Monday, Oct 25, 2021

Out Of Chaos

The end of the war in Sri Lanka marks the beginnings of a new struggle to secure an equitable political order and justice for the Tamil people within a non-discriminatory Constitutional framework. How completely and honestly will the government imple

Out Of Chaos
| AP Photo
Out Of Chaos

If such an outcome were to be secured in Iraq or Afghanistan or, now, even in Pakistan, it would be embraced by the West as an unadulterated and righteous triumph. In Sri Lanka, however, it appears to have provoked, across much of Europe and among the most prominent international agencies -- including the United Nations (UN) -- a seething and barely concealed outrage (Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, made a brief and disapproving visit, demanding "immediate and unimpeded" access to all displacement camps). There is a sense, not of a dreaded terrorist organisation having been defeated and destroyed, but of collaborators, comrades, fellows at arms, lost to the enemy. 

Significantly, the Sri Lanka government has now disclosed that certain 'foreign powers' had made repeated appeals in the last stage of the war to save Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, as well as some 50 other top terrorists who were 'seeking to escape'. While the government has not identified these 'foreign powers', one report claims that LTTE's chief negotiator and the outfit's international arms dealer, Kumaran Pathmanathan aka KP was in constant touch with "diplomats of at least four western nations, UN functionaries in Geneva and New York, a foreign cabinet minister and a few prominent Western journalists", in attempts to get the LTTE leaders out in the dying moments of the war. 

Efforts to protect LTTE cadres have not yet ended, and there have been numerous attempts to smuggle out particular individuals from the camps currently housing Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), in connivance with various Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) -- the principal reason why Ban Ki-moon's demands for 'unfettered access' were summarily rejected by Colombo. Sri Lanka has, however, permitted 52 NGOs to operate inside the camps, though restrictions exist on the movement of vehicles within the camps. 

Rajiva Wijesinha, the Secretary of the Human Rights Ministry, stated that "Things get complicated when there are too many vehicles running up and down the camps, thereby compromising security." UN's Colombo spokesperson, Gordon Weiss, confirmed reports that attempts had been made by certain persons to smuggle out groups of IDPs from the camps, prompting the current restrictions. 

President Mahinda Rajapakse has clarified that all aid workers would be allowed into the camps once the Army has completed operations to clear rebels hiding among the IDPs. Rishard Badurdeen, the Minister for Resettlement, disclosed that "There are some 3,000 LTTE cadres in the camps and we haven't finished screening." 

Significantly, Foreign Secretary, Palitha Kohona claimed that some 4,000 former militants had "sneaked in" to the general refugee population. "We will need to see how they will integrate and leave their past behind, or whether they will still harbour thoughts of going back into the jungle. We are just watching them. Many may have been forced to support the Tigers and had not been serious combatants. We would like to give them a chance to quietly reintegrate into society and not rake up their past and make a mess of their lives." Kohona disclosed further that another 2,000 militants who surrendered or were captured were being "rehabilitated" in special facilities. 

Significantly, President Mahinda Rajapakse has promised that the entire process of returning and rehabilitating the IDPs to their places of origin in the North would be completed within 180 days, and that "when everybody in the north returns to their homes, they will go back to a place where there is security."

Nevertheless, rather than moving forward from what is certainly an extraordinary victory against terrorism, and on to the tasks of reconstruction and of securing a fair deal for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, many embittered Westerners appear to feel that some vengeance is due against the architects of the campaign that so comprehensively destroyed the LTTE. 

Moves have been initiated for the UN Human Rights Council to 'investigate' human rights violations and 'war crimes' during the final phases of the Sri Lankan war against the LTTE in an initiative that, one commentator notes, can only "add to the world's store of duplicity and hypocrisy". 

On his part, President Rajapakse has unambiguously dismissed these attempts, declaring, "There are some who tried to stop our military campaign by threatening to haul us before war crimes tribunals. They are still trying to do that, but I am not afraid."

That this was a hard-fought war is inescapable; that it prevailed over one of the most lethal and feared terrorist groups in the world is undeniable; that the end was bloody is, again the stark reality. 

It is necessary, however, to recall that LTTE terrorism and successive phases of the Eelam War have resulted in, according to the UN, between 80,000 and 100,000 killed over the past over two and a half decades. 

According to the Sri Lanka government, this included 23,790 Security Force (SF) personnel, of which 6,262 were killed, and 29,551 were wounded in the offensive between August 2006 and May 17. 

Earlier, the LTTE had disclosed, in November 2008, that it had lost more than 22,000 cadres since the first guerrilla death in November 1982. 

The Military Spokesman, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara disclosed, further, that some 22,000 LTTE fighters had been killed during Eelam War IV, that is, between July 26, 2006 and May 18, 2009. 

Unofficial and unverified tallies suggest that some 7,000 civilian deaths have occurred in the final phase of fighting, since January 2009. Unverified data complied by the South Asia Terrorism Portal indicates that at least 3,755 SF personnel, 3,209 militants and 11,108 civilians have been killed since January 2, 2009, on which date Kilinochchi was captured by the Army (civilian and SF fatality figures relied largely on pro-LTTE sources such as Tamil Net). 

