Divisive Aims and Damaging Acts Endanger the Future of Sri Lankan Tamil Community

By S. Sellathurai

A sustained and unrelenting campaign of fuelling ethnic hostility towards the Sinhalese people and creating distrust and animosity against Sinhalese political leaders and parties is the ploy that the LTTE uses to project its own image as the ‘sole liberator’ of the Tamil people and maintain its position as their ‘sole representative’.

The ultra Tamil nationalists who are in an imaginary world need no frequent encouragement, since their belief in the LTTE leadership is blind to its consequences of the divisive aims and impulsive actions. Factual findings critical of the LTTE are dismissed as untrue or overly exaggerated. It is not the Tamil Tigers alone who have indulged in confusing and misleading others about the ‘peace process’ or more aptly called the ‘peace game’. The Tigers hope to achieve their conflict-ridden separatist aim by whatever means regardless of the cost to the community. The intent of other players has been to keep alive the hopes of those yearning for real peace. But the saddest part is that many have not realized the damage done to the peace goal on one hand and the future of the society and country on the other by the conflicting moves and actions. Notably, the violent game is endangering the future of the Tamil community.

Ethnic trap

The recent tragic incidents in Trincomalee and elsewhere in the North-East were necessitated by this imperative. Trincomalee is important for the extremists who want to create communal strife because of its demography and the presence of religious fanatics. The controversy over the erection of Buddha’s statue in a sensitive spot remains unresolved. It is the easiest place to start communal riots as devastating as the one in July 1983. If the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims can live peacefully in the multi-ethnic district, the claim for a separate Tamil state is weakened. The report on the findings of a team of Colombo based civil society representatives blamed both the Sinhala extremists and the LTTE for the violent disturbances. The attack on Tamil shops and homes started by armed Sinhala persons immediately after the bomb blast in the vegetable market on April 12 indicated an ”element of pre planning”. The cycle of violence in the East and North started early December last year and the outbreak in Trinco is not an isolated incident.

The anti-Tamil rioting in Trincomalee and the revenge killing of five innocent Tamil youths there are unpardonable acts, marring the government’s declared aim to promote ethnic unity and peace. These have been condemned widely in the local and foreign press. The strategy of turning Trincomalee into an ethnic trap for the government has had only limited success at least temporarily for the LTTE.

The fact that the communal disturbances did not spread to other areas to the dismay of the separatists shows the positive attitudinal change amongst the Sinhalese. At the same time one cannot deny the presence of unruly elements in the government forces responsible for some extra-judicial killings. The culprits have escaped punishment in the past and this has become a normal pattern. There is little sign even now to believe that the authorities will be firm and take action against the miscreants.

Ruthless acts

The attempted assassination of Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka in Colombo on April 25 by a Tamil woman suicide bomber would appear to have had two main objectives: firstly to provoke the Government and the army to retaliate by launching a full scale war; and secondly to provoke a backlash in the form of generalized anti-Tamil violent riots as in July 1983. The conditions needed to justify the “final war” would have been created, if either or both of these aims had materialized.

The attack on the Army Commander also appears to have had a military objective of weakening the command structure of the army. The perception that the Sri Lankan Army without a strong determined commander will be easy to overpower ignores the real possibility of external support for the Sri Lankan government if the need arises at the crucial time. Overconfidence without considering the external realities is dangerous. At the present time there is no country willing to support either the breakup of the existing State or the violent methods used to acquire control over a part of it claiming ownership based on historical settlement pattern. Besides the controversial claim, the very concept is a misfit in the twenty-first century. Pluralism, democracy, human rights and integration (not isolation) are the foundations for success in the modern inter-dependent world.

The suicide bomb blast killed 10 others, but Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the target, survived with serious abdominal injuries. Besides him 27 persons were injured. Investigators said that the bomber might have been pregnant. If she was really pregnant, the act of persuading a young woman with a foetus in her womb to destroy herself by blasting a bomb tied to her body reflects the depth to which Tamil culture has descended since the armed struggle intensified.

