The Peace Cannot be Abandoned
in Sri Lanka, Part 3
TERRORISTS AND TERRORISM
No one can justify terror, whether it is committed by a ‘Resistance Movement’, religious fundamentalists, “nationalists” or private militia – or dressed up as “a war of national liberation”, a “War for Peace” or a “Defense of the Motherland” conducted by a recognised government or a quasi-government. Nor can there be justification for bombing the hell out of a country to free its people from a dictator, or to deliver “Enduring Freedom”.
Comparing degrees of terror is as futile as comparing degrees of courage. Terror is terror and must be condemned whether an individual, a government or a quasi-government, inflicts it.
Soon after the dreadful events of 11 September 2001 (which, incidentally, had a serious negative impact on the LTTE vis a vis the USA), George Bush immediately declared that the nineteen hijackers were cowards. Nothing can be further from the truth. The hijackers were not cowards, quite the contrary. His simplistic claim betrays a complete lack of understanding of what makes a suicide-bomber or a terrorist.
The alternative explanation is that Bush is neither simplistic nor stupid but unable to face up to the reality that the super-power was no match for the hijackers who were smarted, braver, more intelligent and prepared to lay down their lives for a cause they believed in. It was a hard sell for Bush, hence the label of ‘cowards’.
The situation in Sri Lanka is very similar. It is a hard sell for the Sri Lankan government to admit that the Tamil Tigers are smarter, braver, more intelligent, better organised and prepared to lay down their lives for a cause they believe in, i.e. that the Tamil people will be on par with the Sinhalese and not second-class citizens in the country of their birth. It is easier to call them “terrorists”. It also generates more money, especially post-September 11.
What of genuine terrorists? There are usually two reasons that ‘make’ a terrorist. One is despair and the other revenge for some injustice done to oneself, loved ones or just the community one cares for. This is often generated in those who have been subjected to intense trauma, e.g. living in a war zone, or in a refugee camp for years. This despair and anger result in a sense that your life and the lives of others count for nothing. It is powerful enough to override the natural desire to survive and have this replaced by a feeling that the gift of one’s own life is worthwhile.
Terrorism cannot be banned, outlawed or “crushed”. If it could be, there would be no terrorism in the world today. An excellent example is Sri Lanka where the terror of the Sinhala JVP was crushed (1971), banned, and then crushed again (1988-89). Today, they are the third largest party in the country and may well be part of the next Government. The LTTE was ‘crushed’ (1978), banned, and a determined effort made to crush them again (1983-2001). Today they are the most powerful militant organization in the world and have now been invited for Peace Talks!
The perception that the problem of terrorism can be addressed by banning it has always amused me. It is about as stupid as trying to address the escalating problem of suicide by banning it! The sensible way of decreasing the horrendous death rate from suicide which, incidentally is about hundred times greater than all the terrorist acts put together, is by addressing the problems that result in suicide, i.e. depression, loneliness, social isolation and hopeless poverty.
If terrorism, militancy and insurgencies are to be eradicated, the factors that have produced these problems must be addressed. With the JVP it is rural poverty, with the LTTE it is discrimination and domination of the Tamil people and their inability to live in safety in the country of their birth. Proscribing the JVP or the LTTE is an exercise in futility. With the LTTE it might well be counter-productive, since it will compromise and sabotage the entire Peace process.
LTTE AND THE PEACE TALKS
Before making any comments about the LT TE and the Peace Talks, there are some basic facts that must be appreciated.
Whether one considers the LTTE to be Liberation (Freedom) Fighters or Terrorists, whether one admires them or hates them, whether one thinks they have advanced the cause of the Tamil people or have done the opposite, two things are crystal clear.
The first is that they are here to stay. They will not go away nor can they be bombed out or “smashed”. That will not happen. Indeed, the opposite. They have grown from an insignificant group whose very existence was doubted in the early 1970s to one of the most powerful and best organised militant organisations in the world. Those, e.g. the JVP, who say that what is needed is not Peace Talks with them but to declare all out war and smash them, are not claiming this because they are stupid. On the contrary, it is because they are smart that they recognise this as the surest way of getting the electoral support of the Sinhalese to get into power.
The Sinhalese are, in this respect, quite dumb. Have they asked the JVP whether if, as they claim, the answer is to smash the LTTE, will they (the JVP), volunteer to pick up arms and do so or is that a job for the children of lesser Gods, such as the rural poor? So far their ‘patriotism’ has not extended that far, nor is it likely to. Let me point out to these folks, who have lost the ability to ask the necessary questions, how is it that in nearly two decades of warfare not a single member of the family of any member of parliament (for heaven’s sake there are 225 of them), has fallen in battle?
The second is that they are key players in a negotiated settlement of the ethnic problem. They are not a ‘peripheral issue’ which can be marginalised or antagonised. Whether this is attempted by Sri Lanka, India or the USA, it will not work. All that will happen is that it will make them even more determined than they are, i.e. increase their resolve. If the LTTE revert from the current quest for a Federal State (but see below) back to a demand for a Separate State, Eelam, those who have tried to marginalize them will have a case to answer.
