Eelam War IV Underway Despite Appeals and ‘Warnings’

By S. Sellathurai

“The low-intensity Eelam War IV launched by the LTTE continues”. Defence Correspondent Iqbal Athas in Situation Report ‘The Sunday Times’ 21 May 2006.

“The truce monitors in Sri Lanka will not pull out even though they are now monitoring a war rather than a ceasefire”. – The head of the Monitoring Mission (SLMM), Ulf Henricsson told the BBC interview 18 May 2006.

“The peace process had never come to terms with the LTTE’s agenda and the South failed to demonstrate a tangible will for a political settlement that would have enabled the Tamils to challenge the LTTE”. – University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) Sri Lanka – UTHR(J)- Special Report No. 21, 15 May 2006.

Nature of the conflict

The shifting war and ‘no war’ situations arose after the agitation by the politically marginalized, discriminated and intimidated Tamils (by periodical pogroms and other violent attacks) for effective self-governing powers to safeguard their collective security and interests and fulfill their aspirations was hijacked by the armed group, the LTTE. The continuing dispute between the Government and the LTTE with or without the ceasefire can be likened to the troubles within two difficult members of a family over land ownership. At the beginning, it was over the grievances of the small fellow that he was being generally ignored and occasionally ill-treated. He acquired a violent behaviour since boyhood influenced by the hostile environment and bitterness towards the big fellow, who has yet to reach the mental state of a sensible grown-up. The latter has inherent fears of losing his share, if the small fellow is given uncontrolled powers. The big fellow lacks the will to do the right thing and believes his shrewdness will enable to keep the small ‘brother’ at bay. Earlier he used violent methods to subdue the small fellow but these over time created a backlash which he is now unable to control. His cleverness too is now seen to be not comparable with the trickery and parody of the smaller guy, whose arrogance has jumped high after some degree of fighting successes that have enabled him to acquire control over a portion of the wanted land. It is this quality that is threatening his future and others around him.

He expects to be treated as an equal in all respects concerning matters related to the land dispute. At the same time he expects, as a matter of right, his opponent to provide the goods and services whenever needed by him. On an earlier occasion he even got arms for his fighting cadres. He feels not obliged to reciprocate for any assistance received. He is very sensitive to these notions and does not want the rival to behave like bossy ‘Big Brother’. Because of nonobservance of these obligations, he has refused in the past to talk with his opponent. When he is willing to talk, it will exclusively be on the subject(s) decided by him. He also objects to any retaliatory attack when he strikes the opponent hard. The objection is made in the strongest possible terms, such as genocidal attack and violations of human rights, while he violates all rights and the Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) with impunity. Lately, the contest outside the fighting arena is about convincing the confused world that the opponent is the real bad guy.

Conflict resolution

Hopefully, the above portrayal of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka as an internal dispute over land ownership between two brothers with contrasting mindsets will help to understand fully the ineffectiveness of the approach pursued to resolve the protracted conflict. Since the first Eelam War, there have been talks between the Government of Sri Lanka {GoSL} and the LTTE necessitated by either internal or external circumstances. The Tamil Tigers have never said they will renounce violence and seek a settlement by peaceful means. Preparations for the next round of the war proceeded during the ceasefire periods. However, with the February 2002 CFA (also referred to as MoU) a different approach to achieve the same Eelam goal without waging war was pursued by the LTTE. But it got stuck mainly because of the overbearing demands of the Tiger leadership. The LTTE was keen on having the same status as GoSL when both were engaged in ‘Peace Talks’ and was also recognized as equal partner in the ‘peace process’.

The talks were used to acquire some political and military gains. Discussions on substantive political issues were tactfully avoided. There was no agreed agenda for the meetings. But for the Geneva Talks I, the LTTE unilaterally fixed it. The only item was disarming the ‘paramilitaries’. The rebel group that is absolutely committed to the division of the country (the earlier description of the conflict as dispute over land ownership should be noted) will dodge negotiations on issues that concern the political rights, safety, living conditions and the aspirations of the people. The main reason for the avoidance is that these are the grounds for separation. On the other hand, if the negotiations are for deciding and fixing the boundaries of the two separate states, the enthusiastic involvement of the LTTE is assured. The reaffirmation by the LTTE leader at the April 2002 international media conference in Kilinochchi of his earlier pledge not to abandon or deviate from his Tamil Eelam goal still stands. Those talking about Talks and Negotiations have either forgotten this reaffirmation or not taken it seriously.

