Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

The European Union Travel Prohibition on the LTTE

by M. Nadarajan
The recent travel prohibition on LTTE delegations by the EU countries is ill-considered, one sided and hastily arrived at.  Most of the facts mentioned in this article are well known, and are being repeated only since the EU seems either unaware of, or has forgotten them.  The immediate provocation for this action by the EU seems to be the speeches made by President Chandrika, and her Secretary General of the government Peace Secretariat, Mr. Dhanapala, during their recent visit to the US.  They took off where the Late Foreign Minister Kadirgamar left, in demonizing the LTTE.  There has also been a concerted attempt by Sri Lankan Embassies in European Union countries, with no money spared, to not only get the travel prohibition imposed, but also to have the LTTE put on a terrorist list in them.

Are the EU countries so naive as to accept as gospel truth the adverse propaganda spread by one side in a conflict?  At least the Co-chairs of the aid-giving countries chastised both sides about their conduct.  Surely, most of the EU countries have embassies in Colombo and many of the larger ones have political officers who must have appraised their Foreign Ministry of what has been happening in Sri Lanka, ever since independence in 1948.  Governments and personnel at Embassies change, but the Foreign Offices do not.

A lot of the blame for this action goes to the UK that chairs the EU now.  If one looks at past history it is be evident that it was the UK which was originally responsible for the situation prevailing in Sri Lanka.

(Note: An annexure to this document titled "A Brief History of the Problem from the Colonial Days to the Start of the War" is on this website for those who wish to know about it)

One of the main reasons for the European Union believes whatever they hear from Sri Lankan politicians must be because the Europeans judge the latter by their own standards.  Governments tend to side with existing governments.  Sri Lankan politicians, however, keep on changing their views constantly, and make statements that they think the audience at that time likes to hear, or to make themselves look good.

Hopefully, after considering what is mentioned in this article, and not only from this author, the EU will change its views.  The major reasons for the decision to bar LTTE delegations traveling in EU countries have been mentioned as recruitment of child soldiers and political killings.

Underage recruitment
The LTTE has admitted to accepting child soldiers who come to them voluntarily in the past, particularly in the East, when Karuna was their commander.  They have said that when they find out that recruits are under aged they are not sent to the front, but given training or sent to schools till they reach the age of 18.

When Karuna deserted the LTTE, their headquarters in Vanni asked child soldiers to return to their parents and most have done so.  The list provided by UNICEF of children alleged to be with the LTTE, upon closer inspection, includes many who have actually returned to their parents, got married, left overseas for employment, or left their original places of residence for various reasons.

Children join the LTTE voluntarily for one or more of several reasons such as broken homes, lack of essential amenities due to poverty, killing or maiming of children during attacks against schools and hospitals, and sexual violence, as mentioned in Mr. Olara Otunnu's 2005 report titled "Embarking on the Era of Application for the Protection of Children Exposed to Armed Conflict".

Other reasons for joining, in the context of the war in Sri Lanka, are continued displacement due to army occupation of residences and schools, and denial of schooling and economic opportunities.  A few may join for the thrill of it.

There is some concern about the objectivity of periodical reports that have been put out about the issue of child soldiers.  In a region where birth certificates are not readily available, and malnutrition is so rampant, it is difficult to guess a child's age.  The statistics in this regard are flawed in a country where for a small sum of money, one can get an affidavit that a child has been abducted.  Statistics should be obtained from irrefutable government officials such as Grama Sevakas rather than through less reliable sources such as NGOs or the armed forces.  Attempts must be made to assure that those reporting forced recruitment, especially parents are not themselves being threatened or feeling under duress to explain their child's action.

