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Why the world should be worried about Sri Lanka's deepening ties with China.
With Rajapaksa himself acting as Defense Minister and his brother Gotabaya serving as Defense Secretary, no one can challenge the use of Sinhalese Army troops to police Tamil majority regions of the island. But the continued military deployment is exacerbating ethnic tensions that originally sparked the civil war, and reports of harassment, plunder, and rape are multiplying. This will only get worse absent a legitimate peace and reconciliation process.
Truth and accountability are critical elements of reconciliation, but when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon created a three person panel of experts to look at war deaths in Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa’s own housing minister rallied hundreds of protestors outside the UN’s headquarters in Colombo, forcing the offices to be closed and the resident U.N. coordinator to be recalled to New York.
Rather than accept an independent probe, Rajapaksa formed his own “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission,” which most outside observers consider is no more likely to uncover the truth about war crimes in Sri Lanka than the nine other government commissions that preceded it, none of which held anyone accountable.
The international community is not blind to what’s happening in Sri Lanka, but democratic friends seem impotent as Rajapaksa ignores critics in the West and deepens ties with China. While China may be unfazed by the island’s march toward autocratic rule, Sri Lankans should consider what a future with such limited friendships would look like. And the West should consider how many more borderline democracies it can afford to watch fall.
Karunyan Arulantham is a member of the Tamil American Peace Initiative, a group of Tamil Americans formed to help bring lasting peace and justice to Sri Lanka, as well as to focus attention on the destruction of Tamil communities and culture caused by the war.