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Expulsion of Muslims from the Northern province by LTTE

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The expulsion of the Muslims from the Northern province was an act of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Tamil militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organisation in October 1990. Due to increasing tensions between the Muslims (Moors) and Tamils in the North Sri Lanka and the Muslim opposition to the creation of a Tamil homeland, the LTTE forcibly expelled the 72,000 strong Muslim population from the Northern Province.

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Background

In the early years of Tamil political struggle for linguistic parity, Sri Lankan Muslims as a Tamil-speaking people identified with the Tamil cause and participated in it. Even during the early years of Tamil militant struggle for separatism, some Muslim youth joined Tamil militant groups. However, despite being a Tamil-speaking group, the Muslims see themselves as a different ethnicity or utilize their religious identity as their primary identity. With the creation of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress on the 21st of September 1981, the idea of the Muslim people of Sri Lanka being separate from the Tamils, was being reinforced. Due to this, they felt that if the goal of Tamil Eelam was reached, they would be a "minority, in a minority state", and the SLMC were strongly opposed to the idea of Tamil Eelam. The situation was further aggravated with the creation of the Muslim Home Guard, by the Sri Lankan Government, leading to violent clashes and incidents taking place between the two communities. Tensions between the Tamils and Muslims were at an all-time high.

Expulsion

The first expulsion was in Chavakacheri, of 1,500 people. After this, Muslims in Kilinochchi and Mannar were forced many to leave their homeland. The turn of Jaffna came on October 30, 1990; when LTTE trucks drove through the streets ordering Muslim families to assemble at Osmania College. There, they were told to exit the city within two hours. The entire Muslim population was expelled from Jaffna. According to a 1981 census (the last official count), the total Muslim population in Jaffna was 14,844. In total, over 14,400 Muslim families, roughly 72,000 people, were forcibly evicted from LTTE-controlled areas of the Northern Province. This includes 38,000 people from Mannar, 20,000 from Jaffna and Kilinochchi, 9,000 from Vavuniya and 5,000 from Mullaitivu.

Most of the Muslims were resettled in Puttalam district, though the Jaffna Muslim refugees can be found in other parts of Sri Lanka as well.

Apologies and resettlement by LTTE

The expulsion still carries bitter memories amongst Sri Lanka's Muslims. In a press conference in Kilinochchi in 2002, the LTTE negotiator and political strategist Anton Balasingham appeared alongside the LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran and explained that they had already apologized to the Muslims and that the Tamil homeland also belonged to the Muslim people. Balasingham also expressed that the expulsion of the Muslims from Jaffna was a political blunder which could not be justified and said that the LTTE leadership would be willing to re-settle them in the northern district. There has been a stream of Muslims travelling to and from Jaffna since the ceasefire. Some families have returned and the re-opened Osmaniya College now has 450 students enrolled. 11 Mosques are functioning again. According to a Jaffna Muslim source, there is a floating population of about 2000 Muslims in Jaffna. Around 1500 are Jaffna Muslims, while the rest are Muslim traders from other areas. About 10 Muslim shops are functioning and the numbers are thought to have grown.

Sri Lanka's largest Tamil party the Tamil National Alliance also condemned it during the ceremony held in Colombo 2015 to mark the completion of 25 years since Muslims were evicted from the North. TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran criticized the silence of Tamil people when it happened.

References

Expulsion of Muslims from the Northern province by LTTE Wikipedia


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