In 1950, the Nuremberg Tribunal defined Crimes against Peace (in Principle VI.a, submitted to the United Nations General Assembly) as: (i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; (ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).
Furthermore, during the trial, the chief American prosecutor, Robert H. Jackson went on to argue: To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.
We contend, in the sense of the above description of ‘crimes against peace’, that the much acclaimed and universally supported Sri Lankan peace process of 2002 was from the outset undermined in a planned and systematic way and that certain external powers in unity with internal forces conspired to destroy the peace process – resulting in a ‘war of aggression’.
We beg for the patience of the panel of judges regarding the length of this document. We feel it is a necessity – so that we have a chance to bring the truth to light, against the international web of deception and confusion that the spin doctors of the powerful have created. We have had to interleave our text with some details of external factors to show the interests of the big powers in the island to make it easy for you to assess what motivates them. As the government of Sri Lanka consistently resort to the refrain that its ‘independence as a sovereign state’, and its ‘territorial integrity’ is under attack, whenever allegations of rights violations are made against them – we, in the introductory part of this document have outlined how this ‘sovereign’ state came into being. Again we ask for your indulgence for this historical aside.
Two kinds of peace
The Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) signed between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2002 ushered in a period of peace that is quite different to the peace that exists in Sri Lanka at present. In 2002, the people who had decided to live in the Vanni were seen by the mass of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka, and in the Diaspora, as pioneers, in negotiating a just and dignified settlement to the Tamil question in the island. But the military offensive that the people in the Vanni faced, starting January 2008 and ending in May 2009 with the defeat of the LTTE, meant that they had to experience the indescribable trauma of a 17 month long war, the intensity of which can be estimated by the fact that during the last several days tens of thousands of people were killed. Those that survived the ordeal – some 300,000 – were incarcerated in internment camps for Six long months. Now the government says, that they are technically free – but the reality is very different. Apart from anything else they live in the constant fear that any one of them could join the over 11,000 people who are held as suspected LTTE members. They know that there is a fine line between any one of them and what the government considers an LTTE member, as the government knows that they had all, on their own volition, taken an active decision to live in the LTTE administered area of the Vanni.
The ones who reached the government camps before the final days, remember their struggle to
stop the tears from forming in their eyes – when they heard of the massacres of their brothers and
sisters in the war zone – because if these tears were seen by the camp guards they will be regarded as
hard-core LTTE sympathisers. To safeguard your life, so that maybe, you have a chance to safeguard
your children, you have to show the Sri Lankan forces that you do not have any ideas of freedom,
that you have no sympathy for those who died, that you are happy to be ‘liberated’ ‘from the clutches
of the LTTE’ by the Sri Lankan soldiers. If you do not, then any day, the ‘white van’ could come to
collect you or your children. From the ‘white van’ you will fall into a ‘black hole’ where, in general, no
information can come out of. No records, no lawyers, no International Committee of the Red Cross
(ICRC) to visit you – only humiliation, torture and rape. If the fate of these 11,000 people (50 times
as many as in Guantanamo Bay) are the threat hanging over the 300,000, then the fate of the 300,000
is the threat that hangs over the rest of the Tamils in the island. The people in the Vanni, from being
the symbol for justice and hope of the Tamil people in 2002, have become the symbol of their
enslavement and their torment in 2009. That is the kind of peace that exists in the island today.
The 2002 CFA between the GoSL and the LTTE and the internationally backed peace process
that came out of it was a different kind of peace. For Four years the cease fire held and the peace
process continued. This was unprecedented in the long history of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. The
non-existence of war saved ten of thousand of lives and created the conditions for the dialogue to
take place. The Norwegian facilitator, backed by the powerful co-chairs of the Sri Lankan Peace
Process, namely the EU, USA and Japan, and the Scandinavian based Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) which monitored cease fire violations, seemed to provide a solid international basis for the process to succeed. That the international efforts were made in co-oporation with India and without
any open opposition from any other power that was concerned with the region boded well for
success. Most importantly, the Sinhala and the Tamil masses on the island were weary of the mounting
death toll and the economic and social deprivations of the war and were supportive of the cease fire,
and right up till the end of the peace process, were optimistic that the war will not start again. The Sri
Lankan business community too, and their external partners – who had been thrown into shock at
the economic collapse brought in by the war – were very supportive of the peace process. This
appeared to all as truly a win-win situation.
Background to the Cease-Fire Agreement and its basis
The tentative beginnings to the process which led to the CFA can be traced to the month long
unilateral cease-fire announced by the LTTE on December 21, 2000. This was just after the LTTE
had gained military control of the whole Vanni mainland. During this period the military conflict was
particularly intense and the fatalities and social and economic costs had reached a disturbing peak.
The LTTE offered ‘this space of peace to facilitate and promote initiatives to create congenial conditions of normalcy de-escalating the armed confrontation’.
It would be incomplete to simply look at this as the LTTE wanting to negotiate from a position
of strength. It was the Tamil population in the North and East who suffered most due of the war –
the constant aerial bombardment and artillery shelling the destruction of homes, hospitals, schools,
places of worship and hundreds of thousands of people being displaced, the lack of food, water and
sanitation and the mounting fatalities. But the Sinhalese and the people of the south were also feeling
the strain – as the endless stream of the bodies of Sinhala soldiers were coming back, and people had
to endure the effects of militarisation, to go through check points everywhere. The war was putting
the economy under great strain, effecting the lives of ordinary people in a serious way. The LTTE
offer of a respite was to say to the Sinhala people and the Sri Lankan establishment that it is futile to
keep fighting for total Sinhala ascendancy and control of the Tamil areas through military conquest.
On the contrary that it was in the interest of the Sinhalese to stop the destructive war and look for a
negotiated solution. The then government did not respond positively – preferring to escalate the
military assaults and pursue the military solution. But the LTTE succeeded in simultaneously to keep
up the peace initiative (the LTTE extended to 4 months the unilateral cease-fire, despite the
government’s rejection of it – and despite losing 160 cadres due to it) and at the same time remained
strong enough to resist the Government’s consequent military offensive with complete success. Further,
the LTTE also demonstrated its capability to strike at the heart of Colombo with the assault on the
Katunayake Air Force base in July 2001 – according to ‘Janes’ ‘in three waves, a highly trained and heavily
armed 14-man squad penetrated the 800-acre high security complex and destroyed or damaged 26 commercial and military aircraft.’
The attack on the airport complex (which also contained Sri Lanka’s main International Airport) had a huge effect on the economy, as international confidence was destroyed – bringing the government to its knees. As a result, within Four months the government of Chandrika Kumaratunge was forced to call a general election where the opposition United National Front (UNF) alliance won. Further, the Tamil National Alliance who proclaimed that the LTTE is the only entity ‘that can legitimately negotiate on behalf of the Tamil people’s interests won (15 seats) in the Tamil majority North and East of the island, giving a clear signal of the Tamil people’s standpoint. Again the LTTE, on the 19th December implemented a goodwill ceasefire.
This time, on the 21st December, the newly elected UNF government, responded positively and
requested the Norwegian government to commence its facilitating role. In February 2002 the CFA
was signed between the LTTE and the GoSL with Norwegian facilitating.
It is a popular misconception, that the cease-fire was arrived at because the LTTE was browbeaten
by US pressure in the backdrop of the 11th September attacks in New York and the subsequent
invasion of Afghanistan. The facts above and in the rest of the document show that this explanation
is incorrect. On the contrary, the LTTE was the driving force initiating the peace process. Some of
the authors of this document have first hand experience of how intensively the Tamil refugees (and
some Sinhalese too) lobbied the International community (specially the EU countries) in the wake of
the LTTE offers of peace). What the LTTE did, specially during the period between the Xmas 2000
cease-fire and their Xmas 2001 cease-fire, is to show the Sinhala people that to try to put into
practice the aims of the Sinhala political hard liners – that is to have Sinhala militarily control the
North and East – will only bring a large number of casualties and economic ruin for the Sinhala
The historical basis of the unitary structure of the state in Sri Lanka
The slogan that Sinhala nationalist hard-liners invariably invoke the ‘defence of the unitary structure
of Sri Lanka’ when they call for a military solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. But it is
important to note that the construction of this structure had nothing much to do with the Sinhalese
or for that matter the Tamil people in the island. It was the British colonialists who created ‘the
unitary structure of Sri Lanka’ in 1833 by artificially amalgamating the Sinhala and Tamil Kingdoms
that had existed previously1.
The British created a unitary structure to solidify their control as a measure to create a safe
military post in this strategically placed island2. For the British, India was the Jewel in its colonial
crown, from which it extracted the most amount of wealth. And, it was in the context of controlling
India that colonisation of Sri Lanka became important. The geographic placement of the island, and in particular of its spacious natural deep sea harbour in Trincomalee (Admiral Nelson called it ‘the finest harbour in the world’) made it particularly desirable for the British – the pre-eminent colonial
power at the time. In fact Trincomalee, in the Tamil inhabited North-East, was the first place that the
British occupied in the island. In 1795, when they ejected the Dutch to achieve this, most of the
island had been under Dutch control for around 150 years.
This was a period of great upheavals and revolutions in the centres of power in the world. After
the ‘seven year war’ (1756 – 1763) Britain gained territories in the Indian subcontinent from the
French, establishing itself as the dominant European power in India. This enabled Britain to eventually
conquer all of India and use its resources to further expand the empire. Most ‘non-Eurocentric’
historians accept that British control of India is what gave the main impetus for the Industrial
Revolution to take place at the time it did.
For an accurate understanding of the interests of the of the British in the island of Ceylon (Sri
Lanka) it is important to have background picture of the overall situation in the region at the time. It
is instructive that during the ‘treaty of Amiens of 1802’, when Colonial powers were bargaining with
each other for this or that ‘possession’, the critical importance of Trincomalee was underlined.3 What
the British had to confront is the inevitable increase of the resistance to its rule from the people of
India. The advantage of having one of its most strategically important military posts free from
turmoil and destabilisation would have been obvious to them. The problem is that the Tamils who
inhabited the Trincomalee and the North and East of the island had a strong connection to the large
number of Tamils who inhabited Tamil Nadu, in the south of India. Through this connection, it was
a certainty that the Indian resistance to British rule would find a resonance among the Tamils in the
North East of the Island. But the Sinhalese, who inhabited the rest of the island had no such
connection to India. By, amalgamating the Tamil and Sinhala kingdoms – the British created the
conditions, in the long term, for the Sinhala people (the majority if the island was taken as whole) to
have effective control of the Tamils and also the crucial Trincomalee harbour.
The British proceeded to create a race that is loyal to their interests, the majority in the island, but
a minority in the Indian subcontinent.4 The British ‘unitary system’ in the island – turned out to be
critical as they used Sri Lanka as a safe military post in the turbulent times of the Indian independence
movement and the second world war. 5
British replaced by the USA
That the British designed state structure was used by the USA when it became the leading western
power should not surprise anyone. During the cold war period Sri Lanka and Trincomalee rose to
prominence because the USA’s strong connection to the Sri Lankan state and with India (with the
support of the Soviet Union) opposing US designs on Trincomalee harbour. During this time the
Tamil independence struggle was not only supported by India on humanitarian grounds because of the political pressure from the large Tamil population in Tamil Nadu, but also as a means to counter
the pro-US alignment of the Sri Lankan state. There was definitely a calculation, by India that the
Tamil liberation movement would undermine the USA’s ability to use Trincomalee harbour for military
purposes. But after the collapse of the soviet block – India’s reorientation with regard to the West –
has obviously changed the balance.
1. The Portuguese(1505-1658) and the Dutch(1658-1796) colonialists who came before the British
ruled the Sinhala and Tamil kingdoms separately. The British(1796-1948), after getting control of the
whole island, created through the ‘Colebrooke-Cameron Commission’ the basic ‘unified’ structure
that exists today. It is not surprising that the British, past masters at ‘divide and rule’, created the
conditions for the ethnic conflict to erupt in the island.
2. The island was exactly on top of the crucial ‘Sea Lane’, therefore all colonial powers understood
its importance for commercial as well as military reasons. An early colonial rationale for capturing
the island contained in a letter King Emmanuel of Portugal sent to Francisco de Almeida the Portuguese
viceroy of Goa, “We are informed that on your return voyage, if the good lord permits, you
will be able to land in Ceylon, a very important kingdom of India. It… is situated close to the harbour
of Bengal and Malaka and to the place called Kayal and because no ship sailing between the striates
of Malaka and the harbours of Bengal can pass unnoticed,….. when you make this aforementioned
isles your headquarters as decreed you become the centre of all of our fortresses and possessions in
the east and from this place you may organise everything better than from any other place. Therefore
it is our wish and our decree that you endeavour to fulfil this.”
3. The strategic importance of the Island as a whole and in particular the harbour of Trincomalee
were indispensable for the British interests in the whole region. As William Pitt remarked in Parliament
on the acquisition of the Dutch possessions in 1795 “It is to us the most valuable colonial
possession on the globe as giving to our Indian empire a security which it had not enjoyed from its
first establishment”. Further as Turner remarks of Trincomallee “the finest and the most advantages
bay in the whole of India. The equal of which is hardly known, in which a whole fleet may safely ride
and remain in tranquillity”. Governor Maitland later called it “the real key by possession of which
alone you can hold naval superiority of India. Its mere geographical position … if looked at nearly
carries perfect conviction on this head along with it, but when you couple with its situation the
periodical winds that blow in this country, when we reflect that no vessel can sail from one side of
the Peninsula of India to the other without coming nearly in sight of it, not a doubt can remain in the
mind of any considerate man that it is the sole point in India that can enable you to enjoy the full benefit you ought to derive from your naval power in this country”. This can be further seen from
the following two quotes. At a time when the Dutch possessions were not yet fully settled upon the
British as they were under the treaty of Amiens of 1802, Lord Malmesbury the British negotiator at
the Lille negotiations quotes the response of the Dutch envoy on the possibility of Ceylon being
handed over permanently to the British “that he could never consent to cede to England neither
Ceylon nor Trincomallee which he considers as the source of the riches of the (his) country and the
key to the other possessions and which would make England the mistress of India”. At the same
time Governor North, British administrator of the maritime provinces of Ceylon wrote to the colonial
office “should European complications and indifferent success necessitate partition with the
Dutch, the North and the East should be retained in view of Indian considerations”.
4. The Sinhalese did not share the language (Sinhala) with any race in the Indian sub-contiment nor
did their religion (Buddhism) have a major resonance in this region. This isolation and the possibility
to construct and develop an ‘insecurity psyche’ among the Sinhalese was understood by the British.
Institutions backed by the British, went ahead to emphasise Aryan lineage of the Sinhala race. The
Mahavamsa (Great Chronicle) which has, today, become the most important legend for the Sinhalese
is a historical poem of its Aryan lineage and dynasties written in the Pali language which is believed
to have become extinct in 3~5 AD. The Mahawamsa is pointed to by all Sinhala nationalist hardliners.
What is noteworthy is that the first printed edition and English translation of the Mahavamsa was
published in 1837 by George Turnour, a historian and officer of the Colonial ‘Ceylon Civil Service’.
Sinhala translation came nearly 50 years after that of the English! By establishing and bringing forward
Mahavamsa ideology as the authority of Sinhala Buddhist history, the British re-structured the
race relations of the island. Not only did the restructuring make the psyche of (Aryan) Sinhala race
further isolated but also managed to project (Dravidian) Tamils as the arch enemy of the Sinhalese by
showcasing the debris of history. This took the Sinhala psyche back to the medieval age by constructing
a prison. The only way out of it was through connecting with the Tamils who had a strong
organic link to the sub continent. In this way the British, brilliantly, diverted any hatred that ‘their
chosen people’ Sinhalese would develop against them, towards the Tamils and other races. Strength
of British manoeuvring vividly manifested in Sinhala Buddhist revivalist movement came into being
in the late 19th century, campaigns of which viciously targeted Tamils and Muslims. But at the same
time one of the greatest heroes of the Sinhala Buddhists, Anagarika Dharmapala once said his
respect to the British Crown was rock solid.
5. In October 1943, Churchill appointed Admiral Lord Mountbatten as the Supreme Allied Commander
South East Asia Theatre. Mountbatten moved the Head Quarters of South East Asia Command
(SEAC) to Kandy in Sri Lanka from India in 1944.