With regard to several claymore mine and grenade attacks, the LTTE had declared earlier that the Tamil people were acting on their own in launching these on the military but this had been rejected by the SLMM as unacceptable. Those who pass on the blame for carrying out these deadly acts to the generally non-violent Tamil people are not bothered about stigmatizing the Tamil people. The practice of recruiting children to the fighting cadres considered as a crime against humanity has been condemned by the United Nations and several Human Rights Organizations. Regardless the LTTE has continued the practice, while the ardent supporters of the armed conflict have remained silent on this issue. Children who have become accustomed to killing and other brutal acts will find it difficult later to embrace non-violent civilized way of life.

[Forty one year old K.B.Mallika Rupasinghe of Gomarankadawala lost her fifteen year old son Erantha Chandaruwan Rupasinghe. He was shot dead in the paddy field along with five villagers on 23rd of April 2006. He was a brilliant student, who went to the paddy field to help the villagers on that day. The villagers of Gomarankadawala have started to move to safer places after this incident]

The killing of six unarmed Sinhalese farmers in Kalyanapura, Gomarankadawala who were returning to their homes after completing work in paddy fields was clearly an unacceptable act. According to published reports four of the victims were students aged between 15 and 19. Moreover, the additional dishonour was the media revelation that the attackers were 12 armed LTTE child soldiers. It is terrible that the civilian casualties in the recent violent clashes in the East and North, including those between the LTTE and rival Tamil armed groups have been very high. The victims are mostly poor traders, fishermen, farmers, auto-rickshaw drivers and labourers with young families to feed and cloth with their meager incomes.

The other horrible acts include the slaying of a 38-year old mother who was feeding her child at her home in Serunuwara in Trincomalee. She was stabbed to death allegedly by two LTTE cadres. In a separate attack on civilians, a three and half year old child at the Muslim colony in Kathuruwela, Polonnaruwa was also killed. The child’s mother sustained serious injuries in the incident and was admitted at the Polonnaruwa hospital. Some may try to justify atrocious acts on the grounds others have also carried out inhuman acts against Tamil civilians. This cannot absolve their guilt and importantly the damage done will have a telling effect on the society for years to come. Ignoring the causes, protesting against the retaliatory attacks (civilian deaths have been very high recently) is one-sided. Ironically, having been keen on the “final war”, now the international community is urged to intervene and stop the continuing violence. Regardless of the final outcome of the present fighting, the Tamils for generations to come will have to co-exist with other communities in the small island. Those who are really concerned about the future of Tamils in Sri Lanka cannot afford to ignore this fact.

Self-destruction

The staggering feature of the ‘peace process’ is the large number of internecine killings with the view to consolidate the position of the LTTE as the sole politico-military organization of the Tamils in the North-East. Members of other Tamil groups have been murdered earlier but the killings occurred during the time when the LTTE was readying to confront militarily the government forces. The elimination process intensified after the departure of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). All the Tamil militant groups operating separately were made irrelevant and TELO was completely wiped out. The then influential Tamil leaders made no effort to bring all the Eelam groups under one unified structure.

The LTTE, while reiterating its commitment to the CFA and political settlement has been hell-bent on eliminating the EPDP, the breakaway Karuna group and marginal Tamil groups. Until March 2004 Karuna was the LTTE special commander in the Batticaloa-Amparai region. With the sole aim of getting the government to disarm the renegades, who are challenging the authority of the mainstream LTTE in the East, the latter agreed for direct talks with the government in Geneva. But when this did not happen after the two-day truce talks in February, the attacks intensified again. The casualties amongst the security forces and civilians have been quite high. Subsequently, the LTTE went after the renegades and the violent clashes between the LTTE and Karuna group resulted in more losses to the Tamil community. The killings of Karuna’s loyalists will not help to maintain the unity of Jaffna and Batticaloa Tamils. Already the Tamil-Muslim divide, especially in the Eastern Province that irreversibly deepened after the hasty ethnic cleansing in the North and violent attacks and harassments in the East intended to coerce the Muslims to leave or stay under the supreme authority of the LTTE has become a thorny issue. It is now a formidable obstacle to the realization of LTTE’s aim to bring the North and East under their administration.