To claim that the LTTE are the cause of the problem is arrant nonsense. The LTTE are not the cause of the ethnic problem, they are the result. The cause of the problem is Sinhala-Buddhist ethno religious chauvinism – this destructive concept that multiethnic, multi religious, multicultural Sri Lanka, is a Sinhala-Buddhist nation. (Appendix 3).
The LTTE are not the ones who wanted a Separate Tamil State, Eelam. It was the Tamil people in the 1977 General Election (the last Election with a credible result) who overwhelming voted for a Separate Tamil State and gave their elected Parliamentarians a mandate to pursue such a result. It was the absolute failure of the elected representatives to make any headway using democratic methods that resulted in the Tamil militants picking up arms to establish such a goal by the use of force. Had the Tamil militants not gone the way they did, the elected representatives in Parliament would still be groveling at the feet of the Sinhalese politicians as they have done for more than 50 years. There would have been no Peace Talks, no search for a Federal or any other solution to the problems facing the Tamil people, which made them opt for a Separate State.
With an overwhelming mandate from the Tamil people in the North and East for a Separate Tamil State, Eelam, the LTTE promised both their people in Sri Lanka and the expatriate Tamils, that they would deliver. To this end they sacrificed the lives of some 18,000 youths in the past two decades.
Have they delivered? They sure have. A de-facto Separate State, Eelam, has already been established and has been so for at least the past decade, if not longer. While the Sinhalese are still debating the issue, the problem has been settled in de-facto form years ago. What the Sinhalese need to do is to wake up to the reality on the ground.
President Kumaratunga, pointing the finger at Prime Minister Wickremasinghe, complains that there are ‘now’ Tiger ‘Courts of Law’. What the blind President fails to realize is that they have been there even when she was negotiating with the LTTE in 1994! There are Tiger Police Stations, a Tiger Taxation system and, of course, a Tiger Army and Navy which is far better trained and organised than the Sri Lankan Army and Navy. Can anyone name a single undivided country in the world where there are two separate Armies under separate command? Sri Lanka is the only country. If so, Sri Lanka is already divided.
What I have described is only a fraction of what exists, and has existed, in the ‘non-cleared,’ i.e. Tiger-controlled areas of the North and East of Sri Lanka for years. The writ of the GOSL or the President does not run in this area. When Anton Balasingham, the LTTE ideologue, recently said at a major press conference that Mr Pirabakaran, the LTTE chief, was “our Prime Minister and President” he was not joking.
If the Tamil Tigers have already established a Separate State, how come that they agreed to a Federal State in the several Peace Talks currently in progress? It is difficult to imagine that it was to establish a Federal State, still effectively under the heel of Sinhala politicians in Colombo, that the Tigers have shed so much of their own blood and the blood of their people.
The answer is likely to be that the LTTE agreed to a Federal State knowing full well that it will never be granted by a Sinhala-dominated Sri Lankan Government or the Sinhala people. It is likely that this was a temporary compromise, an exercise in Rest and Recuperation, to consolidate their gains from past military acts.
Have the LTTE made mistakes? Yes they have. They have systematically and ruthlessly wiped out every other Tamil militant group that has (or had) been working with equal fervour to free the Tamil people from Sinhala domination. This has been in a deplorable quest to be “the sole representatives of the Tamil people”. The only Tamil militant groups (other than the LTTE) who are still functioning have little or no credibility. The ones with credibility and ability have been wiped out by the LTTE.
The LTTE have carried out senseless killings of Sinhalese civilians living in the Tamil areas, They have issued a ‘quit notice’ to Muslims living in the Peninsula which is tantamount to ethnic cleansing. This has since been reversed, but the damage has already been done.
They have exploded bombs in Colombo and committed other acts of terror in the South which cannot possibly further the ‘cause of the Tamil people’. Although I cannot condone this or any other act of terror, I can see their objective, of attempting to open the eyes of the Sinhalese in the South and give them a taste of their own medicine - a taste of what the Tamil people in the North and East have had to endure almost continuously since 1983. Although no explosion of bombs can be justified, quantitatively the total number of bombs exploded by the LTTE in the Sinhala South is a fraction of 1% of the bombs that the Sri Lankan Government has dropped in Jaffna.
Have the LTTE committed Human Rights Violations? Of course, they have and must be condemned for these. They have been well-documented in numerous Amnesty International Reports. Although it is dangerous to quantify human rights violations, it must be admitted that the human rights violations committed by the LTTE are not in the same league as those committed by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces whose human rights violations have filled scores of Reports from Internationally credible Human Rights groups.
Has the behaviour of the LTTE in observing the Ceasefire Agreement with the GOSL been exemplary? No, it has not. The number of reports of violations reported to the SLMM (the Norwegian led Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission) have in fact, been numerically greater when compared to the Armed Forces. At the same time it must be recognised that the LTTE have been remarkably restrained in their reactions to quite serious and sustained provocation by the Sri Lankan Army and the Navy.
