Opinion and Editorial

Rehabilitating Tamils in Lanka

Filed on December 27, 2010

A small but significant step taken by Colombo can go a long way in furthering the agenda of rapprochement with the Tamil minority. The decision to release 100 former Tamil Tiger rebels to mark Christmas Day was magnanimous, indeed.

According to estimates more than 5000 rebels are under detention camps in Sri Lanka, and the government is holding them under various pretexts of security and prosecution. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has vowed to rewrite a new social contract between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamils, can take this goodwill gesture as an opportunity to ensure that all the remaining inmates are treated as per law, and provided with a free and fair trail. Returning them back to society as peaceful and law-abiding citizens is more important than trying and prosecuting them for the sake of bookkeeping. It is these former Tamil leaders and sympathisers whose treatment with grace and compassion will come as an integrating force in the divisive society that has seen three decades of bloodshed and violence.

The task before the government should be to do away with the creeping in marginalisation, and broker a fair deal of governance. Irrespective of the fact whether many of the Tiger leaders might have been involved in criminal activities, their trial and treatment should not come to reflect ethnic bias. Mahinda’s political tug of war with his ex-general Sarath Fonseka, and his subsequent conviction, is largely being seen as victimisation of sorts, which at one stage had threatened to disrupt the uneasy peace in the island nation-state. A fair trail of political prisoners, including General Fonseka, can help the government streamline its manifesto of development and constitutional safeguards and at the same time rally round the clarion call of a secure and prosperous future.

Tamils who are 20 per cent of Lanka’s 20 million people are in need of a proper power-sharing formula. Their marginalisation, especially after the defeat of Liberation of Tamil Tigers Ealam, is an issue that would not go away with the passage of time. More than 200,000 Tamils are still stated to be languishing in military relief camps, and are homeless and destitute in their own motherland. Not only should they be rehabilitated, but enough socio-economic measures ensured to bring back into the national political mainstream. The gesture that Mahinda has taken with 100 prisoners should go on uninterrupted with appropriate counselling and consideration.

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