Tamils fear bout of ethnic cleansing
As the powerful rebel group fighting for Tamils is now destroyed, tamils are now fearing of the ethnic cleansing.
In the wake of President Mahinda Rajapakse's declaration of victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam last month, Sinhalese Sri Lankans danced and waved the national flag, which bears the Sinhalese lion.
Most Tamils stayed behind closed doors. In the town of Trincomalee - part of the eastern province liberated from the Tigers in 2007 - reports emerged of bashings and of Tamil families and businesses being obliged to donate money for a celebration feast.
"There's going to be a lot of people vulnerable to denunciations as Tamil Tigers, and it's almost certain that process is already under way, which is one reason why it's essential - but unlikely - that the Government will make the (refugee) camps open to independent eyes," International Crisis Group Sri Lanka analyst Alan Keenan said.
One diplomat said Tamils were worried because of "memories of 1983 when there were pogroms against Tamils and the police stood by".
"The LTTE killed off a lot of moderate Tamil voices," the diplomat said. "A lot of Tamils hated the LTTE but it was the strongest voice for Tamil rights, and now that it's gone there's a fear that they are powerless against what many might see as a different form of terror."
The tamil parlimentary group linked to government of sri lanka is involved in abduction and disappearance of tamils from the detention camps.
An eastern-based health official told The Australian he was fielding 20 inquiries a day from people looking for family members they believed had been forcibly interned in the camps while the Government weeds out rebel soldiers.
In Trincomalee district last year, one of three that make up the eastern province, 97 people were reported missing. Many are suspected victims of rival Tamil paramilitary groups.
The aid worker said he knew 15 people who disappeared in the past two years. Three of them were found dead, two of them with bullet wounds to the head and their hands tied behind their backs. All bore signs of torture.
Those responsible can be only emboldened by the failure of Western nations within the UN Human Rights Council last week to force an investigation of alleged war crimes by both sides.
It looks like there are plans underway for moving sinhalese families to the tamil region of north and east of sri lanka.
Observers fear the Government will see the mass displacement of Tamils as an opportunity to change the demographics of the north by offering incentives to Sinhalese people.
"There is talk of Israeli-type settlements and returning Tamils being settled according to a plan which makes them easy to control," one analyst said.
Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona, a former envoy to Australia, dismisses such talk as the "accusations of interested parties who just want to continue churning the pot".
"Fifty-four per cent of Tamil people in this country made a decision to leave their homelands (in the north and east)," he said.
Reprisals and disappearances did occur in the east after liberation, he concedes, but such violence was a thing of the past.
For many in the east, however, the situation in the north is depressingly familiar. Those who spoke to The Australian described a process of Sinhalisation after the military victory over the LTTE in 2007.
More than 5000 Tamils were said to have been forced off their land on Trincomalee Harbour when the army declared it a high security zone. The zoning was allegedly used to displace Tamils and Muslims in other villages.
A human rights campaigner for families of disappeared said harassment, abductions, disappearances and even murders were also used in some instances to drive Tamils out to make way for new roads, power plants and irrigation schemes. "The eastern province is very vulnerable and in the name of development they're colonising the whole lot by Sinhalese," he said.
Statistics from the government Census Department show the Sinhalese population in the east rose from 5 per cent in 1921 to 25per cent in 1981, after decades of state-sponsored irrigation and land policies that offered state land to tens of thousands of Sinhala peasants from the south and the central hills.
Mr Kohona denies that, pointing out that before British occupation in 1815 the east was part of the Sinhalese kingdom of Kandy. He labels accusations of Sinhalisation as "unfair and malicious".
"The Government wants to send these people (in refugee camps) back to their lands because they're a burden on the exchequer," he said.
"The original inhabitants will go back to these lands, of course, remembering there were up to 80,000 Muslims thrown out of the north in the 90s by the LTTE so these people will have claims to their original properties."
There would be no incentive schemes for people to move north, he said, but "if people move for business reasons it's a free country".
"Nobody has challenged the right of Tamils to move south and change the demographics of Colombo so I hope they will respect the right of people of other ethnicities who wish to move to other parts of the country."
Tamil National Alliance leader and Trincomalee MP R. Sampanthan fears it is exactly through such means that Sinhalisation by stealth will occur in the north.
He points to a new road being constructed from Serubilla, a Sinhalese village in Trincomalee district, to Polonnaruwa, a Tamil village, and the Sinhalese families being settled on either side of it. "It's ethnic cleansing, and we're concerned that this is what they will also do in the north," he said.
The Government is calling for foreign assistance to help redevelop the north and all indications are it will get it.
Diplomats and analysts are wary. Mr Keenan warns the international community should be careful that none of its funding helps precipitate government land grabs.
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