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Stop noise and show your generosity

Regardless of what the prophets of doom may say, the inevitable is imminent now: the Eelam War as we have known it for the past 25 years or more is drawing to a close.

Whether that will signal the beginning of an era of political tolerance that will bring equality to all communities in this country is an entirely different question and that is an issue that the government of the day will have to address with the same zeal and earnestness with which they prosecuted the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

But, amidst reports of the huge exodus of civilians from the ‘No Fire Zone’, the surrender of key Tigers leaders and speculation about the eventual fate of Velupillai Prabhakaran, there lies, simmering beneath the statistics and the glare of international publicity an even more urgent issue: the fate of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

The majority civilians who were holed up in the ‘No Fire Zone’ have now crossed over to the government territory amidst firing from the desperate LTTE cadres.

However they are still caught up in the crossfire in a war of a different kind - the propaganda war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers’ publicity machine.

The latter, previously operated according to the dictates of the Tiger hierarchy in the North. Even if that still exists, it does not control the propaganda war now the relentless advances of the Sri Lankan military have put an end to that.

Therefore, the propaganda war is now being fought by witting and unwitting Tiger proxies an assorted array that includes the Tamil Diaspora scattered throughout the globe, many ‘reputed’ international organisations and last but not the least, several countries which take some eerie delight in playing the role of advocate for the LTTE.

That is why we have David Milliband, Britain’s singularly unenlightened Foreign Secretary despatching his ‘unilateral’ special envoy, the uninvited Des Browne to the United Nations to make representations on the Sri Lankan conflict.

That is also why we have Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State of the United States lamenting that the Sri Lankan Government has caused untold suffering to the Tamil community, conveniently ignoring the sufferings inflicted on Tamils by the LTTE and suffering herself from selective amnesia for the sufferings inflicted on Iraqis by the previous administration in the United States.

Then we have Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram complaining that the Sri Lankan Government is ‘more at fault than the LTTE’ in the on-going war. Little wonder that the man was slippered by a journalist recently for when he speaks, he seems to put his foot in the mouth!
To top it all, we have the Norwegians, our erstwhile facilitators, arranging meetings between John Holmes, the United Nations chief for Humanitarian Affairs who thinks nothing amiss about meeting with Kumaran Pathmanathan, wanted terrorist and well-publicised fugitive in more than a dozen countries.

This then is a veritable circus that would have been laughable if not for the tragic consequences it generates. Thankfully, in the midst of all this pressure being brought on it by diverse forces both national and international, the government in Colombo - and that includes both the political and military establishments - have refused to blink. Thus, the war has continued and the end is nigh for the Tigers.

But as the spotlight turns inwards and the world watches with interest, we must take note of how we treat the IDPs. There must be a concerted and thoroughly professional approach to the crisis for any lapse will be interpreted as callousness and discrimination by the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE and their sympathisers would love that no end.

It is not that this country has not dealt with crises of mega proportions before. The 2004 Tsunami tested the resolve of most Sri Lankans and it would be justified to say that the nation rose to the challenge. It is time to do so again.

The difference is that unlike in the Tsunami, where almost every individual in the country knew of someone who was affected by the tragedy, the battles of the No Fire Zone in Puthukudiyrippu are much more distant with hardly a link to bring the agony of war to our own doorsteps. But then, that is exactly why we should do more, for those affected are our own citizens and our integrity as a nation will be measured by how we – both the government and average citizens - respond to the crisis.

But by the same token, it is also a time that would test the sincerity of the many faces of the international community who scream blue murder from the rooftops with each Sri Lankan military offensive. Surely this is the time for these Good Samaritans to substantiate their goodwill with genuine efforts to redevelop the battle torn North and rehabilitate its affected population.

The Sri Lankan Government has already announced it would give priority to the development and the democratisation of the north when the war is finally declared over. But for a developing nation such as ours, this is easier said than done.

This is an economically trying time for the entire world, so Sri Lanka could do with the dollars that these international do-gooders could provide if only they have the interests of the Tamil community really at heart. We wait with bated breath for these gestures of generosity to materialise. The deeds are more important than the words and it is the quantum of material help that they offer at this moment to alleviate the suffering of the displaced Tamils that will prove their concern for the Tamil community.

In any event, the coming weeks will be extremely decisive for Sri Lanka. While we ourselves must be determined to rise from the ashes, we would also be afforded an opportunity to decipher who our real friends are, from among all those who are making various noises now.


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