By Dharman Dharmaratnam
Farah Mihlar had written an opinion piece entitled Tigers at the Door in the UK-based Guardian newspaper on 16 May, 2007. The Daily Mirror in Colombo duly reproduced this as a feature article on 18 May, 2007. She had commented on the British parliamentary debates on human rights in Sri Lanka. I had written to the Daily Mirror to point out her flawed data but this was not published!
Farah Mihlar mentions that the Tigers had resorted to a “horrific ethnic cleansing campaign” that resulted in the expulsion of 100,000 Muslims from the North. She exaggerates the numbers. The Department of Census and Statistics in Sri Lanka had enumerated 50,831 Muslims in the Jaffna, Mannar, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya districts in 1981. Kilinochchi formed a part of Jaffna then. It was this population that was expelled in 1990 purportedly in retaliation against reported attacks on Tamil villages in the Amparai district by Muslim home guards. One can add a few thousands more to account for the natural increase in the Muslim population in the North between 1981 and 1990. Many Muslims subsequently returned to Mannar and Vavuniya. I refer her to the Department of Census and Statistics publication Population by Ethnic Group and District, Census, 1981.
The eviction of Muslims in the North took place in the context of attacks on Tamil villages in 1990 such as Kanjikudichiaru, Karaitivu, Komari, Sagamam, Sorikalmunai, Tirukovil and Veeramunai in the Amparai district.
Farah then mentions that “Incessant shelling of Tamil villages has displaced some 150,000 people” in 2006. She down plays the numbers in this instance. UNHCR figures place the number of displaced at 302,000 in April 2007! The overwhelming majority of the new IDPs were Tamils. The Government ensured that the 40,000 odd Muslims IDPs were swiftly resettled in Mutur West last year. However, it is unclear whether the Tamil displaced from Sampur and Mutur East in August, 2006 would ever be allowed to return!
Ethnic cleansing has a long history in independent Sri Lanka. One of the first pieces of legislation in the country i.e. the Ceylon Citizenship Act was to disenfranchise one million “Indian” Tamils in 1948. These were the descendents of indentured laborers who were brought to work the coffee, tea and rubber plantations from 1823 onwards. About 350,000 were repatriated to India under what could only be described as “ethnic cleansing by treaty” following the Sirimavo Shastri pact in October 1964.
Independent Fiji, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa did not expel its “Indian” minority. Sri Lanka did. However, it merits acknowledgement that the high caste Jaffna Tamils led by G.G. Ponnambalam and Sunderalingam did not oppose the move. This remains an indictment on the history of Tamil nationalism in the island!
One can also refer to Manal Aru or Weli Oya, a strategic piece of real estate sandwiched between the Northern and the Eastern Provinces in Sri Lanka. 13,288 Tamil families living in 42 villages were ordered to vacate their homes by Gazette notification on 16 April, 1988. The land belonging to 14 Tamil entrepreneurs on a 99 year lease was abruptly revoked as well. The entire area was then brought under the Mahaweli Authority and declared as the Mahaweli L Zone. 9,289 Sinhalese families were settled in 15 new villages protected by 25,000 military personnel. Weli Oya represents an instance of “ethnic cleansing”.
Tamils were displaced in the 1970s and 1980s in what is today known as the Gomarankadawela, Moraweva and Seruwila divisions not to mention Kantalai in the Trincomalee district. One wonders whether the same fate is in store for the tens of thousands of Tamils displaced from Mutur East and Sampur in the Trincomalee district which the Government hopes to declare a special economic zone complete with its very own coal-fired power plant.
Farah Mihlar may not be aware of the many instances of ethnic cleansing perpetrated by different actors in her narrow zeal to focus on the Muslim displaced. While she is entitled to her opinions, she can not bandy about incorrect data. She needs to double check before she writes an opinion piece.