Tamils fear peace talks with LTTE, says rights activists (Interview)

February 20th, 2009 - 11:02 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS) Sri Lankan Tamils are wary of any peace talks that will give oxygen to the Tamil Tigers, say two leading Tamil rights activists, adding that the need of the hour was to give security to the mass of civilians trapped in the conflict zone.

Rajan Hoole and K. Sritharan of the University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR-Jaffna) also said in an interview that India should stop seeing the Tamil conflict from a strategic prism and instead focus on the community’s long-term welfare and humanitarian concerns.

Stating that all previous peace parleys had only given a free run to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Hoole and Sritharan told IANS: “Presently the indications we have are that the people want an end to the war but are wary of any more peace talks with the LTTE.”

Hoole and Sritharan are formerly from the University of Jaffna and have been bitter critics of both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan state. In 2007, they received the Martin Ennals Award for their contribution to the cause of human rights in Sri Lanka.

Their comments came amid the military’s advances into LTTE territory, leaving it in control of only a small area in Mullaitivu district. The fighting has caused widespread suffering. The military has been accused of shelling civilian zones and the LTTE has been charged with forcibly preventing Tamils from leaving the area it holds.

Hoole and Sritharan said that several thousand civilians had now escaped into the government-controlled area, risking attacks from a furious LTTE that did not want Tamils to ditch it in its hour of crisis.

“Many have had the experience of being shot at by the LTTE as they escaped or (by) the army personnel at the entry points, deliberately provoked by LTTE fire. The LTTE’s direct shooting at civilians has on most occasions been aimed at the legs, but cases of fatal shooting have also been reported,” they said in their statement.

In contrast, “generally the behaviour of soldiers at entry points has, in the cases known to us, been exceptionally good”, they said.

The civilians escaping from LTTE territory, they said, had been invariably forced to participate in activities of the Tamil Tigers before the guerrillas began to retreat in the face of the military advance.

“They are fearful about their fate when moved to the government-controlled area. LTTE propaganda is geared towards making them fearful and powerless. The indiscriminate bombing and shelling and the army’s reputation for callousness reinforce that fear.”

Hoole and Sritharan, who live outside Sri Lanka, said it was important that humanitarian security and rights protection must come to the forefront. Colombo also needed to be made accountable to its people.

“The present regime has used the widespread fear and frustration over the LTTE’s past actions during peace initiatives and its terror campaign to gain support for the war… Some opinion makers close to the regime are trying to promote total subjugation of the Tamil people,” they warned.

This, they warned, only gave credibility to the Tamil Tigers’ claim that they were the only ones who could defend the rights of Tamils.

The activists pointed out that in the past India had mostly looked at the Sri Lankan issue through its “strategic interests” and used Tamil militant groups for its short-term goals.

“The notion that the Tamils can be used as a ’strategic interests resource’ is again being aired by prominent persons in India,” they pointed out.

“The plight of the Tamils in the island also forms about the only ‘political capital’ for some fringe groups in Tamil Nadu,” they said. “Tamils in Sri Lanka have suffered enough and they should not be used as dispensable resources, as the LTTE (does).”

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