Has the LTTE wrecked the Peace Talks by withdrawing from them “for the time being”? They certainly have brought the Peace talks to a halt but for a very good reason. The reason is the non-delivery by the GOSL of any peace dividends to the Tamil people in the North and East, especially the area under LTTE control, the Wanni.
At the end of the day the LTTE must have something to show their people by way of a realistic devolution of power to the Tamil areas – if not as a Separate State, then as a Federal or Confederated State, with a substantial degree of autonomy. If they cannot show this, it will almost be tantamount to a betrayal of the Tamil people who will justifiably ask, “For what have we sacrificed so many lives and undergone so much suffering?”
These are the ground realities that people in the United States, Britain, Australia and elsewhere do not seem to appreciate. It is time they did - if they want to make any positive contribution to solving the mess in Sri Lanka on a permanent basis. This is, of course, on the assumption that they do want to make a positive contribution.
The LTTE have got away from this worrying concept that they are the ‘sole representatives’ of the Tamil people. Recently they have declared that if there is an Election in the North and East, other militant (or non-militant) groups could come forward. That is surely a step in the right direction.
Will the LTTE disarm? One might ask, “Should the LTTE disarm?” The answer to both questions is “No”. “Why not?”
If the LTTE disarms or even downgrade their armed strength, they will be decimated in one afternoon by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. This is not just a possibility but a certainty if there is a change in Government in the South, and even if there is no change of Government given the fact that the Sri Lankan Armed Forces are a law unto themselves. The Peace Talks will fold since there will be nothing to “talk” about. The Tamils will be told “to go to hell” and they will be back to square one. They will be second-class citizens in a Sinhala – Buddhist country until the next Tamil militant leader comes along and the whole process restarted.
If the LTTE is to disarm, there will also have to be a disarming of the Sri Lankan Army and that is not likely to happen. One thing that cannot, and will not, happen is a unilateral disarmament. The Indian Army tried this in 1987 and had to “retire hurt” and carry their ‘Jawans’ back to India in body bags.
There is not the slightest doubt that LTTE Armed Forces will be necessary to protect the Tamil civilians in the North and East from the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and the overwhelmingly Sinhala-dominated Police, for a very long time.
Some thought has to be given as to whether the LTTE, essentially a military outfit, has the necessary expertise to run a civil administration. The expertise needed to fight a repressive Sinhala regime in Colombo is very different from the expertise needed to run a civil administration in peacetime. Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee, post World War 2, is the classic example. However, to reach this point there must first be a stable peace to administer. It can only be hoped that once the fighting has stopped permanently and there is a degree of confidence that this is a genuine peace and not a pause-in-conflict, the necessary administrative skills will develop. One thing is certain, the degree of suspicion, for very good reasons, is such that neither the LTTE nor the Tamil people in the North and East will trust anyone from the South or even from abroad, to help in installing an administrative set up. In any case, these systems have to develop from within the community in the area, not grafted from outside. Indeed, the major problem in a vast number of former colonies, has been that this mistake has been made i.e. of grafting a system which has developed outside for a different set-up and hoping that it will work in the grafted place. It will not. It will only result in chaos as is evident in so many former Colonies.
Will the set-up be democratic? I do not know but I hope it will be. Frankly, what matters is not what I hope (I do not have to live there), but what the people in the area want. I will confine myself to making some general observations regarding a democratic set-up.
For democracy to work, it must be supported by certain values and institutions. Fairness and a level playing field are essential. There must be free and fair Elections at regular intervals with no proroguing of Parliament by the governing party to remain in power. A free press is indispensable as a vehicle of expression so that the electorate is exposed to the widest range of views possible in order for them to make informed choices. There must be transparency and accountability in governance. A credible and independent judiciary is fundamental. Without these supports, democracy is a meaningless word, and a convenient tool of manipulation for ruthless politicians. It gives them an air of legitimacy in their authoritarian rule. Democracy then becomes a virtual tyranny.
Applying these basic requirements for a democratic form of governance, the Sinhalese in the South should ask themselves whether a democracy exists in the area in which they live, rather than worry about what the Tamil set-up in the North and East is going to be. Those who are interested in the reality in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka might care to glance at my “The Abuse of Democracy in Sri Lanka”, which in abridged form is still on the net, the definitive publication will be available shortly.
If what I have stated above is accepted, and there is already a Separate Tamil State, one might well ask, “Then what is the purpose of these Peace Talks. To what end, if the end has already been achieved?” I think the answer is that the Peace Talks will enable the Sri Lankan Government to accept the result gracefully and without acrimony. After all, it is a geographical fact that these two States are going to be neighbours for the life of this planet. It is obviously for the benefit of all that there be good-will between them. If the GOSL present, or future, intends to reverse this and get back to the state ante-bellum, they are in a dream world, not in the world of reality.
