President Rajapakse and the military may have defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels, but the aspirations of Tamils on the island are by no means ended. And it would seem Sri Lankan Tamils have the support of their relatives overseas. Preliminary results from a referendum held last weekend in Australia show an overwhelming majority of Australian Tamils support the creation of an independent Tamil homeland.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Dr Sam Pari, Australian Tamil Congress
PARI: It was a national referendum so people all the way from Perth to Sydney to Canberra, all over Australia participated.
LAM: So what do the early results tell you?
PARI: The early results show us that an overwhelming majority, more than 99 per cent have voted in favour of a creation of an independent Tamil homeland.
LAM: Is the Australian Tamil sentiment shared by the Tamil diaspora worldwide? For instance have similar exercises been held abroad?
PARI: Yes, up to ten countries have had similar referendums recently, including the United Kingdom, Canada and other countries in Europe and the pattern has been the same, the overwhelming majority I would say about 99 per cent in each of those countries have voted in favour of an independent Tamil homeland.
LAM: Is the Tamil diaspora certainly here in Australia, are the Tamils here encouraging the Tamil Tigers to regroup or do you think the message is a far more peaceful one?
PARI: The message is that the Tamil people have always wanted an independent homeland, this was before the creation of the Tamil Tigers and we wanted to show the world that this aspiration still exists after the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers last year in May. So the reality is that the Tamil people feel that the only solution to the continuing persecution, oppression of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka is for the creation of a Tamil homeland where Tamil people can rule themselves.
LAM: In a way that's not a solution is it, because it's certainly not a political solution because the Sinhalese majority will certainly never agree to a separate independent Tamil state?
PARI: Well if you go back and look at history, the Tamils had their own kingdom before British colonisation, and when the British left they really should have left the island the way they had found it, but instead the Tamils went from British colonisation to Sinhala colonisation. So what the Tamil diaspora are asking, and many Tamils in Sri Lanka share the same sentiment, what we're asking is for an independent Tamil homeland to be declared in the area of the north and east where the original Tamil kingdom existed, and we want the international community to help the Tamil people in achieving this goal. And we have seen other countries form new independent homelands be created once the international community steps in and helps with these negotiations.
LAM: Well as you say the Tamils had their own kingdom but times have changed and do you think it's a bit unrealistic to expect the Sinhala majority to willingly give back those lands, to willingly hand back control after almost a century of a unified Sri Lankan state?
PARI: Well the reality is the Tamils wouldn't have asked for this solution if not for the continuing persecution and oppression of the Tamil people. For decades, ever since the British left and granted Sri Lanka independence we have seen Tamils being persecuted, oppressed, discriminated in the employment and the education system, government-backed violence unleashed upon the Tamil civilians. And it's these successive systematic discrimination and oppression that has caused the Tamil people to ask for this, because the majority of the Tamil people feel this may be the only solution.
LAM: Do you think the Tamils, not just the diaspora, but certainly Tamils in Sri Lanka, that they'll be happy enough if the government allows for more equitable treatment of Tamil minority, allows for greater equal rights, and in fact revert to the good times of when Sri Lanka was still Ceylon and Tamils enjoyed far greater rights?
PARI: Well that question has to be answered by the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the diaspora, Tamil community is calling for an independent referendum led by maybe the United Nations in Sri Lanka so that we can find out what the Tamils in Sri Lanka really want. At the moment the Tamils there feel very intimidated, they are interrogated and even the recent presidential as well as the parliamentary elections showed us that the Tamil people in Sri Lanka did not vote, did not participate in the voting and the few who did vote felt very intimidated or were subject to interrogation in that process.