Feature Article

Sinhala supremacists pursue economic dominance

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 17 February 1999, 23:59 GMT]
Tension between the Sinhala and Muslim communities in the northcentral province of Sri Lanka continued to mount today as moves were afoot to stop the pogrom from spreading further. Forty shops and businesses belonging to Muslims were completely burnt in Nochchiyagama since Monday night.

Nochchiyagama is on the main road from Puttalam to Anuradhapura. The latter is 206 kilometers northeast of Colombo)

The Sri Lankan Police said that steps are being taken to withdraw some of the guns issued to Sinhala farmers living close to the Tamil border, north of Nochchiyagama to pre-empt any further attacks.

The weapons were issued by the Sri Lankan government with a view to organising able bodied Sinhala farmers into a militia to assist the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) against the Liberation Tigers along the border between the Northcentral and Northern provinces.

The conflagration was sparked off on Monday by a love triangle involving a Sinhala girl courted by a Muslim shopkeeper and a Sinhala youth.

The girl had rejected the latter and confirmed her love for the former.

This had led to a fisticuff in which the Sinhala youth had got a severe drubbing.

He had soon after returned with a large Sinhala mob that had first smashed the Muslim lover's shop and had then gone on a rampage, burning and looting Muslim businesses in the town.

However, Muslim businessmen in Nochchiyagama refuted this story, saying that the love affair was just a flimsy pretext for a well organised and politically backed pogrom against their community.

One of them alleged that the United Sinhala Traders Association (USTA) was behind the attack. A Sri Lanka Muslim Congress source in Colombo confirmed the opinion of the Muslim traders in Nochchiyagama this afternoon.

He said that there is increasing evidence that Sinhala Traders' Association which belongs to the powerful umbrella organisation called Sinhala Veera Vidhaahana (Sinhala Warrior's Society) is involved in a systematic pogrom against Muslim businesses in Sinhala towns and villages.

According to informed sources, the United Sinhala Traders' Association (USTA) is the most powerful and influential wing of the Sinhala Veera Vidhaahana.

The Association has 614 branches in many parts of the island and has more than 80 million rupees in reserves for its activities. It urges Sinhalese to boycott Tamil and Muslim businesses in the towns and the suburbs of the country's capital.

The Association prevails on Sinhala landlords not to rent out shops and business premises to Tamils and Muslims. Many prominent ruling party (SLFP) politicians are leaders in the Sinhala Traders' Association.

An SLMC source in Colombo said that the USTA began its activities in the large Colombo suburb of Kiribathgoda in 1990 when it told a Sinhala owned business called Sunanada Trade Centre to erase the Tamil on its hoarding. The order was complied with immediately.

The same year it began a campaign against the opening of an outlet of the Bairaha Farms owned by the Muslim multi-millionaire Nalim Haajiyar who, nevertheless, managed to start his business in the face of strong opposition from USTA.

However, in May last year a Sinhala mob attacked the Bairaha outlet, lobbing grenades and smashing up the shop.

The local ruling party MP, Jinadasa Nandasena who is a patron and permanent member of the USTA, had instructed the Police in Kiribathgoda not to be present in the neighbourhood after 9 p.m. - on the night the shop was attacked.

The mob had also thrown grenades that night at the house of an USTA member who had been to the shop's opening.

Later the PA MP had instructed the Criminal Investigation Division of the Police to collect the details of all Tamils and Muslims working in shops and other enterprises in Kiribathgoda.

This has created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty among the non-Sinhalese living in this large suburb of the city said sources.

PA supporters and members were involved with the Sinhala Veera Vidhaahana and the USTA in instigating the attack on Muslims in Pannala according to an SLMC politician in Colombo.

The USTA has successfully campaigned against Muslims buying land in the Ampara town in the southeastern part of the island. It is also in the process of buying up some lands in that town which still belong to Muslims. (Tamils who owned real estate here were massacred many times since 1956. Almost all left the town after many among them were massacred in 1990.)

The USTA's biggest venture in recent years is the purchasing of rice from Sinhala farmers at reasonable prices.

This venture is aimed at gathering popular support among the rural rice cultivators who constitute the largest segment of the island's Sinhala population and who have been hit by IMF and World Bank recommended withdrawal of the fertiliser and price subsidies.

The Sinhala Veera Vidhaahana and USTA are reinforcing their growing influence among paddy farmers by supporting with additional fees the poorly paid rural Cultivation and Colonization Officers (COs)who work for the government department of agricultural services.

The USTA has sent many of them abroad on scholarships negotiated with foreign governments through a front called the Lanka United Merchants Associated (LUMA).

Sinhala Veera Vidhaahana is led by the former University student leader Champika Ranawaka. Powerful Buddhist monks, Sinhala ideologues such as Dr.Nalin de Silva comprise the ruling body of the organisation.

Sinhala Buddhist nationalists in the UNP and increasingly the PA either support the Vidhaahana or are active members in many of its wings, including the USTA.

Meanwhile, according to Police in the hill country town of Bandarawela, a Sinhala mob had set fire to a Muslim school last night in a village called heel Oya. All school documents were destroyed when the office was completely gutted by the fire the Police said.


Related Articles:
30.12.98   Amparai farmers forced to evacuate

 

Latest 15 Reports
 
Find this article at:
http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=7395