As for the immediate problem, the President is in a position to upset the entire Peace applecart. Kumaratunga can constitutionally dissolve Parliament at a time when it is politically advantageous for her to do so. She is certainly on a pretty strong wicket and Wickremasinghe and the Peace process on a correspondingly weak one. The Tamil Tigers are playing their cards well aware of this scenario. They will probably demand, not unreasonably, that Wickremasinghe convinces them of his credibility if they are to continue serious negotiations with him. This would mean a dissolution of Parliament and a fresh Election. If this goes the way of Kumaratunga, as it well might, given the non-performance of the Wickremasinghe government in almost every sphere, then it will be back to war since the Tiger leadership has already stated that they will not negotiate with Kumaratunga, having been burnt once.
Should this happen, the Tigers will make very sure that they are not the ones to restart the war. They will leave that to the GOSL which can then be justifiably labeled as ‘the war mongers’. The Tigers certainly seem to have their wits about them. It is the Sri Lankan Government that seems to be groping in the dark, chasing solutions that do not exist, except in their imagination.
It is widely believed that it was the killing of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE that has angered India. It was more likely that it was the humiliation suffered by the 4th largest Army in the world, that has upset India.100,000 Indian troops were unable to cope with some 5,000 sarong-clad youths and had to “retire hurt”. It is this that India is unable to forget or overcome.
What the ill-concerned India ‘adventure’ in Sri Lanka in 1987 did was to shatter the confidence of the Tamils, in particular those in the North and East, who suffered so much at the hands of the Indian troops. The result is that the Sri Lankan Tamils no longer trust India . They will ‘use’ India just as much as Sri Lanka under President Jayawardene used India and India has, for years, used Sri Lanka. The most recent example of the latter is the leasing by India of the oil tank ‘farm’ in the crucial harbour in Trincomalee, entirely to keep the United States out of the region.
There is not the slightest doubt that India is directly responsible for the current presence of the Sri Lankan Army in the Jaffna Peninsula. After the debacle which resulted in the capture by the LTTE of the supposedly impenetrable massive Sri Lankan Army base in Elephant Pass and Pallai, the Sri Lankan Army was holed up in the southern coastal parts of Jaffna Peninsula. The LTTE were in a position to massacre (or starve to death) the entire 30,000 plus Sri Lankan Forces south of the Charvakachcheri-Pallai road. However, the LTTE did not do so. Under Indian pressure, they allowed the troops to be evacuated. I was shocked to hear that India even suggested that the troops could temporarily be evacuated to India – complete with their arms!
In 1987, the Tamils in the North welcomed India’s so-called ‘Peace-keeping Forces’(IPKF) as their saviours from the barbarism of Jayawardene’s “Security Forces”. Once in Jaffna, a ‘Peace–Keeping’ Force turned itself into a “Unilateral Disarming Force’ i.e a Force which set about disarming the LTTE but not the Sri Lankan Government Forces. To make matters worse, they then went around killing civilians and raping the women of Jaffna, doing exactly what the widely–hated Sri Lankan Forces had been doing.
I am in no way trying to justify the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi but let us face it - it was Rajiv Gandhi who sent his undisciplined Armed Forces into Jaffna and allowed them to violate the basic human rights of the Tamil people. Are we to believe that the Research Analysis Wing (RAW) that seems to know everything that is going on in India and all the neighbouring countries did not know what the Indian Army was doing in Sri Lanka? Rajiv Gandhi came to symbolise the Indian Army, and paid a terrible price for this.
The virulently anti-LTTE stance of the current Indian leadership may go beyond the humiliation of the Indian Army and the murder of Rajiv Gandhi. It may have a lot to do with the religious fanaticism of the ruling BJP. This party to which both Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee and his Home Minister belong, has fomented Hindu fanaticism in Gujarat for some years. This was put on public display in March 2002 with the slaughter of some 2,000 Muslims (the Godhra outrage). Such a Party would not view a secular LTTE favourably.
I have already referred to India’s recent love affair with the JVP. Here is a virulently anti-Indian group who slaughtered hundreds of civilians in the Sri Lankan South in 1988-89 simply because they had been to India or traded with India, who are now frequent visitors to the Indian Embassy in Colombo and are even singing India’s praises! Why this blatant hypocrisy? Because the JVP sees India as the best ‘investment’ to wreck the Peace Process and derail the current UNF government which might give them a chance to get into the driving seat.
I can understand an unprincipled bunch of political opportunists doing a reverse turn, but why has India reciprocated. The answer must surely be that India has a hidden agenda, consonant with that of the JVP, i.e.to wreck the Peace in Sri Lanka.
India refused to have anything to do with the Norwegian brokered Peace Talks. This did more harm to India’s stature than to the Peace Talks. Having distanced herself from the Peace Talks, what was India doing at the Washington aid meeting from which the LTTE, one of the key negotiating parties in the Peace Talks, was excluded? Why is a succession of Sri Lankan politicians from the Government as well as the Opposition regularly visiting India? Some, such as V. Anandasangari, the leader of the Tamil National Alliance, after a recent visit to India, returned with fire in his belly and blasted the daylights out of the LTTE. What is India doing to these people and why?