2. The Archaeology of Peace
Pre Ceasefire Period
The Ceasefire Agreement signed between the Government (hereinafter referred to as GoSL) of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (hereinafter referred to as LTTE) in 2002, is now well known. Many believe that the ceasefire was forced on the LTTE by the conditions created in the aftermath of the attacks in New York on September 11th. But the history of Sri Lankan ceasefire has a longer story than this over-simplified explanation.
The first ceasefire offer, during the height of the war, in fact came from the rebels. That was nearly one year before the September 11th attack. Immediately after gaining a crushing victory over the government forces by bringing the entire Vanni Mainland under their control, the LTTE declared a unilateral month long “goodwill ceasefire”. On the 21st of December 2000, LTTE issued a statement expressing their willingness to find a peaceful solution. “We make this declaration of cessation of armed hostilities unilaterally hoping that the Sri Lanka government will reciprocate positively and instruct its armed forces to observe peace during the festive season of Christmas, New Year and Pongal (Hindu Harvest Festival). Our decision to cease armed hostilities should be viewed as a genuine expression of goodwill indicating our sincere desire for peace and negotiated political settlement. We offer this space of peace to facilitate and promote initiatives to create congenial conditions of normalcy de-escalating the armed confrontation.” – (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=5673). But the Sri Lankan military launched a new offensive against the guerrillas – just hours after the rebels said they would observe a one-month ceasefire, claiming that 51 rebels were killed and 8 square kilometres were recaptured. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/south_asia/1082801.stm)
Despite the government offensive, the rebel ceasefire commenced at midnight on 24th of December, and was seen as a positive sign internationally. A day after the ceasefire offer, on the 22rd of December, the British foreign minister Peter Hain welcomed the unilateral ceasefire reflecting these sentiments. But on the 23rd, People’s Alliance (hereinafter referred to as PA) government, led by President Chandrika Bandaranayaka Kumaratunga, issued a statement rejecting the ceasefire offer saying that “The Government believes that further gestures of goodwill are unnecessary, when it has clearly indicated its wish to engage in talks with the LTTE forthwith on the substantial issues involved, with a view to resolving the ethnic question, ending the war and paving the way for a durable peace. The Government considers a ceasefire as a consequent step that would arise when negotiations proceed to the mutual satisfaction of both sides. The Government of Sri Lanka repeats its call to the LTTE to engage honestly in this opportunity for peace. Until then, military operations will continue.” (http://www.priu.gov.lk/news_update/Current_Affairs/CA200012/20001226ceasefire_after_negotiations_proceed.htm).
The unilateral ceasefire was prolonged continuously for four months, while the government remained stubborn and maintained its stand refusing to accept the offer. On the 23rd of April, the LTTE released a statement, saying that during the four months period, over 160 cadres have been killed by the government offensive attacks. Criticizing the dubious position taken by international governments, statement further said. “Our repeated plea to the international community, particularly the United States, Britain, European nations and India to use their diplomatic good offices to persuade Sri Lanka to reciprocate positively to our peace gesture was of no avail. Instead of commending and promoting our peace offensive some international Government’s have imposed proscription and other restrictions against us whereas the other party in conflict (Sri Lankan State) is being provided with financial assistance, military aid and training facilities thereby encouraging our enemy to adopt a hard-line militaristic approach.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=5951)
The government responded with a strongly worded statement stressing that “we will not deviate from our mission of militarily attacking the Tigers….Our Security Forces are at present receiving top class training in modern warfare which they have not hitherto received. They are also provided with the sophisticated weapons to fight the war. They are also under far sighted commanders…Due to the valour and gallantry of our three Armed Forces and the Police we have been able to fight the North and East war to reach a decisive stage.”
Within hours after ceasefire expired, the government launched a massive offensive intending to regain the lost territory. But the rebels thwarted the offensive, eventually turning it into a humiliating military disaster. Scores of soldiers were killed and government forces were forced to retreat back to their previous position with heavy losses. But the tiger counter-offensive went beyond the northern fronts and reached Colombo by month of July. On the 24nd of July 2001, Tamil rebels launched a surprising attack on government’s main military air base in Colombo. “In three waves, a highly trained and heavily armed 14-man squad penetrated the 800-acre high security complex and destroyed or damaged 26 commercial and military aircraft.” (http://www.janes.com/security/international_security/news/jir/jir010903_1_n.shtml)
The Air base attack brought the SL government to its knees. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (hereinafter referred to as JVP) who had seemingly been a vocal opponent of the PA, offered immediate assistance to the government by entering into a probational set up The Within four months the government was forced to call new elections, allowing the United Nation Front (hereinafter referred to as UNF) to form a new government. On the 5th of December 2001, a new government was elected. Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka appear to have overwhelmingly backed the party supported by the rebels, the Tamil National Alliance (hereinafter referred to as TNA). TNA won 15 seats in North and Eastern provinces becoming the major Tamil political force in the new parliament. Within two weeks, Tigers who had the military upper hand, came out with a fresh ceasefire offer. On the 19th of December, Tigers issued a statement expressing their willingness to initiate a ceasefire: “Encouraged by the collective mandate for peace and ethnic harmony given by the Sinhala and Tamil masses at the general election, the LTTE leadership has decided to declare, unilaterally, a month long cessation of armed hostilities during the festive season of Christmas, New Year and ‘Thai Pongal’ (Hindu Harvest Festival) as a
gesture of goodwill to facilitate the promotion of peace initiatives. We fervently hope that the new government of Sri Lanka will reciprocate positively to our goodwill gesture and instruct its armed forces to observe peace during this period. Our decision to cease armed hostilities and observe peace during the festive season should be viewed as a genuine expression of goodwill, demonstrating our sincere desire for peace and negotiated political settlement.”(http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=6568) On 21st of December, the newly formed UNF government responded positively accepting the ceasefire offer.
On the 27th of December, the new Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasingha officially requested the Royal Norwegian Government to recommence its facilitator role. On 1st of January 2002, the leader of Tamil Tigers wrote to Norway re-emphasizing the government’s request. The informal month long ceasefire was extended until 24th of February. The Norwegians intensively worked between the two parties making a formal permanent ceasefire possible.
The tensions within the Sri Lanka’s ruling class remained active though hidden: An executive President with enormous powers representing the defeated PA, and a UNF government led by her
political opponent –Prime Minister Wickramasingha!
Signing of the 2002 CFA
The importance of Sri Lanka’s 2002 ceasefire should be understood in the above context. The Norwegian brokered Ceasefire Agreement (hereinafter referred to as CFA) signed on 22 February 2002, was backed by Co-Chairs of the donor countries, i.e. United States, European Union, Japan and Norway. The CFA brought an end to a three decade old vicious cycle of violence that dragged the country down into a bottomless abyss of human misery.
The CFA was historically significant move when consider the progress it made during its initial stages. It encouraged inter ethnic dialogue by silencing the guns, apart from establishing a constructive relationship between the militants and the Government of Sri Lanka. Unlike the previous ceasefires, 2002 ceasefire agreement was strong enough to prevent the conflicting parties from returning to war even after the formal peace talks collapsed in April 2003. It established a practical mechanism – known as Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (hereinafter referred to as SLMM) – to oversee the proper implementation of the agreement, despite the fact that it had its intrinsic weaknesses.
But four years after the signing of the agreement, the war broke out in the East paving the way to a larger catastrophe. Apart from the policy of duplicity adopted by certain international players to destabilize the peace process (which will be discussed in detail in a separate document), the unwillingness showed by the Sri Lankan state to address the age old grievances and fears of the Tamils largely helped to weaken the peace process. The state’s incapability to transform and modernize itself in order to accommodate the basic democratic demands of the Tamils for equality, a policy defended that was backed by regional and global powers considering their strategic interests gradually destroyed the mutual trust and confidence that was built on the basis of the ceasefire.
CFA and the Sinhala Nationalist Opposition
On the 22nd of February 2002, with the facilitation of Royal Norwegian Government, the Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe and the leader of the LTTE signed the Ceasefire Agreement, formalizing the unilateral ceasefire declared by the LTTE two months before. Officially announcing the permanent ceasefire, the Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Peterson said : “As from 00:00 hours on 23 February 2002, a ceasefire agreement enters into force between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE). The ceasefire document, signed by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE leader Vellipulai Prabhakaran, has been deposited with the Norwegian Government, and we have been asked to make the agreement public.” (http://www.norway.org/ARCHIVE/News/ archive/2002/200201srilanka/)
The agreement drew clear support from a vast number of countries which included regional and global powers, who welcomed the truce while showering praises on both parties. Among them a notable appeaser of the truce was the Government of United States. Issuing a statement on the very day that the CFA was signed, Richard Boucher, a spokesman for the US Department of State ‘assured continuous support for a negotiated settlement’ and stated that the US: “welcome the agreement between the Sri Lankan government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam which formalizes the unilateral ceasefires in place since December 2001.
“A political solution to this conflict in the context of an undivided Sri Lanka would be welcomed by the international community. If Sri Lankans constructively approach talks and show willingness to compromise, we believe peace can return.” (Emphasis added / US State Department – 22.02.2002)
But the Sinhala chauvinist opposition rallying against the CFA, now openly led by President Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga (who was the leader of the defeated People Alliance) immediately showed its unwavering determination to oppose the ceasefire and to nullify the CFA. On the very day that the CFA was signed, President Bandaranayake came out attacking the agreement expressing her “dismay and shock” and called the CFA an “undemocratic act of Prime Minister”. The press release issued by the Presidential Secretariat further said: “President Chandrika Kumaratunge has expressed her deep concerns to the Prime Minister on the MoU signed between the Prime Minister and the LTTE… The President expressed shock and dismay over informing her about the MoU just few hours before the Prime Minister was about to sign and after LTTE leader signed it. The President had earlier officially informed the Prime Minister in writing about the powers to her as the Executive President, Head of the State Government and the Cabinet and the matters relating to war, peace, State security and the sovereignty.”(http://www.tamilnet. com/art.html?catid=13&artid=6729)
Apart from releasing the press statement which was openly critical on the CFA, the President summoned the Sinhala nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), for an emergency discussion
over the CFA. As to a Colombo daily : “Hours after Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe Friday late afternoon announced in Vavuniya that he has clinched a deal with the LTTE that would pave the way for the two sides sitting down for political negotiations, President Chandrika Kumaratunga summoned the JVP for a crisis meeting to discuss a common plan of action to oppose the way the pact was reached, political sources said yesterday. They also said that the agreement would be detrimental to the national interests. President Kumaratunga was joined by opposition leader Mahinda Rajapakse… Friday’s meeting saw President Kumaratunga strongly condemning the way the government ignored her while reaching the agreement. “She was furious,” one source said while explaining that Friday’s strongly worded statement in which she claimed she was not informed of the deal, was evidence of her anger. With local government elections just weeks away, the PA and the JVP would strive to take advantage of the situation to win votes, political sources said.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/02/24/ news02.html)
On 23rd February, the JVP announced that it has already submitted a memorandum, containing signatures of 40 parliamentarians to the Speaker, requesting him to summon the parliament for an emergency meeting to discuss the CFA. By 24th, several other Sinahala extreme nationalist groups joined the growing opposition, which included the right wing nationalists Sinhala Urumaya (predecessor to the JHU – Jathika Hela Urumaya), who openly opposed any negotiated settlement with the Tamils.
On 25th the President threatened to cancel the ceasefire while addressing a meeting in suburbs of Colombo, saying that “I can stop Ranil Wickremesinghe’s agreement with one letter to the army commander.” (Daily Mirror – 26.02.2002) One day after her threat, Sihala Urumaya, urged the President to nullify the CFA while stating that they hope to file a case against the CFA in the Court of Appeal. Addressing the media on 26th, the leader of the Sihala Urumaya was quoted saying that “the LTTE is banned in Sri Lanka. The UNF government has signed the cease-fire agreement with a proscribed organisation. Hence the present cease-fire agreement contravenes the country’s constitution,” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=6741)
Encouraged by the growing opposition to the CFA, on the 28the of February, a collective of prominent Sinhala nationalist organizations “filed a Writ application in the Court of Appeal, seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of the Court to quash the purported agreement entered into on February 23, 2002, between the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and the leader of the Liberation Tigesr of Tamil Eelam… The petition had further requested the Court to issue a Writ of Prohibition, prohibiting the respondents from giving effect to the purported agreement.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/03/01/news01.html)
Realizing the impending threat to the ceasefire, on the 2nd of March, LTTE issued a statement hitting out at the President and her aides accusing that they are trying to derail the peace process. The statement which was made by organization’s chief negotiator Dr.Anton Balasingham, charged that “the central arguments advanced by President Kumaratunga were based on pathological hatred, bitterness and paranoia rather than on any discrepancies in the logical structure of the cease-fire document.”(http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html? catid=13&artid=6748)
Coinciding with the LTTE statement, the Head of the SLMM arrived in the Island and met with both parties. The team of Nordic monitors consisting 18 members representing Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland were assigned to monitor violations that may occur between the LTTE and government forces during the cease fire.
But the growing unrest were given a boost on the 5th of March, after the Court of Appeal decided to take up a petition filed by the JVP seeking a writ order prohibiting the CFA, which was in force by then. With rapidly mounting pressure, a debate on the CFA was fixed for March 4th and 5th. Joining the debate, the opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa asserted that they are “concerned by some of the clauses in the agreement.’ “Let us not create a Kashmir here” he reportedly said. (http://www.island.lk/2002/03/06/news11.html)
The whole anti-CFA campaign was constructed upon two main fundamental beliefs embedded deep inside the Sinhala psyche. The first one was that the “Tigers are unsatisfiable and therefore unreliable”. This “sense of untrustworthiness” was not something new that was only applicable to “Tigers”. Interestingly, this same accusation has been repeatedly used against the Federal Party in the 50s and 60s as well as against the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in the ‘70s and ‘80s, though none of those parties were involved in armed struggle. The second one was that the “existing unitary structure should remain intact” and “should not be compromised at any cost.” Here again, this second belief had been the basis of Sinhala Buddhist opposition to any form of power sharing arrangement with Tamils, throughout the post-colonial history of Sri Lanka. These two aspects of Sinhala nationalism should be kept in one’s mind in order to understand the hidden but common objectives shared by the forces that eventually de-stabilized the peace process in Sri Lanka.
However, despite the continuous and constant efforts of an exclusively Sinhala political alliance aimed at whipping up majoritarian chauvinism against the CFA with the absolute backing of the Executive President, who functioned as the head of the state as well as the commander in chief of the armed forces, there were clear indications to believe that a vast majority of the war weary ordinary Sinhala masses stood in favour of a negotiated settlement. This was well reflected through the final outcome of the local government elections held just less than a month after the CFA was signed. The election was used by the Sinhala hardliners to mobilize Southern masses around anti-CFA slogans which projected the UNF as an evil force that betrayed the “sovereignty of the motherland” by entering into “treacherous deal” with the “separatist terrorists.” Notwithstanding the well orchestrated anti-CFA campaigns, UNF swept local government polls, routing both PA and the JVP, securing all but five of the 222 local bodies for which elections were held. The UNF clinched 57.81% of the total votes while PA and the JVP obtained 38.70% collectively, which was seen as a poor performance than expected. The eventual outcome of the March 20th elections well illustrated the fact that a majority of Sinhalese are willing to endorse the CFA, despite the intense campaigns carried out by nationalist forces.
