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ICG asks diaspora to address root of conflict

[Hindu, Wednesday, 24 February 2010 14:31 No Comment]

International Crisis Group (ICG), an independent non-governmental organisation based in Brussels — with a branch in Colombo — in its latest report has strongly urged the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora to jettison once and for all the failed Tamil Eelam agenda of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and instead put their energies into the quest for a sustainable and just peace in a united Sri Lanka.

In its 29 page report titled ‘The Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora after the LTTE’ released simultaneously in Colombo and Brussels, the ICG is blunt in its assertion that after 26 years of exhaustion from the war, an overwhelming majority of Sri Lankan Tamils have no stomach at the moment for return to militant politics. However, in total contrast among the Diaspora, only a minority are happy over the military defeat of the LTTE and still continue to dream of Tamil Eelam that has virtually no domestic or international backing.

It strongly urges Colombo to address the legitimate grievances at the root of the conflict: the political marginalisation and physical insecurity of most Tamils in Sri Lanka while asking the international community to pressure Sri Lanka much more strongly for political and constitutional reforms.

“Donors should insist that money given to redevelop the north and east is tied closely to the demilitarisation and democratisation of the region. This should include giving Tamils and Muslims a meaningful role in determining the future of the areas where they have long been the majority. Donor governments and the United Nations must also insist on an independent investigation into the thousands of Tamil civilians killed in the final months of fighting in 2009.”

The report refers to a series of the so-called referendums held by sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora in parts of Europe seeking views of those outside Sri Lanka on whether they are still committed to Eelam and says that until it moves on from its separatist, pro-LTTE ideology, the Diaspora is unlikely to play a useful role supporting a just and sustainable peace in Sri Lanka.

The report examines political dynamics within the Tamil Diaspora since May 2009, as Tamils abroad adapt to the LTTE’s defeat and also looks at the potential for new forms of militancy within the Diaspora, especially among the younger generations, radicalised by the deaths of thousands of Tamil civilians in the final months of the war.

“While there is little chance of the Tamil Tigers regrouping in the Diaspora, most Tamils abroad remain profoundly committed to a separate state of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.

“New Diaspora initiatives attempt to carry forward the struggle for an independent state in more transparent and democratic ways, but they must repudiate the LTTE’s violent methods,” says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “And they must also recognise the LTTE’s separatist agenda is out of step with the wishes and needs of Tamils in Sri Lanka.”

The report says most Tamils in the island nation are more concerned with rebuilding their lives under difficult circumstances than in continuing the fight for an independent state and without the LTTE to enforce a common political line, Tamil leaders in Sri Lanka are proposing substantial reforms within a united Sri Lanka. The report is of the view that with the Sri Lankan government assuming Tamils abroad remain committed to violent means, the Diaspora’s continued calls for a separate state feed the fears of the Rajapaksa administration and provide excuses for maintaining destructive anti-terrorism and emergency laws.

“Tamils in Sri Lanka currently have little appetite for a return to armed struggle,” says Robert Templer. “But should the Sri Lankan state continue to fail to respond to their collective aspirations, some may eventually seek a solution through violence and could find willing partners in the Diaspora.”

The report says for the past quarter-century the Tamil Diaspora has shaped the Sri Lankan political landscape through its financial and ideological support to the military struggle for an independent Tamil state. It surmises that the May 2009 defeat of the LTTE has dramatically reduced the Diaspora’s influence, though majority of Tamils outside Sri Lanka continue to support a separate state, and the Diaspora’s money can ensure it plays a role in the country’s future.

“The nature of that role, however, depends largely on how Colombo deals with its Tamil citizens in the coming months and on how strongly the international community presses the government to enact constitutional reforms to share power with and protect the rights of Tamils and other minorities. While the million-strong Diaspora cannot regenerate an insurgency in Sri Lanka on its own, its money and organisation could turn up the volume on any violence that might eventually re-emerge.”

The ICG says that following the defeat of the LTTE, the mood in the Diaspora has been a mix of anger, depression and denial and the Tigers’ humiliating defeat, the enormous death toll in the final months of the war and the internment of more than a quarter million Tamils left the Diaspora feeling powerless, betrayed by the West, demanding justice and, in some cases, wanting revenge.

“A minority in the community is happy the LTTE is gone, since it directed much of its energy to intimidating and even killing those Tamils who challenged their rule.

Funding networks established by the LTTE over decades are seriously weakened but still in place. There is little chance, however, of the Tigers regrouping in the Diaspora. LTTE leaders in Sri Lanka are dead or captured and its overseas structures are in disarray. Clinging to the possibility of victory long after defeat was inevitable and damaged the LTTE’s credibility and weakened its hold on the community.”

The report says that unwilling to recognise the scale of defeat, and continuing to believe an independent state is possible, however, many Diaspora leaders have dismissed Tamil politicians on the island either as traitors for working with the government or as too weak or scared to stand up for their people’s rights.

It acknowledges that many among the Diaspora now reluctantly recognise the need for new forms of struggle, even if they would still prefer the LTTE fighting and new organisations have formed that are operating in more transparent and democratic ways than the LTTE and that aim to pressure Western governments to accept an independent state for Tamils.

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