Against assistance

Print edition : May 13, 2000

INDIA should not send troops or arms to the Jaffna peninsula to help the beleaguered soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army - this was the unanimous response of political parties in Tamil Nadu to initial reports that New Delhi was considering Colombo's request for military assistance after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) overran major army camps and was poised for an assault on Jaffna.

Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.-R.V. MOORTHY

Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president M. Karunanidhi told the State Assembly on May 4: "It is the unanimous opinion of the people of Tamil Nadu that India should send neither its troops nor arms to help the Sri Lankan Government." Opposing leave for an adjournment motion sought to be tabled by Opposition legislators, he said: "India should not lend itself to the massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The Indian Army should not be instrumental in the killing of Tamils and Indian military equipment should not be used for it. This is my strong standpoint." He added: "The killing of thousands of Tamils by Sri Lankan soldiers over the years has led to a situation in which the soldiers are looking for protection. If it is argued that India s hould help in giving such protection, it will amount to killing the Tamils there."

Karunanidhi expressed resentment over Union Ministers from Tamil Nadu not being consulted before the Cabinet Committee on Security decided against military intervention. He said: "'Tamil Nadu is the most affected State in this issue... But Ministers from Tamil Nadu have not been consulted. This has hurt my feelings." The Chief Minister said it should not be forgotten that when the IPKF was sent to Sri Lanka, "we lost thousands of Indian soldiers."

Karunanidhi made a distinction between the State Government's stand on the LTTE and its stand on the question of protecting Tamils in Sri Lanka. Tamil Nadu would give no room for any extremist organisation or its violent activities, he said.

On May 7, the State Government cracked down on pro-LTTE organisations in Tamil Nadu. The police arrested ten persons, including the owner of a printing press, for printing and putting up posters giving a "victory salute to sisters and brothers who protec ted the dignity of the Tamils". The posters, published in the name of the Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam, were ecstatic that "if Elephant Pass has fallen today, it will be Jaffna tomorrow". They also declared that "the Tigers' flag will soon be flying from th e Jaffna fort."

The police arrested Tamil National Movement leader P. Nedumaran and 250 others at Chidambaram on May 7 when they tried to take out a procession. His plan to hold a conference in support of "Eelam Tamils" was thwarted. Nedumaran said that similar conferen ces had already been held "peacefully and successfully" at Tiruvarur, Tiruchendur and Ranipet. It was reprehensible that the conference at Chidambaram was banned in the last minute, he said. "It was condemnable that Karunanidhi has capitulated to threats from enemies of Tamils who say that it is treacherous even to raise the voice in support of Eelam Tamils," Nedumaran said.

The State government is meanwhile concerned over the arrival of about 200 Tamil refugees at Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu in the past fortnight.

Vaiko, general secretary of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), and Dr. S. Ramadoss, founder of Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), were the first to react to reports that India might consider providing military assistance to Sri Lanka and that the C hief of the Air Staff Air Marshal A.Y. Tipnis would visit Sri Lanka. Their reactions were not surprising because their support for the LTTE's struggle for Eelam was no secret.

Vaiko met External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh on May 3 and "cautioned" him against military intervention in Sri Lanka. Vaiko said that for the past 17 years Tamils on the island had been killed in "a planned programme of action". The Government of In dia should think of what had happened to the IPKF, which was sent to Sri Lanka after India was caught in a trap set by then Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayawardene, he said.

Dr. Ramadoss said that India should not interfere in the "internal affairs" of Sri Lanka. When the IPKF was sent to Sri Lanka, the Buddhist clergy had opposed it. Now that the Sri Lankan Government was in a crisis, they were inviting the Indian Army. The IPKF ended up killing the Sri Lankan Tamils and destroying their property. India should not make the mistake of sending its Army again, Ramadoss said. He also opposed the visit of Air Marshal Tipnis to Sri Lanka. He expressed these views in a statement that he faxed to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, Jaswant Singh and Karunanidhi.

The PMK hardened its stand at its executive committee meeting in Tiruchi on May 6. One of the resolutions passed at the meeting said that the "formation of Tamil Eelam will be the ideal, long-term solution" to the ethnic issue and that "the United Nation s should intervene to arrange for the founding of Eelam". Another resolution asked Israel and other countries not to help the Sri Lankan Government.

