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Tamils Flee - From Other Tamils

Many return to Sinhalese-dominated areas rather than be forced into Indian-backed militias. SRI LANKA

IN July 1983, after his father was killed by Sinhalese in anti-Tamil rioting in Colombo, Darshan sought safety in a Tamil enclave in eastern Sri Lanka. Two years ago, the Tamil youth welcomed the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) in the north and east after India and Sri Lanka signed an accord aimed at ending the ethnic conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils.

Now, Darshan says, he fled back to the capital last month in the face of a new threat. Refusing to give his last name for fear of retaliation, the student said he left the east to escape forced induction into a new Tamil militia supported by the Indian Army.

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Hundreds of youths have been taken from their homes by Tamil groups controlling the new northeastern government and are beaten if they refuse, he said.

``We thought the IPKF had come to help us against the Sinhalese Army. But now they are helping [the Tamil militants] to catch and torture Tamils,'' Darshan said at a camp housing 1,300 Tamils.

``There is still great danger from the Sri Lankan Army if the IPKF goes,'' he continued. ``But the threat we face now is worse than what we faced before.''

Sri Lanka's Tamil minority, about one-fifth of the island's 16 million people, is bewildered. In 1987, they hoped the peace agreement and the arrival of Indian soldiers signaled the end of ethnic turmoil and years of discrimination by the Colombo government.

Thousands of Tamils who had taken refuge in the nearby south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where 55 million of their kinfolk live, returned to Sri Lanka.

But the euphoria dimmed when the Tamil Tigers, the most powerful of the militant groups fighting for an independent Tamil homeland, refused to surrender under the accord. For two years, the extremists have battled Indian troops in the north and east, where more than 10,000 people have died since 1983.

Now, mounting pressure for a pullout of the 45,000 Indian soldiers has deeply splintered the mainly Hindu Tamils, once united against the Buddhist Sinhalese.

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India withdrew 875 more soldiers Sunday, following 620 who left on July 29, but talks between India and Sri Lanka are now stalled. Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who earlier this year opened peace talks with the Tamil Tigers, is pushing for a full pullout of the Indian forces. Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi says a pullout must be linked to more power to the Tamils, as called for by the accord.

While some Tamils say the Indian Army is needed as a buffer against the Sri Lankan military and government, others want the Indian forces out because of alleged brutality by the Indians and the Tamil groups they support.

``The disenchantment with the previously good relationship with India has lead to a great bitterness among Tamils,''says a Sri Lankan analyst in Colombo.

In the Tamil-dominated north, there is widespread opposition to the Indian presence because support for the Tigers, regaled as Tamil heroes, remains strong. The Tigers have called for a separate Tamil homeland uniting the north with the east.

In the east, where Tamils equally share the province with Sinhalese and Muslims, many Tamils feel the Indians are needed as a protection against Sri Lankan forces who have been confined to their barracks under the accord.

The newly elected Tamil government, based in Trincomalee and comprised of Tamil groups rivaling the Tigers, would fall without Indian support, triggering a new fighting among the Tamil groups, Tamil leaders predict.

``It will be a bloody war,'' predicts Varatharaja Perumal, the chief minister of the north and east. ``There is no no quick solution to this problem.''

In the central hills of Sri Lanka, Tamils first brought from India a century ago to work in the tea plantations have long supported the Sri Lankan government and changed their position with the political winds blowing from Colombo.

In the last year, Sauvimiamoorthy Thondaman, a government minister and leader of the plantation Tamils, succeeded in winning Sri Lankan citizenship for thousands of workers, long a contentious issue with Colombo.

Under former Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene, who signed the accord with India, the plantation Tamils favored the Indian Army. But since Premadasa came to power last December, they have taken the middle ground and called for a phased pullout.

``There are fundamental differences among the Tamils,'' says a prominent Tamil leader. ``In the north, the IPKF is seen as an alien force that interferes with the ability of the people to run their own destiny. In the east, there is a serious fear that if the Indians leave, Tamils will not not be able to live there.

``The plantation Tamils also are apprehensive that Sinhalese chauvinism will spill over again,'' he says. ``But they have gotten some guarantees from the government, and they have a false sense of complacency.''

Compounding the confusion are accusations of Indian abuses in the north and east. Recently, reports by Amnesty International and a Sri Lankan group, the Jaffna University Teachers for Human Rights, claimed that hundreds of Tamil civilians have been detained and dozens have disappeared in Indian Army custody.

In recent months, the forced recruitment of Tamil youths for the Indian backed civilian volunteer force also has caused widespread fear among Tamils.

At the Colombo camp, Tamils complained of being pulled off buses and trains by Tamil militants connected to the government and assisted by Indian forces, having their heads and eyebrows shaved, and finally fleeing through the jungles to escape to the south.

An Indian official in Colombo dismissed the complaints saying they should go to the government in the northeastern province. ``This is their elected government,'' he said. ``What can the Indian Army do?''

``The Indian army has made little difference to this internal fighting among the Tamils,'' said one Tamil college student. ``If there had been no split we really could have gotten something from the Sri Lankan government. Now we are so divided and our hand is so weak, we can't make a common stand.''

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