By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
Dear Mr Secretary
Welcome to Sri Lanka and we are indeed happy to welcome a Secretary of State from USA on an official visit to our shores since 1972 when one of your predecessors, William Rogers visited Sri Lanka.
We in Sri Lanka read with dismay of your welcoming statement during the visit of our Foreign Minister to Washington last February which stated “we welcome you to USA after your 30 year war with the Tamil People” which our Foreign Minister did not see fit to correct in his response for reasons best known to him.
It would appear that both your Embassy in Colombo and those in the State Department which you head and responsible for briefing you, failed to brief you of the correct facts on Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka did not have a war with “Tamil People”. They constitute 11.2% of our population and are very much a part of Sri Lanka’s population. This community has contributed immensely to the development of this country and its economy not forgetting the fact that they have enriched our culture in so many ways. Members of the Tamil community made immense contributions to our struggle for freedom from Britain. Members of the Tamil Community have occupied all positions in this land excluding those of Prime Minister and President. They have occupied the key post of Speaker of the State Council prior to Independence. They have also occupied posts of Leader of Opposition, Cabinet Ministers in every cabinet since 1948, Chief Justice, Attorney General, Army Commander, Inspector General of Police to name a few after Independence. 56.5% of Sri Lanka’s Tamil population live outside the Northern Province considered the traditional home land of Tamil people. In fact hundreds of thousands took refuge in Colombo during the war waged by LTTE terrorists between 1983 and 2009. Houses of all communities were subject to search by security forces during their routine operations. It must be underlined that successive governments did not intern our Tamil citizens during the conflict with LTTE terrorists as done by USA with persons of Japanese origin during WWII. Those living in government controlled areas carried on with their normal lives and were not deprived of employment in both the State and Private sectors.
What did happen was that a group of young men from the Tamil community decided to take up arms against the democratically elected government of the country to achieve their goals. They were assisted by way of arms, training and safe havens by our neighbour India. India having close relations with the Soviet Union at that time wished to punish Sri Lanka for following a pro-western foreign policy adopted by our then President who believed in close relations with the west, especially USA whose naval craft were permitted to call in Colombo. He also provided land for a relay station for Voice of America in Sri Lanka. It was by no means “a war with the Tamil People”.
Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation. As is the case with many countries with an ethnic and religious diversity, Sri Lanka too has its problems. The current government is making efforts to address this issue. No nation with diverse populations is immune from problems involving prejudices against minorities. Notwithstanding an African-American now holding the highest office in USA, we regularly read of incidents especially involving Police forces in different states based on ethnic and racial prejudices.
You may or may not have heard of a recent faux pas by the Leader of the British Labour Party in wishing British citizens of Tamil origin for the Sinhala and Tamil New Year on 14 April. Perhaps he too had not been briefed by his ‘advisors’ that Britain does have British citizens of Sinhalese and Tamil origin.
Therefore I thought it opportune to write this letter in order to correct the misconception reflected in your statement in welcoming our Foreign Minister.