It is here that the government is deceiving others and possibly itself by appealing to the international community to exert pressure on the LTTE for it to come to the negotiation table. The saying that you can take a horse to the pond but you cannot force it to drink the water is relevant here. In Sri Lanka’s case, the tiger pretends that it is waiting to drink soon when it is really waiting for some opportune moment to run away. Those who can recall how the previous negotiations collapsed will know the nature of this game.

The dodging game

Why and how the dodging game is played in the name of the ‘Peace Process’ are discussed here. Way back at the time of the 1985 Thimbu Talks, when India was the facilitator, the strategy of the LTTE ideologue and chief spokesman Anton Balasingham for preventing a final political settlement when seen as acceptable to Sri Lanka was ‘to put forward new demand(s) that the government will not be able to concede readily’. He is a real maestro in finding some excuse for withdrawing or even revoking earlier decisions like the December 2002 Oslo declaration. The reason for this ploy is obvious. Acceptance of a political settlement preferred by the government will become a permanent obstacle to the realization of the Eelam goal. Like the misleading term ‘Peace Process’, ‘Peace Talks’ never meant the negotiations for the real peace desired by all citizens and the international community. Only sincere {not spurious} peace will ensure the harmonious co-existence of all ethnic communities and national unity.

The LTTE strategist on the eve of EU announcement to proscribe the organization said (May 18): “Further international proscriptions of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) will seriously impact negatively on the already weakened peace process in Sri Lanka”. Asked by TamilNet for his comments to press reports that the European Union (EU) would ban the LTTE he warned that “the hardliners in the south are urgently seeking the international isolation of the LTTE as a prelude to taking up the military option in earnest. The more the international community alienates the LTTE, the more the LTTE will be compelled to tread a hardline individualist path”. The same reason that banning the LTTE will damage the ‘peace process’ advanced earlier did not deter the present Canadian government from banning it in March this year.

After the proposed EU Parliamentary Resolution (expected to be adopted by the end of this month) was released, the LTTE ideologue told the TamilNet on May 20: “The resolution of the European Union Parliament imposing punitive measures and harshly censuring our liberation organization is unfair, untimely and utterly biased. This EU intervention will thus emerge as a serious impediment to reaching a just and lasting solution to Sri Lanka’s conflict”. He also said: “The resolution, while demonizing the Tamil Tigers for the escalating violence and for the stalemate in the negotiating process, has condoned and complimented the real culprit – the Rajapakse administration – which is instrumental for the state terror and massacres of Tamil civilians that have hindered the resumption of peace talks”; and has blamed the government for “the enormous suffering inflicted on Tamil civilians, the widespread killings and massive displacements caused by aerial and artillery bombardments, the series of brutal murders by Army-backed paramilitaries”. The oddity lies in the accusations made blatantly against the government when the same offences have been committed several times by the accusing side with greater gravity.

Besides the usual exaggeration and distortion of facts intended to mislead the Tamil people, there are hidden contradictions with regard to the aims and the approach used to achieve them. First “the just and lasting solution to Sri Lanka’s conflict” cannot be achieved by dividing the people and the country along ethnic line and establishing a separate authoritarian Tamil state. Second, no honest person will deny that “the stalemate in the negotiating process” is due to the intransigence of the LTTE. Third, the sufferings of the Tamil people have not been the major concern for the Tigers. If this was the case, the LTTE leadership would have allowed the government to carry out humanitarian work during the ceasefire and especially after the devastation caused by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. In fact, the hardships were exploited for political advantage.

A fundamental point that should not be ignored here is “just and lasting solution” cannot be achieved without Truth and Reconciliation. Both remain excluded in the so called ‘peace process’. In the first place, LTTE’s declared commitment to negotiated political settlement which should be central to genuine peace process is spurious. But the undeterred ideologue and strategist Anton Balasingham is continuing to do his propaganda work from London, despite the exposure by the critics of the many contradictory stances. In the interview given to Sunday Times (21 May 2006) he has said: ”The LTTE is seriously committed to peace and negotiated settlement”. This is also the stated position of the government. Only the fools will believe from the stated identical commitments of both sides, a negotiated settlement to the armed conflict is feasible.

