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Diaspora with the government – OR SPLIT BY IT?

[Lakbima News, Sunday, 13 March 2011 09:27 No Comment]

The government is wooing the Tamil diaspora, the once cash cows of the LTTE, to rebuild the war torn north and east. Direct flights from Canada to Colombo are in the offing to encourage the diaspora to visit their home country, and former LTTE strongman and now the Deputy Minister of Resettlement, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna, has proposed that a Radio channel be launched targeting the Tamil diaspora.

6-1 Another former LTTE heavyweight, Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP, who has set up a government backed NGO, the North East Rehabilitation and Development Organization (NERDO) is now actively reaching out to his contacts in the diaspora for funding.

Be that as it may, the government’s strategy is, however, one of inner contradiction. When it suits its political agenda at home, the government loses no time to portray the diaspora as the proverbial bogeyman, to scare the south and to justify the continuation of the emergency regulations—even two years after the much hyped military victory against the Tamil Tigers.

Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratna last week told the House during the debate to extend the state of emergency that the diaspora has formed three groups under Vishwanathan Rudrakumar in the USA, Nediyawan in Norway and Pugalandra Master in India. Their sole aim, the Prime Minister warned, was to create violence in Sri Lanka. (He also said the LTTE is running three camps in India, one of which is dedicated to train cadres to assassinate VVIPs. The claim was vehemently denied by India).

Is the diaspora, read as 900,000 Sri Lankan Tamils who fled the country during the 30 years, a monolithic political entity any longer, like they had been throughout the existence of the LTTE?

Strangely enough, Eelam activists and the government in Colombo, for different reasons, strive to portray the Tamil diaspora as one cohesive group. When it suits its local agenda, the government describes the diaspora as the single greatest threat to national security. For the Eelam activists, a unified diaspora is the torchbearer of the Eelam struggle, which has lost its fervour back home.

However, sources close to the Tamil diaspora say that the diaspora is no longer a monolithic political entity and that it has splintered into ‘eight to ten groups,’ none of which could claim the allegiance of the majority of  Tamils living abroad. 

“The diaspora does not have the organizational and monetary capabilities it had during the time of the LTTE,” says a northern Tamil politician who was previously close to the LTTE leadership. Vishwanathan Rudrakumar, the de facto prime minister of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) is generally viewed by the outsiders as the leader of the Tamil diaspora. “Rudrakumaran is not the leader of the Tamil diaspora. He is only a leader of one of the factions,” says a politician who spoke under the condition of anonymity as he does not want to sever his relations with the diaspora.

He recalls that the elections for TGTE ran into snags when some Tamil groups in Britain tried to rig them and five elected members resigned in protest, citing “behind the curtain manoeuverings.”

TGTE, which identifies itself as a government in exile, recently announced an initiative to register Tamils for a fee of US$15.

Umbrella group

The Global Tamil Forum (GTF), which is the umbrella group of a number of country organizations of Tamils in Europe, North America, Australia and Malaysia, is a torchbearer mooting the cause of the diaspora. However, except the British Tamil Forum led by Father S.J. Emmanuel, and the Canadian Tamil Congress, other country organizations have become dysfunctional since the rout of the LTTE.

Nediyawan, the much reviled former LTTE operative based in Norway who is portrayed by the government as the military leader of the remnants of the LTTE, is, in fact, no longer a key player within the diaspora, says another Tamil associated with Norwegian Tamil diaspora activities.

“He looks after his family affairs. He doesn’t interact even with Tamils in Norway, let alone be the so called military leader,” he quips. “He is simply not capable of doing that (running a military wing),” he adds.

If the diaspora is splintered, the government could win over at least some groups. That appears to be the government’s objective.

Deputy Minister of External Affairs, Neomal Perera says that Sri Lankan foreign missions are wooing diaspora Tamils to visit and invest in Sri Lanka.

“A positive relationship (between the government and the Tamil diaspora)   could only be built through an open dialogue and interaction,” says Deputy Minister Perera.

Referring to one of his meetings with representatives of the Tamil diaspora, he says that he gave them a security guarantee and asked them to encourage fellow Tamils to visit and invest in Sri Lanka.

“There are so many untapped investment opportunities. I told them to rush in and not to miss the boat,” he added. He said the government is negotiating to operate direct flights from Colombo to Canada to encourage the diaspora to visit their home country.

Misinformed

Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna, the former LTTE eastern commander and the present Deputy Minister of Resettlement also stresses that the government reaches out to the diaspora Tamils. “They are also Sri Lankans and they have been misinformed about Sri Lanka throughout the war. Now the government should give them the correct picture,” he says.

“Eastern Tamils (among the diaspora) are now pretty much aware of the ground reality in the country. There is not a single Eastern Tamil in the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam,” he adds.

Our foreign missions should work hard to give these people the correct picture. There is a misinformation campaign that there are daily abductions, killings and disappearances in Jaffna. Our missions should counter the anti Sri Lankan propaganda,” the Deputy Minister stressed.

Karuna says he himself has spoken to a number of contacts among the diaspora. “One man was scared to visit Sri Lanka. I invited him. Now he has put up the biggest hotel in Jaffna,” he says.

He says he has proposed a radio channel to promote Sri Lanka among the diaspora. “I have already spoken to SLBC about it,” he said.

But, some Tamil politicians believe that the government’s effort to reach out to the diaspora would be an exercise in futility unless it genuinely talks to the elected Tamil representatives at home. “The government can’t ignore local Tamil political parties and go for direct talks with the diaspora. That simply makes no sense at all,” says M.K. Sivajilingam, a former TNA MP and a presidential candidate.

