Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Tigers under the Bed

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Tigers under the Bed

Article excerpt

After 25 years of conflict, the defeat of the brutal Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) brought hopes that Sri Lanka's government would embark on serious efforts to work with moderate Tamil leaders to address the long-standing grievances of the Tamil community, which the LTTE claimed but failed to represent.

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Steps to end discrimination against Tamils would be a good start, as would a mood of magnanimity from the Sinhalese majority government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Wary Tamils, who have borne the brunt of the Tigers' violence, need a sign that they will be equal citizens in the "new" Sri Lanka.

They are not getting it. The government is treating all Tamils in the north-east of the country, the former headquarters of the LTTE, as presumptive criminals. Around 300,000 Tamils are now being held in detention camps, barred from leaving even if they have family members or friends who would take them in. Many are children, elderly, or others who cannot reasonably be considered dangerous.

Huge numbers of people are being held indefinitely behind barbed wire. Far from enjoying their liberation from the LTTE, they are prisoners, again. The government could hardly have devised a policy more likely to engender fear and suspicion.

This is no accident. It is part of a larger policy to control all aspects of the postwar situation and root out enemies, real and imagined. In a country that is desperate for IMF assistance to avoid literally going broke, the army has announced a 50 per cent increase in its size, from 200,000 to 300,000. …

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