By Dharman Dharmaratnam
The Mahinda Rajapakse administration issued an Extraodinary Gazette notification today that Mutur East and Sampur are now declared a High Security Zone. It announced a Special Economic Zone in the area under the Board of Investment Law. This would have a land area of 675 square kilometers (260.5 square miles). The 51,450 Tamils who fled Mutur East and Sampur late last year would not be allowed to return. The Government has taken steps to appropriate all private land in the area in an attempt to change the ethnic character of the Trincomalee district. No international wire service nor the BBC covered this news at the time that I draft this opinion piece. The contrast with the earlier coverage of the eviction of Tamils from the Colombo district could not be more stark. The latest gazette notification has grave consequences for the future of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka.
I refer to the UNHCR document on Sri Lanka i.e. IDPs by Place of Displacement and Place of Origin as of April 16, 2007 . The acronym IDP refers to Internally Displaced Persons. The UNHCR document reveals that 51,450 persons were displaced from Mutur as at April 2007. Of this amount, 35,422 had fled to Batticaloa late last year. 9,653 had fled to Amparai. 6,375 moved to the urban precincts of Trincomalee. These IDPs were all Tamil who fled the incessant aerial bombardment and multi-barrel rocket launches of the advancing Sri Lankan armed forces in late 2006. The majority of the 20,000 refugees who escaped to India last year were also from the Trincomalee district. The Muslims who were displaced by the LTTE’s temporary occupation of Mutur town in the western part of that division were forcibly returned by the Sri Lankan military authorities and are hence not included in the above mentioned UNHCR list of IDPs.
[Trincomalee, Murur & Sampur- Map: TamilNet]
Mutur East has been a Tamil area of habitation since early times. During the Chola interlude in the 10th century, Mutur, Kinniya and Ichchilampattru were known as Rajaraja Valanadu and Vikrama Chola Valanadu. With the invasions of Magha of Kalinga in 1215 AD, matrilineal Mukkuvar principalities emerged in this area. An old Tamil Hindu civilizational presence in the region is now being swept away by Government decree. One suspects the hand of Gothabhaya Rajapakse, the brother to the President and Secretary, Ministry of Defence, in the scheme. An American citizen, it was he who planned the eviction of between 15,000 to 20,000 Tamils in Colombo, a step which would have been carried through if not for the timely intervention of the Supreme Court, not to mention the international outrage. But the international community is now silent.
The Government’s Gazette notification is a measure in a long series of steps to change the ethnic character of the East and the Trincomalee district in particular. The Don Stephen Senanayake administration initiated the Gal Oya colonization scheme in what was then known as South Batticaloa in the early 1950s. This area is now referred to as either Amparai or Digamadulla. He sponsored the settlement of thousands of Sinhalese in the area through a process of demographic re-engineering. He also paved the way for the large scale settlement of Sinhalese in the interior divisions of the Trincomalee district. This included Kantalai, Moraweva (Mudalikulam), Gomarankadavela (Kumaran Kadavai) and Padavi Siripura (Padavikulam).
The Junius Richard Jayewardene administration carried this further with the eviction of Tamils from Weli Oya (Manal Aru) in 1987 by similar Gazette notification. The then Government issued an Extraordinary Gazette on April 16, 1988 ordering 13,288 Tamil families to vacate their lands in 42 villages in this strategic piece of real estate that divided the North and the East. The land belonging to 14 Tamil entrepreneurs on a 99 year lease was abruptly revoked as well. The Weli Oya scheme was brought under the Mahaweli Authority and 9,289 Sinhalese families were brought in. However, many Sinhalese have since left given the fluid military situation.
For those keen to read more about the settlement of Sinhalese in what is today Weli Oya could read the Special Report of the University Teachers for Human Rights – Jaffna (UTHR-J) dated September 1993 titled From Manal Aru to Weli Oya and the Spirit of July, 1983 and the UTHR-J report Land, Human Rights and the Eastern Predicament dated April, 1993.
One needs to place things in perspective. By an Extraordinary Gazette notification today, the Government now attempts to alter the demographic character of the Trincomalee district. It has expelled the Tamil residents of the area. While Weli Oya served to interrupt the territorial contiguity of the North and the East, this attempt to de-Tamilize Mutur is intended to disrupt the territorial contiguity between Trincomalee and Batticaloa through a proposed Sinhalese enclave.
The latest Gazette notification in Trincomalee is brazen and outrageous. It is an effort to expel the centuries old Tamil Hindu civilizational presence there. But international precedents for ethnic cleansing do exist and we need to be mindful of these as we fight this latest injustice of the Rajapakse administration.
In the aftermath of World War 2, between 13.5 and 16.5 million Germans were evicted from Poland, the Czech republic, Kaliningrad in Russia, Slovakia and Hungary. They were evicted from what were old German villages and provinces with a history that went back to the Middle Ages. This was the old Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia, Danzig and Konigsberg. I refer here to Hubatsch, Walther, ed.: The German Question, New York: Herder Book Center, 1967. The ethnic cleansing was underwritten by the victorious allied powers where no less than Winston Churchill stated in the House of Commons in 1944, “Expulsion is the method which, in so far as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble. .. A clean sweep will be made. I am not alarmed by these transferences, which are more possible in modern conditions…” . It seems that the Rajapakse administration has had good antecedents.
In more recent times, Serbs constituted 24% of Kosovo in 1961. They had been in that land for centuries. Faced with an upsurge of attacks on minority Serbs and a fiercly instransigent ethnic Albanian majority, the Serbs began to leave. I refer to page 260 of Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. The Serb population in Kosovo declined to 10% in 1991 and is currently 5%. Once again, a ‘nuisance minority’ had been evicted with the United States and West Europe now calling for Kosovan independence given the changed demographic reality. It is fait accompli.
We need to be mindful of international precedents as we respond to the move of Mahinda Rajapakse and fight to protect the old Tamil presence in Trincomalee. This gazette notification can not go unchallenged. The fact remains that the brain behind this i.e. Gothabhaya Rajapakse is an American citizen. Conscientious Tamil citizens of the United States should file action in the American court system to register the human rights violations perpertrated by this American national.
Meanwhile, the Chinese plan to invest in Mutur. Their investments include a coal fired power plant given delays in the Indian credit pipeline. India under Sonia Gandhi drifts aimlessly as its southern flank stands increasingly exposed with other powers lurking in its neighborhood. The Sri Lankan Tamils need to be mindful of the international geopolitical ramifications as we protect what remains of our land.
A first step would be for the Tamil Members of Parliament to raise a point of order in the Sri Lankan legislature questioning the move. The second step would be for Tamil activists in Sri Lanka, preferably from Mutur itself, to file a fundamental rights case at the Supreme Court. A third would be for Tamil expatriates in Canada, Germany and Switzerland to raise international awareness of the just gazetted ethnic cleansing. Tamil residents in the United Kingdom should approach MPs to highlight the latest effort at ethnic cleansing by decree. A fifth step would be for Tamils resident in the US to avail of that country’s legal system to highlight the role of Gothabhaya Rajapakse in a multitude of human rights abuses in recent months. A case should also be filed at the UN Commission for Human Rights. Tamil legislators should in addition lobby the international media be it Agence France Press, Reuters or BBC to cover the issue.
All is not lost. The Sri Lankan military now faces a stalemate on the Northern theater of operations. It is short of ammunition and firepower after initial successes in the East. The Treasury is short of funds. With concerted action on our part, we would help the beleaguered Tamils in Trincomalee who have been evicted by the stroke of a pen!