OnPoint by Keith Ng


When politics is just an extension of war

When I was walking around the refugee camps in Sri Lanka, there was a moment of stark realisation: there wasn't a single young man to be seen. They were all in the field fighting, dead from the fighting, or hiding from the fighting. Being an able-bodied non-combatant meant that you weren't a patriot. Not being a patriot meant you were a traitor. Being a traitor meant that you were dead.

There have been credible, independent reports of civilians being forced to remain in the warzone by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers); then when civilian are slaughtered, this is used as evidence of the Sri Lankan government's brutality (warning – disturbing pictures) .

Human shields, forced recruitment, child soldiers – these are not creations of government propaganda, these are just mundane truths about a long, grinding and brutal war.

So, does Te Ururoa Flavell think that he is showing solidarity with fellow champions of ethnic self-determination with his stunt? Does he think it's okay for the LTTE to free their people by using their corpses as PR props?

Does Hone Harawira? From the answer that Harawira gave, he seems to be suggesting that the Sri Lankan government is the only party that needs to show restraint. The Maori Party's evasive half-silence isn't doing them any favours – the Sri Lankan government's propaganda machine has jumped on this to imply that the Maori Party mean the opposite of what they almost-kinda said.

There was this thank you note...

At a glance the motion looked like a very progressive one asking for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka but the Maori Party Member of New Zealand [sic], who represent the native people of New Zealand, Te Ururoa Flavell knew better. Using his powers as a MP he blocked the motion, because the resolution simply wanted to revive the world's most cruel terrorist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and pull it out of the grave. Maoris are the proud natives of New Zealand, who inhabited the Pacific island before the white man invaded... Te Ururoa Flavell, congratulations for your wisdom and thank you very much on behalf of all peace loving Sri Lankans.”

... from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence.

Perhaps Flavell was swayed by New Zealand’s Sri Lankan Tamils who, like many other members of the Tamil diaspora around the world, have been protesting against the killing of civilians over the past few month. They've gathered in large numbers, displaying photos showing the grotesque aftermath of war, and calling for a stop to the “genocide” of Tamils.

They seem like perfectly genuine people when they tell me that they don’t care who wins, they just want the killing to stop. Yet, Nirmala Rajasingam, a Sri Lankan Tamil activist in London, makes a powerful point:

...in all the demonstrations not a single cry, slogan or placard seems to demand that the Tigers should let the civilians go or cease their own assaults on them. The silence of the diaspora community on this issue is deafening... There is no recognition in these demonstrations of the fact that the military objectives of the LTTE are no longer reconcilable with the safety of the trapped civilians. There is a disjunction between propaganda and reality here that reflects the way the logic of Tamil Tiger propaganda has become internalised by much of the diaspora. This does nothing to help Sri Lankan Tamils.”

It's no coincidence that they started a coordinated global campaign right after Kilinochchi, the administrative capital of the LTTE, fell. As sad as it is to say, this isn't an attempt to end the war, this is just the political arm picking up where the military arm left off.

If the protesters were committed to saving lives, the most rational, humane and obvious solution is for the LTTE to surrender. Or at least call for the LTTE to guarantee free passage to the refugees.

But a ceasefire saves no one. What would follow a ceasefire? The LTTE are cornered in a tiny outcrop with their backs to the sea. There can be no negotiations when the only thing on offer is a surrender, and the government isn't going to offer an inch more when what they are so close to obliterating the LTTE. In the meantime, the only thing standing between the LTTE and annihilation is the civilian population, so none of them will be allowed to leave.

The real depressing thing is that heavy shelling *is* the government's attempt to evacuate refugees. By shelling the area, they are “encouraging” civilians to flee the area, despite the LTTE's attempts to keep them in there. Naturally, they claim every escapee as a defection away from the LTTE, and therefore a moral victory.

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