3. The Agenda of the USA
But before the elections, while the tensions caused by the Sinhala chauvinist elements were steadily stirring up, an important development occurred in the US policy towards the peace process in Sri Lanka. United States, who appeared to be a prominent vocal supporter of the CFA who had immediately welcomed the ceasefire with ritualistic praise, made a surprising move on the 11th of March, just merely two weeks after the ceasefire deal was nailed down. The new statement accused Tigers for “violating the CFA” by stating that it has “credible reports of the LTTE being engaged in activities that could jeopardize the agreement.” The statement which was released by the Office of Public Affairs, US Embassy in Colombo created a considerable controversy inside the political circles, since it overruled the authority of the truce monitors who were officially assigned to make such statements based on their observations on the actions of the relevant parties. The US statement further said: “The US understands that both sides, not just the LTTE, have responsibilities under the terms of the ceasefire accord. In the current international context, however, in which terrorism is being condemned in more and more countries, the LTTE should be especially vigilant about observing the terms of the ceasefire accord. If it does not, it will increase its international isolation and do harm to the group it claims to represent, Sri Lanka’s Tamils, who earnestly want an end to the war.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/03/12/news01.html)
But even before this statement was made, Ashley Wills, the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka had expressed the same line of thinking, when he wrote a response to “The Island”, an English language daily which maintained openly anti-CFA/pro-Sinhala nationalist editorial policy, clarifying the US approach to the whole issue. The ambassador’s reply which appeared in the March 9th issue of the newspaper, asserted: “I agree with ‘The Island’ that there are reasons for caution in arriving at any agreement with the LTTE. It would not be proper for me to speak for the Government of Sri Lanka, which I believe also understands the need for caution, but you can be sure that the Government of the United States is fully aware of the history of the LTTE… It is because of the LTTE’s past actions that the United States was the first Western country to put the LTTE on its Foreign Terrorist Organizations List and has included it to the list of terrorist organizations established by President Bush after the attacks of September 11… The United States has also lent considerable support to the Sri Lankan Government during this civil conflict, including the training of Sri Lankan military units, the donation of military trucks as well as the sale of certain other equipment and the establishment of training opportunities in the United States for selected Sri Lankan military officers. The United States knows of the terrible cost that this war has imposed on Sri Lanka and its people, and that most Sri Lankans want the war to end. We understand that the achievement of peace will not come easily. We understand, though, that a just and lasting peace for all the people of this island is worth the risk of trying to negotiate with the LTTE.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/03/09/news02.html) Had it been noticed, ambassador’s words should have raised serious doubts about the US intentions among the concerned parties – though it seemingly went unnoticed. But the second statement, which appeared to be more official in its tone created ripples in political circle.
US statement which came as a surprise to many concerned parties, inevitably raised reasonable doubts about its intentions, since neither the GoSL nor the persons involved in truce monitoring
made any similar statement or comment. As this kind of statement would have given the impression that the de-escalation of the Sri Lanka’s conflict was not going smoothly. Immediately after it was released, the LTTE came out with a statement categorically denying the accusations levelled against them, while reassuring its commitment to the peace process. The LTTE’s chief negotiator was reported saying that they “are surprised and dismayed that the US Embassy has thought it a proper protocol to issue a critical statement on ceasefire violations at this critical time when an international team of monitors are assuming responsibilities to supervise the agreement” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=6762)
While the US statement was hailed by Sinhala hard-liners for obvious reasons, it drew severe criticism from many quarters, mainly from the independent Tamil commentators, who in fact accused US for creating a situation which may ‘jeopardise the ceasefire.’ Responding to US statement, senior journalist J. S. Tissainayagam (who was recently sentenced to 20 years rigorous imprisonment and was later released) wrote: “The stance of the US is a clear indication of what its line is going to be in the coming months if substantial negotiations get going…. It was easy for the US as long as the LTTE remained a military organisation demanding Eelam in Sri Lanka’s north and east. But when such an organisation took the initiative to declare a ceasefire, had a popular wave at a general election endorsing its position as the sole representatives of the Tamils at peace talks and secured the confidence of the Sri Lanka government to commence negotiations, what could the US do? In the past, despite all the military backing the US had given the Sri Lankan government, the LTTE had proved its military superiority. Despite all the diplomatic pressure initiated by the US in proscribing the LTTE, the Tigers’ international operations continued. The only way the US could influence peace talks against an entity that was challenging the international state system was to undermine it morally as a violator of human rights norms, hoping it would lead to dwindling support which (as its statement says) would result in the Tigers’ isolation…..On the other hand, the objective could be to provoke the Tigers to the point where they refuse to negotiate and recommence fighting. To some that too is an attractive option.” (The Sunday Leader – March 16th, 2002)
It was not only Tissainayagam who foresee the hidden intentions of the US policy, which may jeopardise the peace process. Writing to the same newspaper on the same day, Tamil journalist D.B.S.Jeyaraj (a well know critic of the LTTE) wrote: “The crux of the matter seems to be that the Americans have wittingly or unwittingly reinforced Sinhala racist elements striving to sabotage the ceasefire on the one hand and eroded confidence among Tamil sections supporting the peace process. In short, the US statement instead of promoting peace may very well be counterproductive in the long run and have the unintended consequence of jeopardising the very same ceasefire it seeks to protect.
Interestingly it was not only the LTTE, but even the GoSL came out denying the US allegations regarding truce violations. When interviewed by the BBC Sinhala Service, SL Defence Minister Thilak Marapana said that he had not heard of any “adverse reports” or “evidence” against the LTTE after the mutually agreed indefinite truce. He termed the allegations as “unconfirmed reports”. (http://www.island.lk/2002/03/15/news08.html)
Estimating the US ambitions hidden behind the controversial statement, journalists Jeyaraj elaborated further: “Objectively the USA that throws its weight around in most countries may have felt the need to assert its dominance in Sri Lanka too. It may be labouring under the illusion that the LTTE came to a ceasefire because of post September 11 developments.
“This is a popular theory being floated around by interested parties in a futile attempt to devalue the Tiger search for peace. What is conveniently forgotten is that the LTTE had entered the peace process three years ago and that a ceasefire may have been possible months before the New York towers were attacked if not for the obstructionist tactics of the Kumaratunga – Kadirgamar duo.
“Nevertheless, the USA may have wanted to demonstrate that it was its armed muscle that brought the Tigers to the negotiating table and that it is only through bullying tactics that the LTTE could be persuaded to cooperate. This however, is a sad miscalculation. One only hopes that events never take a turn in the future to disprove this illusion.” (Emphasis added / The Sunday Leader – March 16th, 2002)
But no matter how controversial the statement appeared to be, the US position increased the confidence of the GoSL about their ability to maintain an upper hand over the Tigers throughout the negotiation process, despite the fact that CFA emphasized the importance of maintaining a “Parity of Status” between the two parties. These sudden ‘sentiments of confidence’ were clearly evident when the Government spokesman, who later acted as the GoSL’s chief negotiator, Professor G.L.Peiries said that “The US told the LTTE very clearly that she had been following developments in this country and that she had credible reports the LTTE were recruiting child soldiers and bring in arms. The US explained to the LTTE that if they broke the ceasefire, the consequences would be extreme against the backdrop of an international thrust against terrorism. This shows that we have powerful friends. It is an enormous source of strength to the government and the people.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/03/15/news12.html)
The US intent to interfere, with or without the consent of the relevant parties, became more and more visible during the period that ran up to first round of talks. While it was the responsibility of the GoSL and the LTTE to define the parameters of the proposed negotiations, US authorities made it clear that they would not give up their intention to dictate the terms and conditions of the talks. On 25th of April, while joining an interview conducted by Pradeep Amithanayagam of the Sri Lanka Television Cooperation, the US ambassador to Colombo, Ashley wills said: “The way to go is to negotiate a solution that assures Tamils their rights and a sense of ownership in this country and that does so within the country as it exists today. We’ve made it plain that we do not support the idea of an independent Tamil Eelam, that we believe the conflict can be sorted out and Tamil rights assured while keeping Sri Lanka united.” (Quoted from the transcript published in http://www.tamilcanadian.com/page.php?cat=44&id=290)
When examined closely, all these statements that reflected the US official policy towards the CFA, seemed to be revolving around two salient points. These repeatedly emphasized two points were the “unreliable nature of the LTTE” and the “importance of preserving the existing state structure”. Here lies an interesting commonality which binds the US policy with the Sinhala hard-line nationalistic stance that totally obstructs any attempt to find a negotiated settlement. Though these two camps appeared to be confronting each other’s interests, the US policy that kept on cautioning the Sri Lankan state about the “risk of dealing with the Tigers” in fact encouraged chauvinist opposition in the South while threatening to undermine the “parity of status” between the two parties assured by the CFA that was of paramount importance to commence direct negotiations.
Promoting a militaristic approach
Contrary to the policy line that was commonly followed by its European counterpart (with the sole exception of Britain) who encouraged open dialogue and constructive interaction between the two parties in conflict, the US maintained a policy that encouraged a militaristic approach while making occasional remarks on the importance of achieving a negotiated settlement. March 11th statement which was issued while the Nordic truce monitors were just about to assume their duties on the field was one important example which nakedly exposed the true face of US policy.
A week after the controversial statement, United States Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia paid a special visit to Sri Lanka. Christina Rocca, a former a career officer of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was accompanied by the Commanding General of the US 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and the III Marine Expeditionary Force, Brigadier-General Timothy Ghormley. Both met Prime Minister Wickramasingha in the Palali Military Base that houses the Security Forces Headquarters – Jaffna, which is responsible for the operational deployment and command of all army units stationed in and around the Jaffna Peninsula in the Northern Province. The meeting was seen as an event with crucial symbolical significance considering the timing and the venue. Reporting on the meeting, one of India’s prominent national magazines “Frontline” wrote: “United States Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca, who was visiting Sri Lanka, travelled all the way to the peninsula for a meeting with Wickremasinghe. The message was clear: Jaffna belongs within a united Sri Lanka, and as the Prime Minister, Wickremasinghe can meet a visiting dignitary in any part of the country. Rocca’s visit illustrated what was becoming increasingly obvious, that the United National Front government is depending heavily on the U.S. not just to keep up the pressure on the LTTE, but also by so doing, to reassure the Sinhalese majority that the international community is watching the LTTE closely for any act of misdemeanour.” (http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl1907/19070500.htm)
In the above context it is quite important to understand the role played by Christina Rocca, as she had been the most frequently visiting State Department envoy, since the signing of the CFA. Rocca, a person with an interesting background, had worked with the Clandestine Operations Directorate of the CIA since 1982, which sends officers abroad under different cover jobs. She resigned from the agency in 1997 and later worked as a member of a bipartisan group of Washington academics and former government officials constituted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Ten months before 9/11, Washington Institute for Near East Policy submitted an important report on West Asia focusing on effectiveness of U.S. policy in advancing U.S. interests in the Middle Eastern region. Christina Rocca was one of the prominent members of the Presidential Study Group who drafted the document, advising the incoming Bush Administration to act to promote political change in Iraq and Iran, and to realize that in Iran such change can come through peaceful political dynamics while in Iraq it “will almost surely come only through violence.’(http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers3%5Cpaper230.html)
But most of all, the third chapter in the report that deals with the subject of “terrorism” reflects the thinking shared by Rocca and her fellow researchers regarding the relationship between the “peace processes and anti-terrorism measures” which is quite important to understand the US approach to Sri Lankan peace process. The recommendations of the report for a tougher counter-terrorism policy by the Bush Administration should be of interest in assessing Christina Rocca’s likely views on the subject. The report recommends: “Insulate Counterterrorism Efforts from Peace Process Dynamics – The United States must work to convince all parties in the peaceprocess that anti-terror efforts should be delinked from the ups anddowns of the diplomatic process.” (Navigating through Turbulence: America and the Middle East in a New Century – Page 38 / http://www.iraqwatch.org/perspectives/winep-prezstudy-121200.pdf) Perhaps Sri Lanka’s peace process might have provided an ideal ‘practical context’ or a ‘testing ground’ to experiment the deadly theories of these neo-conservative think tanks, that were concealed behind the above quoted words.
Addressing a news conference in Colombo at the end of her three day visit, Rocca clarified the US position by re-insisting that the LTTE should “end hostile activities to show its commitment to the peace process and get the ban lifted.” She further said that “General Ghormley’s visit was intended mainly to discuss military co-operation, including training.” (http://www.sundaytimes.lk/020317/frontm.html#fLABEL5)
The implementation of the CFA
Regardless of all the negative pressures, the CFA remained intact and showed significant progress. It was quite clear that the LTTE was trying to use every available opportunity to expand its political work. Priority was given to organize rallies and mass cultural events in the Tamil regions apart from laying plans to open up more political offices in government controlled areas. Most importantly they seemed to be using the newly opened political space to adopt a self critical approach to the past, and to evaluate their own actions taken during the height of the war. It was perfectly evident when the organisation’s political strategist and advisor Dr. Balasingham made an open appeal to the Muslims in early April, who were expelled from the North by the Tigers in the ‘90s, ‘to forget and forgive the mistakes in the past’. While addressing a meeting in the Tiger held territory on the 3rd of April, he reportedly said that their decision to expel the Muslims from the North was a ‘political blunder which could not be justified.’ He extended an invitation to the Muslim political leaders to visit the region while revealing that the leadership of the organization is intended to meet with them. He was quoted further as saying: “We do recognise the unique cultural identity of the Muslim community. Linguistically, economically and
territorially the Muslims and the Tamils are inextricably inter-related and therefore they have to co-exist as brothers in the northeast. Let us forget ad forgive the mistakes made in the past. Tamil Eelam is also the homeland of the Muslims and we have to live in harmony and amity to promote peace and prosperity in the region”(http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=6824)
The Muslim political leadership responded positively. On April 6th, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) accepted LTTE’s invitation and expressed their willingness to engage in “constructive dialogue.” AFP quoted the leader of the SLMC saying: “A change of heart on the part of the LTTE is very welcome. We are willing to engage in a sincere dialogue with the LTTE.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/04/07/news01.html) He even went a step further in openly expressing his solidarity with the Tamil people when he said at a meeting Trincomalee, “there are forces that want to disrupt the peace process. We should give them no excuse to pass the blame on the Muslims. The time has come for the Muslims of the South to help their Northeastern brethren realise their political aspirations” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=6831). Less than within a week a delegation from the SLMC led by its leader Mr. Rauf Hakeem flew to LTTE held areas and met with the Tiger leadership. Following the initial discussions, both leaders signed a MoU, ‘to cooperate on affairs related to Sri Lanka’s Muslim community’. Speaking to Colombo based English language daily, the SLMC leader said: “We concentrated mainly on confidence building measures. Prabhakaran, I must say, had a very open attitude contrary to the general perception of the man. He was willing to consider Muslim apprehensions. He assured that all undertakings given to ensure the safe return of Muslims to the North and East would be honoured and that they need not have any fears in this regard”. (http://www.island.lk/2002/04/16/news01.html) At a press conference in Colombo SLMC leader Hakeem told ‘both parties agreed to appoint a joint committee comprising representatives of LTTE and SLMC to co-ordinate affairs related to the return of displaced Jaffna Muslims to their own homes.’
On the 10th of April, the leader of LTTE appeared in front of more than 300 local and foreign media representatives for the first time in decades, to clarify their political position regarding the peace process and to clear the doubts about their commitment to a negotiated settlement.
Showing an unexpected flexibility LTTE leader stated in clear terms, that if the government assures to safeguard the long-standing fundamental democratic demands of the Tamil people within the framework of a final settlement, Tamils would not hesitate to reconsider their insistence on separate state. “There are three fundamentals; that is Tamil homeland, Tamil nationality and Tamil right to selfdetermination. Once these fundamentals are accepted or a political solution is put forward by Sri Lanka recognizing these three fundamentals and if our people are satisfied with the framework of a solution that recognises these core issues then, we will consider giving up the demand for Eelam,” he was quoted as saying. (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=6838).
