Tamils held in camps / FRFI 210 Aug / Sep 2009

FRFI 210 August / September 2009

Tamils held in camps

Since 18 May, when the Sri Lankan government claimed a total defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), 300,000 Tamil refugees have been held in camps throughout Sri Lanka. President Rajapakse’s government banned the media from reporting on the conditions in these camps. However, on 10 July senior international aid workers reported an average of 1,400 people dying every week in the giant Manik Farm camp alone.

In FRFI 209 we reported the barbaric assault on the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. This came after unprecedented global demonstrations that MPs and politicians worldwide paid lip service to, then ignored as thousands were slaughtered. David Miliband, the Labour government’s Foreign Secretary said he was ‘gravely concerned’ by the conflict. However, Britain continues to license sales of arms and military equipment to the Sri Lankan state and the UN Security Council agreed to a $1.9 billion loan which will aid the genocide further.

The 300,000 Tamil refugees are held in 42 concentration camps surrounded by barbed and razor wire. While Rajapakse terms these ‘welfare villages’, the high death toll is the result of water-borne diseases, starvation and inadequate water supplies. Around 30,000-35,000 children are held in Manik Farm alone, 15-20% of them are suffering from acute malnutrition according to non-governmental organisation reports. Poor sanitation and drainage are spreading dysentery and diarrhoea with an average of 70 people sharing one toilet, a problem that approaching monsoon rains will exacerbate. Rajapakse’s government has also demanded that the Red Cross scale down its operations in Sri Lanka and has recently prevented them from gaining access to the Manik Farm camp.

On 8 July the Sri Lanka government produced five doctors it had detained in the area where the LTTE leadership had retreated. The doctors had given eyewitness accounts of the slaughter and targeting of hospitals and clinics. Since May they had been held incommunicado but, presented to a select media, they retracted their previous statements and claimed that they had been coerced by the LTTE into giving false reports. However, they remain in detention and the state rejects all calls from the United Nations and other international bodies for their release. 

Sri Lanka has not escaped the global economic crisis and, in the first quarter of 2009, 190,000 industrial, apparel and construction workers were made redundant, with others suffering harsh cuts in pay. Over 200 factories have shut down over the past year and the military victory over the LTTE has encouraged ruthless attacks on jobs and working conditions of the Sinhalese working class. Many of these workers toil in Export Processing Zones surrounded by barbed wire fences patrolled by security guards with little press access. It is clear that after crushing Tamil resistance, the Sri Lankan state will not tolerate any dissent from the poorest sections of the Sinhalese as it pushes the burden of the economic crisis onto the working class.

Socialists in Britain must stand in solidarity with the Tamils and their struggle for self-determination and demand an end to British arms sales to Sri Lanka. We must support the call for a boycott of Sri Lanka until all prisoners in the camps are freed. Self-determination for Tamils!
Sam McGill


North Korea’s second nuclear test / FRFI 209 Jun / Jul 2009

FRFI 209 June / July 2009

North Korea’s second nuclear test 

On 25 May the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) conducted a nuclear weapons test, followed by three short range missile tests later the same day.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown declared the tests ‘erroneous, misguided and a danger to the world’. President Obama said the tests ‘pose a grave threat to the peace and security of the world’. Who is a threat to the security of the world? The US has 10,000 nuclear weapons and Britain has 200. The US has 737 overseas military bases. Britain has conducted 129 separate military interventions abroad since the end of the Second World War. Who threatened the peace and security of Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Serbia, where hundreds of thousands of people have been blown to smithereens by imperialism? Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu returned from visiting Obama in May to declare Israel’s responsibility to ‘eliminate’ the ‘nuclear threat’ from Iran. Which other countries has Iran bombed? None! Who has North Korea bombed? Nobody! Nobody asks how many nuclear bombs Israel has. The real threat to the peace and security of the world resides in Washington, London and Tel Aviv. These states are willing to use war repeatedly to sustain their power.