Political solution

David Poopapillai, the spokesman of the Canadian Tamil Congress also seems to share the same sentiments.  (See his response in the box)

“The government should not delay any further to seek a political solution to the Tamil national question,” he says. “Sri Lankans don’t want the Chinese to run its affairs for Sri Lanka. They want their government to run their affairs. Similarly, the Tamil people want their elected representatives to have a say in issues affecting their homeland,” explains Sivajilingam.

He complains that the government continues to delay in finding a political solution. He likens the latest discussions between the Tamil National Alliance and the government to child’s play.

“There are already proposals such as the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) report. The government can implement it with the support of the Tamil political parties,” he added. “What we need are genuine efforts for reconciliation and a political solution. If the government puts them in place, the diaspora will fall in line. What matters are the people in the north and the east, not the diaspora abroad,” he quipped.

Speak to elected reps first – Poopalapillai

 David Poopalapillai, David Poopalapillai, the spokesman of the Canadian Tamil Congress says that the government should lift emergency regulations and revoke the Prevention of Terrorism Act to bring the island back to a state of normalcy.  In an email interview with LAKBIMAnEWS, he answered questions about the diaspora response to the government’s effort to reach out to the Tamils living abroad.

The Government of Sri Lanka is wooing the Tamil diaspora through various means. It has invited the diaspora to visit Sri Lanka and invest, especially in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. As an organization which represents the interests of Tamil Canadians of Sri Lankan origin, what is your response to the government’s overtures?

Although the actual war has come to an end, it must be noted that the underlying political question and grievances of the Tamils in Sri Lanka have yet to be addressed by the Government of Sri Lanka. The majority of the Tamil areas of the island are still under military occupation and as such, a state of normalcy has not returned. How can the diaspora think about investment under these conditions?

The current state of Sri Lanka is far from normalcy. Displaced people are still on the road without proper resettlement. Tens of thousands of Tamil youths continue to languish in prisons and detention camps. When a region is recovering from a war, which has lasted for approximately three decades, it is critical for the people currently in Sri Lanka to feel like their lives are returning to a state of “normalcy.” Instead, the island continues to be under a state of “emergency” in which the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act continues to be in full force and effect. Tens of thousands of Tamils were arrested and detained pursuant to this law and it has been and continues to be used against the Tamils.

If the Government of Sri Lanka is sincerely interested in solving the issues and working with the diaspora, it must first address the political issues without further delay. Further, it should remove the above mentioned draconian laws so as to render the island back to a state of normalcy. Only when such an environment is created will the diaspora give serious consideration to economically prospering investments in the North and East.

Are you (your organization) prepared to a dialogue with the Government of Sri Lanka on the issues affecting Tamils?

No, not at this point. There are elected officials in Sri Lanka, especially the Tamil National Alliance, who have on numerous occasions attempted to address these issues with the Government of Sri Lanka. We at the Canadian Tamil Congress expect the Government of Sri Lanka to sit down with these elected officials and first address the underlying issues that they broach.

If not, why?

When there are elected officials on the ground willing to sit down with the government, they should be the ones engaged in the conversation before anyone from the diaspora is approached.

If yes, are there any preconditions?

As stated earlier, only when a conducive environment has been created, will we consider engaging in a conversation with the Government of Sri Lanka.

Has the government of Sri Lanka itself or through its intermediaries sought to talk to your organization to build a rapport, to discuss issues of mutual interest?

No.

It is generally portrayed back home that the Tamil diaspora — at least its most articulate sections, which are continuing with their anti Sri Lanka campaign — are largely detached from the ground reality in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka where large scale development programmes have been launched for the first time in 30 years. What is your response?

First and foremost, the Canadian Tamil Congress would like to take this opportunity to explicitly state that we are not and have not been anti Sri Lanka. We have always and in the future, will continue to advocate against the injustices and persecution that were and continues to be committed against the Tamils and others in Sri Lanka. Advocating for the rights of the Tamil speaking people and others who are critical of the injustices committed by the Government of Sri Lanka does not constitute anti-Sri Lankan behaviour.

Secondly, as far as “large scale development programmes” are concerned, we have yet to see or hear of any such programmes. On the contrary, in situations where there are small scale reconstruction meetings, elected Tamil officials from the Tamil areas in the island have not been invited nor have they been consulted for any input they may have. The ground reality according to media reports is that even the recently formed Eastern Province which has the blessings of the central government, does not have any teeth to appoint even a low level employee.

Most organizations of the Tamil diaspora are viewed with suspicion as front organization of the LTTE and the torchbearers of the separatist Eelam ideology. Your response?

We cannot speak for other organizations but as far as the Canadian Tamil Congress is concerned, we never have, nor intend to function as the front of the LTTE movement. Having said that, when you look at the policies that have been implemented on the Tamils by the various governments including the present one in addition to the inability of those governments to address the grievances through political dialogue with the Tamil elected officials in the past, pushed the Tamils to ask for a two state solution – a right and honourable solution that will meet the grievances of the Tamils in Sri Lanka by allowing them to live with dignity and self-respect. In fact, this is a solution which came to the minds of Tamils long before the LTTE came into existence. However, if the Government of Sri Lanka has another alternative to resolve the underlying issues other than a two state solution, the onus is on them to put forth any such option.

What does the diaspora want the Sri Lanka government to do with regard to the Tamil national question?

We want the Government of Sri Lanka to address the national question immediately without further delay. In accordance with the expectations of the international community, we want the Government of Sri Lanka to address the war crimes issue by allowing independent international panels to investigate any allegations without any hindrance. If the government wishes to continue to pride itself with so-called “democracy” and “pluralism,” then it should respect the verdict given by the Tamil people. The Tamil people on the island of Sri Lanka have spoken loud and clear. If the government wishes to respect their voice, then it must sit down with their elected officials and commence negotiations to ultimately address the national question.

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