Sri Lanka: Gotabaya How About Leasing North And East? – OpEd


Nadine Sadaka Boulos,lecturer in the American University of Beirut (AUB) said – “Opportunists are manipulators who take the advantage of an opportunity and use it to reach their goals with no regard to ethics and morals.”

When it comes to ethnic issues in Sri Lanka, the politicians in the South of the island and every Sri Lankan government speak loudly about sovereignty and territorial integrity. But do they really understand the political theory these terms come from? Here I would like to give brief definitions: 

Sovereignty is the supreme authority within a territory – the ultimate overseer in the decision-making process of the state and in the maintenance of order. It is the independent power in government as possessed or claimed by a state or community. 

Integrity is the practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values at all times. Honesty and trust are central to integrity as is consistency. 

Since the independence of the island of Sri Lanka in 1948, every time the international community, United Nations, European Union and other inter-governmental bodies raise matters concerning the ethnic issues in Sri Lanka, the simple and standard reply given by the government in power has been  “don’t interfere with our sovereignty and territorial integrity” or “don’t interfere in our internal matters”. 

As far as the government in power is concerned, the Tamils’ demand for their right to self-determination or political rights is a violation of sovereignty. That’s the level of their political knowledge about ‘sovereignty’. Governments which systematically oppress a people lose their  sovereignty over them, and the oppressed people’s sovereignty emerges as a legitimate challenge.  

The governments which talk like patriots are the very people who violate the sovereignty and integrity of a State.  If the Rajapaksas really valued sovereignty, how can they allow foreign forces to be in Sri Lanka? These not only trained the security forces, but also have been directly involved in military field operations, including piloting aerial strategic bombings and carrying out bombardments of coastal targets. Aren’t these violations of sovereignty? This is pure “political opportunism”. 

Since the Rajapaksa(s) became the rulers in Sri Lanka, the sovereignty and integrity of Sri Lanka has been violated by them purely for their financial and material benefits and gain.  

Nearly one fifth of Sri Lanka has been amalgamated intothe People’s Republic of China. It started with Hambantota Port and its surroundings covering 15,000 acres. This was given on a ninety-nine years lease in 2017 by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. However, the family who laid the foundations and was behind this deal was the Rajapaksas. Anyone who researches how often Rajapaksa family members travel to China will understand this. It is obvious that the sovereignty of Sri Lanka is in jeopardy.  

Now let us consider the Colombo Port City – CPC project which was started during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency in September 2014. Later it was renamed as theColombo International Financial City (CIFC) by the Sirisena/Ranil government in August 2016. This port city covers 269 hectares of land. Sri Lanka’s share of the land will be 125 hectares and the balance 108 hectares will be China’s share. This deal was done on the pretext of boosting the country’s economy but it’s believed by economists that the profits of the CPC will flow out to China.  

It’s believed by many politicians, members of civil society, trade unionists and other professions that the provisions of the Port City bill “will erode the legal and political sovereignty of Sri Lanka” including by “exemptions from national law, wide discretionary power granted to the commission” and “limitation of parliamentary, prudential and judicial oversight of the commission’s operations.” It mandates investments in foreign currency and any disputes within the CPC will be solved through arbitration and not through Sri Lankan Courts. 

They strongly believe that the bill violates the constitution, sovereignty and labour rights. 

The so-called patriots, war heroes, custodians of Buddhism, sons of the soil are betraying their citizens for their personal gain. 

Now let me come to my main point. The North and East of the Island of Sri Lanka is historically and traditionally the homeland of the Tamils. There is ample evidence of this. The original land of the Tamils is not only the present North and East; but it also includes Puttlam and Chilaw.  

The way the Rajapaksas disregard sovereignty and integrity, it wouldn’t be surprising if they give the North and East to China on lease. India’s long silence and lack of courage is the main cause. 

Our appeal to the Rajapaksa family is as follows: if they want material and financial benefits, then before they think of handing over the North and East to China, they can give our land back to us. Even though the North and East is our historical and traditional land this arrangement would be on the basis of peace, an amicable settlement and to avoid future casualties and the bloodshed of the people in the North and East. 

To please the Buddhist hierarchies and the public in the South, they justified giving Hambantota harbour, and the CPC deal. They can do the same, and say, the “North and East are given on ninety- nine years lease”. As long our land is given back to us, we don’t mind what they say.  

There are major benefits from giving this to the Eelam Tamils rather than the Chinese. Firstly we can avoid future bloodshed, killings, disappearances in the North and East. Secondly, both ethnic groups, the Tamil and the Singhalese can live in peace and harmony. Thirdly, if they want financial gain for their family, we certainly can give them three or four times more than the Chinese. Fourthly, this will save the lives of soldiers who mostly come from poor working class families and remote villages, to sacrifice their lives for the glorification of cardboard heroes. Fifthly, there will no longer be the need to erect monuments for such soldiers. If the Rajapaksas travel by road, presently they can see a hundred thousand monuments of sacrificed soldiers as bus stops, pillars, etc.  

By the way, if we are given our land back, we won’t require the same conditions as China has put on Hambotota and CPC. We would continue to use the local currency for at least four to five years. Also, we could exchange all our products as good neighbours. 

If Gotabaya agrees to this idea, we can arrange a deal with him regarding to his family financial gain.  

Naturally, this deal should be outside the parameters of justice for the genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and human rights violations committed against the Tamils in the Island. In other words, this deal will not and should not go against any action by the United Nations and the international community.  

Any other special conditions can be sorted out in negotiations done in good faith with the best financial offer. Locally and internationally, Rajapaksa’s family has proved that they are only worried about their own financial gain, not the future of the country.  

This fact was never realised by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE. If they had realised it, certainly they would have looked after the Rajapaksas family, giving three or four times more than the Chinese. 

‘’Better late than never’’ – there is no doubt that Gotabaya will be in power for another three years. Do think about this idea of giving our land back. Tell the public that it is given on lease. We will certainly erect many statues for you outside the North and East, similarly to how you are erecting Buddha statues all over our homeland now. Sweet dreams, Gotabaya! 

“Will struggle until we live – வாழும் வரை போராடுவோம்” 

“The struggle continues – La lutte continue” 

*S.V. Kirubaharan is the Founder General Secretary of the Tamil Centre for Human Rights – TCHR.

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