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From The Socialist newspaper, 20 May 2009

Sri Lanka: The guns fall silent but the tragedy continues

"THIS BATTLE has reached its bitter end... We have decided to silence our guns". The dramatic announcement on the website of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on 17 May seemed to indicate that the 26 year-long civil war in Sri Lanka had ended. The LTTE has suffered a crushing defeat. Once it controlled roughly one-third of the territory of the island.

Elizabeth Clarke

With the help of significant defections, such as the Tigers' Eastern commander, Karuna, and with huge backing from China as well as India, the Rajapakse government has been able to pursue this war ruthlessly, ignoring mass protests in London, Canada and elsewhere, as well as hypocritical bleating from governments abroad.

Before the beginning of this year, the death toll was over 70,000. Since the final, bloody offensive of the Sri Lankan army at the beginning of this year, there are estimates of between 7,000-20,000 dead - mostly civilians trapped in the conflict zone, many injured and left to die where they lay. For more than a week, no medical or food aid could reach them.

Doctors in the 'no-fire' zone were forced to abandon the only makeshift hospital as it was shelled by the Sri Lankan army, which had declared weeks before that it was stopping the use of heavy artillery!

Confident of victory, even before confirmation of the death of LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapakse, announced an end to the war. For Rajapakse, this meant the achievement of his avowed aim, at the time of his election in 2005, of establishing a unitary nation with no autonomy for the minority Tamil population in the North and East.

For Tamils throughout the island, the 'celebratory' firecrackers set off in the streets on government orders from Sunday onwards, appeared to seal their fate as an oppressed, subject nation under a triumphant Sinhala chauvinist regime. For the hundreds of thousands displaced by the months of fighting, many now held prisoner in up to 40 government camps (55,000 of them children), the future holds only hunger, disease, death, homelessness, poverty and unimaginable misery.

Many commentators refer to the brutal manner in which the government pursued its military victory as radicalising a new generation of Tamils, both on the island and in the diaspora who feel humiliated and angry.

Mangala Samaweera, former member of Rajapakse's Sri Lanka Freedom Party, and foreign minister in his government, says: "The carnage... has fostered calls among formerly moderate Tamils for a separate state. I fear hundreds of Prabhakarans have been created".

Self-determination

THE reported death of Prabhakaran marks only the end of the present phase of the national conflict in Sri Lanka. Rejoicing Sinhalese workers who imagine the end of the war will bring progress and development will be sorely disappointed.

The highly indebted capitalist government of Rajapakse, cannot assure lasting peace, let alone prosperity for the workers and poor people of Sri Lanka - Sinhalese as well as Tamil. The huge task of saving the lives and rebuilding the homes and livelihoods of the people of the North will require far more than the $1.9 billion loan being sought from the IMF and at present blocked by the Obama administration.

The Tamil people must have the chance to choose freely and fairly their own representatives and to decide how they want the majority Tamil areas to be run. The United Socialist Party (the Socialist Party's counterpart in Sri Lanka) has always defended these rights and those of minorities - Muslim and Sinhala - within those areas.

It advocates socialist policies of public ownership and control of land and industry by workers and poor people as the only way to overcome the massive national and economic problems that burden the struggling working population today. That also means campaigning to remove the present ruling clique by united trade union and political struggle.

The rights of Sinhalese as well as Tamils have been trampled on by the Rajapakse regime in the name of the 'war against terror'. Sooner or later this near dictatorship will be exposed for what it is.

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