During the 1950-1953 Korean War, the US threatened North Korea with nuclear attack. That war, conducted under the flag of the United Nations, claimed up to three million Korean lives. North Korea knows well the readiness of the US and Britain to kill Koreans and to do so with impunity. That is why North Korea conducted nuclear tests.           

Trevor Rayne


Barbarous assault on the Tamils / FRFI 209 Jun / Jul 2009

FRFI 209 June / July 2009

Barbarous assault on the Tamils

The last stronghold of the leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was overrun by Sri Lankan government forces on 18 May. The Sri Lankan state fought a war of extermination. The scale of the slaughter inflicted is intended to confirm the completeness of victory for Sinhalese chauvinism and total defeat of Tamil national liberation. The Times (29 May 2009), citing UN sources, reported over 20,000 Tamil civilians killed, 45% of them children, in the last three weeks of fighting. Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa said no civilians were killed. Three doctors who worked in the war zone are under arrest, charged with fabricating casualty figures. 300,000 refugees are held in 42 camps surrounded by razor-wire and armed guards. This murderous operation copied the attacks in Jenin, 2002, Fallujah, 2004 and Gaza, 2008-09. The same methods were deployed.

The Sri Lankan army used heavy artillery, cluster bombs and multi-barrel rocket launchers and there is evidence of the UN-prohibited, flesh burning, white phosphorus. The Sri Lankan government said the LTTE used the phosphorus on its own people. It also made claims about human shields, despite evidence that civilians were used to shield the Sri Lankan army advancing on the ‘no fire zone’. Hospitals and clinics were bombed and shelled by Sri Lankan forces.

A Red Cross representative said they witnessed ‘an unimaginable human catastrophe’. Rajapaksa called it ‘a humanitarian operation’ and ‘the world’s largest hostage rescue mission.’ British Labour government foreign secretary David Miliband said Sri Lankan military advances had been ‘striking’, but the ‘scale of civilian casualties is very large indeed, extremely distressing to the international community’. He was ‘gravely concerned’ by the conflict. The word ‘concerned’ is a monument to British ruling class collusion.

The Sri Lankan government rejected ceasefire calls and ignored the 17 May LTTE decision to ‘silence our guns’ to stop the killing of Tamils. At the end, two civilian LTTE leaders arranged through the Red Cross to surrender to the Sri Lankan forces. Following instructions given by the government both were shot dead by Sri Lankan soldiers. Rajapaksa declared 20 May a public holiday. He admitted that since July 2006 6,261 members of the Sri Lankan security forces were killed and 29,551 were injured. 80,000 to 100,000 people have been killed in the war since 1983. 

Divide and rule
Tamils constitute 25% of the island’s 21 million people. Historically, Ceylon was made up of two dominant communities: the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil, living in different regions and governed separately. In 1796 Britain wrested control over the island from the Dutch and joined the regions for administrative purposes, allowing the whole of Ceylon to be exploited for tea, coffee and rubber. Tamils were imported from southern India to work in slave-like conditions on plantations. Tamils indigenous to the island were educated by missionaries and served in the colonial administration, fuelling Sinhalese resentment. Britain granted independence in 1948 but kept strategic military bases and crippling trade agreements in place. Tamil delegations to the London Colonial Office requesting protective measures were brushed aside by the Labour government, fearing harming relations with Sinhalese leaders. Political power was handed to the Sinhalese government who declared one million plantation Tamils non-citizens, removing their right to vote. Tamil language and culture were attacked, a new constitution was imposed without Tamil participation and Tamils were forced out of jobs in the civil service, education, police, army, railways and so on. They resisted, demanding self-determination, through peaceful means including school marches, pickets of parliament and workplace strikes. Non- violent protest was met with state organised violence and pogroms killing thousands of Tamils.

