Warnings over ongoing political repression in Sri Lanka | Connect Asia

Warnings over ongoing political repression in Sri Lanka

Warnings over ongoing political repression in Sri Lanka

Updated 15 April 2013, 13:59 AEST

The United States has warned that Sri Lanka risks sliding back into conflict unless the political repression of its Tamil community ends.

There have been fresh attacks on media outlets across the country.

Arsonists struck a newspaper office in the northern city of Jaffna over the weekend - the fifth attack on the media since January.

The situation has implications for Australia. Senior Tamils warn that asylum seekers will keep leaving Sri Lanka unless the security situation improves at home.

Correspondent: Michael Edwards

Speakers: Siva Kumaran, senior editor, Uthayan; Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director for Human Rights Watch

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Uthayan is the leading newspaper in the Jaffna Peninsular, the northern part of Sri Lanka where Tamils make up the majority of the population. The newspaper has long been critical of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government, and the military.

Over the weekend a group of armed men forcibly entered its offices.

Siva Kumaran is one of the newspaper's senior editors.

SIVA KUMARAN: They entered through the machine room and so fired to the our web machine and machine fully damaged, and they burnt some paper reels and the machine.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Last week, a group of people attacked another Uthayan office, leaving five workers injured. Siva Kumaran says the newspaper is a target because of its opposition to the Sri Lankan government.

SIVA KUMARAN: We can't say who is that, but the suspects maybe, they paramilitary forces, some paramilitary forces, they are, maybe it's done by them.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: It's the fifth attack on a newspaper in northern Sri Lanka this year. And reports of abductions, surveillance and harassment of Tamils continue despite the country's civil war ending four years ago.

The United Nations passed a resolution on March the 21st, calling on the Sri Lankan government to address human rights violations. And the United States warns that ethnic conflict could flare again unless the repression stops.

Meenakshi Ganguly is the South Asia Director for Human Rights Watch.

MEENAKSHI GANGULY: There seems to be a sense that the government is not serious about addressing these serious allegations of human rights violations. And what that means is that there's... there's a Tamil community both in Sri Lanka and outside, is getting increasingly unhappy about this, and about the government's repeated denials.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Tamils say this political oppression is making many of them seek asylum in Australia.

A boat full of Tamils arrived on the coast of Western Australia last week. The boats come despite efforts by both countries to stop them.

Meenakshi Ganguly says the only way asylum seekers will stop trying to get to Australia is if the situation in Sri Lanka improves.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The Australian Government has to put pressure on Sri Lanka to not,,, instead of trying to stop these people leaving, to make the situation such that people do not wish to leave.

They're looking at the symptoms and as actually they should be looking at the disease because unless the disease is cured, unless life becomes better for like in Sri Lanka, these symptoms will continue.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The Sri Lankan government denies it's involved in any human rights abuses or attacks on media outlets.

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