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Jaffna Civil Society press conference: Is it Right to Remember Terrorists?

After independence, Sri Lanka’s economic, social and political development has been hindered by 30 years of war. During the 1930s, seeds of racism and separationism were sown on the island’s soil by Tamil politicians, this grew into a dense forest that was hard to cut down within decades. The final result was the birth of the terrorist group, the Liberation of Tamil Tigers for Ealam (LTTE). The Sri Lankan Army and the Government had to fight a battle against terrorism that dragged on for three decades, consuming the wealth and human lives of the country. Also, since independence, the Sri Lankan Government had to hold discussions and peace talks to please the racists who demanded a separate, purely Tamil ethnic state within the country, which they called the Ealam.

This, not only tore the country politically and economically into pieces but also ripped the country socially. The demands of the Tamil racist politicians burnt the bridges of peace, harmony, and coexistence between the Sinhalese and Tamils.

In 2009, the Sri Lanka Army defeated the LTTE. As a developing country in South Asia, it was not easy for Sri Lanka to rise from its ashes post-war. Nothing was the same anymore. The worst and most difficult part was to extinguish the flames of hatred between the communities and put an end to racism; especially with the biased interferences of foreign countries and international bodies, and the racism provocations of the   Tamil diaspora and the Colombo-based racist Tamil politicians and the racist Sinhala politicians who want to entertain separationism. Thus, achieving peace in post-war times has been even harder.

Moreover, as these racist politicians and separationists portrayed the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil civilians and that the Sri Lanka Army fought a battle against Tamil civilians, the Sri Lanka Army and the Sinhalese majority committed racist acts and genocides against innocent Tamil civilians, damaging the peace and harmony of the country further. One thing must be cleared and confirmed; the LTTE was never the representative of the Tamil civilians of Sri Lanka nor were they their saviour. In contrast, they committed brutal and terror against innocent Tamil civilians of Sri Lanka. Innocent Tamil people of the North and East suffered the most due to the LTTE, and so, by no means do they represent the Tamil civilians of Sri Lanka. The LTTE is a banned terrorist organisation and has nothing to do with the rights, wellbeing, and existence of the Tamil civilians of Sri Lanka. Hence the defeat of the LTTE was solely the defeat of a dangerous murderous terrorist organisation. It never can be interpreted as a defeat of the Tamil civilians of the country. The defeat of the LTTE was a victory for all Sri Lankans, including the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, and all other ethnicities living on this island.

However, on 26 November 2022, celebrations and commemoration events were held in memory of dead LTTE members, in Jaffna. How fair and ethical is this? It is a known fact that the LTTE forced thousands of innocent Tamil youth to join their terrorist group. They introduced suicide bombing and used Tamil people as suicide bombers. Thousands of innocent children were trained as child soldiers, which by any means cannot be justified. While the leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran led a comfortable life with luxuries, and his children were educated and led comfortable and secure lives, thousands of innocent Tamil children were forced to be child soldiers and led unimaginably difficult lives. The LTTE not only killed Sinhalese but also thousands of Tamils and Muslims too. A nation, an entire country was held backwards and to date, the picture of this country and its majority are being portrayed as barbaric racists. An army that fought a battle against a banned terrorist organisation is accused of war crimes and violation of human rights.

More than everything else, the peace of this land is doomed. The two communities, the Sinhalese and Tamils look at each other with minds full of prejudice and suspicion; all thanks to the LTTE and their supporting separationist politicians. Hence, how justifiable is it to commemorate terrorists in Sri Lanka? Will it serve justice to the thousands of lost lives due to the activities of the LTTE and the separationists?

To address these issues, focusing on the commemorating of the LTTE held in Jaffna recently, the Jaffna Civil Society organisation held a press conference on 2 December at the Colombo Public Library.

The president of the society, Arun Siddharth expressed his views on this matter as follows.

“On 26 November, a ceremony was held in Jaffna to commemorate dead LTTE members and to remember the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran who was killed in 2009 by the SL Army. However, we witnessed a wrong interpretation. A wrong picture has been woven about this among the Sinhala people of the south”, said Siddharth.

“Therefore, I would like to clearly tell the people of the South that the defeat of the LTTE in 2009 was not a defeat of the Tamil people. This is purely an attempt by Tamil politicians to portray the 2009 defeat as a defeat of the Tamil people. This is completely untrue. It is these politicians who celebrate Maha Viru Day on 26 November.”

He further explained that remembering and honouring the dead is not the problem. But they are against celebrating and remembering a terrorist leader.

You can remember and honour the dead as they could be your own people, dear and near ones of yours. However, the problem here is that 26 November is the birthdate of the dead terrorist leader Prabhakaran, who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.

