"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
 
- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Selected Writings by Nadesan Satyendra
- நடேசன் சத்தியேந்திரா

The Talkative Brigade

November 1993

Some Sinhala political leaders set about Sinhala chauvinism's appointed task of assimilating the Tamil people, without saying too much. In their lexicon, deeds count for more than words. Remember the late Don Stephen Senanayake who masterminded Sinhala colonisation of the Tamil homeland in the East? The late President Premadasa too was not a man of many words. On the other hand, there are other Sinhala political leaders who belong to the talkative brigade.

Remember ex President J.R.Jayawardene? Remember his off the cuff comment to Lanka Guardian editor Mervyn de Silva, when interviewed a couple of years ago, about the burning of the Jaffna Public Library in 1981: ''I had read all the books by that time!''? Remember his equally caring comment to Ian Ward of the Daily Telegraph in 1983: ''Really, if I starve the Tamils out the Sinhala people will be happy.''?

Remember the talkative Deputy Defence Minister, the late Ranjan Wijeratne? Remember his remarks in June 1990: ''(We will) flatten the LTTE. The IPKF got rid of the hard core elements. What is left is the baby brigade of young boys and girls. They will wet their pants when they meet my armed forces.''

Three years on, at a time when the Sri Lanka army has reduced its recruitment age to 17 and its height requirements to 5 feet in its bid to combat the so called LTTE 'baby brigade', it appears that President D.B.Wijetunga has joined the talkative brigade of Sinhala political leaders.

Even apart from his oft repeated pronouncement that there is no ethnic problem, President Wijetunga has expanded on the role of foreign aid. Said he recently:

''The war in the North-East costs the government a staggering Rs.20,000 million a year. Nevertheless, we have not neglected development and welfare activities. Ofcourse, foreign assistance has enabled us to continue development and welfare schemes unabated. We maintain close links with a vast number of countries. The Sri Lanka Aid Group meets annually in Paris. We receive grants and soft loans.''

It is always useful to have the connection between Sri Lanka's war effort and foreign aid spelt out in such clear terms. It may even lead aid donors to ponder about the statement made by the LTTE in Zurich recently:

''Foreign aid to racist Sri Lanka not only spills Tamil blood in Sri Lanka but also brings Tamil refugees to Europe. The time has come to stop aiding racism because racism anywhere threatens stability everywhere.''

Aid donors may not have been reassured by the words of the newly appointed Sinhala Army Commander Lt.Gen. Cecil Waidyaratne who, too, it seems, has joined the talkative brigade. He declared recently:

''The East will be completely liberated from the Tigers by the end of December and the North in the first part of next year. The necessary plans have been made. Our drive is based on a strong foundation. Victory is certain for our forces''.

In the wake of the recent Janakapura debacle, the DVRO disaster and the Kilali misadventure, some aid donors may prefer to believe a report filed by David Pallister in the London Guardian, some eight years ago, on 19 June 1985:

''Brigadier Nalin Seneviratne, the head of the Sri Lankan Army was in an uncharacteristically candid mood earlier this year. ''We can never win this,'' he said. ''Our writ does not run beyond the sandbags that cover our camps, and we can only do a holding operation.'' Since the Tamil guerillas stepped up their armed campaign for a separate state six months ago, the army's beleaguered positions have become almost a national humiliation.''

Others may recall the more recent comments in the Christian Worker Quarterly , in April 1991:

''Although Government forces have been strengthened some six times over since the early 1980s, from 12,000 soldiers to over 70,000 today, they yet lack the number needed to 'saturate' the affected areas, or equal the Tigers in their knowledge of the terrain or sense of commitment to a cause, that could enable them to either effectively hold territory in the East or recover it in the North. Morale boosting statements issued for the benefit of the public must not therefore be confused with an ability to effect a 'military solution' to the conflict by winning the war.''

The context which impels the talkative brigade to talk is perhaps, more significant than the contents of their talk.

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