Elaborating further the Tigers insisted the need to establish an interim governing body in the Tamil regions, until a final settlement is reached. “We do not think that Prime Minister is capable of addressing the core issues and offer us a permanent solution at this stage; because the executive powers of governance are vested with the president and Prime Minister’s powers are limited to parliament. But we wish to insist that his government is not politically stable or authoritative or powerful enough to take up the core demands of the Tamils and offer us a permanent solution. But, it is because of that we are suggesting the formulation of an interim administration set up in which the LTTE can participate in the north east. In the meantime Prime Minister will have enough space to build up southern Sri Lanka economically.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=6838) Though it was perfectly clear that the term “interim administration” would definitely spark extreme nationalist reactions from the Sinhala side, the Colombo government responded with a calculated patience. Addressing a meeting in Colombo just two days after the media conference by the Tigers, the Prime Minister Wickrmasingha said that “this was the best hope for the permanent peace ever.” Speaking further he reminded that ‘at the Tiger press conference for the first time they have defined self-determination and also mentioned internal self-determination. “They said external self determination should only be considered if the internal selfdetermination is unsuccessful. This has given us an indication of several points we should take into account in our journey towards a political solution. Governing systems with internal self-determination are in operation in many countries in the world. It is not an unfamiliar system for us.”(http://www.island.lk/2002/04/12/news03.html)
In an interview given to the well-known news magazine, TIME in April 2002, the Prime Minister expressed the prevailing optimism in plain terms: “In four years, the LTTE was turned into a conventional fighting force. With such organizing capacity, it will not be difficult to restructure it as a political organization. The bigger issue is whether the LTTE has the mindset to do so. The group is showing an interest in political activity; perhaps they are considering the option of having an organized political arm.”(http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,230767,00.html)
US Embassy strikes again
But the US Embassy in Colombo maintained the usual “bad cop” approach and responded with more insistence on “territorial integrity of Sri Lanka” and demanding the Tigers to “renounce violence unequivocally” Even though the Embassy welcomed the ‘positive remarks made by the Tiger leader’, the statement said: “A political solution to the conflict which maintains Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity would be welcomed by the international community, and we urge all parties to continue to work towards that goal… We have long believed that violence cannot achieve the Tigers’ stated objectives, and urge Mr. Prabhakaran to abandon its use unequivocally.” (http://www.dailynews.lk/2002/04/13/new08.html)
By the time the US embassy statement was made, the SLMM had six District Offices (DOs) permanently deployed, from which the monitoring was conducted on a local level. Local Monitoring Committees (LMC) were established in each district, in accordance with the stipulation of the CFA that urged any dispute concerning the implementation of the agreement to be solved on the lowest level possible. Hence, for two reasons, US embassy statement caused uncalled tensions, though the Tigers never said it openly. Firstly there were no substantial allegations or evidence about any violent confrontations between the two parties apart from minor disputes, which the SLMM managed to sort out without much difficulty. Secondly, insistence on Sri Lanka’s “territorial integrity” was a matter of concern for the GoSL, as long as it came within the parameters of a final settlement. When an external power intervenes to insist on how the state structure should remain, while opposing parties were preparing themselves for negotiations, this can only be understood as an attempt to dictate the terms and limits of the talks. Moreover, the content of the US statement provided a spring board to the extreme nationalist elements in the South to jump into action, by stimulating prejudices that prevailed among the chauvinist forces against striking a deal with the Tigers.
By 18th of April, PA and the JVP had finalized plans for actions against the peace move. It exclusively targeted the UNF’s decision to de-proscribe the Tigers and the issues related to proposed interim administration. “The group believes that there was no need even to consider lifting the ban on the LTTE before the two sides sit down for talks. “De-proscription should be considered depending on the outcome of the first few rounds of talks,” the spokesperson said.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/04/18/news01.html) A day after, following a meeting of two UNF ministers with the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in Washington D.C., US embassy in Colombo issued a press release emphasizing their position on the decision of de-banning the LTTE: “the Deputy Secretary reiterated that U.S. policy would be unaffected should the Government of Sri Lanka decide to remove its ban on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He expressed U.S. support for the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.” (http://www.dailynews.lk/2002/04/20/new15.html) Though it was interpreted thatb this US decision helped the government to counter nationalist opposition to lifting a ban on rebels, on the contrary it provided a stronger argument for the Sinhala nationalists. Though the argument seemed to be simple and plain, it sounded very convincing to the Sinhalese: ‘when the international powers are so keen on maintaining a policy of treating the Tigers as a terrorist group despite signing the CFA, why we, who really were victims of LTTE’s terror tactics should lift the ban on them and make things easier for them to legitimize their appearance?’
On the 23rd of April, Sinhala nationalist agitations kicked off when the supporters of the JVP took onto streets. The prominent members of the PA, including the brother of the president, were seen at the forefront of the demonstrations against proposed talks. Thousands marched in Colombo, while the Eastern Peoples Organization, a front organization of the JVP based among the Sinhalese living in the East, announced their plans to stage a protest march from the Eastern port city Trincomalee to capital Colombo, connecting the protests in two cities that lies 240 kilometres apart.
Though all seemed to be quiet on the northern front, it was becoming obvious that the political confrontations are evolving into a full scale war in the Southern front.
Gun waving diplomacy: War ships and war pacts
In spite of rising tide of Sinhala nationalist opposition and routine warnings issued by the US embassy and the visiting State Department dignitaries, on the 22rd of April SLMM announced a summarized report on their observations regarding ceasefire violations within the first 60 days since the CFA was signed. SLMM said that ‘they have recognised only one violation of the ceasefire MoU by the LTTE as D day +60 falls today although they had received a large number of complaints.’ (http://www.island.lk/2002/04/23/news02.html).
But within two days, the US Embassy in Colombo announced that a US Naval Ship is planning to visit Colombo on the 30th of April. According to the statement, ‘the USS Hopper, Commissioned in 1997, is one of the latest Arleigh Burke class missile destroyers and was the first visit of an American naval ship to Sri Lanka in more than eight years’. Quoting Colombo’s US Ambassador Ashley Wills ‘The Island’ newspaper reported that “the visit of the USS Hopper is emblematic of the friendship between the people of the United States and the people of Sri Lanka. I am especially pleased that we are again seeing an American ship visit Colombo after such a long time.” As to the report, the ship was supposed to ‘join the United States Central Command’s Fleet after departing Colombo and will patrol the western Indian Ocean as part of Operation Enduring Freedom’. The report further revealed that ‘Commander Ken Auten, who commands the ship will pay his respects to senior Sri Lankan Navy officials during the ship’s brief stay in Colombo.’ (http://www.island.lk/2002/04/26/news03.html) Though it was made to appear as a normal routine port call, there were too many reasons to be suspicious about the visit of an US war ship, which was the first in eight years, in a middle of a cease fire and a peace process which was showing considerable success.
Realizing the dangers posed by asymmetrical approach adopted by international powers, mainly US, towards the peace process, the LTTE insisted on the importance of ensuring the ‘parity of status’ at negotiating table. Their uncompromising stand regarding lifting off the ban prior to negotiations explains the extent of importance given by the Tigers to achieve this power balance before confronting the government with their concrete political demands.
It seemed like that the UNF government was torn between two conflicting needs. On one hand there was a practical obligation to consider the ground realities where LTTE had emerged as a formidable political force with a clear conventional military capability. On the other hand, there was a need to achieve a strong bargaining power before entering into direct talks in order to keep the Sinhala nationalist forces at bay and also to keep the LTTE under constant pressure to limit its ability to bargain. The UNF government had neither the ability nor the power to deal with any of the two requirements in order to find their way out of the crisis. It was the US coercive policy which bailed them out of their difficult situation by assuring the Sinhala hardliners that US would keep close tab on the LTTE while pressurizing the LTTE to toe their line, through “gun waving diplomacy.”
Here lies an interesting, though quite ‘surreal’, political legacy that runs deep in to the colonial past of the country that ought to be understood as a pre-condition to grasp the complex contemporary political realities. This legacy is connected to the conceptualization process of ‘national sovereignty’ since the colonial days. Even though the whole political discourse in the South revolved around the question of “sovereignty” for several decades, the very concept of “sovereignty” was constructed and understood as a way of legitimizing the ‘supremacist reaction’ to the democratic demands of minorities. For example, during the first three decades of the 20th century, under British colonial rule, the concept of ‘sovereignty’ was interpreted not against the British, but against the ethnic and religious minorities of the country. In the earlier part of post colonial Sri Lankan history, when the Federal Party and its successor Tamil United Liberation Front held the Tamil nationalist ground, ‘sovereignty’ meant denying their demands by violently suppressing Tamil dissent, and maintaining the status quo. Since the ‘80s, the argument of ‘sovereignty’ was largely used as a justification of the state brutality unleashed against the Tamil armed resistance. Therefore the whole issue of sovereignty was nothing but a totally fictitious belief that bound the Sinhala society into one single unit against the democratic rights of the minorities – mainly the Tamils. It naturalized and legitimized the Sinhala majoritarian supremacy over the minorities, which ironically overlapped with the strategic interests of the external powers. In the context discussed here, this internalized and ethnicized version of ‘sovereignty’ made possible even for the Americans to fall in line with “patriotic Sinhala forces” in emphasizing the necessity of safeguarding the “territorial integrity of Sri Lanka”. The hidden bond that unified the “Sinhala supremacist interests” and the “external strategic interests” was re-named as “sovereignty” providing a moral justification to this shameful alliance and to the policies that curtailed the democratic rights of the Tamils. We will see how this mechanism practically worked during the recent phase of ceasefire, through the unfolding events.
In the beginning of May, GoSL announced its first major military recruitment drive since reviving a Norwegian-backed peace initiative. As to a AFP report which quoted army’s deputy chief of staff, ‘it hoped to enlist 5,000 men during a one-month period from May 8 as part of a plan to rebuild depleted units of the military’. The report further quoted him saying that, “the 5,000 men will fill vacancies and that amnesties were being considered for thousands of deserters to bring the army up to its full strength of 120,000 men and women… he discounted claims that the military had lowered its guard due to the cease-fire and said the security forces were ready to respond at short notice.”It will be foolish not to make use of this time for our training,”(http://www.island.lk/2002/05/05/news11.html)
Parallel to SL Army’s month long recruitment drive, on the 6th of May, the US Ambassador to Colombo warned Tigers ‘not to import any arms, adding that it would undermine confidence of the people in the peace process.’ while speaking after the signing of an agreement on the mines action programme at the Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry. As it was reported in one of the Colombo’s pro-Sinhala nationalist English daily, “he added that the solution would have to be one where the Tamils were given the space to live with dignity and respect. This is attainable. But an independent Tamil Eelam is both unattainable and unwise”(http://www.island.lk/2002/05/06/news10.html)
Just two days after the above statement, the US embassy announced the arrival of another US war ship to Sri Lanka. According to the embassy press release, the USS Sides (FFG-14), a US Navy guided missile frigate, was scheduled to arrive in Colombo on May 11 for a four-day port visit. ‘It will be the second such U. S. Naval visit in just over two weeks’ reported ‘The Island newspaper.’ The report further revealed that “USS Sides is currently in the midst of a regularly scheduled deployment that includes operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and the international war on terrorism.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/05/09/news05.html)
When interviewed by one of the private TV channels in Colombo, on 19th May, Prime Minister Wickramasinghe said, that his government favours international bans on the LTTE, even after the
Tigers are de-proscribed in Sri Lanka. “We are concerned that the international bans (on the LTTE) would also be lifted. But we don’t want them to be lifted.” He said that ‘the US and India had maintained that a decision to deproscribe the LTTE in Sri Lanka would not have any effect on the bans in their countries. Nevertheless, he revealed that he will visit India, Britain and the European Union within the next three weeks to canvass their support.’ (http://www.island.lk/2002/05/20/news21.html)
Parallel to Prime Minister’s emphasis on organizing an ‘international safety net’ , the US annual report on “Patterns of Global Terrorism” was released by the Secretary of State and the Coordinator for Counterterrorism in mid May, which summarily illustrated the US policy towards Sri Lankan peace process. The report said: “Sri Lanka declared support for US-led military action in Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks and welcomed US resolve to root out terrorism wherever it exists… The United States continues strongly to support Norway’s facilitation effort and is helping to bring about a negotiated settlement of the conflict….Nonetheless, given the ruthless and violent history of the LTTEand its failure to renounce terrorism as a political tool, the United States maintains the LTTE on its Foreign Terrorist Organization List.” (page 13 & 14 / http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/10290.pdf) The report reiterated the US policy making it certain that the US by no means waver in its policy of treating the LTTE as a mere band of bandits, keeping them out of earning any real recognition as a legitimate political force. This well thought out and calculated US policy assisted the UNF regime to maintain an upper hand in terms of international legitimacy, while providing the hard line Sinhala elements a “feel good factor”.
But the most shocking and disturbing revelation was made by Colombo based English media, just before announcing the dates to commence negotiations. A report published in Colombo’s “Sunday Times” on May 26th revealed that the talks are under way to finalize a military agreement between US and Sri Lanka. “Increasing military ties between United States and Sri Lanka will see the two nations entering into a formal defence pact for enhanced military co-operation” the newspaper said. Describing the proposed content of the agreement, the report further said: “The Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), as it has been officially termed, will enable the United States to utilise Sri Lanka’s ports, airports and air space. As a prelude to the signing of the agreement scheduled for July, this year, United States Naval ships have been calling at the Colombo Port for bunkering as well as to enable sailors to go on shore leave. In return for the facilities offered, Sri Lanka is to receive military assistance from the United States including increased training facilities and equipment. The training, which will encompass joint exercises with United States Armed Forces, will focus on counter terrorism and related activity. The agreement will be worked out on the basis of the use of Sri Lanka’s ports, airports, and air space to be considered hire-charges that will be converted for military hardware.”(http://www.sundaytimes.lk/020526/front/defence.html)
Apart from shedding some light on the proposed military pact, the report revealed for the first time that a US four member military and legal delegation had already visited Sri Lanka in April 2002, following the visit of US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca, in March. Though it was been kept as a secret, four member delegations had met with the top defence authorities in the country to hold preparatory discussions on the planned military agreement. “Neither Colombo nor Washington is willing to confirm the release of two maritime surveillance aircraft and one patrol ship to intensify surveillance over the eastern seas of Sri Lanka” revealed the report. It added, “The drafts are now being studied by the State Department in Washington and the Defence and Foreign Ministries in Colombo…. Government sources say the role of the US, particularly in the backdrop of allowing an Interim Administration to the LTTE in the north and east would bolster stability and security.” (http://www.sundaytimes.lk/020526/front/defence.html)
The Sunday Times account was confirmed by another report appeared in the prominent Indian daily “The Hindu”. As to a report written by its Colombo correspondent on the same day, unnamed officials attached to the SL Defence Ministry and the US Embassy in Colombo has confirmed the news about the deal. The “Hindu” report further revealed that the “Defence Ministry officials said that effectively, the treaty would allow the U.S. military the use of Sri Lanka’s sea and air bases, particularly for refuelling, in return for training assistance and supply of spare parts and repairs… The agreement excludes the delivery of all equipment classified as lethal under the U.S. Munitions Act. Sri Lanka already receives non-lethal assistance from the U.S. under an existing agreement. U.S. Marines have been providing training for Sri Lankan commandos under a programme called Operation Balance Style. Also in the non-lethal category, the Air Force will take delivery soon of two surveillance aircraft fitted with special radar capability, from the U.S. defence company Raytheon. The U.S. Government facilitated the purchase, but the spokesman said it was unconnected to the new agreement, and had been in the pipeline since 2000.” (http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/2002/05/26/stories/2002052602330900.htm)
The controversial content of the report drew immediate reaction from the Tamil politicians. Responding to the news reports, Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian from the Eastern Province,
Joseph Pararajasingham out rightly condemned the US move as a step that would encourage the Sinhala majority “to continue the discrimination and subjugation of the Tamil people.” After meeting the head of the political section of the US Embassy in Colombo on 29th May, the MP was quoted as saying “the Tamil people are very much concerned and suspicious about the proposed ‘Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement’ between the United States of America and Sri Lankan Government. From past experience they feel that it can be used as a tool to support the Sri Lankan military’s war against the LTTE. Signing the agreement would mean that you support the majority community (Sinhalese) to continue the discrimination and subjugation of the Tamil people.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/05/31/news04.html) He stressed that “the Tamil people look at this agreement with concern and apprehension because it would eventually commit the US to provide logistic support, training and military supplies to the Sri Lankan security forces.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=6984)
On the contrary, the proposed agreement understandably received a warm welcome from the Sinhala nationalist lobby in the south. Two decisions taken by the government – to enter into a military pact with the US and to share the management of oil tank farm in the eastern port city Trincomalee with India – were seen as farsighted initiatives that would safeguard the “national interest” in the long run. These sentiments were clearly evident in an article published in “The Island” newspaper, written by a widely read Sinhala nationalist and a retired diplomat Nanda Godage. “The government ought to be congratulated for the two initiatives it has taken to ensure the security of the country…. The second initiative is also of the utmost significance: The entering into the “Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement” with the US. This is not some unique agreement calculated to pull us into any orbit, over fifty countries have already signed this same agreement. It is a useful tool to support our military in their engagements. It has also a multi-national dimension. It is an agreement under which the US is committed to provide logistic support, supplies and services to military forces of the country with whom she has an agreement. If countries in the region are unable to help us with military support, as we discovered to our horror when the Tiger was at our door, we must be free to enter into Agreements with any country that would help us. There should be no dragging of feet on the matter of signing the agreement with the US, which should be entirely in our national interest.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/05/28/featur01.html)
The sentiments expressed here well reflect the Sinhala nationalist understanding of the “concept of national sovereignty” which we explicated above. Even when a basic awareness on the US invasion of Afghanistan would have provided a sufficient ground to understand the dynamics of growing US presence in the Indian Ocean and their increasing desire to legalize their access to littoral areas, inward looking Sinhala nationalists remained totally ignorant of the big picture. Instead, they found it was a complimentary advantage offered by the US to keep the Tamils at bay and emphasized the importance of striking a deal with the Americans without “dragging of feet”.