In 1976 elected Tamil leaders declared an independent Tamil state in the north east of Sri Lanka. To create and protect this state the LTTE took up arms, backed by the Tamil population, and have fought for national liberation since. The LTTE were not simply a military organisation. They implemented a judicial system, an alternative to racist Sri Lankan courts; they established an education and health sector, built colleges and hospitals; created the Northeast Secretariat on Human Rights functioning as a human rights commission for Tamils; ran the Bank of TamilEelam and,
in 2004, set up the Planning and Development Secretariat to plan rehabilitation of areas hit by the tsunami. By 2001 70% of the Tamil homeland in the north east was part of Tamil Eelam and a ceasefire was agreed in 2002, mediated by Norway. Within three years the Sri Lankan government broke these agreements and in 2005 President Rajapaksa was elected on promises of ‘No recognition’ of the Tamil homeland or right to self-rule and ‘No to international mediation’. Government paramilitaries and soldiers killed 47 aid workers, assassinated five Tamil MPs, murdered journalists, abducted hundreds of Tamils and broke the ceasefire, bombing a children’s home, killing 67 pupils and seven teachers. A government minister justified the bombing saying ‘there is nothing wrong in killing future child soldiers’. British arms exports to Sri Lanka rose 60% in 2005.

Strategic significance
Sri Lanka is located at the junction of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal and is consequently the object of major power struggles. Since 2007 the British Labour government has licensed sales of machine guns, small arms, communications equipment and armoured vehicles to Sri Lanka. Israel has provided Blue Horizon drones and military advisers. The complete ban on journalists entering the war zone, the targeting of hospitals and clinics and use of white phosphorus are reminiscent of the Israeli attack on Gaza.

Despite Sri Lankan state terrorism the United Nations Security Council demanded that the LTTE stop using civilians as human shields, lay down their arms, renounce terrorism and join political talks. Within the Security Council, Russia and China considered the war to be an ‘internal matter’. The Security Council did not call on the government to stop fighting, only to stop using heavy weapons – a call that was ignored.

China was the biggest aid provider to Sri Lanka in 2008 and since the 1990s has been the biggest arms supplier. In terms of trade routes, Sri Lanka is potentially a key ally. ‘We can no longer accept the Indian Ocean as an ocean of only the Indians,’ remarked the head of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 1993. Oil is transported from the Persian Gulf and raw materials from Africa across the Indian Ocean south of Sri Lanka and through the Strait of Malacca to the South China Sea. In 2006 the Malacca trade route recorded 35% of all seaborne oil flow. The route supplies 85% of China’s imported oil. China deployed a naval fleet to the Strait in December 2008. It is building ports along the Indian Ocean coastline: at Gwadar in Pakistan, Chittagong in Bangladesh and Hambantota in the south of Sri Lanka. The US and India have designs on Trincomalee, a deepwater port in the Tamil region.

These power struggles are dictating the fate of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government is using its strategic significance to play rival powers off against each other, preventing sanctions and using it as a permit to buy all manner of arms, UN-prohibited or not. Governments go through the motions of expressing ‘deep concern’ but the UN Security Council still agrees to a $1.9 billion loan which will further aid the genocide.

The fight will continue
In Sri Lanka the Tamils, vastly outgunned, truly fought like tigers. Across western Europe they defied police repression and the European Union’s proscription of the LTTE as ‘terrorist’ to take to the streets in protest at the extermination. These protests have been constant in London since 7 April and have visited Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leicester and other cities. Undaunted by proscriptions of the Terrorism Act or the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act there is a permanent Tamil presence outside the Houses of Parliament. The Metropolitan Police Territorial Support Group has cordoned and baton-charged the protest, attacked photographers and journalists and separated children from their families in attempts to shut down the protest.

