Sri Lanka accused of “ethnic cleansing” in Tamil areas

Aid officials, human rights workers and community leaders in Sri Lanka say Tamils are being driven out of areas in the northeast of the country by killings and kidnappings carried out by pro-government militias. They charge the government has simultaneously encouraged members of the Sinhalese majority in the south to relocate to the vacated villages.

One foreign charity worker told Britain’s Daily Telegraph the number of Tamils disappearing in and around Trincomalee, 50 miles south of the final conflict zone in Mullaitivu, has been increasing in the last three months. Some of the missing were found dead with signs of torture.

Another anonymous aid worker said the killings were part of a strategy to drive out the Tamils. “Eastern province is vulnerable, there’s cleansing by the Sinhalese. There will be more problems with land grabbing. The demography changes and the Tamils who are the majority will soon become a minority,” he said.

He claimed many villagers had moved out after the army declared their land to be part of a “high security zone,” while Sinhalese had been given incentives to move in to provide support services to new military bases. Many Tamils sold their homes and land at below-market prices after members of their families had been killed or had disappeared, he added.

One western human rights worker said Tamils in and around Trincomalee were terrified because they believed the police were either complicit in, or indifferent to, the numbers disappearing or found dead. “There’s no investigation. It’s a climate of terror and impunity,” he said.

A local campaigner for the families of the disappeared said the killings were speeding the flight of Tamils from the area. “When there’s a killing other Tamils move out. Who goes to the Sinhalese police? You either live under threat or you move out,” he said.

He said much of the “ethnic cleansing” was being done in the name of economic development—with Tamil villagers being moved out to make way for new roads, power plants and irrigation schemes. Sinhalese workers are being drafted with incentives including free land and housing. “Thousands of Sinhalese are coming in, getting government land and government assistance from the south. It’s causing huge tensions,” he said.

He and others fear this model will now be applied to the island’s north, where the final army onslaught to defeat the Tamil Tigers left 95% of the buildings demolished or heavily damaged.

Since the victory earlier this month, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government has been under pressure to “win the peace” with a generous development package for Tamils in the north. Ministers have said they want to break the identification of the Tamils with the northern and eastern provinces and integrate them into the Sinhalese majority population throughout the country.

In Colombo, billboard posters have contrasted the “divided” pre-victory Sri Lanka, with the Tamil north and east shaded red, and the “united” post-war island. Ministers have said billions of dollars will be needed to rebuild the area’s roads, buildings, schools, hospitals and water, electricity and communications infrastructure. Community leaders and Tamil politicians fear this will mean a further influx of Sinhalese.

R. Sampanthan, the parliamentary leader of the Tamil National Alliance and an MP for Trincomalee, shared these fears. A new road is being built from Serubilla, a Sinhalese village in Trincomalee district, to Polonaruwa, a Tamil village, serving as an artery for new Sinhalese families in the northeast. “It’s ethnic cleansing, and we’re concerned that this is what they will also do in the north,” he said. (TamilNet, May 26)

See our last post on Sri Lanka.

  1. Toronto Tamils block highway
    From AHN, May 11:

    About 5,000 Tamils jammed Gardiner Expressway in Toronto on Sunday night, closing the road for more than six hours. The lightning rally was in protest over the killing of 378 civilians in Sri Lanka’s war zone.

    A few minutes after midnight, the crowd left the express and continued their protest at Queen’s Park.

    The Sri Lankan immigrants were pushing that the Canadian government impose sanctions against the Sri Lankan government until the South Asian government agrees to enter into a ceasefire with Tamil rebels. The Tamils vowed to return Monday if their demands are not met.

    A group of Toronto policemen numbering about 70, backed by a contingent from the Ontario Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police tried to clear Gardiner of the demonstrators which included women and children, but failed. Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair appealed to the demonstrators to leave, but he was not heeded.