However, in the face of rising Tamil dismay, US responded in the usual manner, brushing aside all the allegations. On May 31st, US embassy in Colombo clarified their position by stressing that “the ACSA is, as its name implies, an agreement that allows the armed services of each party to the agreement to avail itself of servicing, repairs, spare parts and equipment of the other in exchange for payment or through the exchange of identical goods or goods of equivalent value.. ACSA is not a means to acquire major arms. It is not a means to acquire bases. ACSA has nothing to do with access to Sri Lanka’s airspace or waters.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=6996)
The unfolding scenario seemed grim. The previously existed power balance enabled the parties in conflict to negotiate a deal. But the US policy – including the proposed US Sri Lanka defence deal – struck a structural imbalance in the existed relationship between the two parties. The coercive US policy effectively undermined the importance of preserving confidence between the parties who were getting prepared to meet each other for direct talks. The growing uneasiness on the Tamil side was increasingly visible. Hardly before three months elapsed since the CFA, peace process was at grave risk.
Fanning the growing tension and the displeasure among the Tamil parties, on 31st May, the British authorities issued a statement which perfectly fell in line with the US policy. Following a meeting with the Sri Lankan Prime Minister who was on a visit to Europe, the British Foreign Office said in a statement: “Direct talks between the two parties would be a significant step forward and would have our full backing… We hope that the LTTE realises that violence has no part to play in resolving the ethnic conflict and renounce terrorism once and for all. Before proscription of the LTTE can be reconsidered in the United Kingdom, the LTTE would have to demonstrate a complete and convincing renunciation of terrorism.” (http://www.dailynews.lk/2002/05/31/new02.html)
But on the ground level, the CFA remained well and intact. Contrary to the impression given through the regular statements issued by the US (and now the British too), the SLMM who had the sole authority in monitoring the ceasefire on the ground, said in a statement on 29th May, “The Parties compliance with the Cease Fire Agreement is going extremely well. Till the 15th of May 02 SLMM has recorded only 58 ceasefire violations and some 196 complaints and allegations. None of the Cease Fire Violations jeopardised the Agreement.” (http://www.slmm.info/STATEMENTS/2002/29%2F05%2F02++Good+Compliance+With+CFA.9UFRjY5E.ips)
4. Talking Peace, Planning War
A strategy with conflicting objectives
During the first three months, CFA came under increasing strain due to the pressures exerted by the external elements more than the pressures created by anti-CFA mobilizations called by the Sinhala nationalists. But in order to understand the dynamics behind the external intervention, we need to contextualize the events that unfolded in the period that ran up to the first round of talks.
What was the context that made the external intervention essential?
As far as the Sri Lankan state is concerned, the CFA was not a manifestation of its generosity or a change of heart, in the first place. CFA would have never been materialized if not for the fact that the Sri Lankan state lost its monopoly on violence due to the conventional military capabilities of the LTTE. That was evidently proved by the state’s unhesitant rejection of the previous ceasefire offers extended by the Tigers, when the power balance largely favoured the state. But the bloody events that unfolded towards the end of 2001 decisively altered the military balance on the ground and brought the state to its knees. The monopoly so far enjoyed by the state in waging wars against a resisting community did not seemed possible anymore in the face of the formidable resistant capacity of the Tigers. The state was compelled to realize the rapid erosion of its military and political authority. The CFA was the logical reflection of this realization. The truce was never a Norwegian brokered one (or a result of an external initiative) as it has been told quite often. The truce was initiated by the Tigers, two months before the Norwegians formalized it and converted it in to a legal document that bound the conflicting parties. Therefore the CFA should be considered as an internationally sponsored and recognized treaty which upheld the importance of peaceful negotiations against armed violence.
But after entering into a truce with the Tigers, UNF was confronted with a more serious dilemma. This was directly related to the question of legitimacy. The CFA legitimized the longstanding Tamil national aspirations by legalizing the de facto military power of the LTTE, which kept those aspirations alive for three decades. The success of Tamil national movement reached its culminating point with the overwhelming electoral victory of the LTTE backed Tamil National Alliance in 2001 parliamentary elections. It indicated the mass endorsement of political demands put forward by the Tigers. This legitimacy earned by the Tigers curtailed the state’s capacity to effectively bargain on its own terms at the negotiating table. In order to regain its ability while restraining the bargaining power of the LTTE, the state had to find a counterweight that would ensure in creating a new power balance which would effectively favour the regime. Since the Sinhala ruling class was divided along the lines of executive and the legislative powers weakening the state further, the external factor became the only viable counterweight that could be used against the legitimate Tamil demands.
Interestingly, this strategic need of the Sinhala leadership inevitably overlapped with the newly arising geo-political needs of the external powers who desperately wanted to secure unhindered access and to enhance their strategic power in the region in the back drop of NATO invasion of Afghanistan. Therefore, the decision to bring in external powers as equal stake holders of the peace process was a well calculated strategy that bound the geo-strategic agendas of super powers with the “peace agenda” of the Sri Lankan state. It was a two way deal. It bailed out the Sinhala ruling class from their deep politico-military crisis. And in return it allowed the US to stabilize its grip on the strategically important island. The deal eventually ensured that the Tamil national movement would not get the required global legitimacy, in spite of their strong political and military success on the ground. The UNF strategy was to regain the “sovereignty” of the state by borrowing the lost bargaining capability from the global powers.
But the conflict within the state which was manifested through the rift between the executive and legislative powers prevented the UNF regime from totally achieving success in its strategy. The extreme Sinhala nationalist reaction kept on rocking the boat by targeting the legitimacy of the peace process through interpreting it as a betrayal of the Sinhala rights and a violation of the constitution. This was the political paradox to come to terms with: The UNF had to fight back in order to defend the political legitimacy of the peace process, since their political survival solely depended on their ability to preserve the peace process. But at the same time, it had to destroy the political legitimacy of the other main stake holder in the peace process – the Tigers – in order to emerge victorious in the final bargaining. The paradoxical essence of the strategy was to uphold the legitimacy of a peace process that rested on two parties while planning to de-legitimize the other.
This was the precise context in which the assistance of the external powers – mainly the US – became essential. The US policy of praising the peace process while demonizing the Tigers perfectly fit into this need. The US committed herself to contain the Tigers in the peace process while denying any legitimacy to their demands. Retrospectively we could see how this strategy was implemented by revisiting the past events.
Talks begin: overt versus covert
Even by mid June 2002, there was no indication about the direct talks. Except for the absence of heavy fighting, even four months after the ceasefire, the lives of the Tamil civilians remained the same. The displaced populations, who were not yet allowed to return to their lands, which were being declared as military high security zones for nearly 15 years, staged frequent protests demanding their right to return. Unrest among the students and the youth was quite visible in North as well as in the East demanding to implement the promised demilitarization process. Demonstrations and shut down protests were frequent. Voicing the concerns of the people, the TNA informed the Prime Minister that “The cease-fire agreement signed by the government with the Liberation Tigers 120 days ago, has not yet conferred on all the Tamil people of the Northeast all the freedoms to carry on a normal life, freedoms that have been conferred on all other people in all parts of the country, including the Northeast”. Attending a meeting called by the Prime Minister to assess the progress of the CFA on 19th June, the TNA representatives stressed that the government troops still not have started vacating the places of worship, schools and public buildings as they should have done according to the CFA. (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=7090)
In another attempt to illustrate the serious shortcomings of the CFA, Chief Negotiator of the LTTE Anton Balasingham, expressed his organization’s dismay in an interview given to the London based “Tamil Guardian” newspaper in June 2002, on unchanging conditions and attitudes: “The cardinal objective of the truce agreement is to bring an end to armed hostilities and to establish a congenial situation conducive for peace negotiations. The terms and conditions and a set of goodwill measures enunciated in the cease-fire document are aimed at de-escalation and restoration of normalcy in the war torn Tamil homeland. The truce agreement also seeks to remove the conditions of oppression imposed on the Tamil civilian masses under a rigid military occupation and to improve their conditions of existence. As a party to the cease-fire agreement, we are unhappy that some of the terms and conditions as well as some measures aimed at creating normalcy in Tamil areas are not fully implemented. The military personnel are still occupying temples, schools, colleges and public buildings in defiance of the timeframes stipulated in the truce. Some of the Hindu temples are historical holy sites which are sacred to our people and the reluctance shown by the Sinhala armed forces to vacate these places of worship has angered the Tamil people and is destroying their confidence in the peace process.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/06/06/featur01.html)
But instead of addressing the accumulating unrest on the ground which would have minimized the tensions and strengthen the CFA, the UNF maintained a policy of seeking international assistance to pressurize the Tigers to abide by the clauses of the CFA. The Foreign Minister of the UNF government, who went on an official visit to United States, appealed the US authorities “to push the LTTE towards the negotiating table.” As to a report published in “The Island” newspaper in June, ‘Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando has requested United States of America to help push the LTTE towards the peace negotiating table, according to wire service reports. Fernando is on an official visit to the United States. ..Minister had noted during his talks with Powell that the international community should have a bigger stake in Sri Lanka to determine the success of talks.’ (http://www.island.lk/2002/06/15/news01.html)
The swift response from the Tamils condemned the UNF strategy of trying to exert pressure on the Tamil movement through the global powers instead of implementation of the CFA in full. The pro-rebel “Tamil Guardian” wrote in its Editorial on 19th June, “Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando was last week advising the international community that the LTTE needs to be coerced to the negotiating table. If his choice of words did not raise hackles, then the demonstration of duplicity which Tamils now consider characteristic of Sinhala governments certainly would have. The LTTE reiterated this week that – as far as it was concerned – the date for talks was dependent on Colombo’s compliance with the ceasefire agreement. Incredibly, this position is being condemned as an unreasonable ‘demand.’ Apparently, the government can sign agreements and promptly ignore them but the LTTE has to meekly go along – simply for the sake of preserving a positive atmosphere.”(http://www.island.lk/2002/06/20/news01.html)
But the Sinhala nationalist fears remained focused on the possibilities of lifting the ban on Tigers and establishing an interim administration to the LTTE. Moreover many nationalist forces kept on demanding a reassurance from the government that the CFA will not effectively weaken the military and the intelligence apparatuses. But when compared to the level of importance given by the GoSL to address the immediate humanitarian needs of the people living in war affected areas, government seemed to be interested spending more time and efforts to wipe away these fears prevailing among the Sinhalese by re-emphasizing that nothing would change to the advantage of the Tigers. This was explained by the government spokesman and the chief negotiator Minister G. L. Peiris speaking at a meeting: “De-proscription of the LTTE within Sri Lanka will have no impact on the military capability of the country’s defence forces to protect the territorial integrity, the sovereignty and the independence of Sri Lanka. There is no connection between the two things at all. De-proscription does not mean that the military capability of the armed forces will be diminished or diluted in any way. The action on the part of Sri Lanka does not in any way mean or imply that these countries — the US, UK and India — will lift the ban in their own jurisdiction.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/06/14/news08.html)
These repeated assurances were not mere verbal commitments made by the government stalwarts simply to minimize suspicions and wipe away the fears among the Sinhalese. In fact the military capabilities of the government armed forces were upgraded and enhanced, detailed assessments were done by foreign military experts and new defence pacts were signed. In the beginning of June a senior defence delegation led by the Defence Minister was sent to China to seek consultation and to enhance bilateral defence relations. On the 12 of June, PTI newswire reported that “China has praised the steady progress in Sino-Lankan bilateral ties and has assured enhanced military relations with Sri Lanka.” The report further added: “China will unswervingly develop friendly relations of cooperation with Sri Lanka,” Chinese Defence Minister General Chi Haotian said here yesterday during a meeting with the visiting Sri Lankan Defence Minister Tilak Marapana… He said relations between the two countries’ armed forces were an important part of bilateral relations and China has always had a positive attitude towards developing sound relations between the two countries’ armed forces.” (China positive on military ties with Sri Lanka / Hindustan Times – 12.06.2002) Quoting a Foreign Ministry press release on June 14th, the state owned “Daily News” revealed that the two countries “signed an agreement for the provision of military assistance to Sri Lanka” during Defence Minister’s week long stay in China. “The Chinese Minister expressed his government’s concern over the problems that Sri Lanka was facing as a result of terrorism. General Chi Stated that it was necessary for the international community to unite to eliminate the scourge of terrorism, as such movements often had international connections. He said that time was long past when countries could afford to ignore acts of terrorism simply because they took place in some other State” it further added. (http://www.dailynews.lk/2002/06/14/new09.html)
On the 11th of July, a group of US troops arrived in Sri Lanka to take part in joint exercises with Sri Lankan Armed Forces. As reported by the “The Island” – “Admiral Dennis C. Blair the then Commanderin- Chief, US Pacific Command in a rare visit to Colombo in July last year said that the US sends trainers to Sri Lanka three or four times a year where they train with primarily some of the special forces of the Sri Lankan armed forces on a range of skills from humanitarian issues like first aid on the battlefield through reconnaissance techniques and other skills. Sri Lanka and India are among the countries in the region benefited by what the US Army calls the Extended Relations Programme (ERP) under which contingents from various specialised formations including Navy SEALS take part in joint exercises.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/07/12/news05.html)
On 22nd July, Prime Minister Wickramasingha arrived in United States to meet with the highest state officials in the Bush administration. His meeting with President Bush was considered as the “first high-level exchange between the US and Sri Lanka, since President Ronald Reagan hosted President J. R. Jayewardene in 1984.” The newspaper reports on his visit further revealed that, “his meeting with Bush was to be preceded by a meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who would be assisted in the discussion by Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca and the Deputy, Donald Camp, a former Sri Lanka Desk Officer at the State Department. Wickremesinghe was also scheduled to meet with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and a possible meeting with Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon replete with an honour guard was also on the cards.” (http://www.dailynews.lk/2002/07/22/new01.html)
But it was in fact US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, Christina Rocca – the Bush Administration’s point person for the Sub-continent – who revealed the considerable importance given by the Bush administration to Prime Minister’s visit. It was reported that she ‘was one of those who strongly advised the White House to arrange the meeting betweenthe two leaders sooner than later.’ She was quoted in her interview as saying that ‘the President Bush’s decision to meet with the Prime Minister was clearly a tangible manifestation of Washington’s strong support for the latter and his government’s “courageous effort” to end the conflict.’ (http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2002/07/28/fea01.html) In a similar report published on the same day, which summarizes the achievements of the US trip, “United States’ President George Bush’s personal backing for the Sri Lankan peace process and Washington’s firm commitment to Sri Lanka’s counterterrorism preparedness as part of the US’ global anti-terror campaign are the key gains achieved by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to the US capital last week, diplomats here conclude.” (http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2002/07/28/new01.html)
Apart from ‘exaggerated media descriptions on grand receptions’ the interesting but suppressed content of the closed door discussions was never exposed. But it didn’t take much time to reveal what the news reports exactly meant when it wrote about Washington’s firm commitment to Sri Lanka’s counter terrorism preparedness. On the 4th of August 2002, the “Sunday Observer” reported that a visiting team of US Navy Special Forces – the SEALS – have started providing special combat training to the Sri Lanka’s Navy Commandos. “A team from the US Navy SEALS special forces will conduct a training course for Sri Lankan Navy personnel from August 5 to 24 at Hambantota and Uva Kuda- Oya. SEALS which is specialised on sea, air and land operations will conduct a course on combat and sniper firing. Twenty five Sri Lankan Navy personnel including officers, have been selected to undergo the course, which will be an annual feature, defence sources said. Meanwhile, 53 Army personnel have successfully completed a course conducted by the American Army on psychological operations and civil affairs in Colombo, from August 2 to August 12.” (http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2002/08/04/sec04.html)
On 22nd August, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage arrived in Colombo, but immediately flown to Palali Military Base in Jaffna Peninsula. After visiting war ravaged Northern cities he flew back to Colombo. Addressing the press after his brief visit North, he was quoted as saying that “that officials of the US military establishment would visit Sri Lanka frequently.” When asked for more details and purpose of such visits “Armitage said that it was with the view to establish a “University of Defence” in Sri Lanka. He also added that the United States would continue to assist in the training of military personnel in Sri Lanka and will also help to reorganise the structure of the security forces in this country.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/08/24/news07.html) Providing more details on the proposed ACSA agreement, Armitage “expressed the belief that the United States and Sri Lanka can finalise the Access and the Cross Servicing Agreement. He said that the two parties were negotiating the agreement.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/08/24/news08.html)
Within a week ‘another team of United States defence experts arrived Colombo’ as it was reported by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Cooperation. The team arrived on 31st of August, comprised members of the office of the Defence Secretary and the National Defence University. “The arrival of US defence experts to Sri Lanka at a time when direct peace talks are scheduled to commence between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam will not hinder the progress of such talks,” stressed Constitutional Affairs Minister Professor G.L.Peiris Saturday in clarification. The main purpose of the US defence team’s visit is to identify the potential areas for the future American assistance. The visit is as a result of talks between US President Mr. George W. Bush and Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Mr.Ranil Wickremasinghe in Washington last July and also of the visit by Mr. Richard Armitage, US Deputy Secretary of State to Sri Lanka.”(http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=7399)
The ‘covert military talks’ that have started delivering results largely altered the existed military equilibrium even before the direct talks commenced. The Tigers were visibly upset about the developments that were occurring while the thousands of displaced Tamil civilians were still languishing in makeshift refugee camps. The resettlement and rehabilitation programmes were blocked by intransigence of the Sri Lankan armed forces that bluntly refused to allow civilians to be resettled in their native lands. Though state ignorance left many problems unresolved leading to sporadic tensions, in an overall sense peaceful atmosphere remained intact. In the beginning of July, human rights watchdog Amnesty International said in a statement that “The cease-fire agreement has made a significant impact in reducing human rights abuses in Sri Lanka…The reduction in killings, torture, and abductions seen since the cease-fire will only last if practical measures to protect human rights are discussed, negotiated and promoted now.”(http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2002/06/30/new01.html)
These positive sentiments were echoed by the SLMM, who said in one of their statements issued on 02nd of September 2002, that the ‘ceasefire complaints against LTTE and Government of Sri Lanka has come down by 40%.’ It further said “40% fewer complaints were made against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Government of Sri Lanka in August compared to last July. Violations of the Ceasefire Agreement were also considerably fewer in August compared to July. Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission received a total of 226 complaints against both parties in August compared to 391 complaints in July.” Commenting on positive achievements, the Head of the SLMM said in the same statement that “this is a clear sign that restoration of normalcy is underway in Sri Lanka. Both parties are showing considerable restraint and a common responsibility for restoring peace, to the benefit of the public. To know that the complaints of the parties and the people of Sri Lanka have fallen down by almost a half between months is especially encouraging news now at the start of Peace Talks.” (http://www.slmm.info/STATEMENTS/2002/13%2F09%2F02+-+Ceasefire+Complaints+against+LTTE+and+Government+of+Sri+Lanka+down+by+40%25.9UFRnG1W.ips)
By the beginning of September, the waiting came to an end with the announcement of the dates for the first round of talks. On the 14th of September, the Norwegian facilitators announced that the first ever direct talks between the two parties will commence in Thailand between 14th and 17th September. The tremendous strength contained in the CFA was absolutely proved by a single fact: for seven months ceasefire remained intact and the violations decreased even without any sign of direct talks between the two parties.
