THE world renowned American civil rights leader and peace campaigner Jesse Jackson attended the World Tamils Forum in central London on Thursday, as the military campaign against the Tamil people in northern Sri Lanka continued to escalate.
‘We’re interested in trying to end violence, in a ceasefire, in co-existence not co-annihilation,’ Jesse Jackson told reporters as he left the meeting.
‘The situation is very tense,’ he said. ‘There is enormous fear. People are dying.
‘We want to see the violence end and end up in a peaceful process.’
Delegates to the World Tamils Forum later held a press conference, where they likened the slaughter of Tamil men, women and children by the Sri Lankan armed forces to the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians in Gaza in January this year.
The Western media is virtually silent about this, they said, even though the daily casualty rates are as high as those suffered by the Gazan people during Israel’s 22-day war.
They warned the world that Sri Lanka’s military-police dictatorship, run by its President Rajapakse, was intent on ethnically cleansing the Tamil people in the north and was trying to drive them into ‘concentration camps’.
The World Tamils Forum was attended by Tamils from 22 different countries.
It was organised with the help of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils.
As well as Jesse Jackson, Labour MPs Keith Vaz and Siobhan McDonagh were also present, along with the former radio DJ and TV presenter Jimmy Saville.
Jimmy Saville called for a peace settlement to be negotiated and said: ‘I am totally impressed with the sincerity and honesty of everybody round the table.’
A spokesman for the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation told reporters: ‘There’s been a conflict going on for 30 years.
‘There are 330,000 internally displaced people trapped in the northern area called the Vanni.
‘Despite so-called “safe zones’’, about 100 people are dying every day.
‘The government is denying food and medicine to be taken to the area in sufficient quantities and the Sri Lankan government has ordered NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) to leave the area.’
The spokesman said it was only because of the mass protests by Tamils in the Western countries that calls were now being made for a ceasefire and for humanitarian access to the north to be allowed, and for the media to be allowed into the northern areas of Sri Lanka.
‘We are the only ones providing any relief to the people,’ he added.
Sen Kandiah, from the British Tamil Forum, said that Prime Minister Gordon Brown had appointed Des Browne to address the issue of the continuing bloodshed and that Browne had attended Thursday’s meeting.
He added: ‘Jesse Jackson said he is committed to continue to work with us.
‘A small effort by someone like him should bring from us a big effort.
‘The British Tamil Forum’s thinking is we need to initiate that and it’s up to other people to take it and run with it.
‘We need a lot more people helping us.’
Siobhan McDonagh, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, told delegates: ‘What we do is so small in comparison to the difficulties you and your families face in Sri Lanka.
‘There is a group of Labour MPs in the House of Commons.
‘We will take it step by step and it will be painfully slow.
‘It is not about proscription or de-proscription (of the Tamil Tigers) at the moment.
‘Our efforts are to simply get agreement for a ceasefire.
‘And from everything I’ve read from the Tamil Tigers, that’s their call too, to get back to the negotiating table and call a ceasefire.’
A video was broadcast of the shelling by Sri Lankan armed forces of the Tamil areas, in which hospitals have been hit and patients killed ‘in their hospital beds’.
The last food and medical aid convoy to be sent to the stricken areas was in January, the commentary continued, when 14 lorries were sent into the conflict zone, when in fact 210 lorries were required.
‘Thirty per cent of the refugee population being shelled as you saw in the video are children,’ said Jan Jamamayagam, from Tamils Against Genocide, at the press conference that followed.
She said that ‘1.5 million Tamils have been forced abroad due to the violence.
‘The purpose of this conference is to unite to express our positions and concerns.
‘The response of the international community has been insufficient.’
A. Parajasingham, from Australia, said the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) had won the support of the Tamil people because of their actions in defending them against physical attacks that have been taking place for decades.
