipt to the families, and the ICRC continues to maintain a dialogue with the security forces on this issue. Also according to the memorandum of understanding the ICRC has with the government we are allowed access, and most of all the ICRC can make recommendations to the Army and also at a higher level on our observations. This of course does not mean that the ICRC always agrees with the methods adopted.

Q: How would the ICRC protect Tamil civilians if they are arbitrarily taken by the LTTE on suspicion of giving information perhaps to government troops ?

A: What the ICRC would do on an issue like this is to talk with the LTTE. Then the ICRC would visit the detainees on a regular basis. Right now there are 27 people being held by the LTTE as detainees and visited by the ICRC. There are 15 servicemen, (13 soldiers plus 2 navy) and 12 civilians.

Q: Is this the total number of detainees the LTTE are holding now?Aren't there any Air Force personnel?

A: No Air Force personnel are being visited. It is impossible for us to give any definite figure.

Q: How effective are the sessions the ICRC conducts on the Law of war? Has it filtered down to soldiers and LTTE cadres or is it only at officer level ?

A: We go to the military academies, but also we need to get such training to the battlefront. So, sessions are conducted where the forces are based.

Q: The LTTE is not accepted as part of any state. So where does it stand in terms of the Geneva Convention?

A: An opposition movement can make a Declaration of Intent. The LTT has signed it.

Q: What protection does the ICRC offer against the deployment of child soldiers by the LTTE?

A: We have a regular dialogue with the LTTE on this issue. According to international law, no soldier should be below the age of 15. Now there are proposals to increase the minimum age to 18.

Q: So are there children below the ages of 15 years still being recruited by the LTTE?

A: I cannot comment.

Q: Are the ICRC delegates fluent in Tamil and Sinhalese to be able to talk to detainees on both sides?

A: Not all of them. But we do have a four-month training course in Sinhala and Tamil for our staff. For confidential visits to the detainees, as a mark of its neutrality, there is no way the ICRC can be accompanied by nationals. So, always an ICRC foreign delegate will be accompanied, by an international staff member who is able to speak the local language.

Constitution may change, but racism won't end

By Kumbakarana

The Sinhala Commission has recently presented guidelines for the drafting of a new constitution. It recommended a unitary state of Sri Lanka; the abolition of the Executive Presidency; the Executive committee system of government; and treating the district as the unit for the devolution of power.

The majority of the people are bound to approve these proposals which would bring to an end the confrontational politics, they presage. Whether the proposals of the Sinhala Commission are adopted or the Federal proposals of the Government or the UNP alternatives are adopted, we have to ask ourselves whether by these constitutional changes Tamil racism can be defeated.

Tamil racism will not abort itself with constitutional changes, for the following reasons: We have to comprehend the truth about certain myths that Tamil racism did not arise because Sri Lanka received freedom in 1948; the 1956 Sinhala only Act; the 1983 riots.

Long before this in 1910, the Jaffna Tamil Association met in Jaffna under the chairmanship of S. Doraisamy, passed a resolution and presented it to the Government during the McCallum Reforms. It stated that Ceylon was an ancient Tamil state and that the Tamils had lived in it for 3000 years. They opposed any constitutional changes which would diminish their rights to this Tamil state and particularly to their claims to the North and East as their exclusive homeland.

Under these McCallum reforms out of 40 lakhs of people, 2924 were given voting rights, for the election of one national representative. The votes were divided thus:

Tamils - 12 percent of population: 1160 votes (40 percent)

Sinhalese - 78 percent of population: 1600 votes (53 percent)

The Tamils opposed this amendment because they did not want to risk the appointment of a Sinhalese as the National representative.

Be that as it may, at the 1911 election, Ponnambalam Ramanathan received 1600 votes while Marcus Fernando received 885 votes. What does this indicate?. That the vote of educated Tamils went in its entirety to the Tamil candidate while the Sinhala vote was divided between the two candidates. It is significant that the Tamils received special privileges from the British. As a result, the Tamils enjoyed economic influence, an advantageous position in civil society, and political power far in excess of their numbers.

Therefore, the present Tamil problem is not based on the so-called oppression of the Tamils by the majority (the image manufactured by the Leftists), but due to a majority complex of the Tamils.

In short, this is a conflict between a minority and the majority. In 1958 Chelvanayakam spelt out this position in Parliament. The Sinhalese, he said, are "too small" a race to rule the Tamils. In 1994, this is what G. G. Ponnambalam said at the All Ceylon Tamil Congress: "the Tamils when compared to the Sinhalese and other communities have much greater economic clout, greater intelligence and better education. Thus they are the most civilised community in the country."

What Ponnambalam Ramanathan told the Donoughmore Commission in 1928 was that by conferring universal franchise, not only the higher caste Tamils but also the Sinhalese and other lower orders would receive it as well.

In this connec tion, what Prof. A. J. Wilson says is that since 1946 what Chelvanayakam attempted to do was to prevent the Tamils from co-operating with the Sinhalese. In the 1930s, T. B. Jayah attempted this same ploy with the Muslim community, but he failed in his efforts because Markan Markar brought the Muslims into the political mainstream and the Government.

If T. B Jayah succeeded there would have been Muslim separatism. S Thondaman says in his autobiography "Tea and Politics" that because of Chelvanayakam the Tamil community had got swallowed up by misfortune. Otherwise like the Muslims, they too would have reaped ever greater benefits from the Sri Lankan state. What this means is that Tamil leaders prevented the Tamils from co-operating with the Sri Lankan state.

This is because they feel superior economically, professionally, in armed might and political power as compared to the majority.

Neither Prabhakaran nor any other racist can be made to change this attitude by changes in the Constitution. The only way to eliminate this attitude is for the Sinhalese majority to modernise, acquire much greater economic power, become more professionally educated, give itself greater armed might, and become unassailable politically.

Otherwise the Sinhalese will have to capitulate to Prabhakaran's artillery and Thondaman's political threats. For these reasons the mere amendment or replacement of the constitution will not solve the "Tamil problem"

This is the only solution to the "Tamil Problem".

Presented on the World Wide Web by Infomation Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.

More News/Comments

Return to News/Comment Contents

News/Comments Archive

Front Page| Editorial/Opinion | Business | Plus | Sports | Mirror Magazine

Hosted By LAcNet

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to

The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.