The deceptive talk intended to confuse and present the LTTE as a movement fighting to win the freedom of the oppressed Tamils was seen again in the interview given to TIME Asia magazine. Anton Balasingham to the question, “What do both sides want?” replied: “The conflict is essentially an ethnic conflict having its roots in the long history of oppression and racial discrimination of the minority Tamils by successive Sinhala dominated governments. The LTTE favors a form of regional autonomy and self-government as a solution to the Tamil question. The government of President [Mahinda] Rajapakse has not yet presented a coherent policy or formula to resolve the ethnic conflict”. (TIME Asia 22 May 2006). If the North-East conflict is not about control of the land but is an ethnic problem then its resolution based on Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam’s set of devolution proposals should have been considered and suggestions submitted for constitutional change. But the LTTE considered it as an obstacle to the achievement of their separatist goal. If the bloody conflict is just an ethnic problem, why was a separate Muslim delegation not permitted to join in the ‘Peace Talks’? Why was the December 2002 Oslo Agreement to pursue a federal solution rejected? If the LTTE is willing to accept a federal structure in lieu of separation, will they decommission the weapons and immobilize their soldiers and Sea Tigers? In any federal set up, there can only be one combined defence force under one supreme commander. These are issues that no one wants to talk about hoping these will fade away in due course.

Commenting on Anton Balasingham’s misleading statement, D.B.S. Jeyaraj in TamilWeek of May 20 has said, “it strengthens the anti – LTTE accusation that the tigers are warmongers. It also sounds “funny” in a sense because the LTTE itself has been engaging in acts that amount to an undeclared war. The tigers are not in a position to be concerned about war when they themselves are promoting it in stages”.

Government’s weakness

The inability or unwillingness of the government to present a governing structure that will devolve adequate powers to the regions with the necessary safeguards to prevent discrimination of the ethnic minorities is being exploited to the maximum by Anton Balasingham. He can go on making the same challenge thrown in November last year asking the government to present a formula to solve the ethnic problem. The flippancy then became evident when the LTTE without giving reasonable time for the government to respond, started the provocative attacks in December/ January. Both sides are now experiencing the terrible consequences of the ‘low intensity’ Eelam War IV. If the government has no intention to organize the work on constitutional reform and come up with the draft proposals, the LTTE will continue to proceed with its own agenda with disastrous consequences to all, particularly to the Tamils. Their future is becoming increasingly uncertain.

Since February 2002 when the CFA was signed hurriedly, both sides were not concerned much about using the ceasefire to seek a political settlement and end all forms of violence that had caused enormous loss and misery to many families. After the failed attempt to amend the constitution in 2000 because of confrontational party politics no further move was made towards constitutional reform. The ‘Peace Talks’ was a valid excuse not to indulge in any such exercise that would undermine the ‘peace process’. It was a catch-22 situation for the government. While the government remained contended with the ‘no war’ situation, the LTTE cadres (supposed to be unarmed) with the authorization given under the Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) operated freely in the government controlled areas for ‘political work’. The nature of their work was not specified and it turned out to be mainly related to gaining absolute control over the people. Political opponents were silenced by threats and some were assassinated. The recurring violent incidents have nothing to do with the ethnic problem but are the main feature of the recently emerged Tamil problem created by Tamils who depend on the power of the gun for showing their value. It used to be education and earnings but not any more.

LTTE’s past disappointments and Eelam War IV.

The inroads into civil administration have been made subtly over a long period. Senior government servants act carefully avoiding confrontation with the local rebel leaders. The foundations for an authoritarian state were being laid. The persistent attempts to use the CFA to dismantle the High Security Zones (HSZ) and limit the size of the Army confining the few remaining soldiers to their barracks located outside residential, farming and coastal areas failed. This was a major disappointment as it foiled the plan to marginalize the government in the land to be liberated.

Another unexpected development was the emergence of the dissident breakaway Karuna group as a force hindering the aim to gain exclusive control over the North-East region. LTTE’s demand that the government should disarm the ‘paramilitary’ groups must be seen from this imperative. The strategy to establish that the presence of the security forces in Tamil areas is disturbing the normal lives of the people and they are against the continued presence of the army has not succeeded so far to achieve the desired objective. Eelam War IV might have been launched with the view to breakthrough this barrier and liberate the land from occupying forces. The recent homicides where the suspects are believed to be military/navy personnel taking revenge on innocent civilians for the killings of their comrades by the Tamil Tigers, if allowed to continue will lend support to the LTTE in their efforts to convince the Tamil people they are not safe in the ‘occupied’ areas.

According to TamilNet, following the Allaipiddy (an islet off Kayts, Jaffna) assassinations and the consequent evacuation of the population, 53 families constituting 250 members have opted to seek refuge in LTTE controlled Vanni. The others are remaining in Jaffna. Furthermore, ten families from neighbouring villages Velanai and Suruvil are reported to have fled in fear seeking refuge in schools and churches in Jaffna, This kind of instant displacements and widespread panic will only serve LTTE in their propaganda war. It is widely acknowledged that the government is inefficient in challenging the facts and views spread abroad by the well-organized LTTE network in several continents to justify the continuation of the war against the State. The impression that the government is the aggressor and the Tamils are the innocent victims is spread by well orchestrated bulletins. The current near anarchic situation with various conflicting stories about the likely culprits and their motives after each murder floating is most unhelpful at the present time.

