Sri Lanka: New year starts with atrocities

Full-scale war to follow assassination and bombings

The new year 2008 began in Sri Lanka with atrocity after atrocity. First on New Year’s Day itself, came the killing of opposition parliamentarian, Thiyagarajah Maheswaran, and one of his bodyguards in the capital, Colombo. At least 12 civilians were injured in the attack. A day later, a bomb blast aimed at a military bus in Colombo killed at least five and injured 28 people. The victims included civilians. On the same day, 2 January, the government intensified its air bombing in the Vavunia and Kilinocchi areas in the north, close to the headquarters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). At least two people were injured in these bombings.

Now, on 3 January, the Government has announced that it is completely pulling out of the peace agreement made in 2002 with Norwegian government representatives as mediators. “This in itself is a death sentence for unknown thousands more Sri Lankan people” said Siritunga Jayasuriya, secretary of the United Socialist Party (USP) – CWI section of Sri Lanka

Assassination condemned

The USP issued a statement strongly condemning the killing of Maheswaran – the only Tamil ever elected for the United National Party (UNP) in the North and the third Tamil MP to be assassinated under the Rajapakse government. The statement demands that the government should immediately stop the war and stop promoting paramilitary forces and calls for an immediate return to peace talks.

T Maheswaran was first elected to parliament from Jaffna in 2001, as a UNP representative. He was not able to stand in the 2004 election in Jaffna, as the LTTE was backing the TNA (Tamil National Alliance) to contest in the North East – the Tamil-speaking area. After the LTTE made it clear that other parties were not welcome to participate against the TNA in that area, Maheswaran stood for election in Colombo. He escaped an assassination attempt made on him during one of his election rallies in Colombo in 2004.

Maheswaran was a well known businessman as well as MP. He had recently been speaking out against the Government in parliament and outside. In the last interview he gave to Tamil TV, on the programme Minnal, he accused the government of being behind a whole number of killings and kidnappings. He said paramilitary forces were being used such as those linked with the EPDP (Eelam People’s Democratic Party). Their leader is Douglas Devanda, a Tamil MP, a minister in the government and a strong ally of president Mahinda Rajapakse.

At least six people are vanishing from view every day in Sri Lanka. The murdered MP directly blamed the Government for this. Maheswaran also strongly condemned the government cutting back on the security it provided for Tamil MPs. This had happened to him immediately after he was asked to vote with the government for the budget and he refused the request. Maheswaran’s bodyguards were reduced from 17 to 2.

MP Mano Ganesan of the Civil Monitoring Commission (CMC) and other MPs, including Rauf Hakeem, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader, also expressed their anger at the government reducing the number of bodyguards for the public representatives of the Tamil-speaking people. Hakeem recently left the government and gave up his ministry, crossing over to the opposition to vote against the government.

Responsibility

These actions of the government amount to vindictive revenge on the part of the government. Before his murder, Maheswaran declared in a parliamentary speech: “If anything happens to me, then the government should take full responsibility” The UNP is demanding that the government should take complete responsibility for his killing.

The Ministry of Defence has accepted that the killer, named Vasanthan, was injured in the incident and has been arrested. They also confirmed that Vasanthan worked for the Sri Lankan Intelligent Services and also worked for the EPDP’s paramilitary forces. However they have made no attempt to take the investigation forward.

This is the third Tamil MP slain by forces believed to be working with the government, yet not a single perpetrator has been brought to justice. The United States government and European countries were quick to condemn the killing. But they have also exerted no pressure on the government to put a stop to these killings.

Communal forces such as the JVP (People’s Liberation Front) and the Buddhist Monks’ party, the JHU, have put enormous pressure on the government to pull back from the Oslo peace agreement and plunge Sri Lanka back into a full scale war. Using the recent events as an excuse, the Rajapakse government has now officially withdrawn from the six year-old Cease-Fire Agreement.

Fight government

The emergence of Tamil warlords in the East and South of the island, since the split in the LTTE, is wrecking ordinary people’s lives in that area. Despite the huge cost of rice and the extremely unstable economy, the government is making all the plans to plunge itself into a full-scale war. Meanwhile the government is persecuting those who defend the rights of the Tamils and poor masses in Sri Lanka.

Sritunga Jayasuria, Secretory of the USP, and Chairman of the CMC, expressed his anger at the government’s actions and fears the consequences for the mass of the country’s workers and poor as well as for the personal safety of fighters for workers’ and democratic rights. For defending the rights of Tamil-speaking people in particular, the main CMC leaders’ lives are in great danger. Prominent Tamil MP and CMC co-founder with Siri, Mano Ganesan, has lost his security personnel. He too has expressed great anger at the government’s actions.

The funeral of slain Mr Maheshwaran took place in Colombo on 3 January with a huge demonstration of up to 25,000 people. All opposition political party leaders, including Siritunga Jayasuriya, and trade union leaders, spoke. An appeal was made for a renewed struggle to be taken up by the unions, workers and poor people against the Rajapakse government and its warmongering policies. The killings, kidnappings, price hikes and war must be brought to an end by mass action and a socialist fight.

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