Tamils wary of new Sri Lankan president

For Tamils erecting lifesized posters to mark the forthcoming Heroes’ Day, when Tiger rebels remember their fallen, the election of Mahinda Rajapakse as new Sri Lankan president is a matter of concern.

“We know Mahinda. He has been a politician for a long time. And we don’t trust him,” said Daruniali Saravanam, owner of a roadside eatery outside Kilinochchi, political capital of the rebels.

“I think he wants war because he promised the JVP he would abandon the truce,” said Saravanam, referring to the Marxist Peoples’ Liberation Front (JVP) with whom Rajapakse had forged a pre-poll alliance to ensure their vote during the November 17 ballot.

The JVP believes too many concessions have been given to the Tigers and wants the entire Norwegian-led peace process renegotiated.

Peace talks between Colombo and the Tigers have been deadlocked since April 2003 although a truce signed in February 2002 still holds.
The ethnic conflict between majority Sinhalese and the separatists claimed more than 60 000 lives since 1972.

“If Mahinda yields to them, we are heading for war,” said Saravanam.

“We are already in training for war. We can use any weapon. We don’t like war but if war comes we will be ready for it.”

Not a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), he is, however, a firm follower of rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

“We have our own leader and he is about to speak to us again,” said Saravanam. “We will listen to whatever he says. He will know how to deal with Mahinda.”

Prabhakaran, self-styled Sun God of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority, uses Heroes’ Day to make a rare public appearance, arriving at an unannounced venue at night to deliver a lengthy oration that is studied and dissected by his followers for the ensuing 12 months.

LTTE media director Daya Master said that Prabhakaran would this year use Heroes’ Day—November 27—to deliver the Tigers’ response to Rajapakse’s offer of fresh peace talks after he was sworn in Saturday as Sri Lanka’s fifth president.

Saravanam (50) who for Heroes’ Day has splurged 25 000 rupees ($250) on a series of posters depicting various facets of the Tamils’ struggle for an independent homeland, said he would be listening to Prabhakaran’s message on the radio.

“We don’t know where he will be—it is a secret—but his message will be broadcast on radio and television,” he said, as a sudden and drenching monsoon storm sent those erecting the posters outside his restaurant rushing for shelter.

Saravanam added that public address systems would be installed at various points in the Kilinochchi district, where roadsides were being decorated at the weekend with red and yellow bunting and with large posters, for all to hear the message.

Schoolteacher Uthayakumari Thavavaja (39) also distrusts Rajapakse.

“We are Tamils, he is a Sinhalese,” she said, adding she would only vote in a presidential ballot if Prabhakaran were standing.

“I didn’t want to vote [in last Thursday’s election]. No-one from here voted,” she added.

One man helping put up a poster showing the silhouette of a gun-slinging Tamil Tiger cadre, said for him, too, the vote had meant little.

“We have a leader already. We don’t need to vote for another one,” said the man, who gave his name only as Rajah.

At a tea stall close to Kilinochchi, shopkeeper M Srirananath said he had in fact voted for Rajapakse.

Dismissing claims by independent poll monitors that Tamils had been intimidated by Tiger rebels from participating in the ballot, he said he and about 50 others had taken a government-provided bus from the rebel-controlled area to government territory to cast their ballots.

“No one said we couldn’t vote and no one tried to stop us going,” he said.

He believed Rajapakse offered the best hope of peace in Sri Lanka, which is why he voted for him.

Had Prabhakaran’s name been on the ballot paper, however, he would have voted for him.

“He is my real leader,” said Srirananath. ‒ Sapa-AFP

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