Father Emmanuel, from Germany, said: ‘The LTTE has carried on the struggle of the Tamil people and its democratically elected representatives to defend the people and their land against the state terror and having Jesse Jackson here in the long walk to freedom shows our case is based on truth, justice and conviction.
‘We are here to change what is going on in Sri Lanka.
‘What is going on is a genocide and war crimes.’
Jan Jamamayagam said the Tamils were being attacked by Sri Lankan armed forces using ‘chemical weapons, white phosphorus, discharged in shells, bombs and bullets’.
She said that any Tamils who fled their homeland into the so-called government ‘safe zones’ were put in ‘concentration camps’.
A. Parajasingham said: ‘People are being ordered into the “No Fire Zone’’ and on the other hand there is deliberate bombing of the area.
‘These are coordinated attacks to ethnically cleanse the Tamil homeland.’
Jan Jamamayagam called on the British media’s observers ‘to be there’ and listen to the Tamil people’s own accounts of what is happening to them.
She said that stories of Tamil women being turned into ‘sex slaves’, of people being tortured and ‘disappeared’, were continuing to come out of the Tamil areas.
She added: ‘Civilians are dying every day, 60 to 100. These are war crimes.
‘They are dying through the most horrendous kinds of weapons, supplied by the international community.
‘This is a government that is bombing its own people.
‘We can’t just stand here and let that happen.’
Kumar Kumarendran, a member of the British Tamil Forum, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said: ‘A humanitarian catastrophe is taking place in Sri Lanka.
‘The government of Sri Lanka is carrying out indiscriminate, aerial bombardment.
‘It is even using cluster bombs on its own people and there are war crimes and I am sure the President Rajapakse will one day end up in the International Court of Justice for the crime of genocide.’
He said that Tamil women have been raped by members of Sri Lanka’s armed forces.
He added: ‘The United Nations has proved to be an inefficient organisation.
‘Mr Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general, should resign, because all he does is issue statement after statement after statement, whereas he is in a position to do something constructive and bring about peace in Sri Lanka.
‘More than 3,000 Tamils have been killed in Vanni since January 20 and more than 10,000 have been injured.
‘More than 20 hospitals have been bombed.
‘The brother of Mr Rajapakse is the defence chief and he said publicly that hospitals in the conflict zone are legitimate targets.
‘He is not sending medical supplies for the injured.
‘People in Vanni don’t have any food or any clean water to drink and are living out in the open and the government is telling civilians to go into government-controlled camps, which are barbed wire concentration camps from which outsiders, media and even MPs are banned.
‘Sri Lanka was expelled from the UN Human Rights Council last year for gross human rights violations.
‘So now in the British parliament this week, Siobhan McDonagh MP initiated a debate for one and a half hours in Westminster Hall to suspend Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth.
‘If an organisation is not good enough for the UN Human Rights Council, how can it be good enough for an organisation like the Commonwealth, where the Queen is the head.’
The Conference of World Tamils agreed a resolution which included: ‘We –
• ‘Are severely shocked and deeply concerned by the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in the Vanni and lack of any substantive reaction by the international community.
• ‘Recognise that the Sri Lankan state is engaged in a genocide of the Tamil people of the island;
• ‘Recognise that the Tamil people have the inalienable right to determine their own destiny;
• ‘Recognise that the Tamil people have mandated the establishment of a free, sovereign state of Tamil Eelam as the only enduring solution;
• ‘Recognise that the Liberational Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are the authentic representatives of the Tamil people;
‘And hereby we resolve that:
‘1.1 All killings of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan state must cease immediately;
‘1.2 Unimpeded humanitarian assistance to those in need in the Vanni must be allowed;
‘1.3 The United Nations, International Non-Governmental Organisations, and the ICRC must have unfettered humanitarian access to the Tamil population and be permitted to re-establish a permanent presence in the Vanni;
‘1.4 There must be an immediate ceasefire; and
‘1.5 Negotiations for a political solution to the conflict must begin immediately after the ceasefire based on the principle of self determination of the Tamil people.’