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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 962


Mr GRACE(10.48) —I rise tonight to bring attention to the deteriorating situation which exists in Sri Lanka. The gunboat diplomacy of the Sri Lankan Government deserves the condemnation of the whole civilised world. Before anybody rises to voice his opinion and say that that is an unreasonable, unfounded statement and that I am a blind supporter of the so-called `Tamil terrorists'-because that is the cry that will emanate from the Sri Lankan Embassy in Canberra tomorrow morning-allow me to inform honourable members as to why I make such a strong statement. Whether we discuss here the rights or wrongs of the Tamil minority claims-and I happen to believe that they have some very valid claims-I am sure that honourable members will agree that there has to be something drastically wrong with a so-called democratic government that will not allow valid and properly credentialled observers from world-accredited organisations or from world respected governments to observe the conditions in that country. Such a situation exists in Sri Lanka.

Honourable members may also be interested to know that at present the International Red Cross, whose reputation is beyond question in my opinion, has been denied permission to study conditions in this unhappy country. The argument of the Sri Lankan Government in refusing entry to any organisation such as the Red Cross is that it would be interfering in the affairs of the nation-an argument that I reject completely. It should be remembered that even the ultra-conservative Thatcher Government in the United Kingdom allows observers to study at first hand conditions in Northern Ireland. So, on purely humanitarian grounds, the Government of Sri Lanka must stand condemned in the eyes of the free world for its intransigent and callous attitude. Furthermore, by refusing the entry of independent observers such as the International Red Cross, the Sri Lankan Government has left itself open to the inevitable charge of untruth where conflicting versions of incidents are involved. I cite as an example an article in the Australian newspaper of today, 17 March, by correspondent Michael Hamlyn, concerning a reported mortar fire some weeks ago in the streets of Jaffna. The correspondent reported that as many as 20 innocent people died in the attack, whereas a Government communique denied that any such incident took place and said that such reports are figments of the minds of terrorist propagandists. Surely, if such accounts are false, it is in the interests of Sri Lankan officials to allow independent observers into the country to stop the flow of disinformation. Unfortunately, one is forced to view with some cynicism a government that makes claims yet does not allow observers to verify those claims, on the ground that observance is interference.

The gunboat diplomacy of the Sri Lankan Government goes much further than the banning of foreign observers. It also extends to provocative posturing, as demonstrated by a statement by the President, Mr Jayewardene, in a newsletter to the Times on 27 January 1986:

I am winning this war . . . I have come to realise that only success matters. I do not care what New Delhi, London or any other country says. How quickly and effectively I can exterminate the militants is the crux of the problem and I am on the point of achieving this . . . now I have more weapons. Countries like Pakistan are training my men. In 1985, Pakistan trained 60 officers and 1500 junior commissioned officers. My air force is also being trained by people from abroad.

There is also, of course, the famous statement by the national security Minister, who visited our country recently, in a statement made on 10 August 1985: `We are going to smash heads'.

The problems of Sri Lanka require urgent world recognition so that the Sri Lankan Government might be persuaded to the negotiating table. The present attitude of the Government is only serving to throw that beautiful country into further unrest and bloodshed. Under no circumstances can the bombing and shelling of hospitals and innocent people be condoned under the excuse of dealing with what can be described only as the struggle of an oppressed ethnic minority for basic democratic rights in its own country. The killing and internment of innocent people on both sides has to cease immediately, and meaningful negotiations must be conducted to solve the problems of this once happy nation.