MDMK leader Vaiko.-T.A. HAFEEZ

Ramadoss objected to External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh's stand that India would give "humanitarian assistance" to the Sri Lankan Government. He said: "India need not give humanitarian assistance... We consider this as indirect assistance for the ma ssacre of the Tamils after 40,000 Sri Lankan soldiers are safely pulled out (of the Jaffna peninsula)." He said he had sent fax messages to Vajpayee, Advani and Jaswant Singh asking them not to give any sort of assistance to Colombo. "Even medicines shou ld not be sent to the Sinhala army till it laid down arms and surrendered. If medicines are sent to the Sri Lankan army now, it will amount to military assistance. If the Sinhala army surrendered, there is nothing wrong in sending medicines to it through the Red Cross on humanitarian grounds."

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Jayalalitha welcomed the Centre's decision against military intervention. She, however, wanted the Centre to find a political solution to the Tamil problem.

Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) president G.K. Moopanar said that the Union government should be "cautious" in delineating its stand on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. TMC leader P. Chidambaram said that India should not send its Army to Sri Lanka.

ANOTHER issue that drew emotional responses in Tamil Nadu in the last fortnight was the shooting down of three fishermen from Tamil Nadu by the Sri Lankan navy. The victims - Kumar, Munusamy and Anjappan of Akkarapattu near Nagapattinam - were shot aroun d 10 a.m. on April 29 when they were fishing off Kodiakkarai on the Tamil Nadu coast. As the news spread, thousands of fishermen from Rameswaram and Nagapattinam went on a strike.

Chief Minister Karunanidhi said in a statement: "We cannot tolerate any more the killing of Tamil Nadu fishermen for the sake of good relationship between India and Sri Lanka. The Government of India should intervene to stop the Sri Lankan Navy killing t he fishermen in future."

Jayalalitha blamed the Indian Navy's "indifference" for the killings.

Vaiko said that the killing was "a barbaric act" and "a naked violation of human rights." He wanted the Centre to warn Colombo and demand compensation from the Sri Lankan Government to the families of the dead fishermen. Vaiko said the Sri Lankan Navy ha d trespassed into Indian waters and shot the fishermen. He wanted steps to be taken for the release of 15 fishermen who he said were in Sri Lankan prisons.

M.E. Raja, general secretary of the All-India Fishermen's Association, said the Association would organise a demonstration in front of the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commissioner's office in Chennai. He was sore that the Centre was not taking steps to put an end to the killings.

In the State Assembly, members cutting across party lines came out strongly against the killing.

PMK leader Dr. S. Ramadoss.-K. GAJENDRAN

Karunanidhi said that the Sri Lankan Navy had shot dead 100 fishermen from Tamil Nadu since 1992. Despite protests from the Tamil Nadu Government, the Sri Lankan Navy continued to do its "work" on the ground that the Tamil Nadu fishermen went beyond Indi an waters. The Chief Minister said: "Even if they do so, the Sri Lankan Navy should arrest them, take them to Sri Lanka and lodge a complaint with the Indian Navy or the Government of India. But I don't know what right it has to massacre them. I don't un derstand who gave them that right... Even if the Tamil Nadu fishermen cross Indian waters, the Sri Lankan Navy has no right to kill them."

Karunanidhi read out in the Assembly the Centre's reply to the letter he wrote on this issue. In its reply, the External Affairs Ministry has said that New Delhi had asked Colombo to tell its naval personnel to "act with restraint." The Indian Navy has b een asked to prepare a report including an assessment of the Sri Lankan Navy's role in the killing of the three fishermen.

Indian National League member G. Nizamudeen wondered whether Sri Lanka should have a Deputy High Commissioner's office in Chennai when its Navy killed Tamils. DMK legislator Era. Bernard wanted Tamil Nadu fishermen to be allowed to fish off Katchativu is land (which India had ceded to Sri Lanka). AIADMK member P.R. Sundaram and Bharatiya Janata Party member C. Velayudham traced the genesis of the problem to the ceding of Katchativu to Sri Lanka.

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