Troops out of north and eastern Sri Lanka!


The World Socialist Web Site calls on workers and young people to denounce the criminal assault now being unleashed by the Sri Lankan military against more than a quarter of a million Tamil men, women and children trapped in the Mullaithivu district in the country’s north.


After 25 years of bloody war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Sri Lankan army captured the town of Mullaithivu on Sunday and is pressing its offensive against the remnants of the separatist movement, indiscriminately using its military superiority to terrorise the local population.


Thus far the Sri Lankan military has strafed and bombarded so-called “safe zones”, makeshift hospitals and ambulances, killing and wounding hundreds of civilians. The unfolding humanitarian disaster is taking place behind a wall of military censorship reinforced by a ban on all journalists from the frontlines.


According to an emergency statement issued yesterday by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), hundreds have already been killed and more than 250,000 Tamil civilians are trapped in the war zone without adequate food or medicine. The Sri Lankan military this week prevented the ICRC from evacuating 200 critically injured people and has blocked basic relief supplies from entering the area.


The military onslaught in northern Sri Lanka bears a striking resemblance to the ruthless 22-day Israeli offensive against Gaza. Even the government lies and propaganda are similar. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse claims that the military is engaged in a “war against terrorism”, not a vicious communal war on the island’s oppressed Tamil minority.


Military spokesmen brazenly lie, denying that any war crimes are being committed. When that is no longer possible, they accuse the LTTE of using civilians as “human shields”, saying the military has “no choice” but to bombard the small and densely populated area. The government claims that the LTTE is holding the civilian population against its will, but those who flee to government-held territory are detained in what amounts to concentration camps without adequate food, medicine and the basic necessities of life. The truth is that the Sri Lankan government and military regard the entire Tamil population as the enemy.


Like the bloody carnage in Gaza, the new atrocities taking place in Sri Lanka are a warning to the working class around the world. Led by the US, the major powers that backed the Israeli government are now lined up behind the Rajapakse regime. For all its hypocritical expressions of concern about the plight of civilians, Washington backed Rajapakse’s repudiation of the 2002 ceasefire, and his launching of offensive operations in July 2006, and provides the Sri Lankan military with counter-insurgency training, intelligence and equipment.


Equally complicit is the Indian government, which feigns concern about the “safety” of Tamils, while fully endorsing the military attack. Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee visited Sri Lanka on Tuesday, cynically declaring that the military victories would “bring peace” to the Tamil-dominated northern areas. What the Rajapakse government has in store for the North is already on display in the “liberated” East—a military occupation presided over by the head of a notorious para-military outfit.


The branding of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation is designed to cover up the real roots of the country’s 25-year civil war, which lie in the systematic discrimination against the Tamil minority by successive governments since independence in 1948. Organically incapable of providing any progressive solution to the country’s economic backwardness and poverty, Colombo politicians took a leaf out of the book of their former British colonial rulers—whipping up anti-Tamil chauvinism to divide and rule the working class and oppressed masses.


Rajapakse claims to be bringing “democracy” to the country, but an elementary requirement of democracy is the provision of basic rights for all. Tamils confront discrimination in every aspect of their lives, including jobs, education, and access to state bodies and services. Communalism has been codified in Sri Lanka’s constitution, which makes Buddhism the state religion. The aim of the war against the LTTE is to ensure the continued domination of the island’s Sinhala elites.


The LTTE, however, has been unable to elaborate any viable perspective for the Tamil people. Its military collapse over the past year is a manifestation of its bankrupt perspective of a separate capitalist Tamil statelet in the North and East of Sri Lanka sponsored by one or other of the major powers. Even as the “international community” has backed the Sri Lankan government’s criminal war, the LTTE has continued to issue impotent calls for support from the same imperialist powers.


The LTTE’s own communal perspective renders it incapable of making any appeal to the Sinhala working class and peasantry, which it blames for the repression and war. Its violent attacks on Sinhalese civilians have only played directly into the hands of the Sinhalese extremists and militarists.


Above all the disintegration of the LTTE and its inability to provide any way forward the Tamil people makes clear that Tamil workers and peasants require a new strategy. The real ally of the Tamil people is the international working class—the only force capable of putting an end to the bloody disaster in Sri Lanka and developing a genuine struggle against capitalism, the source of racialism and war.


This is the program fought for by all sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International and the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) in Sri Lanka, which is contesting the Nuwara Eliya and Puttalam provincial council elections on February 14. SEP candidates are explaining to workers, youth and students the class nature of the war, demanding the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Sri Lankan troops from the north and east of the country and urgent aid to the Tamil masses.


Twenty five years of war against the Tamil population have brought nothing but misery for working people—Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim alike—with the destruction of over 70,000 lives, and the creation of hundreds of thousands of refugees, paid for through the axing of thousands of jobs, hard-won conditions and attacks on the basic rights of working people and peasant farmers.


Every section of the working class has been told that it must sacrifice living standards. Those who have rejected these government dictates have been branded as LTTE allies and terrorist sympathisers. Hundreds of people have “disappeared” or been killed by military-sponsored death squads. These methods will not stop with a military victory over the LTTE but will intensify as the Sri Lankan economy is further hit by the escalating global economic crisis.


Against the triumphalism of the Sri Lankan government and its criminal war, the SEP insists that the only solution is a socialist program, the formation of a workers’ and farmers’ government and the establishment of a Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and Eelam. This must be part of the broader struggle throughout the Indian sub-continent, against all forms of ethno-communalism, to reorganise society on a socialist basis for human need, not the profit requirements of the ruling elites.


Richard Phillips