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'No point in slamming Tamils who fled Lanka'

By Ajit Jain
August 24, 2010 00:42 IST
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Chitranganee Wagiswara, Sri Lanka's high commissioner to Canada, has claimed that the arrival of 492 Sri Lankan Tamils aboard the cargo ship MV Sun Sea is a 'human smuggling operation with links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.'

In a statement from Ottawa, she said the people behind this 'organised crime' were the ones making wild allegations that 'people are fleeing Sri Lanka, as the conditions prevailing in the country are deplorable and that Lankan Tamils are being persecuted, etc.'

"There's complete peace in Sri Lanka," she said. "300,000 people who were held hostage as human shields by the LTTE (during the war) and rescued by the government were accommodated and provided with required facilities with the assistance of the international community. All the communities, including the Tamils, are now living in Sri Lanka peacefully… A large number of Tamil civilians, including refugees, who fled the country to escape from the LTTE, are now returning to enjoy the peace prevailing in their motherland," she said.

Wagiswara's claims 'would be offensive, if they were not so absurd,' said Robert Oberst, professor of political science, Nebraska Wesleyan University, and an expert on Sri Lanka.

"The Director of Rehabilitation in… Tamil Nadu has said that the 103,000 Tamil refugees in India are reluctant to return to Sri Lanka because of the problems that Wagiswara states do not exist. They choose to remain in the camps or as non-camp refugees," he said.

"She doesn't mention… that the country is still under war time emergency provisions, which allows unlimited detention without court hearings for Tamils," he added.

"Nor does she mention that the country has taken a large percentage of Tamil land in the Northern Province for military bases, forcing farmers to struggle to survive," he added.

Oberst added that if Wagiswara wanted to silence critics, 'she would be better served to persuade her government to allow outside independent observers into the Tamil areas to report on the conditions rather than to slander and attack those who question her government.'

"The Lankan government has created this situation by prohibiting outsiders and reporters from traveling and meeting freely with Tamils in the North," he added.

"They have also viciously attacked critics. If you question the conditions that these people are fleeing from, you are called a supporter of organised crime as Wagiswara has done, or a terrorist as Sri Lanka's Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has done," he noted.

"A nation state that does not do these things has nothing to hide," Oberst concluded.

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Ajit Jain in Toronto