With this last carnage, the terror has been brought to an end and the possibility opens out that the bloodshed may now, finally, cease, and that a truly political settlement can now be negotiated among political players.

It was on May 20 that the Sri Lanka military officially ended the war with the LTTE in the Mullaitivu beach area. Earlier, at 1400 hrs of May 18, the Army had announced that the entire Puttumatalan area has been brought under government control, finally freeing the entire country free from LTTE's terrorism. The LTTE, which, at one time, controlled over 15,000 square kilometres or nearly one-fourth of the 65,332 square kilometres territory of the island nation, was finally decimated. 

Earlier, the government had announced that the 'humanitarian mission' launched to liberate civilians held hostage in a human shield by the LTTE for months, had been brought to an end in the afternoon of May 17 in Mullaitivu. 

The LTTE 'international relations' head, Selvaraja Pathmanathan, in a statement issued from outside Sri Lanka on the same day, stated that the war had reached its bitter end and that the outfit had decided to silence their guns in the interest of saving the lives of innocent Tamil citizens. Subsequently -- after initial denials that LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran had been killed -- Selvaraja Pathmanathan confirmed in an interview with BBC on May 24, that the Prabhakaran had been killed, and that the LTTE had now "given up violence and agreed to enter a democratic process to achieve the rights for the Tamil (self) determination of our people."

An official announcement made in the afternoon of May 18, 2009, over Rupavahini, the main government-controlled TV channel, had claimed that the Prabhakaran, LTTE intelligence unit chief Pottu Amman and Sea Tigers' (sea wing of the LTTE) chief Soosai were killed in the course of an Army attack earlier that morning. 

Military sources said Prabhakaran was shot dead along with his two deputies as they tried to flee in an ambulance and another van. Subsequent reports, citing Military sources, have, however, suggested that the fate of Pottu Amman remains uncertain, as his body is still to be conclusively identified. 

According to the reports at least 350 militants, including Charles Anthony, Prabhakaran's elder son, political unit chief P. Nadesan, the head of the LTTE peace secretariat, S. Pulidevan, and Ramesh, a senior 'special military' leader, were killed in the final assault taken by the military. 

On May 19, Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka had confirmed that Prabhakaran's body was found near the Nanthikandal lagoon. The Army also reportedly found his identity card, issued by the LTTE, and the armlet with the number one indicating his position in the outfit. While his body has been cremated, some samples have been retained for DNA testing, 'should the necessity arise'. 

In an interview with Sunday Rivira newspaper published on May 24 General Fonseka said, "We cremated the body in the same area and threw the ashes into the (Indian) ocean." 

Prabhakaran's former deputy, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan aka Karuna, who defected in March 2004 and is currently a minister in the Rajapakse government, and the surrendered spokesman of the outfit, Daya Master, were flown to the north-east on May 19, and positively identified their former leader. 

On May 19, Tamil Net claimed that Prabhakaran was still 'alive and safe'. The website quoted K. Pathmanathan as stating, "I wish to inform the Global Tamil community distressed witnessing the final events of the war that our beloved leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is alive and safe….He (Prabhakaran) will continue to lead the quest for dignity and freedom for the Tamil people." 

Similarly, the Head of the International Secretariat of the Intelligence wing of the LTTE, Arivazhakan, categorically denied the reports that Prabhakaran had been killed and stated, on May 22, "Our beloved leader is alive." 

With Selvaraja Pathmanathan's subsequent acceptance that Prabhakaran is dead, this myth-making has been brought to an end. 

There are critical lessons in the Sri Lankan experience for a world beleaguered by terrorism. The foremost is that it was the decisive political leadership provided by the Rajapakse government, which enabled the military to carry out an uninterrupted assault on the Tigers, eventually decimating them, despite intense international pressure. 

Purely in terms of the military operation, this was the first time in the history of the Eelam Wars the military had been given the mandate to engage in a sustained operations with unambiguous objectives. In this, the forces adopted a multi-pronged strategy to split the defending Tigers (the LTTE was never able to seize the offensive in Eelam War IV, after it initiated the war in Mavil Aru in July 2006) into different groups by carrying out simultaneous operations from air, sea and ground. 

The Tigers, depleted in terms of men and weaponry after their loss in the East, proved no match for the highly motivated military, which had procured new weaponry from friendly countries -- including India, Pakistan, China and Russia. 

In the year 2008 alone, the Army had added 40,000 troops, to raise 47 infantry battalions, 13 brigades, four task force contingents and two divisions, and was able to attack the Tigers on multiple fronts, preventing them from thinning out the troops. 

The Navy, in tandem with ground troops, curtailed the free movement of Sea Tiger boats and prevented LTTE shipments from reaching the Sri Lanka coast, cutting off the external supply of military equipment and essential goods to the LTTE by sea. 

