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Sri Lanka Knows About Terrorism

Sri Lanka Knows About Terrorism

Author: Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
Publication: International Herald Tribune, UK
Date: November 8, 2001

Terrorism is, sadly, no stranger to Sri Lanka. We know it well.

On Oct. 7, while American-led forces were making their final preparations to deliver the first strikes in the new world war against terrorism, the armed forces of my country were bracing for further attacks by terrorists who have killed 64,000 Sri Lankans in 18 years.

The people responsible for this slaughter are the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the Tamil Tigers, ethnic extremists based among the Tamil population in the northernmost part of the country. Among their victims have been 10,000 Tamils. Like all fanatics, the Tamil Tigers, whose armed cadres number no more than 1,500, are pitilessly indiscriminate.

Unfortunately, we are also well acquainted with the more recent madness of the suicide bomber. Experts on terrorism believe there have been as many as 160 suicide bombings by the Tigers in recent years.

My government was quick to offer its full support to President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair in their efforts to unite the world against terrorism. We appreciate the strong determination of the United States and Britain to make a measured but decisive response to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Like practically all Sri Lankans, my family has been shadowed by terrorism. Both my father, the prime minister of Sri Lanka, and my husband were killed by extremist fanatics. Two years ago they came for me.

While I was campaigning in 1999 for reelection, a woman came within a few feet of me and detonated explosives wrapped around her waist. On that occasion I was lucky; I lost only an eye. Others were not - 26 people, including several members of my personal team, lost their lives, and many more were injured.

Sri Lanka's population is approximately that of metropolitan New York, 19.5 million. Our blood has been shed not in a horrific onslaught, as in New York, but in many small cuts - six here, 19 there, 52 in some other place. This violence has become a plague that infects my people and corrodes our national life.

The cost to our national development and the advancement of our people of whatever ethnic background or religious persuasion - Sin-halese, Tamils, Muslims, Hindus - has been considerable. We must, for example, spend more and more on security, which reduces what we should be spending on our schools, hospitals and roads.

Nevertheless, we have succeeded in keeping Sri Lanka open for business. We have continued to attract foreign investment and tourism, albeit at far lower levels than our economy would warrant under normal conditions.

The tragic irony of the events of Sept. 11 is that it now seems possible that the Tamil Tigers will be cut off from the millions of dollars raised in North America every year to prosecute their atrocities against the civilian population of Sri Lanka. I applaud the recent decision of Secretary of State Colin Powell to renew the designation of the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization.

The elimination of supportive financial systems on which terrorism depends must be a global undertaking. Sri Lanka is proud to have ratified the International convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism, adopted by the UN General Assembly inn December 1999. We hope for the widest possible participation in international efforts of this kind.

I have called on my fellow heads of government in the other 53 nations of the Commonwealth to join me I condemning terrorism in all its forms in committing themselves to all measures necessary to its eradication, and in pursuing all democratic options for the resolution of genuine issues of contention. Together we make up nearly one-third of the world's population, including millions of peace-loving Muslims.

The principal lesson that democratically elected governments have learned from the events of Sept. 11 is this: that the fight against terrorism can no longer be conducted piecemeal, or be hobbled by the moral relativism that has bedeviled their efforts for so long. You are either for or against terrorism.

(The writer is president of Sri Lanka. She contributed this to The Washington Post.)
 


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