But shocking realities that were about to unfold remained hidden behind this widespread optimism.
Two weeks before the scheduled talks, a US defence team from the National Defence University and the office of the US Secretary of Defence is visited Sri Lanka. “The team, headed by Ambassador Robin Raphel, Senior Vice President of the National Defence University and former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, will assess the Sri Lankan military’s educational and training needs and identify potential areas for future U.S. assistance. Ambassador Wills speaking about the visit said, “This assessment team’s visit is a result of the meeting between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last July in Washington.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/09/03/news06.html)
Despite widespread protests called by the JVP and other nationalist groups, the government went ahead with their decision to de-ban the LTTE prior to negotiations. The LTTE insisted that debanning the outfit is a must, since the negotiations should be held on an equal footing, a request the government found difficult to turn down. On the 4th September, two weeks prior to the proposed negotiations in Thailand, the LTTE was de-proscribed. Responding to the de-banning, the British Foreign Office issued a statement, though it never made clear why such statement was released. The release issued by Foreign Office Minister Mike O’ Brien said: “We have noted that the Government of Sri Lanka has lifted its ban on the LTTE. This is entirely a matter for the Government of Sri Lanka and does not directly affect the proscription of the LTTE in the UK. Before the proscription of the LTTE in the UK could be reconsidered by the British Government, the LTTE would have to demonstrate a complete and convincing renunciation of terrorism. We hope that the LTTE will indeed conclude that violence no longer has a part to play in resolving Sri Lanka’s problems and that they will renounce terrorism once and for all.” (http://www.fco.gov.uk/resources/en/press-release/2002/09/fco_npr_040902_o-briensrilanka)
It wasn’t difficult to understand the British response, though uncalled, was intended to send strong and coercive reminder, wrapped in meaningless diplomatic jargons, to the Tigers before the talks: “there is no reason to believe that you have earned a global legitimacy.” Soon the British were joined by the Israelis. The Israel ambassador to Colombo who was stationed in Bangkok, said on 7th, “Israel government would continue to support Sri Lanka on military matters including supplies if and when the need arose as it had been in the past.”(http://www.island.lk/2002/09/07/news10.html)
Four days prior to the talks, Sri Lankan Prime Minister left for US for another official visit, coinciding with a official US statement that “congratulate and wished success” for both parties. But an AFP report which contained some extremely interesting information came out in the middle of the talks. The report filed on 19th quoted an Asian diplomat saying “The US involvement in the peace process is much greater than what meets the eye. The Americans have been sending some very powerful signals to the Tigers to fall in line.” The report further added, “The only visible US presence at the ceremonial start of peace talks at Sattahip in Thailand, was the presence of US ambassador to Thailand, Darryl Jackson. Officially, Thailand was chosen as a venue for the Sri Lankan talks because the country was a “stable democracy” and acceptable to both parties in the Sri Lankan conflict. But Asian diplomats said it had more to do with US influence here. Thailand is the strongest US ally in Southeast Asia and supports the war against terrorism following the September 11 events last year. The Sri Lankan peace talks were held at the same venue Thai and US forces have opened their annual military exercises, the largest involving US troops in the Asia Pacific. The US Department of Defence sent a delegation to Sri Lanka earlier this month to assess the island’s needs to modernise its military, and the US is already training Sri Lankan security personnel, including naval commando units. The US interest in Sri Lanka was underscored when Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage visited the island last month and said Washington will “push as forcefully as we can” to encourage the parties to the table. “President Bush dares to dream of a future free of war in Sri Lanka,” said Armitage who was following up on Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s meeting with President Bush at the White House in July. The US provision of military assistance to the Colombo government is in sharp contrast to their policy of refusing to sell even helicopter spare parts to them when the ethnic conflict turned into a guerrilla war in 1983.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/09/22/news08.html)
Addressing the opening ceremony of the first round of formal talks between the two parties, LTTE’s chief negotiator said: “As far as the Liberation Tigers are concerned I can assure you that we are seriously and sincerely committed to peace. We will strive our utmost to ensure the success of the negotiations. We are well aware that there are powerful political forces in southern Sri Lanka who are irrationally opposed to peace and ethnic reconciliation. Nevertheless, we are confident that the talks will progress successfully because of the fact that the principal parties in the conflict as well as the overwhelming majority of the people of the island want peace and peaceful resolution of the conflict. The deepest aspiration of our people is peace, a peace with justice and freedom; a permanent peace in which our people enjoy their right to self-determination and co-exist with others.”(http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=7483)
But at the conclusion of the first round, the US ambassador to Thailand Darrel Jackson, the “only visible US representative to be present at the ceremony” reiterated the same US policy: “peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE has not changed US classification of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation… The ban on the LTTE remains for now. Nothing has changed so far, except the deliberations between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/09/25/news02.html)
On the 22nd the Prime Minister Wickramasingha returned to the island completing his weeklong stay in Washington. On the 24th “The Island” newspaper reported that ‘US Department of State’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Ambassador Francis X. Taylor is planning to visit Sri Lanka towards the end of the month’ quoting a spokesman at the US Embassy in Colombo. Providing some interesting information about the visit and the background of the person the report further said: “While in Sri Lanka Ambassador Taylor will meet with his counterparts in the interior, foreign affairs, and security ministries, with whom he hopes to explore areas in which the US can be of assistance to the Government of Sri Lanka. “My emphasis” Ambassador Taylor has said of the visit, will be “on the integration of intelligence, law enforcement, legal, and diplomatic efforts against terrorism.” Taylor has served as the Department of State’s Coordinator for Counter-terrorism, with the rank of Ambassador at Large, since July 2001. Because the Department is the lead US Government agency dealing with international terrorism, Ambassador Taylor’s office has primary responsibility for developing, co-ordinating, and implementing US counterterrorism policy. His duties include co-ordinating US Government efforts to improve counterterrorism co-operation with foreign governments, including the policy and planning of the Department’s Antiterrorism Training Assistance Program.” (http://www.island.lk/2002/09/25/news14.html)
Parallel to the formal talks, Sri Lankan Armed forces took part in 19-day Joint Military exercise, jointly organised and sponsored by the US Asia-Pacific Command and Bangladesh army. As to the official explanation, the exercise, named the Multinational Platoon Training Event, was designed to assess and improve the abilities of the participating countries in peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance. A Bangladesh military spokesman speaking to AFP was quoted saying as “it would also study the forces’ inter-operationability with other international military forces.”(http://www.dailynews.lk/2002/06/27/new04.html)
But the most important and the controversial development occurred unnoticed by many observers. As it was later revealed by a Colombo based English language weekly, parallel to the first round of formal talks in Thailand, an exclusive strategic assessment had been done under the direct recommendation of the military experts attached to US Pacific Command intending to re-take certain areas that was under the Tiger control. The newspaper account revealed shocking information exposing the forces that worked to jeopardize the peace process while paying lip service to uphold the importance of the CFA. The report said: “Just seven months after the Government-LTTE Ceasefire Agreement was signed, (in September 2002), United States Defence Attache in Sri Lanka, Lt. Col. Richard Girven, arranged with the Ministry of Defence in Colombo for an Assessment Team from the United States Pacific Command (PACOM), headquartered in Hawaii, to visit Sri Lanka. The team was to look at the Army, Navy and Air Force from the operational and tactical levels, determine the capabilities, needs and requirements of each. Five officers who formed an advisory party of the Commander-in-Chief of PACOM arrived first followed by 21 officers in late September.
The team was led by Colonel John A. Kardos from the PACOM and comprised: Lt. Col. Joel E. Johnson (US Army), Commander Louis M. Meir (US NAVY), Lt. Col. Martin Mcnamara (US Air Force), Maj. Philip L. Turner (US Air Force – FAO-XO), Maj. James B. Koerber (Asst. Ground Operations – US Marines), Lieut. Cmdr. William Jewett (Surface Special Warfare), Lt. David Silverman (Special Warfare), Maj. Richard N. Shizuru (Aviation Operations), Maj. Anthony Abati (Counter Terrorist Operations), Maj. Jeffrey Prough (Counter Insurgency Operations), Signalman Eric V. Hill (Assistant Counter Insurgency Operations), Lt. Col. Christopher Keast (Operations Intelligence), CW3 William Ostrowski (Counter Insurgency – Intelligence), CW4 Robert L. Pierson (Civil Affairs), Captain Jay Ball (Psychological Operations), Maj. Jeffrey L. Lepak (Communications), Maj. David A. Ottignon (Engineer), Lt. Col. Michael K. Baisden (Logistics), CW3 Thomas Pigorsh (Assistant Logistics), SFC Michael Clark (Communications Specialist), SFC Leonard H. Omelles (Communications Specialist), SFC William S. Glenn (Medical), Maj. William B. Downs (Special Operations – Aviation), SFC Jeremy A Burke (Small Unit Tactics) and Captain Jeremiah Lumbaca (Embassy LNO).
“The PACOM team that was in Sri Lanka from September 30 to October 10, 2002, made a comprehensive study of the Army, Navy and Air Force. This was after visiting all their important installations.
“Commenting on the Navy, this is what the PACOM report has to say:
“Trincomalee Harbour Defence.
“Discussion: The most important base for the SLN is without question Trincomalee Harbour. Currently, the LTTE control the southern portion of the Harbour. From this area, the LTTE have effectively monitored all ship movement in and out of the Harbour, launch suicide and artillery attacks against the Naval Base and could potentially destroy any vessel coming in and out of the harbour. The SL Army is responsible for this area but they have been unable to completely secure it.
“Recommendations: a.) The SL Defence force must secure this land area. The vulnerable position that currently exists could essentially level the majority of the SLN fleet. The result would be that the only resupply capability for the Jaffna Peninsula would have to come from Colombo, more than four times the distance to Jaffna.
“b. Currently there are designated areas for the LTTE and areas for the SL Defence forces. If the southern tip of Trincomalee Harbour has not been designated for the LTTE, it more than likely isn’t, then the SL government should be massing police and military personnel in this area in case the hostilities resume.
“c. Without control of this area the defence of Trincomalee Harbour will always be a losing battle. Without Trincomalee Harbour the ability to prosecute the war would be detrimentally affected.” (http://sundaytimes.lk/030914/columns/sitrep.html)
Interestingly, when the hostilities escalated into a full scale military confrontation in July 2006, the initial fighting broke out exactly in the area the US military experts recommended (in 2002) to take control of i.e. Southern portion of the Trincomalee harbour.
But four years earlier, many were unaware of the possible events that would unfold within few years, causing endless human miseries and horrors. On 02nd December, evaluating the progress of the ceasefire that was in force for nearly one full year, the Head of the SLMM issued a statement. It reflected the widespread optimism and hope, which was quite common then: “One year has passed since the guns fell silent in Sri Lanka….During the last year people have stopped waging war and begun to build peace, people have stopped creating problems and have started solving problems, and people have stopped hurting each other and started trying to understand each other and live for each other. People have stopped asking if the war will start again and started asking how society can be made better. Fear and distrust is being removed and replaced with a feeling of increased safety and confidence. … the value of life in has increased. The Government of Sri Lanka, the LTTE leadership and all the people in the country have started to experience the value of peace. Democracy is developing. Schooling for the population has improved. Security has increased. Freedom has increased. The international society has clearly shown it cares about the new Sri Lanka and at the same time Sri Lanka has become a part of the international community… Sri Lanka has entered a new era. The new Sri Lanka is no longer stuck in the vicious circle of war which has halted development for decades… This era will not end, it is not limited to a period of time, it is a birth of a new society… The time has come to protect what you have gained during the last year. Each person has to share the responsibility for change.” (http://www.slmm.info/STATEMENTS/2002/26%2F12%2F02++SLMM+Head%3A+Normalization%2C+Security+and+Gradual+Changes+towards+a+New+Sri+Lanka.9UFRnIZx.ips)
5. An Uphill Battle for Peace
The safety net: Oslo Donor Conference
Following first and the second sessions of direct discussions, where the two parties arrived at important political decisions such as the forming of Joint Sub-Committees (which we have explained below), it was announced that there was going to be another conference focused on the economic aspect of the peace process. Unlike the political level, where only the two parties and the mediators were present, the economic level opened up the floor to nearly 100 delegates coming from 19 donor nations. US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as well as the British Secretary of state for international development Claire Short were notable participants of the meeting. There were high hopes that the success of the first such Donor Conference, held in Oslo, November 2002 would have positive impact on the political level. The press release issued by the Norwegian government prior to the meeting contained these sentiments: “The aim of the conference is to mobilize political and economic support for the efforts to promote a lasting peace on the island. The war-affected areas need enormous amounts of humanitarian assistance. In order to maintain popular support for the peace process, rapid and visible measures should be implemented that will show the parties that peace is worthwhile.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=7888)
Towards the end of the meeting a joint communiqué was issued elaborating on its tasks. The media release emphasized one of the most important aspects of the donor conference: “While all areas of Sri Lanka have been seriously affected by the war, the North and East have suffered the most extensive destruction. We commend the parties for establishing a joint Sub- Committee on Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs in the North and East and setting up a Fund with the aim of enhancing and prioritising donor activities in these war ravaged areas, which continue to experience severe social and economic hardships. The Sub-Committee has issued an urgent appeal to the international community for immediate assistance to begin to resettle and rehabilitate internally displaced persons, address the needs of women and children and help the population to resume their economic activities. We will take into account the co-ordinating role ascribed by the parties to the Sub-Committee, in order to support this important mechanism of ownership by the parties in its work for effective reconstruction and confidence building, while stressing the need for flexibility in accepting various forms of assistance from the international community.The Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have already taken resolute steps towards peace. They face many challenges in seeking a lasting political settlement, acceptable to all communities living in the island. We therefore pledge to support their efforts with financial assistance to the people of Sri Lanka.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=7898)
The first press release, issued prior to the conference by the Norwegian hosts, identifies that the peace process need political as well as economic support to sustain. Moreover, it asserts that, rapid and visible measures have to be implemented in order to maintain the popular support for the peace process. Thereby, the statement agrees that the success of negotiations focused on core political issues largely depend on the ability to rapidly deliver peace dividends that are visible. In other words, the statement asserted that the success of the economic level has the sole ability of becoming a safety net to protect and sustain the achievements that were made on the political level.