The circumstances that compelled Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole, the new Vice-Chancellor of the Jaffna University to flee Sri Lanka with his family before assuming duties will go down in history as another dark chapter in the self-destruction of Tamil culture. Every single Tamil who feel proud of their heritage must feel ashamed about the thinking of those responsible for this treacherous act. Perhaps their definition of knowledge is totally different from that understood by those who are aware of the many useful roles universities are expected to perform in the progress of societies/nations.

Blunders

It is not possible to catalogue all the blunders made by Sinhalese leaders since independence in one article. These denied the country and the people unity, common national identity, peace and prosperity. The present crisis is the cumulative effect of the past political blunders. These were done by the leaders without AK-47 but through the lopsided political power obtained in 1948. After 1983 the blunders made by the armed Tamil leadership with the power of the gun are seen to be harming the very people on whose behalf the Tamil youths took up arms. The aim was to win their legitimate rights denied by the Sinhala majority rule.

The blunders of both sides since 1987 are now keeping India aloof, despite the repeated plea by Sri Lankan governments for its direct involvement in the peace efforts. The assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime minister of sovereign India, was a damaging act that no patriotic Indian will ever forgive and forget. Sri Lankan Tamils lost the interest shown earlier by the people even in Tamil Nadu in their demand for regional government.

Tamil culture that withstood the might of foreign rulers has lost much of its noble features in the course of fighting fiercely for Tamil Eelam. Human rights including the rights of children have been thrown overboard. The final aim and not the means was the concern of the fighters. Killing unarmed Tamil and Muslim civilians perceived as ‘traitors’ has been integral to the method used to seek absolute authoritarian power in the North-East. It is the belief that this is the right method for gaining political power that is detested by the powerful countries, which were earlier sympathetic to the demands of the Tamils for political power to enable them to live in a secure environment and improve their social and economic well-being. They are now vehemently condemning the violent methods of the LTTE to achieve a political goal that is also unacceptable to them. Canada is the latest country that has joined India, United States and Great Britain to include the LTTE in their lists of foreign terrorist organizations and ban it. EU has imposed travel restrictions to LTTE members. The proscription by the Canadian government came into effect the week after the release of the special report of the New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on LTTE’s fund raising activities in the Tamil Diaspora. It was critical of the coercive methods used.

The other distressing aspect of the armed struggle relates to the opportunities missed for settling the conflict peacefully with international guarantees for safeguarding the legitimate rights, interests and security of all Tamils in Sri Lanka. Conducive climate for settling the conflict peacefully existed in 1994, when former President Chandrika Kumaratunga convinced the Sinhalese electorate that the Tamils have genuine grievances and these must be addressed. The set of devolution proposals drafted by Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam and Prof. G. L. Peiris had more federal features than in many functioning federal states. The LTTE leadership rejected the package instantly. The rejected Oslo Accord recognized the right of internal self-determination and ‘homeland’ concepts, which are now rejected by President Mahinda Rajapakse.

This can be seen from the statement issued by the Royal Norwegian Government at the conclusion of the third round of the ‘Peace Talks’ held in Oslo on 2 to 5 December 2002. It stated: “Responding to a proposal by the leadership of the LTTE, the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The parties acknowledged that the solution has to be acceptable to all communities”. Furthermore, it was agreed “to initiate discussions on substantive political issues such as, but not limited to: (a) Power-sharing between the centre and the region, as well as within the centre: (b) Geographical region; (c) Human Rights protection; (d) Political and administrative mechanism; (e) Public finance; (f) Law and order”.

The following statement made by LTTE’s chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham, while addressing a joint press conference on 5 December at the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Oslo cannot be dismissed as a mere slip or untrue because of misreporting. He said: “Now that the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has clearly and distinctly announced (Heroes’ Day 27 November 2002 Address) that he would favourably consider an internal arrangement for regional autonomy or a semi-governmental system within a united Sri Lanka, we have begun to look at various models available. … It is as far as the LTTE is concerned in line with the policy of the LTTE advocated for the last decades or more. That is a regional autonomous model based on the right to internal self-determination of our people in the historical areas where the Tamil and Muslim people live. This model of self-government we were referring to has to be couched or properly conceptualized within an appropriate constitutional frame. That is why we decided that we would opt for a federal model. This federal model will be within a united Sri Lanka …….”