The Appendix – “The Patterns of Violence and Extra-Judicial Killings” – in UTHR(J) Special Report No. 21 gives the details concerning the recent extra-judicial killings of civilians in the North which can be considered as the fallouts of Eelam War IV. With regard to the May 13 Allaipiddy massacre, the report states: “There is little doubt that the killers are linked to the State and the killings are an instance of the growing practice of killing and terrorizing ruthlessly on the merest suspicion”. The report has pointed out that “the Navy camp is within quarter of a mile of the incident and the LTTE presence in the area is low”. It states, “we blamed the atrocities on agents of the State, which is further confirmed by the Government’s and Navy’s reactions”. Just two days earlier (May 11) Navy lost two officers and 15 sailors when an explosive laden LTTE Sea Tiger boat rammed one of the Dvora (navy gunboat) escorting the vessel ‘Pearl Cruiser’ transporting some 710 troops. The refugees who have fled Allaipiddy for rebel-held Kilinochchi town have blamed the navy for the massacre.

Appeals

The muddled situation that prevails in Sri Lanka hindering prospects for serious negotiations on issues relevant to permanent political settlement and durable peace is evident from the above analysis. Many foreign government leaders and their accredited representatives have urged both sides to start the Talks/Negotiations. If their intentions are to cool the air that became hot with the many bomb blasts and shootings, there is some purpose. But if they expect a final political settlement from the Talks, they have not grasped the uncompromising positions and the dodging tactics of the two sides. One side is obstinate with an impractical aim, while the other lacks the will to present a suitable non-unitary structure that will render the case for separation unnecessary. India has been telling Sri Lanka to come up with a credible political package and go for a “southern consensus” so that competitive populism does not kill the move as happened in 2000. This has become the standard reply to Sri Lanka’s plea for India’s input to political settlement of the conflict.

Donald Camp, the US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs during his recent visit to Delhi said, “while the international community can exert pressure on the Sri Lankan government there is little leverage the world has on the LTTE”. Unfortunately, this fact was not considered earlier. The co-chairs at the coming Tokyo meeting (May 30) are likely to press Colombo to come up with such a package soon. This seems to be the correct thing to do for the reasons given above.

The TULF leader V. Anandasangaree in his letter (6 May 2006) to the LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran said: “The time has now come for you to declare a permanent ceasefire. You can’t trust your lieutenants and their subordinates any more. Most of the subordinates behave like thugs. They ill-treat our innocent people. They behave like super humans and treat the people like slaves. The people are fast losing confidence in you. The Tamil Eelam is never achievable …. Hence please declare that you are giving up your demand for separations and prepared to accept Federalism as a solution”. Like his previous petitions to the LTTE leader this too was unheeded. Many would find it difficult to accept the comment that the subordinates are acting on their own ignoring the instructions of the rebel leader.

National Anti War Front, Sri Lanka in its recent statement stated: “We demand that all parties honor the Ceasefire Agreement to the letter. We demand that the LTTE refrains from all acts of violence. We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to refrain from violence and not to encourage a culture of impunity. We urge the LTTE to transform itself into a political party and get involved in the political process. We urge you to commit yourself to a united Sri Lanka where both sides can achieve a win-win solution. We urge the LTTE to make a statement assuring minorities and other political entities full representation and democracy in the North and East. We urge the President to propose a political solution to the conflict”. Similar appeals by other civil groups urging the parties to give up violence completely and seek a mutually acceptable settlement through dialogue were ignored.

Yasushi Akashi, Japan’s special envoy to Sri Lanka who wrapped up his four-day visit on May 10 said at the media briefing in Colombo – “The LTTE should take note of international concerns …. There is a deep anxiety over escalating violence. It is important to have direct negotiations in order to see de-escalation of violence which has gone very far”. Earlier, after the meeting with President Rajapakse he told the press: “It was up to the government to take key political decisions on the peace front, and Japanese or any other nation could only help the government implementing these decisions”.

