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No real winners in any war, says MCC chief

KUALA LUMPUR: There are no real winners in any war and in the recently-ended civil war which raged for 26 years in Sri Lanka, it is the people who have suffered most, be they Tamils or Sinhalese, says the president of the Malaysian Ceylonese Congress (MCC), Datuk Dr NKS Tharmaseelan.

In the years of feuding, especially with the escalation of guerrilla warfare by dissenting Tamils in the northern region of Sri Lanka to the final battle between the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) a fortnight ago, some 100,000 lives, including civilians, have been wiped out while thousands of homes, factories, offices, roads, railway lines, places of worship, schools and hospitals were destroyed.

It had meant years of waste for Sri Lanka, a country that was once a vibrant economy during the 1970s, and upon hindsight it is sad to think of what it could have become if civil war had not precipitated, he said.

"If only the parties involved had negotiated and concessions made for some of the legitimate claims of the Tamil people," Dr Tharmaseelan told Bernama in an interview.

Recalling a trip made by a group of Malaysians to Sri Lanka, he said they were shocked that the so-called highway connecting Colombo to the northern part of the country could not even allow two cars to pass by easily.

"Village after village along the highway had been destroyed, students were studying in schools without roofs, and no factories or industries were visible on either side of the highway. And this was in 2002 when the there was a ceasefire. I can't imagine the destruction now," he said in reference to the long-drawn violence in Sri Lanka.

A fortnight ago, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse declared that the civil war was over as the army snuffed out the LTTE.

But the final onslaught by the army, has been described as a "war without witnesses" as no media or aid workers or observers had been allowed so far into the safety zones in the country.

"If there is to be any real recovery for the destroyed parts of Sri Lanka, it has to start with immediate humanitarian assistance to the Tamils said to be homeless, sick, injured and without any proper aid in the northern part of Sri Lanka," said Dr Tharmaseelan, a Melaka-based consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, who currently also serves as the Medico-legal Adviser for the Medical Protection Society (London).

Unnecessary conditions should not be placed on those seeking to provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees in make-shift camps, he said.

"Some of the relief organisations have been told not to send any Tamil volunteers. How does anyone communicate with poor distressed village folks?" he asked, adding that the need for humanitarian aid was urgent as there were other concerns like starvation and lack of medicine.

Rajapakse, speaking before the Sri Lankan Parliament recently, had pledged equality and resolution for the Tamils in Sri Lanka and even called on those overseas to return to the island nation. But this has been viewed with much scepticism from Tamils across the globe.

MCC Secretary-General Vijayakone Thanigasalam said that it was unlikely that displaced Sri Lankan Tamils overseas would want to return to their homeland because of the strained relations between the Tamils and Sinhalese.

After gaining independence from the British in 1948, critics have often cited the discrimination of Sri Lankan Tamils under the so-called veil of democracy in areas like job and educational opportunities. The ban on the import of Tamil books and the burning and destruction of the Jaffna Library which had contained irreplaceable ancient Tamil manuscripts are other sore points.

Vijayakone told Bernama after a prayer for peace at the Sithi Vinagayar temple in Petaling Jaya recently that said some of the most educated and wealthy Sri Lankan Tamils were forced to flee their homes as fighting escalated in the early 1980s, leaving behind their ancestral homes, businesses and relatives who opted to stay behind.

Most of these places are now occupied by resettled Sinhalese, he claimed.

Most of the Tamils who fled are now successful residents in various parts of the world, with a significant number of them still supporting better treatment for the Tamils in their homeland in northern Sri Lanka.

As for the present, the international community as well as the United Nations have asked the Sri Lankan government to allow aid workers to help the 280,000 refugees in camps.

But the government has so far rejected these calls and critics said that its refusal could be due to its fear that by allowing them in, they gain access to witnesses who might have seen abuses by government forces when civilians were not allowed to escape the war zone.

There have been moderate voices among the Tamils in Sri Lanka and Douglas Devananda, a former Tamil fighter who is now a minister of social services in the government, had said that the end of the civil war would enable Tamils to achieve their aspirations.

Devananda said the government must now "fully implement" a 1987 peace accord, which was rejected by the Tamil Tigers, for this would allow for power sharing and grant greater autonomy to historically Tamil provinces in the north and east.

Tamil leaders around the world are now monitoring the Sri Lankan government's handling of the refugee crisis in Tamil areas as well as how it would account for the conduct of its military toward civilians.

These two issues would heavily weigh on the chances of reconciliation, Tamil leaders said, and until the Sri Lankan government treated all of its citizens fairly, there could only be a remote chance for the peace that Rajapakse had promised his country. (By SHANTY DEVI AYADURAI/Bernama)


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