by Thanjai Nalankilli
This is time for western democracies to act. Those who gave an international safety net to the Sri Lankan government should now throw at least a lifeline to the Tamil minority. We do not expect the United States of America (USA) or the European Union (EU) to send troops to protect the Tamil minority as they did in Kosovo. All we ask is, “please put an arms embargo on Sri Lanka” on an emergency basis. This should be done now without delay, before the Sri Lankan military acquires large supplies of arms and ammunition. Maybe, maybe, then the Sri Lankan government would see that it could not score a decisive military victory over the LTTE and agree to a honourable political solution.
1. Sri Lanka’s Duplicity and Western Democracies
It is April 2008. By now the world knows that the Sri Lankan government has no intention of devolving reasonable powers to the Tamil minority (something the Tamils knew for decades). Until just a couple of years ago Sri Lankan government ministers and diplomats were going around the world telling them that they want to “soften” the LTTE militarily to force LTTE to agree to a reasonable solution to the ethnic conflict. Now we know that it was a lie and what the Sri Lankan government wanted was to destroy LTTE and impose a pax Sinhala rule over the Tamil minority.
Once the western democracies realized the Sri Lankan duplicity they stopped much of the financial aid. United States of America (USA) that gave some military assistance in the past also stopped much of it, hoping that the Sri Lankan government would stop its quest for a military solution and go to the peace table.
2. Who are the Financiers and Arms Suppliers?
Western democracies were not the only source of financial aid and weapons to Sri Lanka. In June 2007, faced with criticism from western democracies and cut in financial aid from them, Sri Lanka’s defence secretary (and the president’s brother) Gotabaya Rajapaksa said, “We won’t be isolated. We have all the SAARC (South Asia Association of Regional Co-operation) countries, the Asian countries. Britain, or Western countries, the EU (European Union) countries, they can do whatever. We don’t depend on them. They are not giving anything.”
Which Asian countries was Gotabaya Rajapaksa talking about? China is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastrucure and industrial projects. Indian government is quietly pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into Sri Lanka with no strings attached. India is also secretly, and sometimes openly, gifting weapons and training to Sri Lankan military. China and some Eastern European countries are selling weapons to Sri Lanka. Pakistan has emerged as a major arms seller to Sri Lanka.
Only thing that stands in the way of total subjugation of the Tamil minority as second class citizens for another half a century or more is the military strength of LTTE (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam).
All news reports seem to indicate that LTTE is considerably weakened militarily. Yet they seem to put up stiff resistance against the Sri Lankan military making inroads into their territories in the north. A news item in an Indian newspaper on April 2, 2008 reported that Sri Lanka had ordered from Pakistan 150,000 rounds of 60 mm mortar ammunition for immediate delivery, in addition to $25 million worth of 81 mm, 120 mm and 130 mm mortar ammunition to be delivered within a month.
3. It is Time for Western Democracies to Act
It is time for western democracies to act urgently before the Sri Lankan military destroys the only leverage the Tamil minority has, the armed strength of LTTE. Western democracies must act now, before there is no leverage at all and an unjust, unfair solution is imposed.
This is time for western democracies to act. Those who gave an international safety net to the Sri Lankan government should now throw at least a lifeline to the Tamil minority. We do not expect the United States of America (USA) or the European Union (EU) to send troops to protect the Tamil minority as they did in Kosovo. All we ask is, “please put an arms embargo on Sri Lanka” on an emergency basis. This should be done now without delay, before the Sri Lankan military acquires large supplies of arms and ammunition. May be, may be, then the Sri Lankan government would see that it could not score a decisive military victory over the LTTE and agree to a honourable political solution.
When we say arms embargo, we do not mean that western democracies should not sell or give arms and ammunition to Sri Lanka, we mean a total international arms embargo, prohibiting any country from selling or giving arms and ammunition to Sri Lanka. We know that it may take considerable effort to persuade the United Nations (UN) Security Council to go along with an embargo. But efforts should be made to that end. In the meantime America and European Union should persuade countries like Pakistan and Ukraine to stop the sale of weapons to Sri Lanka.
4. The Question of India
Unlike the western democracies, India is not impartial in the Sri Lankan conflict. Its position is anti-Tamil; India’s actions are evidence of that. While western democracies are trying to douse the war fire in Sri Lanka, India is pouring oil into the fire by way of financial aid, military training and hardware. While western democracies cut their financial aid to Sri Lanka substantially, India increased it. While America stopped much of its military supplies to Sri Lanka, India is continuing to supply it. In the same way India opposed a European Union sponsored human rights resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2006, it would lobby against an arms embargo too. Western democracies should ignore it and act quickly before it is too late. In the same way the west helped Kosvo in spite of objection from some of its neighbors, they should ignore Indian objections and proceed with an arms embargo.
Short of sending troops to protect the Tamil minority (which is not going to happen) or provide arms to LTTE (unlikely), only option the international community has is to place an arms embargo and thus put an end to the war and move to the peace table.
[LAST MINUTE ADDITION: After the article was completed and was ready for publication, author read on BBC web site that Slovakia (an EU member) is selling 10,000 military missiles to Sri Lanka. This new development makes the need for an arms embargo through a United Nations Security Council resolution or persuasion even more urgent.] [Tamil Tribune, May 2008/via ITS]