“There will not be any suppression of Tamil rights in Sri Lanka. The Tamils who constitute 16 per cent of the population will enjoy equal rights with the 70 per cent majority Sinhalese and devolution of power to the Tamil-dominated areas is a priority of the Rajapaksa government, which is now engaged in a massive rehabilitation effort following the elimination of the terrorist outfit LTTE.” This assurance came from the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India, CR Jayasinghe, in an informal chat with about two-dozen BJP MPs and intellectuals at the residence of senior BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu in the capital. The meeting was organised by the pro-RSS think tank India Foundation headed by Ram Madhav, a member of the RSS national executive.
There is a widespread apprehension in India that the basic human rights of the Tamils in Sri Lanka are being denied as part of the anti-LTTE operations. The life in the milling refugee camps was reported to be miserable. The anguish of the Indian people towards the sufferings of the displaced Tamil population in the war zones of the erstwhile LTTE strongholds is a sensitive political issue in south India. BJP senior leader Venkaiah Naidu, who initiated the discussion, did not mince words in expressing his concerns over the fate of Tamils in Sri Lanka. He said the BJP as a party and the large majority of Indians supported the Sri Lankan government’s action against the LTTE. Now that the terror outfit is crushed with the killing of Prabhakaran and the dismantling of the LTTE cadre, the focus should be on the rehabilitation of the displaced population. Reports of the inhuman conditions in the refugee camps, the merciless military retaliation and the apprehension that there was a possibility of Tamils not getting an equal opportunity in the new set-up are creating a sense of unease in India. Also the role of some foreign powers, hostile to India, in Sri Lanka is a matter of worry. The BJP leader offered all possible help from India for bringing normalcy in the island nation.
Responding to the feelings expressed in the discussion, Sri Lankan High Commissioner reassured with a promise that the two-decade-old Rajiv Gandhi-Jayawardhane agreement formed the basic framework for the devolution of powers to the Tamils. Like in the Indian Constitution, under the new scheme in Sri Lanka, all parts of the country would have provincial set-up under a chief minister and the Tamil-majority areas would elect their own provincial governments with all powers under a federal set-up. He stressed that as of now a majority of Tamils live in Sinhala-majority areas and that there is no threat to their safety and security. They enjoy good social interaction. There will not be any discrimination against Tamils, he said.
The High Commissioner quoted Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to emphasise that there will not be any vindictive action against even the LTTE at the lower level. “There was no formal surrender by the LTTE. So the priority now is to make the liberated area safe for human life by demining, detoxifying the cadre and combing operations. This is in progress. The completion of this work is the only impediment for restoring normal life in the Tamil-majority provinces,” he added.
The High Commissioner was positive about the help India was providing in the anti-terror operations and the massive rehabilitation work. India and Sri Lanka have traditional ties. Diplomatic and economic cooperation between the two countries have deep roots. Even the training of the Sri Lankan military is largely conducted by the Indian Army, he added. He denied reports in the Indian and western press that there were large civilian casualties and the life in refugee camps was made deliberately inhuman.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has set an ambitious 180-day deadline to send the displaced Tamils back home. Relief work is being carried out under the Indian and UN supervision, he said. A mine-clearing operation in the former war zone is a slow and dangerous process, and that is actually delaying the relief work, he said.
Nearly 2.8 lakh displaced civilians are in the camps. The Indian concern for their safety and basic amenities like water and medicines was underlined by Venkaiah Naidu while winding up the interactive session. The detailed, academic and frank exposition of the conditions in Sri Lanka by the High Commissioner was informative and reassuring. He said there are more than 50,000 children in the camps, about 1000 orphaned by the war. And there were 4000 maimed men and women who are getting medical attention. “We treat all refugees of the war with compassion, respect and acceptance,’ said the High Commissioner.
The Sri Lankan army and police have taken up a de-indoctrination exercise for the LTTE cadre. About 10,000 LTTE combatants are housed at special camps in school and college premises. We are trying to make them join the mainstream. For this we have to win their confidence, he added. In the east, the progress is faster. Work is in progress on repairing roads, houses and buildings that were shelled. For the north, the government has prepared an economic package which is being implemented.