The army in Sri Lanka had been going to schools and recruiting children aged 15 and over.  This also happens in the Western world, including Britain and the USA.  In many countries there are National Cadet Corps in schools where children well below the age of 18 are given military training.  Article 77(2) of Additional Protocol I states "The Parties to the Conflict shall take all feasible measures in order that children who have not attained the age of fifteen do not take a direct part in hostilities."  The Rome statute of the International Criminal Court includes therein as a war crime, conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years or using them to participate actively in hostilities.  The fact that the Rome statute incorporated the test of Additional Protocol I indicates that the latter has become customary international law on this subject.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child does not adequately address the situation such as in Sri Lanka, where the state is the primary entity that oppressed a community and its children.  Its provisions place restrictions on those fighting a state, resetrictions that are not placed on the state itself.

The LTTE at one time released 1,400 children to the UNICEF, in addition to many to the Red Cross, directly to their parents and to the North East Secretariat on Human Rights.  They continue to release children periodically.  There are records of such releases.  Even most recently they released 26 children in the presence of Mr. Ian Martin.

The latest news on the subject of underage recruits, datelined Oct.11, is that the new country head for Sri Lanka of UNICEF had discussions with the Political Head of the LTTE.  The LTTE has said that they were fully committed to work with UNICEF and others interested in the welfare of children.  Agreement was also reached with UNICEF about getting the services of a consultant to review the action plan.

People who are so concerned over recruitment of child soldiers do not seem to bother about the killing of children by bombing, shelling and about the indiscriminate arrests from homes and refugee camps by the armed forces.  How about the tens of thousands of children who work as domestic servants, virtual slaves, in homes, and those who are in the sex trade?  Sri Lanka is well known as a paradise for pedophiles.  Who is showing any concern about those children?  Recently a bill was submitted in Parliament to reduce the age of consent to 13 from 16.  The reason given for the bill is that there are far too many cases of girls under 16 being sexually assaulted, and later telling that it was with their consent!  Is reduction in the age of consent showing concern for children?

Political Killings
One cannot accuse only the LTTE of political killings.  This type of killing happens mostly in the East, and almost always in the government-controlled areas.  According to the CFA, the government had an obligation to disarm the paramilitaries, or use them only outside the NorthEast.  It suited the government not to do this, so that they could carry out a shadow war using these groups.  Virtually in every case that the LTTE cadres or supporters have been attacked, the attackers withdrew into army camps, trenches or checkpoints.  Many of them even wore army uniforms.  This activity increased substantially in the East after Karuna deserted. Karuna's men have been assisted and armed by the army for obvious reasons, which they will not admit.  Some government sources claim that Karenna's forces are not paramilitaries.  

The army and police have been of late massing their forces in Batticaloa, Amparai, and Trincomallee districts of the Tamil homelands, and the border districts of Annuradhapura and Pollonaruwa.  Checking of people and transport has increased of late and so has the harassment of fishermen. In the East, Tamil -Muslim enmity is encouraged.  Water from Kantalai tank inland of Trincomalee has been denied to the original settlers and given to recent settlers who are Sinhalese.

Though the cease-fire is holding, and there is no shooting war as yet, the ground situation is deteriorating.

The LTTE's Complaint

The complaint by the LTTE is that, as opposed to in the South, normalcy (a non-militarized situation with reconstruction from the war taking place) has not returned to the Tamils and Tamil areas. Several clauses, too numerous to list here, of the cease-fire agreement which would have contributed to normalcy have not yet been implemented. Army harassment of civilians, particularly of fishermen, continues; actions such as installation of Buddha statues and building of Buddhist temples in new locations in the Tamil homelands are continuing; cordon and search operations have increased; refugees are still in refugee camps and unable to cultivate their land in the so called High Security Zones; private residences and some schools are still occupied; a mine clearing organization has said that there are nearly 900,000 mines still to be cleared and that it will take up till the end of 2006 to complete the task.

When the CFA was signed it was signed on the basis of a balance in the power of both sides. The government openly buys arms and also gets gifts of ships and helicopters from friendly countries. They send the armed forces and the police for training overseas. However, when the LTTE trains their armed forces, everybody gets excited and volumes are written about it in the media.

The LTTE is accused of smuggling arms. Various numbers of between 11 to 14 shipments are mentioned. When they have to bring the arms in on the high seas, which are under surveillance of the Sri Lankan and Indian navies, not to mention intelligence provided by the US navy and air force, how is it possible for the LTTE to bring in so many shipments?