Siddharth questioned what the law of the country is if a banned terrorist organisation is celebrated like this in an open public place without any restriction. At this event held recently, the terrorist leader and other dead terrorists were honoured and remembered, which is highly questionable and condemnable.

“Remembering them in a private event personally and individually is different from holding big public events at public places like what happened on the 26 November this year”.

Maha Viru Dinaya is not to remember the innocent lives lost due to the war, it is to celebrate those who spread terror, said Siddharth. “The people remembered are those who took the lives of others; those who brutally violated the right of living of others. Therefore, we disagree with this.”

He also said that parents and family members of those dead LTTE members can of course do their remembrance ceremonies on a personal level. He said it is true that those families are still their own people. However, doing such events publicly,  loudly playing LTTE songs, and creating scenes in front of Army camps are highly disgusting and, the Jaffna Civil Society, condemn them.

“When people of the South are moving forward, forgetting the dark past and mistakes conducted by each other, politicians of the North are doing such things that threaten the peace of the country. Is it right to do so?” he questioned.

“We must emphasize to the people of South that these are not done by the Tamil people of the North but only by politicians of the North, those who support separationism.”

We were also told that only a very few people took part in this event and that too are the family members of the dead LTTE members.

“Then we can question, what about justice for those who were brutally murdered by these dead LTTE members?”

As Siddharth explained, what happens due to events like this, is that hatred and dislike, and prejudice between the Sinhala and Tamil people are once again provoked. These are threats to peace and reconciliation. This is exactly what the politicians of the North want, he said.

“Our other question is, how was this big event funded? Who sponsored this? How did the Mayor of Jaffna receive money to organise such an event?”

If money was sent from foreign countries, how was money sent to Sri Lanka? Was it following legal procedures or was it through undial?

Siddharth also said that the Mayor has celebrated this at a public place and therefore, that is again highly questionable. It is a public place that is maintained by people’s tax money. Thus, does it mean that the terrorist remembrance event was held using people’s tax money? “We do not like our tax money being spent on such activities. If he wishes he could have done it at his home, privately. But to hold it at the Jaffna Municipal Council premises is wrong. That is a misuse of public money.”

The misinterpretation that the general Tamil public was defeated in 2009 is a conspiracy of the politicians of the North. This is to encourage and entertain separationism. There are foreign interferences in this too.

“Prabhakaran was not a people’s leader. He had no vision. He was short-sighted. What right do we have to kill innocent civilians in buses, trains, etc? That is what exactly he did. He had no political knowledge or ambition to do politics. He was only a terrorist. In 1991, within 24 hours innocent Muslims who had no idea or involvement in politics was forced to leave Jaffna by Prabhakaran.”

“We cannot achieve liberation for our people through violence like this. These are terrorist activities. We said this decades ago. Then and still we firmly believe that the concept of Eelam or a separate state within the country is not practical. It is not a realistic dream. That cannot be achieved. Any small child would know that India, would never entertain and allow to establish a separate Tamil country below mainland India.”

He furthered that Prabhakaran fooled and forced the Tamil youth into this unrealistic, unpractical Eelam dream and that many of children aged 15-16 joined the LTTE without knowing anything and that the rest was forced to join.

Siddharth emphasized that Prabhakaran never stood by his own people and that he never loved or cared for his own people. A leader who loves his own people will always take their side, which Prabhakaran never did.

“Groups of people enter armed conflicts or take weapons, as an alternative political solution. These groups, at one point, surrender and enter mainstream politics within the frame of democracy. However, Prabharakan never did so. He never had a political vision. He only knew to spread terror and force people to die for his selfish dreams.”

The fear, and terror he spread through weapons, forced Tamil people to join the LTTE. This fear is still alive. This is what the politicians of the North use to control the people of the North. Those who oppose this, are silenced and shunned.

“We also must say that all the Tamil people of the North and of the country never accepted Prabhakaran as their leader or saviour. Those who are wise and those who have knowledge about global politics would never see him as a true political leader. Sinhalese people also must know that all Tamils are not LTTE and the LTTE are not always necessarily Tamils.

He also said it is true that the LTTE was supported by some foreign countries and that was due to the strategically important geographical location of this country, therefore, creating an internal conflict within the country was beneficial for them.

“What happens when such events are held is that once again the country might be pushed towards a difficult time. Therefore, we urge the Government to act wisely and fairly. If the LTTE is a banned terrorist organisation, why no action is taken?”, he questioned again. He also said that when such things are happening, those who opposed the LTTE and separationism since the early days, face difficulties and are confused.

He emphasised that we should think as one country and that the Government should have one policy and one law for everyone. A child who keeps a photograph of Prabhakaran was arrested and those who celebrate him are freely doing so without being penalised for it. These rules are utterly confusing. He also said that if so, the entire country can come to an agreement and celebrate all those who died in the war on one day, regardless of their race.

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy

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