It was, however, the Sri Lanka Air Force which played a decisive role in weakening the Tigers and destroying whatever weaponry they had accumulated since the cease-fire signed in February 2002. The targeting of the LTTE's global network, moreover, played a decisive role in the LTTE's defeat. 

Summing up the victory mantra, Army Chief Fonseka declared, on May 17, "It is the political leadership with the commitment of the military that led the battle to success…It was never there before to this extent. The military achieved these war victories after President Mahinda Rajapakse came into power. He, who believed that terrorism should and could be eliminated, gave priority to go ahead with our military strategies... The firm decision of the political hierarchy not to go for talks with the LTTE terrorists until they lay down arms had contributed significantly to all these war victories." 

In an interview published on May 22, President Rajapakse disclosed that the secret of his success was that, unlike others, "I united the Forces and allowed our commanders to fight the battle. I gave them support."

The victory in Sri Lanka has demonstrated that the war against terror can be won with clear commitment and an unremitting offensive against terrorist networks. If the global community learns from this experience, this could have a positive and decisive impact on the meandering trajectory of the US 'war against terror'. 

There is a clear realization in Colombo, however, that the struggle is far from over, that a gigantic task of rehabilitation, of reconciliation and of political settlement remains to be addressed. 

The most immediate challenge is to provide about 280,000 ethnic displaced Tamils in refugee camps -- out of which 200,000 people are located at the refugee camp at Manik Farm in Vavuniya alone -- proper relief and living conditions, immediately, and early rehabilitation in their places of origin. 

The government will also have to ensure a political solution to the ethnic problem, something that will require the confidence of the 12 per cent of Sri Lankan Tamils in the country's population. 

This will have to be preceded by a measure of trust being created between Tamil and Sinhala. For this to happen, Colombo will have to look for the elusive and long sought-after 'southern consensus'. The southern consensus which had emerged in October 2006, finally came to a disappointing end on January 29, 2007, with the main opposition group, the United National Party announcement that the political pact it signed with the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party in October 2006 was no longer valid in the aftermath of President Rajapakse's induction of 19 defectors from the UNP into the government. Later, on December 12, 2007, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem stated that he and three other Parliamentarians had decided to leave the government as it had failed to guarantee the rights of the Muslim community. These developments were a major setback to the Rajapakse regime which had, in the fag end of 2006, secured the support of Southern political parties to deal with the LTTE.

Another major challenge is presented by the often aggressive Tamil diaspora -- and widespread protests and some violent demonstrations in various Western cities in the wake of the LTTE's defeat have underlined the urgency of this problem. 

While Pathmanathan has now declared the LTTE's intention to join the 'democratic process', it remains necessary to factor in a May 16 report, which cites Italian intelligence sources regarding a satellite phone conversation between Prabhakaran and Kumaran Pathmanathan, instructing the latter to take over leadership of the LTTE if 'circumstances' demanded, and urging him to 'carry on the struggle since the conditions are good for the Eelam struggle internationally'. Voice matching software had confirmed that the voice was Prabakaran's, according to the report. 

There are also clear indications that Tamils in both Britain and Canada have vowed to continue the LTTE's struggle. In both these countries -- home to some of the largest concentrations of Sri Lankan Tamils abroad -- Tamils are mobilizing to play a part in what local leaders describe as a new phase in their struggle for an independent homeland. 

Suren Surendiran, a spokesman for the British Tamils Forum, an umbrella organization, claims that, in the longer term, the events of recent weeks have even further radicalized the younger generation of Tamils abroad: "The first phase of the fight for freedom, from 1948 to 1983, was about political negotiations. Then, the armed struggle from 1983 until last week ensured that the oppression and discrimination of Tamil people was highlighted on an international stage… Second generation Tamils who were born overseas have now become separatists in a way that they were probably not before." 

The risk of diaspora elements linking up with surviving LTTE cadres to once again threaten security and peace in the North and elsewhere in Sri Lanka cannot entirely be written off. The government has already announced its intention of establishing new Police Stations in the North to address security concerns. In the East, moreover, where a few LTTE militants have reportedly infiltrated, the troops are carrying out intensive search and clear operations. Elsewhere in the country, the SFs have stepped up their vigil to locate and apprehend surviving LTTE cadre. 

Critically, however, President Rajapakse appears to have made clear declarations in seeking an inclusive solution to the country's ethnic crisis. While announcing the LTTE's defeat in Parliament on May 19, he declared: 

This is our country. This is our mother land. We should live in this country as children of one mother. No differences of race, caste and religion should prevail here. The war against the LTTE is not a war against Tamil people. Our aim was to liberate our Tamil people from the clutches of the LTTE. Protecting the Tamil speaking people of this country is my responsibility. That is my duty. All the people of this country should live in safety without fear and suspicion. All should live with equal rights… Those who live abroad and supported the terrorists with funds, if they have any love for their own people, should not help terrorism again. I call on all who have left our motherland due to terrorism, especially the Tamil people, to return… We shall resettle all those who have been freed from being hostages in very welcome surroundings.


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