Stop the War in Sri Lanka

(Siritunga Jayasuriya, currently the General Secretary of the United Socialist Party (USP) recently visited India. One of the voices in Sri Lanka who have refused to be terrorised into silence, Mr. Jayasuriya has been campaigning against the ongoing war in Sri Lanka. He contested the 2006 presidential elections in Sri Lanka against the money and muscle power of both SLFP & UNP, and came a creditable third out of the 11 candidates in the fray polling around 36, 000 votes. Extracts from an interview with him during his Delhi visit, 21.02.09.)

LB: Would you say that the war in Sri Lanka is over? What is the impact of the war on the civilian population of Tamils in the war-torn region?    
SJ:  Yesterday, the LTTE has again bombed the heart of Colombo – proof that the war is not really over. Of course, the Sri Lankan Army may triumph over the LTTE eventually – but even then, the war will continue in a different style. 
What is apparent is that the Sri Lankan Government is willing to pay any price to clear the Eelam areas and achieve a final victory. Around 200, 000 civilians in the area are caught up in the war. The Sri Lankan Government, in the name of an attempt to get them out of the area, is actually asking them to exchange one prison for another. Those who have come out are incarcerated in refugee camps, and are questioned by the Army under suspicion of being LTTE supporters. The Sri Lankan Government must put an end to this atmosphere of fear, by creating an environment where independent organisations, not the Army, are responsible for the welfare of the fleeing people.
What do you think of the Indian Government’s response and role?
When LTTE suggested another ceasefire and expressed readiness for talks, the Indian Government, in one voice with the Sri Lanka Government, said LTTE must first lay down arms. Rather than taking sides with the Sri Lankan Government, the Indian Government ought to have set an example and asked Sri Lanka to come up with a concrete, acceptable proposal. The urgent priority ought to have been to secure the lives of the lakhs of civilians in the war-torn region. Mahinda (Rajapakse, Sri Lankan President) says this is a ‘war for peace’ – but what kind of peace will it be without people? We are not defending LTTE methods – but we do support the national aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people, including Tamil-speaking Muslims, which demand a political solution.              
The arrogance of Pranab Mukherjee’s statement is underwritten by the huge economic interests that India has in Sri Lanka. An overwhelming part of Sri Lanka’s tea estates are owned by Tata; Indian automobile and mobile phone companies enjoy a huge market in Sri Lanka; in a situation where much of the aid that Sri Lanka receives goes straight into the war, the abysmal health situation and lack of medical care creates a lucrative market for Indian pharmaceutical companies.
We hope the Indian people will pressurise their Government to immediately stop military aid – covert and overt – to Sri Lanka, and to take concrete and urgent steps to pressurise to stop the war.  
The killing of senior journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge was shocking news. What space is there for dissent in Sri Lanka?
Anybody with an independent voice faces an immediate attack from the ultra-nationalist and communal Sinhala forces. When railway or health sector workers, or teachers organise for their own demands, they face a huge offensive from the Sinhala nationalists, branding them as ‘terrorists’, ‘LTTE supporters’. Families of Trade Union leaders face immense pressure. The war becomes a pretext to suppress the workers.
Lasantha Wickrematunge is not the only journalist to be killed: 18 journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka in the last two years. 28 journalists have been brutalised and beaten up. Many others are behind bars. All dissent, all independent views, are ruthlessly suppressed – not just about the war – but even about corruption, misuse of Government funds, etc.
My party is part of a broad coalition of some 128 groups, called the Platform for Freedom, which includes all opposition parties except the JVP, with the main issues being an end to the war, and ensuring freedom of expression and right to life.
I’d like to emphasise – that not only the Tamil people but the Sinhala people too are also suffering in the war. Unfortunately, chauvinistic ultra-nationalistic and communal propaganda makes it difficult for the Sinhala workers, youth, peasants, poor, even families of dead soldiers, to arrive at this realisation. ‘Victory’ of the Sri Lankan military in the war will spell defeat for the entire country. It is urgent that we demand a way to overcome this tragedy.