COLOMBO: The Chief Minister of the Tamil-majority Northern Province of Sri Lanka, C.V.Wigneswaran, brazenly skirted the issue of the LTTE’s atrocities against the Tamil-speaking Muslims of the Northern and Eastern Provinces in 1990, in his appeal to the Muslims to join the “Eluga Tamil” rally which his organization, the Tamil Peoples’ Council (TPC), is to hold in Batticaloa on February 10.
The LTTE had driven out, giving just a day’s notice, nearly 75,000 Muslims from the Northern Province in October 1990 and had, earlier in August, massacred 142 Muslims praying in the main mosque at Kattankudy, charging the Muslims of spying for the Sri Lankan state when fellow Tamil speakers were involved in an armed struggle to set up an independent “Tamil Eelam” for Tamil-speakers of the island.
Projecting the “Eluga Tamil” rally in Batticaloa as a movement to protect the Tamil-speakers of the province from being ousted by Sinhalese speakers from outside, Wigneswaran said that Tamil-speakers, whether Hindu, Christian or Muslim, have to come under one banner to resist the “Pongu Sinhagham” (Effervescent Sinhalese) movement being furthered by successive Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan governments.
He pointed out that already, the proportion of Sinhalese speakers in Eastern Province has gone up from 15 % at independence in 1948 to 33 % now.
According to Wigneswaran, Tamil-speakers across religions in the Eastern Province have lost their lands and language rights and suffered cultural erosion as a result of systematic Sinhalese colonization. The only way to stop this is for the Tamil-speakers to unite and form a united Northern and Eastern province where they can all live in peace, he said.
He appealed to the Muslims not to be swayed by the Sinhalese governments’ contention that the Muslims will be safer under them than under a Tamil-majority.
He admitted that the Muslims have “doubts and apprehensions” about their safety in a Tamil-majority united North and East in “view of some past happenings and other reasons”. But he refrained from mentioning and apologising for the en masse expulsion of the Muslims of the north and the massacre in the East.
However, assuring the Muslims of safety, he said that both the TPC and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have promised that the Muslims will have their own separate unit within a united North and East.
Even the Tamil demand for federalism should not divide the Muslims from the Tamils because whenever the issue of a political settlement of the ethnic question is discussed, the Muslims, like the Tamils, cite a federal constitution as the solution, Wigneswaran pointed out.
He further said that it is in unity that the Tamil-speakers’ strength lies. He pointed out that whenever somebody seeks justice for the Tamil-speaking minority, the State and its fellow travellers accuse him of promoting disintegration to frighten them into silence.
The Chief Minister characterised the current peace in Sri Lanka as an “artificial one and not a natural one”. The stationing of a large number of troops in the North and East is testimony for this, he said.
Muslims Unlikely to Join
While some of the issues highlighted by Wigneswaran are valid, his manifest failure to acknowledge the atrocities committed against Muslims by the LTTE and tender an apology is bound to be resented by the Muslims who now form a third of the population in the Eastern Province, Eastern Muslim sources told Express. The appeal to them to join the ‘Eluga Tamil” rally for Tamil speakers’ unity and for the unification of the North and East is likely to be scoffed at by the Muslim masses, they said.
Some pointed out that the Chief Minister might have refrained from mentioning the Muslim ethnic cleansing issue because the Tamils, especially in the Diaspora, could react unfavourably if he had. The TNA MP for Jaffna, M.A.Sumanthiran, was roundly condemned by the Tamil radicals for publicly apologising for the LTTE’s atrocities.