Sri Lanka: Full scale war

Class struggle more urgent than ever

Pictures from a joint protest march called by media organisations against media suppression that took place on 14th February in which the USP took part.

Full scale war

In January of this year, the government of Sri Lanka returned to pursuing full scale war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Contrary to claims at the time by the Sinhala chauvinist president, Mahinda Rajapakse, its unilateral withdrawal from the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) had nothing to do with violations of the by the LTTE. On the one hand, its abrogation of the CFA was a political decision taken at the behest of the communalist JVP (People’s Liberation Front) and JHU (chauvinist Buddhist Monks’ Party) in return for their support in parliament of Rajapakse’s government.  It was their main demand on the eve of the crucial third reading of the budget last December. On the other hand it was based on an assessment that the Tigers were weak like never before. In the words of Army chief, Sarath Fonseka: “The end of the LTTE is certain by June 2008”.

But the Sinhala dominated Rajapakse government was too ambitious about their own assessment of the situation. The ‘Tigers’ cannot be expected to crumble without causing maximum bloodshed in the country. This was seen by the people in the capital, Colombo, and other areas in the south on National Independence Day – 4th of February. Even today, the LTTE continues to have the capability of waging conventional war in the North and still fight unconventional battles in the east and suicide attacks in the south of Sri Lanka.

According to United Nations reports, over a million people have been displaced in Sri Lanka in the recent period. In the Eastern province alone, over the 220,000 people who fled their homes between April 2006 and March 2007 still live in temporary shelters. It is a prime responsibility of the government to protect war victims and help all internally displaced persons (IDPs).

All Party Representative Committee no solution

The Sinhala communal political forces and pro-government media welcomed the government’s move to annul the CFA which had been in place for five years and ten months. President Rajapakse has said to the foreign media: “Yes, the pressure from the international community has grown enormously, ever since the government decided to abrogate the CFA, to expedite efforts for a political solution to the ethnic conflict. I had called on the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) to give me something by January 23rd”.

This so-called all-party committee came up with a three and a half page document entitled: “Action to be taken by the president to fully implement relevant provisions of the constitution as a first step in the APRC proposals”. That means implementing the provincial council system across the whole country. This was supposed to be introduced under the 13th Amendment in 1987, as part of the agreement between Rajiv Gandhi and JR Jayawardene, as a political solution to the national question. But it never became a reality. Now in all the other areas of Sri Lanka, the provincial council system is functioning but not in the Northeast where the Tamil-speaking people live.

The 13th Amendment has been a part of the constitution for the last 20 years. It came into being after the Indo – Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987. The small ‘left’ parties like the former Trotskyist LSSP and the ‘Communist’ Party, fully supported these 13th amendment proposals, but the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) completely rejected it as a another effort to fool the Tamil people. More interestingly, the main capitalist opposition United National Party and the pro-government JVP are also not involved in this so-called All Party Representative Committee.

The debate will go on, but for us socialists it is clear that Rajapakse has no political will even to translate the 13th Amendment into reality. He just wants something as a showpiece to justify to western governments and India the current brutal war.

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Opposition intimidated

The Rajapakse government has so far managed to curtail all opposition forces with an all out war campaign against the LTTE in the North. The main opposition party – the capitalist UNP – is showing again the real nature of the Sinhala capitalist class. Because of the Sinhala voters’ pressure, a few months ago the UNP dropped their federal stand on the national question and now they say they should not do anything to upset the present war plans of the Rajapakse government. This opposition only briefly woke up after a long sleep to launch yet another of its one–off campaigns against the government last week, pasting posters on the walls around the city protesting against the soaring cost of living. But no mention against the war or the escalation of human rights violations, mainly against Tamil people.

However galloping inflation is at a record level of any time in Sri Lanka. Now it has reached 21% a year, according to the Central Bank, and many feel this may be a conservative estimate because the Central Bank is no longer independent, but under the control of Rajapakse. The government is not able to do anything other than put the blame on the world market. Just as examples: a cup of tea two years ago cost 5 rupees; now it is more than 20, a loaf of bread was 9 rupees and now it is 40 and, a very important element of Sri Lankan food, the coconut, was 12 rupees and now it has gone up to 40 or 45.

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In this situation trade union leaders also have become silent. It is necessary to understand that almost all the trade union leaders are from the majority Sinhala community. The communal war against Tamils has become a key obstacle to the class struggle. Trade union leaders are very careful not say anything about the on-going war because of the death threats from hard-line communal forces and the government death squads.

In fact, with the acceleration of the war, at a time of very heavy bombing of the North, again abductions and killings in Colombo have increased. Within the last two months there has been a wave of killings starting at the beginning of January with unknown dead bodies being found near Anuradhapura in a pit. According to a judicial magisterial inquiry, all of them were killed by shots in the head.

As well as the almost daily kidnappings and killings of Tamil people, many journalists have been physically attacked. If anyone writes about the war he will be targeted by armed groups. 14 journalists have been killed during the last year. A joint protest march called by media organisations against media suppression took place on 14th February in which the USP took part.

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Stop support for warmongers!

Most of the key unions are still supporting this government. They are either part of the traditional ‘left’ which has been tied up in popular front politics or other unions which are involved in Sinhala communal politics. But we as socialists and the militant unions, like teachers and health unions, are fighting for joint trade union action. Unfortunately there is no joint trade union body as there was before, even though there are few unions working together in blocks.

So we are campaigning to convene a general council of workers to discuss and decide democratically the class action needed to defend rights and demand for salary increases.

The situation in the war areas is terrible. The bank report does not take into account the even higher inflation and the non – availability of essential commodities and medicines in the battle zones in the east and the north. An estimated 600,000 citizens of the Jaffna peninsula continue to be cut off from the rest of the island since the government closed their only link – the A9 highway – in August 2006, citing security reasons. The prices of goods and services in Jaffna town, which is under the control of the military, are 100 to 300 percent higher then elsewhere. Things could only be expected to get worse, with the north becoming the theatre of war during 2008.

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It has been evident for some time now that the government has placed all its political eggs in the war basket and even went public on their hope that the LTTE will be eliminated by August. Now they have been pushed to make a reassessment by no less than army commander, Sarath Fonseka, in the wake of fierce resistance from the ‘Tigers’. The end result was president Rajapakse – defence secretary and army commander-in-chief – within the space of a few days, stating it would take approximately one and a half years to finish off the LTTE.

In an interview with the Daily Mirror on 13 February, presidential advisor, Basil Rajapakse (brother of the president) when asked about extending the time-frame for the war, said: “This conflict has been continuing for the last three decades. It is not a new phenomenon. Why can this government not do it (extend it)?”

Alarmingly, unless it produces a massive humanitarian emergency, Sri Lanka’s war is not likely to generate much international attention. There are no regional powers seriously committed to preventing Sri Lanka from moving fast along the path towards the abyss. The view of many is that any new political initiative to grapple with Sri Lanka’s conflict will have to wait until the outcome of the present phase of the ethnic war becomes clear.

At this crucial moment we call upon all the trade union leaders to stop supporting this communal capitalist government and condemn all terrorist attacks on innocent people by the LTTE. Socialists are campaigning for independent class action to be taken by the trade unions. The working class is the only force capable of stopping the war-mongering efforts of the Sri Lankan government.

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