The latest in a never ending stream of Sri Lankan politicians to pay homage or get tuition from India is President Kumaratunga. In early April 2003 she decided as the first port of call, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jeyaram whose hatred for the LTTE is no secret. It is significant that just prior to Kumaratunga’s departure she had invited Douglas Devananda, leader of the infamous EPDP and Shankar Raj from EROS - both hostile to the LTTE, for a ‘discussion’. A leaked intelligence report states that the President inquired what stance they would take with regard to an anti-LTTE front. The same intelligence report states that Devananda and Thirunesan had said that the Indian Government, RAW, and the Indian bureaucracy were determined to prevent the LTTE from taking control of the North and East. They also disclosed that they had been in contact with the Indian authorities and that the central Government of India is not happy with the current peace proposals and the federal system agreed upon by the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE. This is a deliberate, despicable and irresponsible act of a respected regional power, acting in a manner, which is likely to generate bloodshed and chaos in a neighbouring country.
What is the game that India is playing? What is the Indian agenda? These are questions those of us whose primary interest is in Sri Lanka have a right to ask the Indian authorities and the Indians have an obligation to respond.
Having opted out of doing anything constructive when Sri Lanka was facing a major crisis, does India object to Norway slipping in and doing what India should, with all its influence and power standing, being doing and acting as an honest broker of Peace? Instead, the impression is that it is acting as an irresponsible wrecker of Peace for its own political or geopolitical reasons.
If the Peace Process breaks down in Sri Lanka and the bloodshed resumes, India will have a case to answer. This can be added to the disastrous Indian adventure of 1987-88, which did so much damage to India’s image, and that of the fourth largest Army in the world.
United State of America
The US interests in Sri Lanka (and hence its interference with the Peace Process) are geopolitical, strategic and economic. Entwined in this are the games being played between the US and India. The attitude of the US towards the Tamil Tigers is part of these complex and often convoluted activities.
The US has significant strategic interests in South Asia and the Indian Ocean – an area that comes within “the area of influence of India”. India has ambitions and plans of its own for the future of the area and does not want America around. The US is not trusting of India either. This distrust was maximal during the cold war when India was an unofficial ally of the Soviet Union. The distrust was clearly visible in the exchange of letters, which accompanied the Indo-Sri Lanka Pact (1987) between President J.R.Jayawardene and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. As I pointed out in a booklet I published soon after the Accord, this Accord had more to do with Indian security than settling the Sri Lankan ethnic problem. I quote from the Annexure to the Accord “Trincomalee, or any port in Sri Lanka will, not be made available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India’s interest (pointed reference to America). The cold war may be over, but the suspicions remain.
This became obvious in May 2002 when the GOSL negotiated an “Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement” with the US. This would have allowed the US military to use Sri Lanka’s ports, airports and air space. However, to date, the Agreement has not been signed because India expressed its “displeasure” at any American or western military presence, even a transit arrangement, in Sri Lanka.
On 11 October 2002 before the US-led attack on Iraq, Prime Minister Wickremasinghe said that Sri Lanka would not provide America transit facilities because there was no defense pact between the two countries. However, with typical Sri Lankan logic, the absence of a defense pact has not prevented Sri Lanka from obtaining weapons and training for its Armed Forces from the US to crush the Tamils.
In 1991 there was clear evidence that the US would not hesitate to threaten the GOSL when its interests were threatened. The then GOSL leased a massive 400 hectares of land in the Chilaw district (north of Colombo) to the Voice of America, supposedly to broadcast news, music and special interests programs on the US way of life and “democracy”.
There was a public outcry, led by the local people in Iranawila. If music was what was going to be broadcast, the local people were not prepared to dance to it. The protests built up to such a level that in October 1994 construction was halted. The US Embassy in Colombo brought out the big stick and threatened the GOSL that if the construction did not go ahead, the US would cut Aid and Trade – ‘diplomacy’ US style.
The GOSL simply declared the area a “Security Zone” and construction went ahead. Declaring it a ‘Security Zone’ meant that the local people were prevented from fishing and making a living. The Bishop of Chilaw protested at the serious economic effects on these people who “… are some of the most marginalised people in the area”.
With continuing protests, the 400 hectares were reduced to 160 hectares – still a vast space to erect four aerials, not to mention the 7000 plus coconut trees that were cut down in some of Sri Lanka’s best coconut estates. The height of the aerials (120 metres) was ideal for monitoring what goes on in the Indian Ocean (e.g the movement of submarines in and out of India), which is what they were probably doing.
Sri Lanka does not grow any wheat, but consumes so much that wheat accounts for 31% of all imports, paid for in hard currency. The US supplies about half of the 850,000 tonnes imported in 2001/02, expected to rise to 950,000 tonnes in 2003/03. (The rest comes from Australia, Argentina and Canada. India and France have just entered this lucrative market). The American wheat has been used as ‘the big stick’ when Sri Lanka steps out of line. When Sirima Bandaranaike, the current President’s mother, was the Prime Minister she decided to nationalize some private enterprises. This obviously did not please the US which decided to stop all wheat flour exports to Sri Lanka to get her into line.