The inaction of the government to the appeals from various leaders and organizations for early action on the political front is of concern to all anxious to avoid another round of killings and mass displacements. The present government has announced that it wants a negotiated settlement and is ready for it. At the same time President Mahinda Rajapakse is not in favour of any further international involvement and he feels the conflict could be settled internally. But it is not clear how he proposes to breakthrough the present stalemate on constitutional reform. His baseless optimism instead of giving confidence gives alarming concern. The previous UNF government tried with some limited success the strategy to play for time and prevent the resumption of full-scale war but this was at the cost of foregoing development in key sectors. It has also increased the difficulties in building trust and uniting the divided communities. The high level of corruption and serious law and order problem besides the lack of development in key sectors and high unemployment are also the consequences of the resources and attention spent on the destructive war. The war has also discouraged foreign investment and aid. The 4.5 billion dollars aid pledged at the June 2003 Tokyo meeting was not fully available because of the lack of progress in settling the conflict. The co-chairs failed to recognize the fundamental weaknesses in the ‘Peace Process’ and ‘Peace Talks’. The nature of the ‘Peace Process’ was such progress towards a political settlement was out of the question. Another fundamental mistake was the assumption that the LTTE will be willing to compromise because of the foreign funds offered for reconstruction and development.

In the 2006 ‘failed-states’ index prepared by ‘The Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy’ researchers, Sri Lanka is placed eighth and if the security situation does not improve, Sri Lanka is likely to score more negative marks and will figure high in the 2007 index as well. If the present government plays the waiting game, this is bound to happen. The Tamils cannot expect an end to extra-judicial killings if the war continues. No army in the world has only principled officers and soldiers, who when hammered on one side of the cheek will offer the other to the assailant. It is amazing the political leaders are not very concerned about this pathetic situation and are interested in frivolous matters.

Precarious situation for Tamils

The Tamils can no longer ignore the current realities, if they want peace and for their progeny. The expatriates should think of the future of the members of the community in Sri Lanka, especially those living in the North and East. Living in an imaginary world, with the fighting skills of the Tigers to gloat have made some blind to the distant prospect. The entire world wants to keep Sri Lanka as one country where the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims can live amicably respecting others rights and the traditional settlement patterns in the different regions. The violence directed against civilians and provocative attacks against members of security forces have been condemned by the UN, other international organizations and foreign governments. The LTTE is now considered as a terrorist organization and banned in several countries.

There seems to be growing discontent amongst the Tamils after the earlier hopes of political settlement and peace were dashed by LTTE’s determination to acquire absolute power, disregarding the dangers the methods and the goal itself posed for the future of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The people want genuine peace and the freedom to live normally without intimidation and oppression. If Eelam War IV continues even with low intensity it will hurt Tamil interests in the short and long terms. No tangible benefit for the community as a whole will accrue. As long as the struggle focuses on land and not on the rights and freedom of the people, there is little hope of a better future. There is the real risk of getting into a tight spot and lose the chance of getting the self-governing powers the Indian Constitution has bestowed to the regions. The Tamil nationalist leaders from C.N. Annadurai to M. Karunanidhi abandoned separation for good reason. The Tamils in South India have Tamil Nadu within united India and the Tamil people there have no serious problem living in this setup.

It is also important to bear in mind that international support is vital for a just settlement that will guarantee the security, equal rights and opportunities and the autonomous powers needed to safeguard the future of Tamils in Sri Lanka. In fact, both sides cannot afford to make the international community (the co-chairs and India in particular) lose interest in the resolution of the conflict. The countries that are showing interest now have also other commitments, internal and external and we cannot expect them to cling on to Sri Lanka for ever. There are many volatile countries in the world where the people are in a pathetic state much worse than the suffering people in Sri Lanka.

D. B. S. Jeyaraj in his article, ‘Remembering Rajiv on Fifteenth Death Anniversary’ has drawn attention to the losses incurred by the community with no tangible gains to assure the future well-being of the community in Sri Lanka. He has said: “After years of strife and sacrifice, the Tamil people have not achieved anything tangible. Multitudes have died or been maimed, economy is shattered, people dispersed, values brutalised, culture eroded and dwellings destroyed. Yet the Tamils have nothing. The LTTE may have built a military machine. But practically it is of no use other than to perpetuate misery and loss.” Eelam War IV that has been launched ignoring the global opposition to the continuation of violence in pursuit of a political goal that no country supports will add to the losses already incurred. Nearly 19,000 lives have been sacrificed and tens of thousands of children deprived of their education and normal life in the pursuit of a divisive goal that conflicts with the wider aim of sustainable peace, unity within and between communities and prosperity.

Should we try to get the maximum possible now by way of powers for governing the regions valuing all the sacrifices made so far or lose several more lives and get nothing substantial by way of regional autonomy, retaining only the ‘pride’ of not abandoning the Eelam goal? This is the question that should be pondered right now by all anxious Tamils.

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