The government is taking action to place the country on a war footing. The 2005 budgeted expenditure for defense was more than that for 2004 and the proposed expenditure for 2006 is an increase of 23% over 2005!

Even before the Prime Minister signed MOUs with the Marxist JVP and JHU, there was a news item that army officers and Deputy Ministers and secretaries were opposed to the P-TOMS agreement signed between the government and the LTTE to work on the reconstruction and rehabilitation of tsunami-affected areas in the areas controlled by the LTTE. The army has been denying transport of building materials taken into Tamil areas to reconstruct tsunami damage by NGOs such as the TRO, which has been given an award by the President for the excellent work done in the tsunami-affected areas. The TRO office in the Eastern town of Batticaloa has been destroyed causing substantial damage, with one person killed and many vehicles burnt down.

As a result of the deteriorating situation, the LTTE has withdrawn many of its political offices and personnel from government-controlled areas.

Democracy

Most countries of the word are democracies. Democracy may be simplistically defined as 'rule of the people, by the people, for the people.' The dictionary defines it as 'a way of life providing extensive personal rights; justice; equality before the law; the greatest good for the greatest number; freedom of the press; political equality; social equality; freedom of speech, etc. The US is trying to spread democracy throughout the world. There have been a number of instances in Europe where the EU, NATO or the UN has intervened in bringing in peace and solutions when problems arose due to mistreatment of minorities.

The New York Times of Oct. 8th has a news item that the UN Secretary General recently recommended to the Security Council that 'talks begin without delay on the future of Kosovo, with independence as an option." It says that for more than six years the small Balkan province has been one of the most ambitious nation-building projects in recent history, with involvement bythe UN and backed up by a NATO-led peace-keeping force. The area had been torn by decades of bitter ethnic tension. The report further says that the majority Albanians was doing little to reassure minority Serbs. The US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Mr.R.N. Burns, said that the United States fully supported Mr. Annan's statement. He said, "The people of the region have a right to know that they have a future and that they can control that future."

What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Should world governments get involved only when these problems arise in Europe or where people are white skinned?

The problems in Sri Lanka have been simmering ever since independence. There has been a vicious war since 1983. The media had been mentioning the number of dead as 50,000 for a number of years. Suddenly it was increased to between 60,000 to 65,000. The truth is closer to 100,000. Combatants who died account for 36,000. It is not difficult to calculate the number of total deaths. The highest figure I have seen used is 80,000 by Mr.Ranil Wickramasinhe and Mr. Tamilselvan.

In a homogeneous country a unitary system of government will work. In a country that is multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual, and multi-religious, only a federal system with a secular government will work. This has been proved repeatedly. Even in a country like the UK where there are no major differences amongst the population, and there is no written constitution,

the system of government recognizes that the UK is made up of four countries, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, each with its borders, flags, and local customs, with Scotland having its own Parliament and own Reserve Bank that issues its own currency. Wales also has a Parliament with fewer powers than in Scotland. The four countries even have their own sports teams.

Sri Lanka has been guilty of flagrant violations of International Covenants and Conventions. In addition to those mentioned in an article titled "Flagrant Violations by Sri Lankan Government of International Covenants" by this writer, posted recently on the Illankai Tamil Sangam website, the government also violated all the articles except Articles 1,2.28,29and 30 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 1(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, relating to self-determination.

The Sinhala polity does not want to agree to any compromise on the current unitary system of government. The LTTE declared unilateral cease-fires three times, and has repeatedly said that they want peace. They have made a major compromise and consented to give up the demand for a separate state, provided Tamil aspirations are met. They have indicated that they will explore a federal system with internal self-determination. Should not Tamils have democracy; should not the wishes and aspirations of the Tamils be fulfilled?

Nothing is solved unless it is solved right. For 57 years since independence the local politicians have not been able to sort out the problem. Is it not about time that the UN should get involved to save more lives and more destruction?

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Posted October 15, 2005