UPFA peace moves: Muslims feel betrayed
- Sending an article which I published in the Sunday Times on 23/5/04
on the pathetic plight of Muslims in Sri Lanka. This needs to be
brought to light to all our friends, intested in the welfare of the
community, all over the world. So I am forwarding the same to
you .Please forward it to all our friends there and elsewhere with
a note requesting to forward to all their friends.While Sinhalese
and Tamils are busy discussing an administrative framework the
Muslim Congress is busy with its leader Rauf Hakeem's sex scandal. I
thought it is worthwhile passing this on to you all.
With kind regards and salaams-Latheef
UPFA peace moves: Muslims feel betrayed
By Latheef Farook
Though seeking means to end the island's ethnic problem is a delicate
and complex matter that needed to be dealt with great care taking
into consideration the interests of all three communities, the
government is rushing to kick start peace talks, from where the UNF
government left.While players and their goals remain the same in the
North actors changed in the south, after almost a billion-rupee
election and, despite slogans and pledges, the approach is not
different from that of the defeated government. It appears the UPFA
government has agreed to begin talks on LTTE terms and that too at a
venue of LTTE's choice, deviating from its election pledge which
attracted a large number of voters who were disappointed with the
UNF government's concessions to the LTTE. In the circumstances, one
of the many questions raised is on the plight of the Muslims and the
Sinhalese who constitute more than two third of the population of
the East where even some sections of the Tamils expressed their
resentment at being dominated by Jaffna.
In a desperate bid to enter into an agreement, win international
approval, obtain the much needed foreign aid and get some respite
from violence, the government ignored many essential ingredients,
including the participation of the second largest minority.The
Muslims were excluded despite assurances by President Chandrika
Kumaratunga and the JVP at meetings with the UPFA's main Muslim
ally, the National Unity Alliance.Adding insult to injury, the UPFA
said in an official statement that the two principal parties at the
negotiating table could only be the government and the LTTE.
This statement violated the SLFP-JVP memorandum of understanding
which clearly stated that "a negotiated settlement of the ethnic
question should be found through a correct dialogue with the LTTE
and other relevant groups and communities so that political
solutions which will safeguard the political equality and democratic
rights of the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and other communities could
be found".Despite this assurance, talks on talks began without
involving the Muslims who, frustrated with the UNF government's
failure to protect them in the East, voted in large number for the
UPFA in the hope that in any peace move their interests would be
protected.Today, the Muslim community feels betrayed by the
government. Already the government's failure to name a Muslim
religious affairs minister, while appointing religious affairs
ministers to serve other three major religions in this country, has
been a topic of concern in Muslim circles.
This attitude of the government resembles the "Sinhala Only" policy
half a century ago, which ignored the Tamil-speaking people, divided
communities and brought the country to what it is today. It also
shows that both the SLFP and the UNP continue to think in terms of
the next election and not the next generation or the country.
Unfortunately the country's biggest tragedy since independence was
its failure to produce a national leader who could think for the
country, guide all communities and ensure political stability,
economic growth and social harmony, as in the case of Malaysia, a
multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-linguistic and multi-cultural
country.Though Tamils and Muslims lived for centuries in harmony in
the North and East, the LTTE's attitude towards Muslims has been
hostile to the detriment of both communities. What one cannot
understand is the discrimination suffered by the Muslims in the
hands of the LTTE which, ironically, accuses the Sinhalese of
discriminating against the Tamils.
Time and again, the LTTE has demanded that the Muslims be excluded
from any peace talks, as they are not party to the separatist war.
The Muslim community, treated by the government as a non-entity,
cannot look to Norway to advocate its cause. This was especially so
in view of Oslo's track record as a peace broker since the February
2002 Ceasefire Agreement - a document believed to have been crafted
and drafted by Norwegian special envoy Erik Solheim and Anton
Balasingham and signed by Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Indications are that if aspirations of all communities were not taken
into serious consideration what happened in West Asia - remember the
Norway brokered "Oslo Peace Treaty between the Israelis and
Palestinians? - is likely to happen in Sri Lanka.
In fact, Norwegians themselves criticized their country's partiality
towards Israel. Citing their foreign ministry funded report by their
own researcher Hilde Henriksen Waage of Peace Research Institute of
Oslo, "Aftenposten" newspaper said Norway was hardly a neutral
player when it helped broker the Oslo Peace Treaty between Israel
and Palestinians as Norwegian negotiators supported Israel,
intentionally misled US officials and softened up view points of the
Palestinian team. Here in Sri Lanka too Norway, often described by
the media as the "flag carrier of the LTTE in Europe", is not an
innocent and impartial broker and much was written about it in
detail. And even President Chandrika Kumaratunga once accused Norway
of being partial and favouring the LTTE.
So how could Norway broker peace and what is the guarantee that what
is happening in West Bank and Gaza will not happen here?
Unfortunately Muslims can't be happy with Japanese peace envoy
Yasushi Akashi either. It was under the watchful eyes of Mr. Akashi,
special representative of the UN Secretary General in Bosnia, the
biggest ever genocide since World War 11 took place in Srebrenica,
where about 10,000 Muslims were massacred. And he is the
representative of the Japanese government which supports George
Bush's global campaign against Muslims and Islam under the guise of
Can the Muslims, especially those living in the East, ever expect Mr.
Akashi to protect them? Fed up with docile leaderships attached to
major political parties and their inability to voice their
grievances, Muslims supported the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress in the
hope it would help protect at least the Muslims in the East. But the
SLMC turned out to be a mythical "Greek Tragedy" for Muslims. It is
today an unfortunate liability on the Muslim community. With all its
autocratic leadership, disunity and factional fighting displayed in
public, stinking scandals and corruption charges are tearing apart
what is left of this sad legacy which has always been a one man-
The often-raised question is why was the SLMC, which now demands
participation in peace talks, silent when it was a constituent member
of UNF Government? Instead, the SLMC leader represented the
government in peace talks under the UNF government leaving Muslims
to cry for protection.Sick and tired and even ashamed, Muslims of
all walks of life now say that this congress of corrupt which
disgraced the community has come to its inevitable dead end until
its final and unceremonial burial in the next elections.
Let down even by their own leaders, Muslims are a desperate and
frustrated lot. The youths are restless. Warning of the UNF
government's failure to protect them Ferial Ashraf once said there
was a tendency for the Muslims in the east to undergo arms training.
Supporting this view, M.L.M. Hizbulla stated then that Muslims were
arming themselves for self-defence. In the backdrop of a global
witch-hunt against the Muslims, the Muslims here fear the worst.
Already ethnic cleansing had taken place in Jaffna where around
100,000 Muslims, were asked to leave their homes within 24 hours.
They now live in appalling conditions in refugee camps. Which
peacemaker speaks about their plight and who is assuring them of
their rights in peace talks? What is the guarantee that a similar
fate would not befall both Muslims and Sinhalese in the East? What
did the UNF government do to protect Muslims when they were chased
out of Mutur last year. Under the circumstance aren't Muslims
justified in asking to protect their rights?