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NEW ZEALAND: Auckland March Against Massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka

By Cameron Walker


On the 4th of February Auckland's Tamil community held a demonstration against the Sri Lankan Army's (SLA) massive onslaught on the North of Sri Lanka. The 4th of February is Sri Lanka's Independence Day. Over the past month hundreds of Tamil have been killed as the SLA mercilessly shells and bombs cities and towns controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Around 300,000 civilians are trapped in the jungles of North East Sri Lanka, unable to return to their homes. In the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu, a hospital full of war refugees was shelled by the SLA over several days. Reports of other atrocities have come to light but it is hard to gain a full picture of events because the Sri Lankan government has restricted access for journalists to the conflict zone. The Sri Lankan government has declared this to be the 'final assault' on the LTTE, with no possibility of peace talks or a negotiated settlement.


When I arrived at Aotea Square just after 3pm I was surprised to see that a crowd of 200-300 people, mostly Tamil, had already gathered. The march wasn't scheduled to start until 5pm. I commented to my Tamil friend Anne about the size of the crowd and she said "if they don't turn up today they would never turn up. It's that bad". I asked if the situation in Sri Lanka was a bit like Gaza in the jungle and she answered that it was very similar. I detected similar passion, anger and sadness among the Tamil crowd as I had among the Palestinians on the march against Israel's assault on Gaza a few weeks earlier. One demonstrator held a large sign reading 'Gaza and Sri Lanka are on the same planet. UN can't you see us?'. Members of the Tamil Youth Organisation distributed a book of harrowing testimonies of Auckland Tamils about the killings of family members in Sri Lanka by the SLA. Plenty of stickers and pamphlets were also handed to passers-by.


At 5pm the crowd, which had since grown larger, marched down Queen Street to chants of 'Sri Lankan Army stop killing Tamils' and 'New Zealand help us'. Large banners denounced Sri Lanka's state terrorism. Some demonstrators carried portraits of the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran and chanted 'LTTE for Tamils' and 'Prabhakaran our leader'. While the LTTE's authoritarianism makes me weary of offering them support, I can easily see why Tamils in both Sri Lanka and abroad see the Tigers as their liberation movement. Since the independence of Sri Lanka, Tamils have been vicioulsy discriminated against by racists from the dominant Sinhalese ethnic group. The Tigers use of armed struggle as a tactic for an independent Tamil homeland gained a huge amount of support following the 1983 'Black July' massacres of hundreds of Tamil civilians by racist mobs backed by Sri Lankan security forces. The LTTE are condemned as 'terrorists' around the World by the same governments, such as the USA, Israel and Britain, who have no qualms about providing the Sri Lankan Army with military aid, weapons and diplomatic support that helps rain death on Tamil communities.



After a brief sit down and moment of silence at the bottom of Queen Street the crowd turned around and made its way back up to Aotea Square for a rally. At the square a young Tamil man introduced the speakers in the Tamil language, followed by translations into English of the introductions by Nirupa from the Tamil Youth Organisation. The first speaker was Kafeba Mundele, a Congolese man who has been active in supporting refugees living in Auckland. Drawing on his personal experiences and the long standing opression of poor people in Africa, Mr Mundele said that it is "hard to be a slave in your own country" and hard to sleep while bombs were dropping. He emphasised that we all have to continue speaking out as long as the Tamil people are abused and denied freedom. Well known activist John Minto, from Global Peace and Justice Auckland, denounced the assault on Tamil communities and the silence of New Zealand's National led government on the conflict. Maire Leadbeater, from the Indonesia Human Rights Committee, said that this was "a very dark time for Sri Lanka" and also condemned the silence of the NZ government on injustices happening around the World. Maire said that her group strongly supports the right of all people to self determination, whether they be West Papuans suffering under Indonesian Military control or the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.



Joe Carolan from Socialist Aotearoa angrily reflected that Sri Lanka's official name is 'The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka'. "That should be torn down" because socialism is "about working people coming together, no matter whether they are Protestant or Catholic or Sinhalese or Tamils" he declared. The oppression of Tamils by Sinhalese racists removed any right Sri Lanka had to call itself 'socialist'. As an active trade unionist he apologised on behalf of the New Zealand trade union movement because trade union leaders had been slow to take up the issue of the conflict in Sri Lanka. Joe received a massive cheer from the crowd when he declared his support for the "Tamil liberation movement, the LTTE".


Patrick Brown, from the Communist League, said that Sri Lanka's fight for independence from the British was a struggle that united both Sinhalese and Tamils and was an inspiration to people around the World. He commented that the "New Zealand government's silence" on the killing in Sri Lanka "speaks volumes". Both Labour and National governments happily sign up to the US 'war on terror' and thus do not care about the plight of people around the World being terrorised in the name of 'anti-terrorism', such as the Tamils.


After Patrick finished his speech, Nirupa invited me to speak. Using the loudest and most passionate mike voice I could muster, I spoke about how angry I was when I read about the SLA bombing a hospital full of war refugees. This atrocity reminded me of other heinous abuses committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces, such as the 2006 bombing of a school that killed 61 Tamil school girls. "While committing all these atrocities how does the Sri Lankan government and its Western backers, such as the US, Britain and Israel have the audacity to call the Tamil people terrorists" I continued. I ended my speech with a quote from, the US political prisoner, former Black Panther and journalist, Mumia Abu-Jamal: "Conventional wisdom would have one believe that it is insane to resist this, the mightiest of empires. But what history really shows is that today's empire is tomorrow's ashes, that nothing lasts forever, and that to not resist is to acquiesce in your own oppression. The greatest form of sanity that anyone can exercise is to resist that force that is trying to repress, oppress, and fight down the human spirit...".


The rally ended with speeches by Dr Rasalingham and Mr Sundarajan from the Tamil community. Dr Rasalingham spoke in both Tamil and English condemning Sri Lanka's assault on the country's North and stressed that we must never stop lobbying against abuses committed against the Tamil people. Mr Sundarajan gave a stirring speech declaring that Tamils would "never surrender" in their fight for an independent homeland.

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