By Uthayam Australia correspondent
Technically there is a cease fire agreement (CFA) between the Sri Lanka Government and the LTTE. But a low intensity war (LIW) is more of a reality. It is not just that the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE are involved in this LIW, renegade Tamil groups (non LTTE) are also engaged in their own LIW against the LTTE with the backing of the Sri Lankan army. The situation has led to communal polarisation in the country with extremists from both sides calling the shots. This is the essence of the report “When Indignation is Past and the Dust Settles – Reckoning Incompatible Agendas” prepared by the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) Sri Lanka UTHR (J). The report released on 15th May documents in detail the recent developments in Sri Lanka and pinpoints the tragic but true development that the peace process in the troubled nation lies in shambles.
The report makes it crystal clear that the ugly developments in Trincomalee which came to be seen more as a counter to LTTE’s provocations actually exposed the government’s failure to do its duty – maintain law and order. The report says: “The Government’s initial lukewarm response to the recent communal violence in Trincomalee, failed to take to task officials of the security forces who failed in their duty. The Government remained silent as both the LTTE and vigilante elements of the State killed and stirred up communal tensions in rural Trincomalee that caused large scale displacement. Then for questionable reasons on 25th April, after the suicide attack in Colombo, it sanctioned aerial and missile attacks that were bound to kill Tamil civilians in the Sampoor area across the bay from Trincomalee. Aerial bombardment and killing of soft targets in the Tamil community as the means of responding to the LTTE’s terror is a sign of impotency on the part of the State, and indicates an inability on the part of its strategists to come up with creative political and military options.”
Reacting to the LTTE suicide bomb that injured the Sri Lankan army commander and other incidents earlier, the report Says: “For the LTTE it has long been a matter of provocation after provocation, targeting security personnel with landmines or killing Sinhalese, purely with the intention of plunging Sri Lanka into communal violence — the only way they see of attaining their agenda of Tamil Eelam. This has long been clear to those who know the LTTE intimately, despite the elitist rhetoric about the LTTE alone helping the Tamils to hold their heads high.”
On the other hand the report also makes it clear that “For a Government to occupy the moral high ground, its actions must be guided by accepted principles of common justice. When these principles are treated with patent cynicism, obvious to all but itself, the high ground it occupies would be more akin to a dunghill.”
The report makes lays bare the view that LTTE rivals are equally responsible (like the LTTE) in using the tactics of eliminating rivals to push their political agenda. It says:
“ Having looked at other possibilities and considering the unconvincing manner in which police investigations have proceeded, UTHR(J) joined other observers in concluding that it was one or more of these killer groups used in counter-insurgency that killed three leading Tamil political figures – Joseph Pararajasingham (24th December 2005), V. Vigneswaran (7th April 2006) and S.R. Senthilnathan (26th April 2006). In essence, the killer groups adopted the same tactic so long used by the LTTE: elimination of Tamils of prominence and ability who voiced unwelcome political opinions.”
Under the heading “The Violence in Trincomalee: 12th April onwards” the report details acts of violence that engulfed the area. There are many incidents detailed but here is one example of what one Tamil youth saw: “A Tamil youth searching for a loved one tried to get to his father in his shop on Central Road when the violence was at its height. He first tried climbing over walls of houses to avoid the road. While on a wall, a navy man fired at him and missed him. Having no choice, he hurried along Central Road at the height of the violence. Though well known in the market area, no one recognized him. Thinking about it later, he concluded that the thugs attacking Tamils (many of whom were carrying plastic cans of petrol along with weapons for their pyrotechnics) must have been outsiders,. He witnessed acts of brutality:
He saw a navy man who caught a man by the collar and handed him over to a sword-wielding thug telling him, ‘This is a Tamil, chop him’. This and what happened next he said he could never forget.
He also saw a Tamil woman sprawled on the road whose eyes were moving – a victim of the market bomb needing medical care. On seeing her, a navy aimed a blow at her with his gun butt, hitting her on the right side of her head. He later learnt that this woman had been known as Killi Acca.
Near the market, he said he saw two civilian bodies with another of what appeared to him a navy man – all victims of the original blast. At one point a member of the mob gave him a chase. He ran and escaped.
The UTHR (J) report tries to cover the spiral of violence thus making it evident that both the LTTE and the Sri Lanka government ‘s agendas compliment each other.
“It is extremely difficult to chronicle all the incidents or place them in an order. One gets to hear some of them quite by accident. Tit for tat is largely meaningless as an explanation. The Tigers have a clear agenda and indeed, they have reportedly recruited hundreds of Tamil youths in the District, who are too young or too angry to see the futility of it all. They cannot see that the Tigers have nothing to offer in return for all the Trinco youths they had got slaughtered as fighters and traitors.
Government policy on the other hand by default or otherwise is being determined by extremists controlling the defence ministry. The events, though so far on a smaller scale, sadly read like the dark days of 1985 when the Army as a matter of policy went for the Tamils in Trincomalee. That was soon after Sinhalese home guard units were created. Their historical unchanging role has never been to protect Sinhalese against attack, but to go under army protection to the nearest Tamil village after an attack and massacre those too weak or infirm to run away. Whether directed by soldiers or home guards, the weapons that are killing Tamils are government-owned weapons and that gives a message the people grasp instinctively: that the Government has little intention of being the government of the Tamils as well”, the report says.
The violence ridden situation is so bad that the report wants international intervention to control the drift towards further senseless extremism. “Unless there is an international initiative to bring about radical change, we cannot arrest the malignant drift. It suits the Tigers very well. The Government, a prisoner of its own lies and ineptitude, would go on believing in more and more impunity as the way forward and the results would add to this conviction. The shelling of Mutur following on the violence in Trincomalee is an example of how the logic of accelerating division and widening of diametrically opposed interpretation works”, the report says.
Subsequent chapters speak for themselves. There are graphic details of acts of violence from both sides. Reading the report is no happy event. It is despair and helplessness. For how long the extremists of all hues whether on this or that side will continue with the violence. Is their light at the end of the dark tunnel? Will violence solve the issues facing Sri Lanka?