And as it is evident from the second press release, the delegates (including US) unanimously accepted the importance of two salient points: first, it was the fact that the North-East should get priority in reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. Secondly, it accepted that both the GoSL and the LTTE should be recognized as equal stakeholders of the peace process who have taken resolute steps towards peace, and therefore deserve the support in their efforts (meaning efforts of both the GoSL and the LTTE). It is important to keep this in our mind, in order to understand the subsequent events that completely derailed the peace process.
The Oslo donor conference ended after mutually agreeing upon to continue the discussion in Tokyo after a period of 6 months – in June 2003. The conference concluded by paving the way to the third round of political negotiations, which was scheduled to commence at the same venue – Oslo – within few days.
But the events that followed the two meetings raised reasonable doubts about the stability of the peace process. The formation and the abandonment of Joint Sub Committees, which was considered as one of the major achievement of the first three rounds of talks, deserve serious attention.
The silver lining: Formation of the Joint Sub Committees
The forming of the Joint Sub Committees can be considered as one of the most significant steps initiated by the 2002 CFA. Most of all, it was the first ever practical mechanism that managed to get the active participation of the two parties in conflict. By the time of second round of peace talks that commenced in Thailand at the end of October 2002, both parties agreed mainly to form three Joint Sub Committees that would address certain issues, which needed urgent remedies, until lasting solutions are found. The urgent humanitarian issues that ought to be addressed came under the purview of the first such committee – Sub Committee on Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs (SIHRN). The second such committee was assigned with responsibilities to restore normalcy and speeding up demilitarization efforts: Sub Committee on De-escalation and Normalization (SDN). The area of responsibility that came under the third sub-committee was to deal with issues such as gender related matters and therefore became known as Sub-Committee on Gender issues.
Forming of the sub-committees marked an important leap-forward, when compared to first seven months of lull, that didn’t show much progress. But to understand how such a step suddenly became possible, we need to grasp the dynamics of collective political determination hidden behind the 2002 peace process. When doing so, we are obliged to recognize the true potential of the final negotiating process that enabled six rounds of talks to be successfully concluded. Here, the underlying essence is quite simple: Unless we know what was achieved, we cannot know what was destroyed.
Unlike previous experiences, the 2002 peace talks seemed to be moving along the right track in a firm and self-confident manner. That is what made it possible for the parties to sustain the ceasefire, when there was no indication for nearly seven months as to when the direct talks would start. Even though there were many setback and occasional fluctuations, a strong sense of optimism prevailed throughout the process that seemed quite incredible. This optimism was evidently visible in year 2002 Annual Heroes Day speech delivered by the leader of the LTTE. The speech was seen as a ‘paradigm shift’ in the longstanding Tamil struggle for a separate state. Speaking from an undisclosed location inside the Tiger held territory on 27th November 2002, the Tamil leader said: “The Tamil people want to live in freedom and dignity in their own lands, in their historically constituted traditional lands without the domination of external forces. They want to protect their national identity pursuing the development of their language, culture and economy. They want to live in their homeland under a system of self-rule. This is the political aspiration of our people. This constitutes the essential meaning of internal self-determination. We are prepared to consider favourably a political framework that offers substantial regional autonomy and self-government in our homeland on the basis of our right to internal self-determination.” (http://www.tamilnation.org/ltte/vp/mahaveerar/vp02.htm)
His emphasis on the fact that the LTTE’s willingness to favourably consider even a solution that would genuinely embody the conceptual essence of internal self determination, although it seemed like a position that fall short of their maximum demand, did manifest the positive effects generated by the negotiations. This was re-asserted by LTTE’s chief negotiator Anton Balasingham, during the third round of political talks held in Norway, soon after the Oslo Donor Conference in November 2002. Clarifying the statement made by the LTTE’s leader, Dr. Balasingham explained: “He (the Tiger leader) said “We are prepared to consider favourably a political framework that offers substantial regional autonomy and self-government in our homeland on the basis of our right to internal self-determination”. It is on the basis of the proposals made by the LTTE leadership both the parties have formulated a framework that a federal structure would be the suitable model to realise the principle of internal selfdetermination. So I think this is, as Prof. Peiris (GoSL chief Negotiator) always have said (sic), a paradigm shift. It’s not only a paradigm shift on our part, it is also a paradigm shift on the part of the Sri Lankan Government to accommodate the Tamil and the Muslim people within a federal framework in a united country.”(http://www.tamilnation.org/conflictresolution/tamileelam/norway/021205oslodeclaration.htm)
In the spirit of both statements, the two parties reached an exploratory agreement to “explore a solution to end the island’s conflict founded on the principle of internal self determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka”. What this meant was, both parties agreed to explore the possibilities to resolve the conflict through a federal mode. This ‘was one of the decisions that was included in the record of decisions at the end of the third round of talks in Oslo. In Dr. Balasingham’s own words, “This model of self-government we were referring to has to be couched or properly conceptualised within an appropriate constitutional form.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=7937)
The joint announcement was a tremendous breakthrough indeed. Immediately after the conclusions were announced, the United States responded as usual, trying to conceal their dubious position: “The United States regards as extremely positive the announcement that the two sides have made progress in discussing political issues by agreeing to work to establish a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. We salute both sides and the Norwegian government for moving the peace process forward and welcome further progress toward a negotiated settlement based on the principles of democracy and respect for human rights, while maintaining the country’s territorial integrity.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=7944)
The remarkable success made at the main negotiating tables, stressed the importance of preserving the prior achievements with great care. Therefore, to proceed further, there were certain obligations to fulfil on the ground level. Among many other things, the most important obligation was (as it was rightly pointed out by Norway in their opening statement – quoted above – at the Oslo Donor Conference) ‘to implement visible measures, which would convince the war weary masses that peace is worthwhile’ by delivering them the dividends of peace. For the speedy implementation of such measures, sub-committees were the most important and available practical mechanisms both parties had on the ground. When the SDN failed, it negatively affected the direct political negotiations in its attempt to explore answers for more complicated and long-term issues. Here, the argument of the Tiger’s was simple, but still convincing: “when you cannot resolve the simple day to day problems of the affected masses – such as allowing the displaced to return to their lands and house even after one year’s peace – why should they have faith on a process that promise to deliver them something seems to be even more complicated and difficult?”
In the above context, sub-committees became a silver line, whenever the dark stormy clouds of uncertainty started to gather over the peace process. The significance attached to sub committees was, that it ensured the provision for a permanent interactive space that enables both parties to maintain mutual interaction on a level much closer to the ground than the main political negotiating level. Furthermore, the affected people could easily relate the changes happening in their day-to-day realities to every positive or negative outcome of the sub-committees. Therefore, in a certain sense, sub-committees became windows for the masses to observe and understand the success of the peace process. It worked as shock absorbers that would immediately absorb accumulating unrest that might destabilize the top level negotiations. It was due to all these reasons that the smooth functioning of sub-committees became extremely important.
There was serious enthusiasm about the success of being able to implement a practical mechanism in which the state and the guerrillas agreed to share the responsibilities in an equal manner. Observing the widespread and visible optimism, an Indian analyst wrote: “In a surprise move, the LTTE dropped the demand for interim administration of the Northeast. In the Press conference that followed the talks, Balasingham (Chief negotiator of the Tigers) spoke with consummate finesse. While dropping the demand for the handing over of administration of Northeast to the LTTE, which would have been difficult for Wickremasinghe government without cooperation from President Chandrika, he went to the extent of saying that the LTTE would permit other political parties and groups to participate in the democratic process in the north and the east.” (http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cnotes2%5Cnote164.html)
Falling dominoes: Collapse of the Sub Committees
But the optimism did not last long.
The government forces were expected to vacate public buildings as well as places of worship within 160 days of the effective date of the CFA (clauses 2.2 – 2.3 and 2.4). But the forces refused to do so under the pretext of ‘national security.’ On the 11th of December, while having a meeting with a civil society group from Jaffna, the Area Commander of the Sri Lanka Army, reportedly said that ‘the High Security Zones will not be removed.’ (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=7966)
But a more formal and substantial response came from the SL military establishment two weeks after above meeting. On the 23rd of December 2002, SLMM handed over a document containing proposals by the Sri Lanka Army regarding the normalization of High Security Zones (HSZs) in Jaffna peninsula to the representatives of the LTTE. Interestingly, the document was compiled by then Jaffna Area Commander Major General Sarath Fonseka, who later became the Army Commander and led the operations during the recent bloodiest phase of the war. The report suggested that ‘the relaxation of the High Security Zones should be conditional on the disarming of the Tiger cadres.’ (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=8052) The Army declared that decommissioning of the LTTE is conditional to allow the civilians to resettle in their house located inside the Northern High Security Zones. In two days time, Tigers rejected outright the conditions laid out by the Army, and said : “Having carefully studied General Fonseka’s document, it is quite clear that the Sri Lanka military is simply not prepared to ease urgent existential problems of the people of Jaffna. In fact, these problems have been trivialised as secondary to the security forces’ own comfort and concerns. Furthermore, apart from the belligerent and hostile tone of its document, the SLA is reducing the considerable difficulties faced by the people of Jaffna to the question of whether political benefits that may or may not accrue to the LTTE should be permitted. Most importantly, the SLA is now making its adherence to the normalisation aspects of the standing cease-fire agreement and the subsequent agreements reached by the LTTE and the GOSL at the direct talks, conditional on the LTTE’s disarming of its cadres and decommissioning of its weapons. These conditions are unacceptable and unrealistic.”(http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=8052)
On 7th January 2003, while take parting at the fourth round of direct talks in Thailand, LTTE Chief Negotiator reportedly announced the end of SDN: “The sub-committee (on de-escalation and normalisation) is suspended… The Army’s ‘unreasonable and unacceptable demands’ had rendered the SDN defunct”. (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=8118)
But on the same day a report filed by the Indian news agency PTI, revealed quoting SL official sources, that a retired Indian Army officer, Lieutenant General Satish Nambiar was conducting the extensive study which he had been commissioned last month by Colombo to assess security implications in the Jaffna peninsula. Lt. Gen. Nambiar’s report was expected to focus on re-locating and re-organising the military presence in the Jaffna peninsula, it further said. By the end of the month, the much-awaited controversial report came out re-asserting the previous conditions put forward by the SL Army report.
The Tigers hit back by saying that the LTTE ‘will not accept recommendations from international military experts that link the “critical humanitarian issue” of resettling internally displaced persons and refugees in Jaffna to disarming of its cadres and de-commissioning of its weapons’
The chief negotiator of the Tigers further elaborated his organization’s position on the matter: “In our view any attempt to connect the return of refugees and IDP’s to their own homes in the Jaffna Peninsula to the demobilisation of LTTE’s fighting formations confined to barracks in Vanni jungles is illogical and ridiculous. Re-modification of the security system of the so-called ‘high security zones’ to facilitate the return of the refugees and displaced is a cardinal obligations of the state. Sri Lanka can seek advice from any international experts without jeopardising its strategic and security concerns. But the LTTE will fiercely oppose and reject any proposal that makes resettlement of refugees conditional upon de-commissioning of LTTE weapons.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=8240)
With Tiger’s decision to boycott the SDN, it became totally dysfunctional. Even though the failure of SDN was alarming, the government simply shrugged it off.
At this point, it is important to understand the disputes that remained hidden behind the controversial subject – High Security Zones – before moving any further to discuss the fate of the other sub-committees.
High Security Zones (HSZ) in North & East
One of the main objectives that were prioritized by the CFA was to demilitarize North and Eastern provinces of the Island. It was believed that such a demilitarization process would assist a rapid implementation of rehabilitation and reconstruction plans in the region. But the inability of the state to fulfil this important agreement had a drastic impact on the peace process as a whole. Militarization was seen as a way of maintaining a constant grip over the Tamil regions, even during the time of peace.
Declaring vastly populated areas as “high security zones” was one such important step towards achieving this aim. Having learnt about the relative success of such ‘security zones’ in Israel, the Sri Lankan government started using the same strategy more extensively against the Tamil militancy since the late 1980s. There are four categories of zones declared from time to time through regulations either under the Public Security Ordinance (PSO) or Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA): ‘prohibited zones,’ ‘surveillance zones,’ ‘security zones’ and ‘high security zones.’ While ‘surveillance zones’ and ‘prohibited zones’ are marked at sea and the adjoining coasts, the ‘security zones’ and ‘high security zones’ are demarcated on land. The ‘security’ and ‘high security’ zones are the most controversial. They were basically set-up to protect military camps, strategic installations, and the lifelines of security forces in Jaffna peninsula. In the peninsula, government has maintained 18 ‘high security zones’ (HSZs) covering about 190 sq km, since the beginning of 1990s. The ‘zones’ have led to the displacement and economic deprivation of nearly 1, 30,000 civilians (these numbers does not include the large number of civilians who were displaced during the recent military offensives.) The displaced persons have to live either with their relatives or at refugee camps. This apart, there are large tracts of agricultural lands that fall under these zones that have deprived many farmers of their livelihood.
Apart from the state sponsored colonization schemes, declaring vast areas as high security zones, displacing hundreds and thousands of people had been a common practice in the East too. On 30 May 2007, the Government of Sri Lanka gazetted Regulation No. 2 of 2007, which declared Muthur- East / Sampoor a High Security Zone (HSZ) in the Trincomalee district. By doing so, the government confiscated private land from the Tamils who were displaced from their homes by indiscriminate shelling and bombing in late 2006. This confiscation of lands is taking place while the owners are languishing in refugee camps in appalling conditions. The declared MZ in Muthur-East covers half of the present Muthur Divisional Secretariat, which is 179.4 square kilometres in territory. Thus the confiscated area covers 90 square kilometres, which is a very large area.
This area includes 19 schools, including the leading school for this area, the Chenaiyoor Central College. There are 18 Hindu temples and one Methodist church. The area has 88 water tanks that are used for irrigating farmlands and grazing land for livestock. The people own about 2000 hectares of such land. [1 hectare = 0.01 square kilometers].
Even after the end of recent military offensives, hundreds and thousands of Tamil people are still languishing in internment camps under extremely harsh conditions. But the areas newly captured by the government forces have been subjected to intense militarization process, by building up massive military complexes and increasing the number of soldiers deployed in the areas. Even during the war, there were more than 40,000 troops permanently occupying farmlands and private properties belonging to Tamil civilians in Jaffna peninsula. This trend has been speeded up since the end of the recent war, according numerous media reports.
SIHRN: Trapped in uncertainty
To understand the fate of the remaining Sub-committee on Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs (SIHRN), we need to extensively examine the most crucial phase of the Sri Lankan peace process. That was the run up period to the “Washington conference.”
