Colombo squandaring chance for reconciliation - Economist

[TamilNet, Friday, 16 October 2009, 03:34 GMT]
Noting that, while the improving economy and successful recent elections may increase Colombo's reluctance to deal with the Tamil internment issue in expeditious manner, the Economist in its latest edition said, "[t]he damage being done to Sri Lanka’s international image, however, may last longer. The Tamil diaspora will keep alive the calls for investigation of alleged war-crimes by both sides in the climactic campaign. And the EU has to decide whether to withdraw Sri Lanka’s special trade privileges on human-rights grounds. If, as seems likely, it does, the country’s garment exporters will suffer great damage, and employment will consequently be hit," and added that "the government, its reputation already tarnished by the manner of its final victory, risks squandering the richest prize that victory offers: the chance for national reconciliation."

Full text of the Economics article follows:

THE victory in May of Sri Lanka’s army over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam should have been a cause for almost universal celebration. The Tigers, seeking to monopolise the politics of the country’s Tamil minority, were pioneers in suicide-bombing and leaders in child-conscription. They were as brutal towards Tamils as towards the Sinhalese majority. Many foreign countries banned them as terrorists. After 26 years of warfare, no one begrudged Sri Lanka its hopes of peace. Yet the government, its reputation already tarnished by the manner of its final victory, risks squandering the richest prize that victory offers: the chance for national reconciliation.

The biggest obstacle to that reconciliation has become the fate of some 250,000 Tamils displaced by the war and now herded into camps. Their conditions are abject: crowded, short of drinking water and with poor sanitation. Many have been displaced several times and have lost everything. Tempers are running short and confrontations with guards more frequent. Aid agencies have only limited access, and the press next to none. There are fears of worse hardship to come, and especially of the spread of disease. The imminent monsoon may turn a grim ordeal into a disaster. Rain in August caused flooding, washing away tents, preventing food deliveries and flushing raw sewage around some camps. The government is preparing for the monsoon, digging ditches and improving latrines. But already this week, a pre-monsoon downpour leaked into hundreds of shelters.

The government blames the UN and aid groups for shoddy camp-building. They retort that these were only ever meant as temporary shelter for people on their way home or elsewhere. In practice, as a report for the European Union (EU) noted, the camps now provide the setting for “a novel form of unacknowledged detention”. Two plausible-sounding reasons for their internment—weeding out Tiger remnants and demining their home villages—have worn thinner as the months have dragged on, and the monsoon provided a climatic deadline.

The government claims to be emptying the camps as fast as it can. But with so much going its way, it seems to feel little pressure to deal with this difficult issue. It has just triumphed in provincial elections in the south—its eighth such victory. This has encouraged the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to bring forward presidential elections, due in late 2011, to early next year. The economy, too, is enjoying a peace dividend, with the stockmarket more than double its value at the beginning of the year, and interest among foreign investors strong enough for the central bank this week to launch a $500m bond issue. Tourist arrivals are picking up. Still in the Tigers’ cage

The damage being done to Sri Lanka’s international image, however, may last longer. The Tamil diaspora will keep alive the calls for investigation of alleged war-crimes by both sides in the climactic campaign. And the EU has to decide whether to withdraw Sri Lanka’s special trade privileges on human-rights grounds. If, as seems likely, it does, the country’s garment exporters will suffer great damage, and employment will consequently be hit.

But there is a far bigger danger, at home: that the end of the war fuels the ethnic resentments which caused it. Occasional gestures are made to reconciliation. More Tamil policemen are to be recruited. The president himself this week made a speech in Tamil. But in general, little has been done to make Tamils see the defeat of the Tigers as the liberation it should have been. Indeed, for those still stuck in the camps, the word rings painfully hollow.


External Links:
Economist: The price of truth
Economist: UN: The score at half-time
Economist: A view framed by barbed wire
Economist: Losing touch with old friends
Economist: Sri Lanka's interned Tamils: Winners and losers

 

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