Sri Lanka: Historic visit to Jaffna

From August 14-19, a delegation of comrades from the United Socialist Party (USP) of Sri Lanka made an historic visit to Jaffna via Vavuniya. This follows a recent ceasefire between LTTE (Tamil Tigers) forces, fighting for a homeland, and the Sri Lankan armed forces.

The USP has a long and proud record of supporting the Tamils’ right to self-determination. The party also campaigns for the unity of Tamil and Sinhalese workers in struggle across the entire island against the bosses and their system. The USP is unique amongst the Left in Sri Lanka in putting forward this principled position.

There are widespread hopes that a new ceasefire can lead to a meaningful peace process and peace in Sri Lanka. The USP welcomes an end to conflict of course. However, only a socialist solution can end endemic poverty, joblessness and conflict.

USP members found a warm welcome for these ideas during the recent visit to the Tamil region of Jaffna. Siritunga Jayasuriya reports:

Most of the delegation had never been to the area before because of the 19 year long armed conflict between the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) and the Sri Lankan army. Now that there is a cease-fire while talks are being prepared, the road-blocks have been lifted. There were still some problems on the road but all in all, it was a very useful visit.

On the way we had a meeting of interested people in Vavuniya and proceeded to Jaffna in our minibus with Jaffna USP District Secretary, K. Devadasan.

No words can describe the damage and the conditions of the people in the devastated capital of the Northern area. 90% of the population has suffered as a result of the war. Most are living in makeshift huts. Until now they have not only had difficulty finding the means to rebuild their homes but had no confidence to begin the process. A huge programme of public reconstruction is urgently needed. The USP calls for big public investment.

We had a very packed agenda, with not a minute wasted. On the first day, we met LTTE leader, Ilayamparthi, at their Jaffna headquarters for a very useful discussion. Later, we went to the university to meet a number of lecturers and to the headquarters of the Tamil National Alliance to meet the regional parliamentary representatives.

We discussed with everyone we met about the ‘peace process’, which has given people, north and south, such optimism. But we warned about putting confidence in the Prime Minister – Ranil Wickremasinghe. We have seen how the president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, started her period as People’s Alliance Prime Minister with the promise of peace and then moved to a position totally opposed to the rights of the Tamil people to self-determination, adopting a communal position.

A mass campaign for peace

A mass campaign for peace as opposed to war is what is needed. No one should underestimate the fact that the PA and the ‘Marxist’/Sinhalese communalist Jantha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) and the ultra-right Sinhala Urumaya (SU) party have already started talks to form a front against the present peace move. It is certain that on the very days after any deal is actually signed, the communal forces in Colombo will start their own demonstrations as they did in 1987 through to 1989. If Colombo burns, the talks will be badly damaged.

The parliamentary leaders are getting together with the other Tamil parties in Colombo and going to see Ranil every week to keep up the pressure. We of the USP are campaigning to form a joint platform to defend the rights of all Tamil-speaking people. It has been the left parties who have been defending Tamil rights. The Tamil parties in Colombo and the trade unions should get together with them in a broad platform and campaign.

All the political parties in Jaffna, including the LTTE, welcomed this idea. We said we had brought the message directly to the regional leaders and wanted them to pressurise the leaders of their parties and organisations to support what the USP had started.

The District Secretary of the Janaraja Health Workers’ union leader organised a meeting of the union branch in the hospital that we attended. It was the first meeting for 15 years! It was a very good meeting, with 59 members attending.

We have set up a branch of the USP now in Jaffna. It is clear that parties have hardly been functioning there but local community organisations have arisen. We discussed with people from the local fishermen’s organisations about their problems with selling their fish to the South and the problem of competition from India. They do not have permission to go to Colombo to sell their fish. We said we would ask our comrades in India to try and make representations in Chenai (Madras).

We visited the places the comrades of the party and sympathisers were living in and took part in a branch meeting. We stressed how we had always linked the national liberation struggle to the social struggle. Look at Tamil Nadhu (in southern India). How many youth there are without any job and how many millions remain in poverty?

A new Singapore?

The LTTE is not clear about any programme for the future to deal with economic and social issues. They dream that after the peace is announced, their area will become another Malaysia or Singapore. Balasingham, the LTTE leader who was based in London, has said that his organisation does not object to the ‘open market’. He has recently been to Norway for talks about talks (now scheduled for mid-September in Thailand) and also to Jaffna, where he will probably now stay. (The LTTE is now no longer banned).

The local LTTE representatives in Jaffna asked us what our programme was. We said, ‘We are fighting for socialism and for Tamil independence.’ We explained we had always defended the right to self-determination and to a homeland.

The LTTE representatives said they do not think it is not worth having hopes in the old ‘left’ movement in the South – the LSSP or the CP. They said they did not know much about the ‘new’ left but have seen some of them joining with the communal JVP at the time of the presidential elections and the local elections and are quite bitter about it. They said they would support the right of USP unions to operate.

The USP comrades in Jaffna organised a press conference for us at the end of our visit and the main newspaper – Uthayan – had a picture of us and used some of our quotes on their front page. Another paper – Thinnakkarn – gave over one quarter of their paper to us.

One of the most remarkable things we experienced during our visit was that everyone we met said they highly appreciated us publishing our paper in both Sinhala and Tamil over the last ten years. The USP continues the fight for socialism, linking arms with the workers and poor people of the North, East and South of the whole island.

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August 2002