300,000 Tamils are held in concentration camps in Sri Lanka. There are reports of murders, abductions, hunger and disease. The media are completely barred. Sinhalese chauvinists will be tempted to wreak vengeance on their captives. Sri Lanka exports textiles, clothes, tea, diamonds, jewellery and petrol worth over £500 million a year to Britain. Britain is Europe’s largest investor in Sri Lanka. Socialists in Britain must stand in solidarity with the Tamils, demand an end to all arms sales to the Sri Lankan state and demand sanctions on trade until the right of the Tamils to self-determination is secured. All repression of Tamils in Britain and Europe must be opposed.

Sam McGill and Trevor Rayne


British imperialism in Vietnam

Many people, including much of the Left, believe that British troops did not fight in Vietnam and that Britain gave the US political, but not military, support. For instance, Peter Taaffe of the Socialist Party in Socialism Today (November/December 2003), comparing Prime Minister Wilson to Blair, claims that Britain did not send troops to Vietnam and that Wilson played the role of peacemaker. The Communist Party of Great Britain made a similar point in the Weekly Worker on 15 March 2001. This is a myth. Britain fully supported the US in Vietnam and even had troops there. Thomas Atkins examines the evidence.

On 2 September 1945, Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Viet Minh proclaimed Vietnam independent on behalf of its people. The Japanese occupation and Vichy French colonial troops had been disarmed. France, the pre-war colonial power, was in no position to intervene. Britain sent its 20th India Division to occupy Vietnam on behalf of the French. They rearmed the fascist Japanese and Vichy troops and re-imposed French rule.


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Australian dockers on strike - Workers win the first battle / FRFI 143 Jun / Jul 1998

FRFI 143 June / July 1998

by Anthony Bidgood

On 7 April at midnight, Patricks Stevedores, one of the two major stevedoring companies in Australia (the other being the British transnational P&O), sacked its entire workforce throughout Australia. This action was another effort by the conservative coalition government to destroy the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) - a union representing wharfies (dockers) and seamen.

This ongoing attempt to destroy the MUA brought together the Federal government, especially the Industrial Relations minister Peter Reith, the management of Patricks, the National Farmers' Federation (NFF), who set up their own scab stevedoring company, and Fynwest, a company run by former SAS officers who were to supply the scab labour.


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Indonesia into the vortex / FRFI 143 Jun / Jul 1998

FRFI 143 June / July 1998

A vortex of imploding debt is swallowing up entire economies and governments. Indonesia's financial crisis ignited the fires that burnt down Jakarta. The complacency with which capitalist commentators greeted last year's Asian currency and stock market falls - talk of necessary adjustments, temporary aberrations - has given way to grim mutterings of a global crash. They are right. Trevor Rayne describes the context of the Indonesian uprising.

'For miles the streets of Jakarta look like the set of a disaster film. Hundreds of shops, houses, public buildings, police stations, hotels, discos, shopping centres and markets were burnt.' Richard Lloyd Parry, The Independent, 15 May, 1998

Tanks and armoured cars criss-crossed the city, squadrons of troops on motorbikes raced around looking for targets, but the anger of the workers and the poor could not be suppressed. The official tally of the 15 May outpouring is 3,000 buildings destroyed, including 500 banks, 1,000 cars and 500 motorbikes, at a cost of $230 million. The National Commission on Human Rights say 1,188 people were killed.


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East Timor: a fire fuelled by imperialism

FRFI 151 October / November 1999

On 30 August, after 23 years of bloody repression by Indonesia, 98.6 per cent of the people of East Timor turned out to vote in a UN-sponsored referendum. Despite intimidation by Indonesian-backed militia, the result was a massive vote for independence and freedom and against limited autonomy under Indonesian rule. Within two weeks, East Timor had been destroyed, its cities reduced to smoking shells, hundreds of East Timorese murdered and almost the entire population driven from their homes. Only then did the United Nations send in peace-keeping troops. One of the first acts of the their commander, Major-General Peter Cosgrove, was to shake hands with the Indonesian military -- who actively participated in the carnage -- and praise them for their 'first-class assistance'. But a willingness to ignore Indonesian crimes, however heinous, has always been the hallmark of the west's attitude to East Timor.