Following the unilateral withdrawal of the LTTE from the ‘Peace Talks’ in April 2003, the Oslo Agreement too became a dead letter. Anton Balasingham announced the Oslo statement was not a binding joint declaration but a statement issued by the Norwegian government. The statements he hade at the joint Press Conference reveal the pragmatic thinking at the Oslo meeting. The international community welcomed the Oslo understanding and the donors at the June 2003 Tokyo Conference urged both sides to seek a political settlement based on the Oslo agreement. The promised financial assistance for development including the reconstruction of the war-torn areas was tied to the progress made towards the political settlement based on the Oslo agreement. LTTE missed a good opportunity to seek a federal solution with the backing of the international community.

The move to begin the “final war” for Eelam was decided by the LTTE leader before the November 2005 Presidential election. Importance was given to create the conditions that would be seen by the world as responsible for the resumption of the war. Until the end of February, the Nordic truce monitors have held the Tigers responsible for 3,535 violations and blamed the government for 169 breaches. Despite the many violations by the LTTE, Sri Lanka was not willing to take the war path. Perhaps this gave the impression that Sri Lankan forces were weak and reluctant to fight another round of fierce war that would drag on for several months if not years. Having realized that further progress in gaining control over the North-East is difficult, Eelam War IV became necessary. The snag here was to start it without pulling out of the CFA and earning the wrath of the international community. There were also other imperatives for the shift from ‘no-war’ to war mode. The adverse developments in the East after the failure in April 2004 to eliminate the Karuna loyalists, despite the logistical support got from the government also necessitated early military action.

The decision to boycott the election, denying sizeable Tamil votes to the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had successfully mobilized international support for a political settlement based on the Oslo Agreement was influenced by the imperative to have a Sinhalese hardline leader as President, who would create the hostile conditions for resuming the war. The LTTE leadership hoped the international community would see the President as an uncompromising Sinhala nationalist. But to their dismay, they did not consider him as an anti-Tamil and anti-peace leader. It is relevant to mention here that he won the Presidential election November last year narrowly with LTTE’s tacit support.

Had the President announced his acceptance of the principles of the Oslo Statement, there would have been more vigorous external support for Sri Lanka. The present government’s declaration to seek a settlement within a unitary political system is ludicrous, when all sensible persons know that it is the biased pro-Sinhalese way the unitary system functioned since independence denying meaningful political power to the minority Tamils and equal treatment in matters concerning their security, aspirations, general welfare and regional development is the root cause of the national problem. Those familiar with the history of the ethnic problem since independence will know that the Tamils initially embraced the unitary system and rejected federalism advocated by S. J. V. Chelvanayakam , Dr. E. M. V. Naganathan, C. Vanniasingham and other visionary Tamil leaders. They rejected it only after successive governments used it to weaken the Tamil community politically and deny opportunities for social and economic advancement. It is this bitter experience that has made the unitary system abhorrence to the vast majority of Tamils. They do not want to fall into the unitary trap again.

Realistic approach

Methods to achieve permanent peace must not ignore the ground realities and the political, cultural, social and economic needs of the Tamil society. Secession by mutual agreement does not entail the same threat to peace as when it is realized after a bitter violent struggle. The reality that must be accepted sooner than later is that separation is not feasible either way. The other option that is available to the LTTE is to make the region ungovernable for the Sri Lankan government but this will be at a great price for the present and future generations. The future of the Tamils will not be assured by the creation of a de facto state not recognized by the international community.

The reality is if the current violent approach continues, the Tamil community will suffer most by further damage to the culture and unity as well as weakening the ability to obtain even a governing structure with extensive devolution, let alone a federal one as agreed in 2002 in Oslo. The Present desperate situation in which the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza strip are suffering, because of Hamas considered as a terrorist organization by the Western powers is a pointer to those seriously concerned about the future of the Tamil community. After Hamas won the general elections and took charge of the administration, the U.S.A and the European Union suspended the substantial funds they have been providing annually to the Palestinian Authority. As a result even essential services in health and education are severely affected.

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