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Thursday, 16 May 1985
Page: 2116


Senator TATE(6.43) —I want to speak very briefly about some communal violence which occurred in the past week in Sri Lanka. On 14 May there was a very serious attack on civilians by Tamil terrorists in the holy city of Anuradhapura in northern Sri Lanka. Reports of the number of people killed vary. If one said 100, one would be close to the probable reality. It is clear that the attack was one of the worst acts of communal violence in Sri Lanka in recent years. The attack is particularly noteworthy because of its religious overtones in that the Tamil terrorists-Tamil tigers, as I think they are termed-who mounted this attack clearly meant it to be of significance in relation to the holy city of Anuradhapura which is, of course, of great significance to the Buddhist Sinhalese majority of Sri Lanka. Clearly, the attack was designed to exacerbate and inflame tension between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities.

I think it is worth bringing the matter to the attention of the Senate because individual senators and, indeed, the Government have been subjected to a very skilfully mounted public relations exercise on behalf of the Tamil communities of Sri Lanka who themselves have suffered some repressive measures by government security forces and by the army in some less than well-controlled situations. That has to be acknowledged. I think it also has to be acknowledged that when the Government condemns communal violence in Sri Lanka it ought not to do so in an utterly even-handed manner. The fact is that the terrorism promoted from within the Tamil community is the catalyst, the cause, the fact, which then invites a response from a community which, by its very nature, from my observation, is very long suffering and passive. The Sinhalese community does at times erupt and that is when some of the terrible violence that we have seen disfigure even the capital, Colombo, over the past several years occurs.

I believe that the Australian Government is correct in firmly supporting the political and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and condemning the violence that does occur, but I do make a plea that it be recognised that the Tamil community itself needs to take control of those elements within it which are devoted to violence and violence which is directed, apparently, against significant Buddhist cities in a way which must cause a reaction and inflame tension. I hope that the visit by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Hayden, to Sri Lanka from 20 to 23 May will enable him, in his discussions with a wide range of communal personalities, and the Government of course, to aid Australia in coming to an understanding of the situation there, so that it may join in the solution to this intercommunal problem.