Government isolated; workers need solutions
Sri Lanka is now most certainly experiencing its ’Fourth Eelam War’. But neither side – the Sri Lankan Government nor the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – is prepared to accept this. According to the Sri Lanka Monitoring mission (SLMM), over 4,000 people were killed in the 15 months after president Mahinda Rajapakse came to power up to February 2007. This shows that the undeclared war between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE has escalated to the skies.
At night-time, on the 29 April – the final day that Sri Lanka was playing Australia for the cricket world cup, 2007 – there was an aerial attack by the LTTE on two fuel depots in Colombo Airport. The government decided to shut down the night operations of the only international Airport in Sri Lanka. (Now it has been gradually eased). Long before this, in August last year, the Sri Lankan government closed the A-9 highway, even though it is the only link to the northern, predominantly Tamil Jaffna peninsula, on grounds of ’national security’.
Peace talks collapsed
These developments come as no surprise to us as Marxist socialists in Sri Lanka; we predicted that 2007 would see a bloody war. The ’Geneva 2’ peace talks in October 2006 collapsed. A few weeks later, November 27, the LTTE leader, Prabhakaran, said that the Sinhala duplicity of war and peace had left Tamils with little option but to fight for political independence.
Who is responsible for this disastrous situation? Undoubtedly, it is the capitalist ruling class as a whole, but particularly the pro-Sinhala Rajapakse government and the ’Tigers’ have to share the blame. Both parties were asking for war rather than any political solution. Similarly, like the LTTE, the Rajapakse administration argued for pushing the military strategy to a logical end; otherwise, they said, there was no way the Tigers would agree to any solution short of independence or ’Eelam’.
However, there is pressure on President Rajapakse from the imperialist countries to put forward a formula to resolve the conflict and they feel the only way is to isolate the Tigers.
Government parties oppose president
On May 1, the so-called devolution package of the ruling party (the Sri Lanka Freedom Party) headed by Rajapakse, was released. Little wonder that almost all the political parties supporting the government, as well as other parties, denounced these proposals. Most of them said the proposals fell far below expectations, were impractical and unacceptable. The most hard criticism came in a joint statement from three pro-government Tamil parties (TULF, EPRLF and PLOTE). Douglas Devananda, a cabinet minister and leader of another Tamil party – the EPDP – also said the northern and Eastern provinces should be remerged, with more power, and that provincial councils should be the unit of power devolution. (The president’s party proposals say there should be no provincial councils but only to give power to districts.)
Another participant in the present government, Rauf Hakeem – cabinet minister and SLMC (Muslim Congress) leader – said these proposals fell short of his party’s expectations. All these Tamil and Muslim parties (except the SLMC ) had stood behind Rajapakse to weaken the ’Tigers’ militarily and gave him support to become the president of Sri Lanka. Rajapakse’s proposals did not even come close to the powers vested with the provincial council system provided under the 13th amendment to the constitution – a by-product of the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord.
Even after the minority parties of his own ruling alliance rejected his proposals, President Rajapakse showed that he is not prepared to listen to them. The truth was that his own proposals were modified on May 14 in line with the demands of his main ally, the Sinhala chauvinist JVP (People’s Liberation Front) which insists on the unitary character of the constitution and a foremost place to be accorded to Buddhism.
However, the only cabinet minister who is hopeful even in this situation of building a consensus through the SLFP proposals is Minister Tissa Vitharana – the leader of the one-time mass Trotskyist party – the Lanka Sama Samaja Party. This shows the degeneration of this old left which has no future and has pursued popular front politics since 1964.
There are many faces of the Rajapakse administration’s war plan. Hundreds of Tamils and also Muslims have been abducted and killed in the South over the last few months. At least 34 dead bodies have been found in the South and so far neither the police nor the government has been able to find the culprits. Nevertheless, a meeting presided over by the Defence Secretary (and brother of the president) with the police and top military commanders, decided to evict all Tamils who come from the North and East lodging in the capital, Colombo, and evict them back to the North and East. This government action was widely condemned as inhuman and bordering on ethnic cleansing.
The Rajapakse government is becoming more and more unpopular with the soaring cost of living. Day by day, prices are going up and from the first week of July, transport fares have been put up by between 18 and 22 per cent. Fuel prices have been put up 14 times since Rajapakse came to power in November, 2005. Children’s milk powder has increased by more than 15%. These are just a few indications of the situation.
There is a big anger developing against the government from workers and all other poor sections of society. The Rajapakse government is now planning to celebrate their capture of the key base in Toppigala Jungle from the LTTE. They are bringing all the school children out for this event to hold parades with representatives of the police and armed forces.
The government has already announced holding local government elections in the East of the country in November this year to consolidate its ’victory’. Through these announcements, Rajapakse is trying to win the Sinhala masses in the South to his side again, showing that he is the only true Sinhala leader launching the war against the LTTE.
A few weeks ago I visited the Madhu Catholic church in the Vanni Jungle with others from the Civil Monitoring Commission. Madhu is a most famous shrine of the Catholics. The demand to make Madhu a peace zone came from the people of that area after the escalation of the war. What I saw is that huge bombing sounds continue over the church with Kefir jets passing over the church to drop aerial bombs on nearby areas. The Bishop of Mannar, Rev. Rayappa Joseph, who was accompanying us to Madhu said the president had agreed with him to declare Madhu a peace zone but still the Sri Lankan Army is bombing in the area.
Call for workers’ unity
In this crucial situation, the United Socialist Party (CWI, Sri Lanka) is campaigning to convene a democratic national convention of all trade unions to discuss the current situation and to decide on a day of protest – against the price hikes and the brutal war and against the suppressive laws that have been introduced. The only hope to reverse these dangerous developments is for the working class to play the decisive role. Unless something dramatic happens, the war situation can get worse in the coming days and weeks.