Sri Lanka Civil War: 'Indian people are very sad'

2009-04-30 00:00

"Indian people here are very sad at what is happening in Sri Lanka," says Guru V. Visvanatha Kurukkal of the Sri Siva Soobramoniar and Marriamen temples in Langalibalele (Longmarket) Street. "We are not taking sides, we want to save civilians. We are asking for a ceasefire. We want both parties to come to the negotiation table. At the moment it is innocent people, civilians, who are affected; it is a very difficult life for them."

The majority of Tamils in South Africa originally descended from 19th century immigrants from Tamil Nadu, India's southernmost province, and consequently there are few with family links to Sri Lanka. However, both Kurukkal and his deputy, Soma Pragaha Sarma, are from Sri Lanka and have relatives in the war zone.

"My relatives are still there," says Kurukkal. "They want to come out, but can't come out. We've had no contact because of the fighting. There are no telephones or other facilities."

Sarma's parents are both in the fighting area. His brother is currently in hospital after being injured during an aerial bombardment two weeks ago.

In response to the intensified conflict in Sri Lanka, the solidarity group for peace and justice in Sri Lanka was formed in December last year. Its members include representatives of the ANC, Cosatu and the SACP, as well as the Tamil Co-ordinating Committee of SA, the South African Tamil Federation and the World Saiva Council. The group is urging the Sri Lankan government to declare an immediate ceasefire.

Pietermaritzburg representatives of the group are Kantha and Pregasen Padayachee. "What moved us as a family to get involved is the situation that women and children are facing," says Kantha Padayachee. "How can the international community sit in silence after seeing the documentary evidence coming through? What other evidence is needed to make a case for intervention?"

Sri Lanka: The country and the conflict

Sri Lanka lies 31 km off the south coast of India and has a population of 20 million people. A one-time British colony known as Ceylon, it gained independence in 1948. In 1972 the country became a republic within the British Commonwealth and changed its name to Sri Lanka.

The Sinhalese form three-quarters of the population and are followers of Buddhism, the rest of the population are either Hindu, Christian or Muslim. The Tamils, who live mainly in the north and east of the island, are the largest ethnic minority and generally Hindu.

Since 1983, there has been a state of civil war in Sri Lanka, fought between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) popularly known as the Tamil Tigers, who are fighting to create an independent state. An estimated 70 000 people have died in the conflict. - Witness Reporter.

Can you help?

Do you know anyone currently in the war zone in Sri Lanka? The Witness is trying to find if there are local people with close connections to the conflict to get first-hand accounts of the situation. If you can assist please phone 033 355 1111 and ask for Stephen Coan or e-mail < a="" href="mailto:feature1@witness.co.za

">feature1@witness.co.za

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