A democratic government burdened with a protracted war against terrorism always has its work cut out. In this country, the government in power operates in a multi-ethnic environment unlike its enemy, the LTTE, which has, through a process of systematic ethnic cleansing, created a mono ethnic enclave where democracy is a thing of the past and infiltration could be kept at a bare minimum. Dissent is violently suppressed in that terrain and execution awaits anyone who assists in infiltration. Nobody talks about human rights of the people trapped in those areas and mum`s the word on the part of even those vociferous defenders of human rights about the plight of those hapless people.
The biggest problem besetting the security forces is heavy infiltration, which has helped the LTTE launch many devastating attacks on both military and civilian targets. It is, therefore, natural that they are all out to nab infiltrators and pre-empt terror strikes. In trying to keep their elusive enemy at bay, they may think of remedies in terms of mass evictions and mass arrests. But, such measures militate against the democratic principles upon which civilised society rests. Therefore, it is the duty of the political authority to rein them in. War, it is said, is too serious a matter to be left entirely to generals.
Three Tamil political leaders?TULF President V. Anandasangaree, PLOTE President D. Sithadhan and EPRLF (Pathmanabha) T. Sritharan?who have proved their democratic credentials beyond any doubt by standing up to the LTTE and condemning its violence at the risk of their life and limb, have protested against the on-going arrest and detention of Tamil civilians in the wake of the recent LTTE terror strikes in the city. In a letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, while condemning the LTTE violence, they stress the need for respecting the democratic rights of the Tamils. They say: `We do not say that the Government should close its eyes and keep quiet. Conduct search operations, arrest anyone on suspicion but don`t detain any innocent person unnecessarily even for a day.` Can any reasonable person disagree with those gentlemen?
Several other politicians?both Tamil and Sinhala?have taken up the cudgels for the Tamil detainees languishing in appalling conditions. But, they have forfeited their moral right to speak of human rights as their true intention is not the protection of the rights of Tamils but discrediting the government and the State to help the LTTE further its interests. If they are genuinely interested in safeguarding human rights, they must be able to condemn the violation of the rights of Tamil civilians under the LTTE`s jackboot as well. One cannot be selective in championing human rights which are common to all the people irrespective of their ethnicity, religion and other man made differences.
Some of the Sinhala politicians who are shedding crocodile tears for Tamil civilians have a history of torture and murder of both Tamil and Sinhala youth. Where were those human rights champions in 1983, when a government sponsored pogrom was carried out against Tamils? And where were those international human rights groups when the Sinhala youth were tortured and killed in their thousands in the early 1970s and the late 1980s? Believing in their human rights campaign will be like taking a bunch of butchers leading a campaign to save cattle seriously? Those hypocrites need to be told that they cannot hoodwink the discerning public.
Anandasangaree, Sithadhan and Sritharan point out that ultimately the innocent ones who are running away from the LTTE into the arms of the government are being penalized for no fault of theirs. When they are arrested and detained unnecessarily they become suspects even after their release in the eyes of their neighbours. This, they say, is exactly what the LTTE wants.
The government must heed the appeal of these Tamil leaders lending their voice to the voiceless. They question the government`s wisdom in cancelling the train service beyond Anuradhapura though Vavuniya is a cleared area. (While writing this comment we learnt that at a meeting with Anandasangaree, President Rajapaksa had promised to restore the train service to Vavuniya from today. That is a step in the right direction.) The LTTE is, no doubt, using that train to send in infiltrators. But, simply because the LTTE uses it, it is not advisable for the government to cancel its run up to Vavuniya. It is also being argued that the LTTE might attack the train. Yes, that is a possibility. However, it has attacked not only trains but also buses. Are we going to cancel the bus service to Vavuniya as well? There are risks worth taking for the sake of the people. It is not only in Vauniya that the LTTE is capable of attacking trains and buses. The outfit has attacked trains in Colombo and buses in places like Ambalangoda, hasn`t it?
Bringing to the President`s notice that the Tamils are in a situation where they can live peacefully neither in the North nor in the South, those three leaders ask a very pertinent question: `When protection is not forthcoming from the government where can they go? The only place left for those people, they point out, is the Indian Ocean.
The government is promising to break the LTTE`s backbone before long. Many may look forward to the day when that feat is achieved. But, while working towards that goal, it must ensure that the people it says it is trying to liberate from the clutches of the LTTE will be treated with respect as equal citizens of this country. That, we believe, is exactly what Anandasangaree, Sithadhan and Sritharan are requesting the government to do. Treating all Tamils as terrorists until proved innocent is the wrong way to set about that noble task.