America’s propensity to prop up corrupt regimes in the Third World is too well known to be expanded on, e.g. Philippines, Indonesia. In Sri Lanka the more corrupt the Government, the more acceptable it seems to be. If it is capitalist, that is a bonus.
This has a bearing on the US attitude to a solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. The last thing that Americans would want is to have to deal with two separate regimes – a Sinhala regime in the South and a Tamil regime in the North and East. This would particularly be so if the Tamil regime was a group like the Tamil Tigers who are unlikely to dance to the American tune. It is also a fact that the US does not have a great track record of backing “home grown” militant groups since they may not readily allow the US to walk over them, as will corrupt and incompetent governments.
This is reflected in the behaviour of the current American Ambassador on Colombo, Ashley Wills. He had hardly arrived in the country when he darted up to Jaffna and declared that a Separate Tamil State, Eelam would not be acceptable to the US! My letter to the good gentleman is in Appendix 4.
With this attitude, it should surprise no one that the Tamil Tigers have been listed as a “terrorist” group, well before September 11.
It is the very fact that the GOSL – LTTE Peace Talks were going reasonably well, that the US decided to have an Aid Meeting in Washington from which the Tigers had to be excluded because, as a banned organisation, they could not get visas to enter the country. There is no doubt that it was this unnecessary and irresponsible provocation of the LTTE and an attempt to marginalise them that resulted in the decision that was taken by the LTTE to withdraw from further Talks “for the moment”. It is of interest that India, who had distanced herself from the Sri Lankan Peace effort, suddenly appeared in the US meeting. I doubt if India ‘just happened to be passing by and dropped in’.
It is this meddling by the US and by India in an already difficult-to-settle problem in Sri Lanka that has brought the Peace Talks to a halt.
OF THE PEACE TALKS
Over the past 17 months of Peace, the LTTE have not been blameless. As I have said, the number of complaints to the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission of violations of the cease fire agreement by the LTTE have exceeded those lodged against the GOSL Armed Forces. Nonetheless, the LTTE has put up with a lot of nonsense e.g. the refusal of the Army to reduce the extent of the so-called High Security Zones, quit public buildings, private houses etc. and the Government’s apparent impotence at doing anything about it.
The entire concept of a “High Security Zone” is laughable. The question is “For whose Security have these zones been declared High Security Zones?”.. The real answer is that it is for the Security of the Armed Forces and the Sinhala Government civil administration in Jaffna which is unable to exist among the people they administer without ‘Security’. If the administration needs Security to exist, it is a sorry state of affairs.
The claim that the “High Security Zones” are necessary for the Security of Sri Lanka is arrant nonsense. When during the 1994-5 Kumaratunga – LTTE Peace talks were in progress, the Army was confined to the Palaly Air Force Base. The Security of the country was not threatened. Why should it be now?
The decision by the LTTE to withdraw from the on-going Peace Talks “for the time being” is entirely justifiable. It may be ‘unfortunate’ or ‘regrettable’ but that is not what we are talking about – were there justifiable reasons for the LTTE to do so? There were.
The Sri Lankan Government’s program of national reconstruction (“Regaining Sri Lanka”) has failed to focus on the critical situation in the North and East in general, the LTTE controlled Wanni in particular.
Whether one likes it or not, accepts it or not, the grim reality is that the LT TE are the quasi- Government in the Wanni and have been so for a decade. This is a vast area comprising the districts of Killinochi, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, and Mannar. It is a large area,1237 sq km with a population of some 142,000 people. According to the Government Agent for Wanni, Thirunavakaram Rasanayayam more than 32,000 families live below the poverty line. Out of a total of 30,000 hectares of farmland in the area, only 18,000 hectares were cultivated last year – an all time low for this agricultural-rich land. 120,000 hectares cannot be cultivated due to not being cleared of land mines and explosives.
The main hospital for the area, the Killinochi District Hospital, was completely destroyed during the war. A foundation stone has been laid for the new hospital but it has stopped at that because of a dispute about the layout plans!
The entire civil administration of the important Killinochi district has been crippled by a serious shortage of resources, personnel, office accommodation and transport facilities. Most Government offices function out of temporary buildings while some officials swelter in the scorching heat as they valiantly attempt to administer civil work in roofless, bullet ridden buildings devastated by heavy artillery.
The schooling situation is disastrous. At present only 84 schools are ‘functioning ‘ many out of bombed out buildings. There are vacancies for 750 teachers for schools in the Wanni.
The important point is that in more than a year of the Peace Process there have been no dividends for the civilians in the Wanni. There have been pledges, but they have remained on paper. The substantial amount of money provided to the North and East Provincial Council has been diverted to Batticaloa and Amparai in the East. Not a cent has been allocated for the Wanni region.
The problem facing the LTTE has been how this failure to deliver tangible benefits from the Peace Process can be explained to those in the Wanni. It is difficult to respond to the criticism that the numerous Peace Talks and Aid Meetings have been to generate aid for the Sri Lankan Government which is then being used to address problems in the South. It is not entirely surprising that the LTTE have decided that it is time that the Wickremasinghe Government put its money where its mouth is and delivered some tangible benefits to the people in the Wanni. Until such time, further Talks and the associated bluff that something is being done, should stop.