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Resistance builds to racist Australian immigration laws

FRFI 170 December 2002 / January 2003

John Howard’s hard line on asylum seekers reveals the ingrained racism of the Australian government. But the tide may be starting to turn in Australia’s immigration debate.

No-one was surprised when John Howard’s conservative government was returned for a third term in October 2001. Howard capitalised on the 11 September attacks in the US, creating a khaki election atmosphere where a change of government to Labor was never likely.

What was surprising was the extra mileage that Howard made once Australians were sensitised to the asylum seeker issue. The Tampa, a Norwegian freighter, arrived off Christmas Island on 28 August 2001, after rescuing 450 refugees, mostly Afghanis, just as their boat was breaking up. The Australian government refused them permission to land, and ordered The Tampa out of Australian waters. But the captain declined to leave, pointing out that his vessel was not equipped to carry so many passengers. Howard responded by sending heavily armed SAS troops to occupy the ship. The stand-off was only resolved by an expensive deal stitched up when New Zealand and Nauru agreed to ‘process’ the asylum seekers.


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Bhopal – still waiting for justice

In the early hours of the morning on 3 December 1984, methyl isocyanate (MIC), a lethal toxic gas, leaked from a chemical plant in Bhopal, India. Within the next 24 hours 8,000 people had died. A further 15,000 were to die over the next few years with an estimated 500,000 left with chronic and debilitating injuries. Twenty years on and a person still dies every single day from the effects of the accident.

It was quite possibly the biggest industrial accident in history. An avoidable accident, resulting from the relentless pursuit of profit that capitalism has spread around the world. Throughout the 1970s India increased its exposure to the free-market and sought more foreign direct investment. A lot of it was found through the transformation of world agriculture labelled as the ‘Green Revolution’, which brought to India agricultural multinationals such as a company called Union Carbide.


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Burma: people on the march / FRFI 199 Oct / Nov 2007

FRFI 199 October / November 2007

Burma: people on the march

As we go to press, the outcome of the mass uprising against the tyrannical military junta in Burma remains unclear. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest against a regime infamous for its brutality against the poor and the indigenous populations of the country.

The spark for the uprising was a decision by the junta on 15 August to double the price of diesel and to raise the price of gas by 500% As a consequence, the price of essential food items rose by 35%. Demonstrations started on 19 August and then swelled until on 24 September marches were held in dozens of towns and cities, and an estimated 100,000 protested in the capital Rangoon. Led by Buddhist monks, marchers have been shot down, tear-gassed, clubbed and arrested.

This is not the first time the Burmese people have risen up. In both 1986 and 1988 mass protests calling for democratisation were met with savage repression and thousands were killed on the streets. Following this the Burmese army established the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), now renamed the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Under SLORC, the country was completely militarised. Campaigns were waged against rural ethnic communities as they fought to defend their land. Thousands were murdered each year and a million people displaced. A regime of slave labour was established to undertake infrastructure projects; according to John Pilger, some two million people have been forced to work on building roads, railways, airports and gas pipelines and tourist facilities. The UN Commission on Human Rights reported in 1994 that ‘torture, summary and arbitrary executions, forced labour, abuse of women…oppression of ethnic and religious minorities’ were ‘commonplace’.

This did not stop western oil companies from signing up to exploit Burma’s gas resources. In 1995, a consortium led by US company Unocal and France’s Total signed a deal to extract gas off the Burmese coast and pipe it across indigenous lands in southern Burma. Forced labour was used to build the pipeline as SLORC brutally cleared the area it was to run through. In 1996, Labour shadow Foreign Office minister Derek Fatchett supported sanctions; when in office a year later he said the government would ‘continue to provide British companies with routine advice about doing business in Burma’. As it is, many US and British companies have continued to deal with the Burmese regime through subsidiaries in Thailand and Singapore.

