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Sri Lankan government blamed for violent attack on ant-war rally organiers
Interview With Siritunga Jayasuriya.
Siritunga Jaysuriya from Colombo, Sri Lanka, is convenor of the newly formed United People's Movement and Secretary of the United Socialist Party. He is also the chair of the Civil Monitoring Committee, set up to investigate and campaign against the abductions and killings of Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka.
Angelika Teweleit interviewed him during an international conference he was attending in Belgium – the World Congress of the Committee for a Workers' International.
AT: Siri, the press has carried reports of a violent attack by armed thugs against you and other organisers at a public rally in Colombo. You narrowly escaped with your life. What happened?
Siri: This was going to be the first public meeting organised by the United People's Movement, which is an alliance of all political forces and parties who are against the war, against the government's repressive laws and against hunger. This was our first mass mobilisation since the present government came to power.
We had got a big response to our posters and expected up to ten thousand people at the rally. Already the day before we were told by the area police administration not to hold the meeting because they could not provide security. I said we would take all necessary measures and that this was a perfectly legal meeting.
Ninety minutes before the meeting started, when most of the helpers and organisers were having lunch nearby, I was with a few others near the stage. Then there was a noise and we saw more than 100 people storming onto the stage. They started to smash the speaker system and all the equipment. I went to see what was happening.
There was Mervyn da Silva, a deputy minister, and he was leading the gang. I was starting to ask him what they were doing there and a group of his crowd started to shout "That's him!" and chase me. I managed to escape by running through the car park and into a nearby supermarket. I entered it and the gangsters started to smash windows and follow me.
I got into another shop and that way I was able to escape and save my life. Then I saw through the windows that they were burning all the equipment put out for the rally.
After a while, with the help of a local three-wheeler (rickshaw) driver, I managed to get out of the area. This is what happened on that day.
AT: You said a deputy minister was leading the gang – why do you think someone close to the government was leading this charge?
Siri: The deputy minister, by the way, at a press conference, on the day of the attack, denied he was even there, while the government is saying the raid he led was aimed at helping the organisers because we did not want the meeting to take place!
The government is very worried about us ever since the new president was inaugurated at the end of 2005. At that time, when I had been the candidate of the USP and come in third, we had warned Rajapakse that if he continued along the road of chauvinism and war, we would organise mass resistance.
Since he came to power, opposition and resistance has developed and a mobilisation against the government was taking place, organised by us. I do not think this is an isolated matter. I think the government planned to attack this meeting because of our efforts in organisin the movement against repression and hunger.
We have made it clear, while we campaign for the rights of the Tamil-speaking people, we do not agree with the terror tactics of the LTTE – the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Tamil Eelam. They deepen the communal divide in Sri Lanka
We have made an official complaint to the government and the police about the attack. But they are trying to make us out to be supporters of terrorism as an excuse for their violence.
AT: What is the situation for the Tamil community in Sri Lanka?
Siri: The situation in the North, where they are a majority, is terrible. There is huge poverty, the prices are five times higher than normal prices and there is hunger. Especially for the children and elderly the situation is dire. There is no medicine.
The government has closed the main A9 road to the North. This means that the main route to the Jaffna Peninsula, along which all goods and supplies were transported, is cut off. We are campaigning for the re-opening of the road and also for emergency supplies to meet the basic human needs. Even schools and hospitals are not functioning.
AT: What is the United People's Movement?
Siri: The UPM, that was only formed recently, is made up of many political parties, with political differences. But still we are campaigning together, for the democratic rights of the workers and poor people - against the war, against chauvinism and against the hunger.
There is inflation of 22% - the highest ever in the country - and every day the prices for food are going up. The UPM has come together to fight for the democratic rights and against the poverty.
We also campaign for the renewal of peace talks in the é( year-long civil war. If the government pursues the bloody war, it will lead to the permanent division of the country. We are totally opposed to this.
AT: And what are the aims and programme of your party, the United Socialist Party (USP)?
Siri: We have a clear programme on the problems of the Tamil-speaking minority. We think they can only be solved on the basis of defending them and defending the principle of the right to self-determination of the Tamil people. But we are clear that we cannot expect this to be solved by the capitalist class. There cannot be a long lasting solution within the capitalist system. The issue can only be resolved under the leadership of the working class.
At the same time we are campaigning for the re-starting of peace talks and for a temporary agreement' so that the working class is able to find a way out of the present polarisation on national lines. We want to mobilise the struggle on the class issues – the polarisation of society between classes – to end the divisions between the communities.
We are the only party that is offering a united struggle of all working class and poor people in Sri Lanka, including all communities – Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese.
AT: What can people do outside Sri Lanka to support your struggle against repression?
Siri: I think the only way is to mobilise maximum support by workers and human rights organisations in your countries. Many people have been killed because of the war. This is why the movement against government repression and also against the LTTE terrorist activities needs maximum support.
AT: What can people in Europe concretely do?
Siri: I think the European working class can play an important role to stop this genocidal war and the repressive measures of the Sri Lankan government.
My name is on a death list issued by communal forces together with 21 other names. It is a very serious situation. Support is needed by people sending protest letters to the government to stop this and to conduct a campaign to make public the attacks on democratic rights and the death threats being made.
In the end, there is no other way of dealing with all these problems except by mobilising working class struggle to fight for socialism world-wide.
In The Socialist 15 January 2007:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Violence against women
Socialist Party review
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news