The UN Agencies and their allies are the last people to trust with the major job of Reconstruction of the North and East. I know from experience that organisations such as the UN, WHO etc are experts at gathering meaningless data and writing even more meaningless reports (in this case I guess they will be “Needs Assessment Reports”, ”Report of Humanitarian Concerns” etc). If one wants to waste money, one could not do better than to pick one of these agencies.
This could be interpreted as an LTTE line being plugged. I am not plugging any line. I am commenting on the realities on the ground in the Wanni. Jetting into Jaffna, seeing long unseen relatives, doing a sight-seeing tour of the devastation produced by a ‘patriotic ‘ Armed Forces, visiting the famous Buddhist Temple at Nainateevu (Nagadeepa) and jetting out again will not provide information of the chaos and continuing chaos in the Wanni.
The buck stops with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. His entire ‘mission’, almost to the neglect of all of his other Prime Ministerial duties, has been to carry the Peace Process forward. It is absurd to even suggest that he is unaware of the mounting human problems in the North and East – the Wanni in particular.
The Prime Minister trying to link poverty in the South with poverty in the North and East is absolute nonsense and he should know it. He has been long enough in politics to know what every layperson knows - that poverty in the South has been there from Day 1 of Independent Ceylon (and even before) and was largely of the making of his party – the capitalist UNP with ‘contributions’ from the opposing capitalist SLFP.
Poverty in the North and East is entirely different. It is the direct result of two decades of war. The entire area and all its structures – be it industry, schools, hospitals, roads, houses- you name it, are simply not there. This is a disaster area and needed top priority in reconstruction, and whose problems should not have been ‘diluted’ with the poverty in the South. Wickremasinghe’s laissez faire and lackadaisical attitude to addressing a serious problem which needed urgent attention is almost entirely to blame for what has happened.
He could not have been so naïve as to think that the Restoration and Rehabilitation of the North and East could have been left in the hands of people like Minister Jayalath Jayawardene, whose honesty and questionable ‘activity’ has been publicly questioned and whose achievements in more than a year have been minimal. If all that the Prime Minister can come up with is Jayalath Jayawardene, he deserves what he is going to get – another long period on the Opposition benches.
Whatever the politics – and I suspect that there was a significant input in this area from some unseen players such as India – in excluding the LTTE from the Washington aid conference, one thing is certain. The LTTE is fully justified in complaining to the Prime Minister that a lack of developmental aid to the war-ravaged Wanni has left the civilian population bereft of dividends which should have by now been derived form the Peace Process. Whether we (or the Indians or the Americans) like it or not, the reality is that the LTTE are key players in this game and marginalising them is unhelpful at best, destructive at worst. If the intention of the ‘Aid’ conference was to genuinely help Sri Lanka and if the US could not grant a visa to the LTTE delegates, then the obvious alternative would have been to have the meeting in some other country such as Canada. This, of course, assumes that the intention was there to help and that there was no hidden agenda. Neither can be assumed.
The marginal players and non-players
The Norwegians are hardly ‘marginal players’. They have, in fact, played a pivotal role in the Peace negotiations. They have not merely been ‘facilitators’ but been skilful and committed negotiators in a very difficult situation. If anyone deserves a Nobel Prize for Peace, irrespective of the outcome of the Peace Talks, it must surely be the Norwegians who have tried so hard to prevent the Peace Process from being derailed.
What with a hostile President who not only side-lined them but even asked that they be ordered out of the country, the JVP and the Buddhist clergy running around in Colombo burning the Norwegian flag and making wild and derogatory claims about Norway’s agenda, to have stuck to their Peace initiative is truly remarkable and commendable.
What if they are after fishing rights to fish off the Sri Lankan coast, what if they are after the contracts for hydroelectric schemes? If they have these as their hidden agenda, so be it. They have saved Sri Lanka (or tried desperately to do so) from certain bankruptcy and chaos.
Have they made mistakes in the past year? Of course they have – but who would not, given the near–impossible task that they undertook. They agreed to lead a Monitoring Mission to monitor MoU violations by two heavily armed and undisciplined forces, to say nothing of the criminal elements running amok in an uncontrollably large area – both on land and on sea. This they had to do with minimal staff, no military of their own and, what is worse, no power. That they have been able to maintain some sort of sanity where none exists is quite remarkable.
The fact that they failed in that other mad-house e.g. the Middle East (the Oslo Accord) does not veto their efforts in Sri Lanka. The JVP should be ashamed of making this claim.
Perhaps the only serious mistake made by the Norwegians was not to persuade those who organised the Washington aid meeting to hold it in some other country to which the LTTE could be admitted. This is, of course, assuming that those who organised the meeting were amenable to persuasion.
Japan must be commended for putting its money where its mouth is. Japan is by far, the largest donor of aid to Sri Lanka.