Today 90% of the population live below the UN poverty line of $1 per day; malnourishment is endemic and next to nothing is spent on healthcare so that the infant mortality rate is a staggering 100 per 1,000 live births. According to an unemployed economist, ‘living standards have gone down and down. The middle classes have become poor, and the poor have become destitute’ (from Sydney Morning Herald).

The struggle in Burma has now become a battle between the imperialist powers. George Bush’s and Gordon Brown’s concern for democracy has everything to do with Burma’s geo-strategic position, its natural resources and its relationship to China, and nothing to do with the interests of the mass of the Burmese people. Britain and the US are looking to the bourgeois National League of Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi to replace the SPDC junta. The NLD, which has a straightforward neo-liberal programme, is worried by the demonstrations; spokesperson Sann Aung issued a statement on 25 September saying ‘We’re not calling for the junta to step down. We don’t want it to lose face. We want it to engage in dialogue and a political settlement with Aung San Suu Kyi’. Such temporising followed the 1988 demonstrations; the consequence was elections in 1990 whose result (an 82% landslide victory for the NLD) SLORC promptly disregarded.

FRFI completely supports the struggle of the poor and oppressed of Burma and their right to determine their future free from military rule and any external interference.
Robert Clough


Maoist party wins election

‘This victory is a command by the Nepali people to establish lasting peace’ Prachanda, April 2008

On 10 April, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN(M)) won elections for a Constituent Assembly with 31% of the vote: they gained 120 of the 240 directly-elected seats and 100 of the seats allotted through proportional representation. The Maoists’ spectacular victory was a shock for the regional and global powers who presumed that the bourgeois Nepali Congress Party and its allies would form the government. The Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (UML) had 110 and 103 seats respectively. The US embassy in Kathmandu had scornfully predicted that the CPN(M) would garner a mere 10% of the vote.


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EDITORIAL / FRFI 141 Feb / Mar 1998

FRFI 141 February / March 1998


Southeast Asian crisis: gnawing away at the foundations

The smugness of international bankers and US government officials that they have contained the southeast Asian economic crisis should deceive no one. While the world's major stockmarkets may, for the time being, have recovered from the dramatic falls of last autumn, the southeast Asian crisis is gnawing away at the foundations of the international capitalist system.

The massive $100bn IMF-led rescue operation has prevented an immediate collapse of the major southeast Asian economies and delayed the impact of the crisis on the dominant imperialist nations. In the third week of January, IMF managing director Michel Camdessus felt able to reject fears that the Asian crisis would unleash a deflationary wave throughout the world economy. The US economy, he said, was well able to absorb the shocks, the impact on the European Union would be marginal, and the threat to the emerging markets in Latin America and eastern Europe was limited. Confidence is everything when the foundations are rotten and it was, after all, what investors on the stockmarkets needed to hear.


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Australia: Racism rules in Australian courts

FRFI 206 December 2008 / January 2009

On 24 October 2008 Aboriginal Australian Lex Wotton was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in Townsville District Court for ‘inciting a riot with damage’. Wotton was one of a number of members of the Palm Island Aboriginal community who took part in burning down the police station, the attached courthouse and part of the police barracks following the death in custody of local man Cameron Doomadgee (now known as ‘Mulrunji’ – the Dead One) in November 2004. Mulrunji was arrested by Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley for public nuisance and was dead an hour later. The ‘public nuisance’ Mulrunji was making consisted of drunkenly singing ‘Who let the dogs out?’ while he walked past Hurley’s police van while Hurley was in the process of arresting another Aboriginal man. Mulrunji, then 36, had never been arrested by Hurley before and had no criminal record. Mulrunji died from massive internal injuries including a ruptured spleen and having his liver ‘almost cleaved in two’.

The initial inquiry into Mulrunji’s death was conducted by two of Hurley’s fellow officers, Stephen Kitching and Darren Robinson, the latter of whom is a friend of Hurley’s. Hurley picked up both officers from the Palm Island airport on the evening of the death and had them round for dinner and beers at his house.


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