I guess the likes of the JVP will attribute Japan’s aid to some hidden agenda. Perhaps they are after our readily available human skills, perhaps our industries, the potential electronics market, especially the production of electronics. If that is their agenda, I applaud it. It would be better to have some efficient Japanese organise and conduct these than leaving it to some of the Sri Lankan crooks who have swindled millions, if not billions, under the Kumaratunga regime and the new breed of crooks doing exactly the same under the Wickremasinghe regime.
If Japan can do something about the public holidays in Sri Lanka, it would be of enormous help. The productivity of the country is being seriously undermined by the number of public holidays and the National Chamber of Commerce in Colombo has expressed concern. Of 365 days in the year, if one subtracts the sleeping hours and allows for an eight-hour working day, the labour input comes down to 182 working days. From these, if the weekends, numerous public and other holidays are deducted, there are only about 65 to 70 working days in the year. Sri Lanka is called a “meritocracy”. For good reason - they don’t come any merrier than this.
The Ministry of Public Affairs recognised this and set up a plan to review holidays in Sri Lanka but, like most things in that country, these good intentions have remained on paper.
The United States
It is difficult to work out what the game is. The unhelpful pronouncements of the American Ambassador in Sri Lanka are not consonant with those of Richard Armitage, a senior member of the Bush administration. It was the latter who chaired the Washington aid meeting which created the current setback to the Peace talks by excluding the LTTE. Armitage seemed to be regretful that it had to done because the LTTE is still listed as a terrorist organization. If this was genuine regret, then his Ambassador in Colombo is not on the same wave-length as he is.
I might add that the ‘achievement’ of getting the LTTE banned as a terrorist organisation was not the work of the Sinhalese, but the handiwork of a Tamil, Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Foreign Minister in the Kumaratunga regime whom we have met before (page11).
Having spoken to several people in the US State Department and the House of Representatives, on a recent visit, I have no doubt that the current hard line stance is entirely due to the events of September 11, even though the LTTE are not Muslims. If that reading is correct, then de-proscription by the US is not an insurmountable problem unless there is pressure from India not to do so.
It will be important to get across to the US government the crisis that the Wickremasinghe government will be in if the current Peace talks with the LTTE fail. The next Sri Lankan government, with a virulently anti-US component, the JVP, will be a far bigger problem for the US than the LTTE have ever been.
Britain seems to have opted out of the mess in Sri Lanka and have got away with it. As I pointed out in my address in London on the “Abuse of democracy in Sri Lanka”, Britain has a lot to answer for, for the mess in Sri Lanka. It is time that some searching questions are put to the British Government. Britain’s only involvement seems to be to send the Special SAS Forces to train the Sri Lankan Army to kill the Tamils and to provide land mines, and weaponry for them to complete the job. This is, of course, not the first time Britain has played this game, nor will it be the last. What is remarkable is that they get away with it.
Australia has benefited from a large number of professional and skilled people from Sri Lanka. Yet, this country has done remarkably little to help in sorting out the Sri Lankan mess, other than accepting Major General Janaka Perera as a diplomat. Yes, I am aware that CARE, AusAid and a few other organisations have thrown some money at Sri Lanka - throwing good money after bad.
The major contribution this country can make is to help in the negotiation of Peace. This, the Australian Government has not done.
Australia played a major role in sorting out the mess in East Timor and , more recently, in Bougainville. If this experience, especially with Bougainville, is offered to Sri Lanka and at least the offer made to host some of the Peace Talks, it will be an important gesture. It will also make it unnecessary for the delegates to go all over the place from Thailand to Europe to Japan, in search of some soil on which to meet.
I have not the slightest doubt that if Kim Beasley had won the last election and become Prime Minister of Australia instead of being cheated out of it by an imaginary refugee crisis, Australia would have made a major contribution to solving the Sri Lankan mess, especially if the most impressive Laurie Brereton was the Foreign Minister. The Australian ‘Election’ was as big a farce as that which occurred in a much more powerful country, with much more disastrous consequences.
Now that John Howard and Alexander Downer seem to be set to stay for the foreseeable future, given the leadership battles raging in the Labor Opposition, perhaps the greatest role the Tamil expatriates can play is to try and convince the current Australian Government to help the Peace Process in Sri Lanka.
New Zealand with the dynamic Helen Clark, who never ceases to impress me, and its competent Foreign Minister, can play a role if invited to do so. They are more humane and seem to have a more responsible attitude to international affairs than do their Australian counterparts. To lobby them is the responsibility of the powerful expatriate Tamil lobby in New Zealand and Australia.
Canada has accepted hundreds of thousands of Tamil refugees over the years and has benefited form the expertise they have brought. Canada is a sensible country and I have been most impressed by the Canadian Government Officials and NGOs, I have met, both in Ottawa and Toronto. I am certain that Canada, faced with a problem similar to that faced by Sri Lanka (the British Canadians and the French Canadians – c.f. Sinhalese Sri Lankans and Tamil Sri Lankans) can play a far greater role than it is playing at the moment. This is a ‘job’ for the powerful expatriate Tamil lobby in Canada.
[to be continued]
 Baratya Janata Party
 The exciting details are in Michael Moore’s best seller, “Stupid White Men” Penguin 2002