The immediate task of the SIHRN was to work as the prime decision making body on humanitarian needs in the north-east. A North-East Reconstruction Fund (NERF) was formed as an instrument for channelling the funds into rehabilitation priorities in the conflict-affected zone under the supervision of SIHRN. GoSL, LTTE and the World Bank agreed to function as the custodians of the fund.
Explaining the significance of LTTE agreeing to participate in SIHRN and the other Sub Committees, LTTE’s legal advisor later wrote: “Prior to the commencement of talks, LTTE repeatedly stated that the immediate goal of the talks is the establishment of an interim administration, with the objective of addressing the urgent humanitarian existential problems of the people of the Northeast, the area affected by the prolonged war…. However, during the initial stages of the talks when the Sinhala political party that represented the government of Sri Lanka indicated the lack of consensus in the South, on the issue of the establishment of an interim administration and its fear of being removed from power by the then president, if it entered into talks on the proposal to establish and interim administration. In response the LTTE showed flexibility and dropped its call for an interim administration for the sole reason of ensuring that the negotiating process did not breakdown… As an alternative solution, Subcommittees, comprising equal membership from the LTTE and the GOSL were established in lieu of the interim administration. It should be noted even though the purview of the subcommittees was the Northeast, the traditional Tamil homeland, the LTTE magnanimously accommodated equal membership of the GOSL and thus thereby gave them a veto over the affairs of the Northeast. However, the GOSL, invoking various excuses, including constitutional obstacles, failed to complete the formation of all the subcommittees and also failed to implement the decisions taken by the subcommittees that were formed.” (http://www.tamilnation.org/conflictresolution/tamileelam/seminar_06_Zurich/05rudrakumaran.html)
SIHRN became the first ever joint body formed after 30 years that represented the country in unified manner at the international level. Two days before the Oslo Donor Conference, it made a collective appeal to the donor countries on behalf of the both parties asking financial assistance to rebuild the war torn North-East Region. During the earlier part of 2003, SIHRN fought to survive while resisting the negative pressures falling upon it due to the fate of SDN. Represented by highlevel delegations from both sides, it conducted regular meetings with the participation of high-powered foreign delegates, such as Japanese special peace envoy Yashushi Akashi, representatives from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank etc. It opened up regional offices and prioritized the projects that needed to be attended without any delay. Rehabilitation and resettlement plans were drafted and implementation strategies were discussed. But there were clear evidence to believe that SIHRN is unable to move beyond the planning levels, due to certain factors that kept blocking its way.
But that devastating blow that laid the basis for the gradual disruption of the functioning of the remaining sub-committees by de-stabilizing the peace process, in fact, came from outside. Government’s strategy to excessively internationalize the peace process in order regain their lost bargaining power with the backing of their foreign alleys, undermined the primacy of internal factors and subsequently eroded the mutual confidence two parties had on each other. The event that was known as “Washington episode”, which was forced upon by an external power, became the culminating point of this increasing trend of distrust that breached the good faith.
And that external power was United States. Therefore to understand the dynamics of the failure of the SL peace process, one should need to look at the big picture created by the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and its impact on the political configuration inside the country. The infamous “Washington episode” which eventually destroyed the existed constructive dialogue in Sri Lanka cannot be understood, if we do not place it within the wider geo-political context.
6. The Washington Episode
Changing power balance in the Indian Ocean: the big picture
The US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11 has enormously increased the strategic significance of the Indian Ocean, eventually converting the region into the ‘centre stage of the 21 century great geo political rivalry’ (Robert D. Kaplan – Foreign Affairs / April 2009). Since the signing of the CFA, increasing number of visiting US military and diplomatic envoys revealed that the US is maintaining a keen interest in monitoring the internal political developments in Sri Lanka – a trend that we have already discussed in detail. As a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean lying just six nautical miles away from four major sea routes that connect the Western Pacific region to the Western Indian Ocean through strategically important South China sea, Straits of Malacca and the Arabian Sea, it is no surprise why Sri Lanka’s internal politics is becoming a matter of interest to many outside powers. But in order to understand the farreaching consequences of these engagements, one needs to understand the implications of recent geo political transformations in the region.
Even before the Operation Iraqi Freedom triggered off in March 2003, the whole of South Asia, a region that was considered as less significant during the cold war period, started gaining much more importance due to the war in Afghanistan. Unravelling the motives behind new US policy drives towards South Asia, a special volume published by U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute in 2002 wrote: “United States has an enduring interest in promoting regional security because it can affect security and stability beyond the region. This was made painfully obvious to the United States on September 11. Regional security and stability in South Asia is also a precondition for security and stability in Central Asia. Central Asia is a region of great potential: on the downside, as a continuing source of terrorism; on the upside, as a source of abundant energy resources that can help to fuel economic development in many Asian countries. Which way Central Asia goes will depend to a large extent on the security situation in South Asia. Instability and insecurity on the subcontinent will surely spill northward.” (http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/PUB108.pdf)
The war in Afghanistan forced the US to re-arrange their geo-political priorities by increasing their focus on the Indian Ocean. They re-formulated their policies understanding the need to re-set their relationship while forming new strategic partnerships with the littoral states. Here one of the most important case in point was changing US-Indian relations. Since the end of the cold war, US relationship with India went through a period of dramatic change. A process of evaluating the past approaches towards each other started before mid ‘90s. The new approach during the post-cold war era was crystallized when the Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP) government’s External Affairs Minister described India’s relationship with US during the cold war period as “five wasted decades” on the eve of President Clinton’s visit to India in 2000. “Instead of “looking back’’, Mr. Singh said India and the U.S. ‘should look ahead’ to deepen their strategic dialogue and political cooperation… Mr. Singh said the question before India and the United States is “what can the two nations do together” despite the many differences that divide them.” (http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/2000/03/18/stories/01180001.htm) Indian minister’s remark received a clear favourable consideration and was fully accommodated into US policies as it was illustrated in 2002 US National Security Strategy document: “The United States has undertaken a transformation in its bilateral relationship with India based on a conviction that U.S. interests require a strong relationship with India… We have a common interest in the free flow of commerce, including through the vital sea-lanes of the Indian Ocean. Finally, we share an interest in fighting terrorism and in creating a strategically stable Asia. Differences remain… but while in the past these concerns may have dominated our thinking about India, today we start with a view of India as a growing world power with which we have common strategic interests.” (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/national/nss-020920.pdf)
Bush administration’s war on terrorism provided a chance for the US and India to forge an even closer strategic cooperation. In November 2001, when Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee visited US, he was told By President Bush that his administration was committed towards developing a different relationship with India, based upon both trust and mutual values. After the meeting, both countries signed a joint statement expressing their desire to enhance bilateral co-operation in the war against terrorism, and agreed to renew the activities of the Joint Working Group on Counter-terrorism, which was established in January 2000. This was in addition to Indo – US Defence Policy Group (DPG), which was formed in 1996, to review and reformulate bi-lateral approaches in the defence policy terrain. In the aftermath of 9/11 attacks, the DPG was revived and made fully functional and in its first meeting took place, soon after US removed the sanctions against India in September 2001.
The increased defence co-operation between the two countries should not be considered as a completely new phenomenon because even far back in 1991 – during the 1st Gulf War – India did provide refuelling facilities to US warplanes. But what we had witnessed in the recent years is a rapid process of reconfiguration of forces, which radically changed the existed geo-political equilibrium in the Indian Ocean in favour of United States. In the aftermath of New York attacks, India became one of the first countries that immediately offered support for the Afghan invasion. Later in 2006, during his visit to India, President Bush thanked Indian Navy for providing “vital support to Operation Enduring Freedom by relieving American ships securing the Strait of Malacca”. (http://georgewbushwhitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2006/03/20060303-5.html) During the invasion, several US warships used Indian port facilities for rest and recreation.
The increasing tendency towards re-shaping the strategic partnership and re-organizing the geopolitical landscape was perfectly summarized by a scholar in 2002: “The interactions between the two naval forces have taken place both in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, thus covering different parts of the Northern Indian Ocean… Indo-US naval cooperation has intensified after September 11, in the context of the global war on terrorism. As New Delhi has offered the use of support facilities for the war in Afghanistan, US warships engaged in operations in the North Arabian Sea have been docking in Indian ports…. US and Indian ships conducted a joint Search and Rescue exercise in the Arabian Sea in December 2001. This was the first joint military exercise since defence cooperation had been interrupted following the May 1998 nuclear tests. The resumption of the “Malabar series” of joint exercises after a six-year lapse is also indicative of the growing bilateral cooperation between the two navies. The fourth “exercise Malabar” was organised in late September 2002 with the objective of increasing interoperability between the two navies. It proved to be the largest-ever Indo-US Navy exercise: more than 750 US naval personnel participated in this week-long exercise, which also included ships, aircraft and submarines from the two navies. Furthermore, India and the US have organised a six-month joint escort mission in the Malacca Strait. From April to October 2002, Indian Navy ships have been dispatched to the Malacca Strait in order to safeguard US merchant vessels as well as high-value supply ships supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.”(http://www.ceri-sciencespo.com/archive/jan03/artism.pdf)
What is the relevance of understanding all these geo-political changes that occurred beyond the national frontiers of Sri Lanka to comprehend the fate of the Sri Lanka’s peace process?
The context of Sri Lanka’s protracted conflict had always been a sub-continental one, in which India played a larger and a positive role shaping and influencing the power balance. Therefore the conflict always reflected the prevailing strategic tensions between global and regional powers, as it was exemplified by the events that unfolded in the ‘80s. During the cold war period, one of the main advantages the Tamil national struggle always had on their side was India’s capability and willingness to become a counterweight to Colombo’s military power enhanced by UK-US-Israeli axis. The Tamil national struggle was considered as a lever that could be used to exert pressure to prevent Colombo from fully aligning itself with the US camp. Therefore, India’s regional geo political ambitions in the ‘80s, though strictly remained limited to securing its national interest within its inner power orbit, worked as a buffer between the Colombo’s oppressive military prowess and long standing Tamil national aspirations. India’s need to ensure a favourable strategic stability that would serve its regional interests perfectly overlapped with the strategic objectives of the Soviets who wanted to secure and maintain their power projection in the Indian Ocean. This powerful geo – strategic alliance helped India to overcome its vulnerabilities and to maintain its sovereign power, which also worked as a firewall that indirectly protected the democratic rights of the Tamil people, which Colombo found difficult to penetrate.
But the post-cold war realities seriously altered the existed strategic environment paving the way for a uni-polar world order where US emerged as the predominant global power. The new power configuration in the Indian Ocean indicated of a growing convergence of interests between India and the US, altering the former power balance on the Asian geo-strategic canvas. Consequently, post 9/11 strategic priorities pushed both countries towards each other displacing and dissolving old alliances. The reorientation of Indian foreign policy during the post cold war period indicated Delhi’s realization that its ambition of achieving a predominant position beyond the traditional borders of South Asia cannot be materialized without the US support.
In a global context in which the US holds a preponderance of power while China is gradually obtaining an assertive position in geo-political theatres, India seemed more concerned about enhancing its capabilities to outmanoeuvre China and contain its expansionist intentions. This has been evidently proved by an American strategic analyst, where he quotes Indian Prime Minister A.B.Vajpayee’s own words: “…as specified in Vajpayee’s November 2003 program (20-year programme to attain great-power status), India will both seek to develop its long range capabilities of power projection to the Gulf and seek more defence cooperation with local states…. To realize those goals, he (Prime Minister Vajpayee) argued that strategic partnership with Washington is essential so that India always has the option of U.S. support for its objectives. Otherwise, ‘India’s ability to project power and influence abroad anywhere would be greatly compromised.” (Natural Allies? – Regional Security in Asia and prospects for Indo-American Strategic Cooperation / http://www.aei.org/docLib/20060509_BlankMonograph.pdf)
The strategic logic behind India’s willingness to realign itself and to formalize its new coalition with the United States can explained in terms of its ambition to obtain the ability to counter balance Chinese influence in the region as well as to acquire higher capabilities to project its power beyond the traditional strategic boundaries. But that very policy compromised India’s previous stance of defending its inner strategic perimeter – which includes Sri Lanka as well – from any external intrusion. Undoubtedly, this policy shift largely increased the vulnerabilities of the Tamil people’s demand for self determination, by removing previously existed barriers that blocked any alien super powers gaining unhindered access to dominate the situation. This was very much evident from the events occurred during the peace process in Sri Lanka.
But still we should not let these facts to lead us to a wrong conclusion, that India had no interest at all in getting involved in Sri Lanka during the recent peace process. This false conclusion might appear to be even more convincing when considering the fact that India seemed to be maintaining a deliberate policy of staying away from Sri Lanka’s negotiating process. But the truth is, to a larger extent India shared the views of the US and supported the coercive diplomatic approach adopted by the US towards the Tigers. The common opinion both countries shared towards the peace process and the war in Sri Lanka has been well described by a retired Indian Military intelligence officer in the aftermath of war: “U.S. has been an active player in Sri Lanka both in promoting the peace process 2002 and later in supporting Sri Lanka’s war effort. However, on issues relating to Sri Lanka, the U.S. had been maintaining close contact with India, its ‘strategic ally’ in the region. This was also maintained during the war despite differences on some key issues between the two countries. It is evident that the U.S. values India has unique geographic and strategic advantage in Sri Lanka; this relationship is likely to be strengthened to balance the increasing Chinese profile in the region.”(http://www.colhariharan.org/2009/08/revisiting-indias-sri-lanka-policy.html)
These enormous changes occurred in the regional geo political landscape had a vast impact on what happened in Sri Lanka during the peace process and its aftermath. In order to understand the “Washington episode” which totally destabilized the Sri Lanka peace process, we need to grasp the essence of these developments connected to the big picture.
The final rounds
On the 6th January, the fourth round of talks between the GoSL and the LTTE began in Thailand. Amidst all the negative setbacks, the direct negotiations seemed to be achieving remarkable success. While addressing media representatives, both leaders of the negotiating teams assured that everything was moving smoothly. The chief negotiator of the LTTE reportedly said, “the peace talks are going very well. There is no crisis. Both parties are still engaged in dialogue. There is no suspicion or mistrust between the two sides.” The Minister who led the GoSL team of negotiators confirmed the positive remarks made by the LTTE’s representative, when he ‘dismissed the claims that “irreconcilable differences” would cause the talks to breakdown. “Nothing of the sort happened” he said. (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=8117)
The most impressive achievement was the ability showed by the parties to resolve the crucial matters related to the High Security Zones, which threatened to disrupt the direct negotiations. But
the parties made progress regarding the controversial issue strengthening hopes towards peace: “The Sri Lanka Army’s (SLA) demand that the LTTE disarms its cadres and decommissions its heavy weapons as a precondition for hundreds of thousands of Tamils to be permitted to resettle in their homes provoked acrimony and a strong rejection from the LTTE ahead of the talks. But the problem was discussed at length by the LTTE and the Sri Lanka government Tuesday and a resolution agreed, both Chief Negotiators said.
“The government accepted that the Army cannot link the disarming of the LTTE to resettlement of refugees and displaced people” Mr. Balasingham said…. The United National Front (UNF) government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe “saw the issue differently” Mr. Balasingham said, adding “We have had cordial and constructive discussions with the government on this.” The government was prepared to expedite the process of resettlement, he said. As a first step, the return of refugees and displaced people to homes occupied by the SLA in areas outside the HSZs would take place first, it was agreed. (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=8117)
Announcing that the fourth round of talks achieved significant progress, the mediating Norwegian government issued a statement on the 11th of January on behalf of the both parties: “The main focus of the parties was on the need to ensure implementation of urgent humanitarian priorities. It was strongly emphasized that the significant political breakthrough made at the third session of talks in Oslo in December 2002, at which the basic principles for a political settlement were outlined, will be sustained through continued discussions on political matters. At the same time, political progress must be underpinned by tangible improvements in the daily lives of people… The parties recognized that the situation with regard to the High Security Zones involves major humanitarian and security concerns for both parties. Recent controversies surrounding this matter were discussed in depth… To this effect, the parties agreed on an “Action Plan for an Accelerated Resettlement Programme for the Jaffna District.” As the clear majority of resettlement cases relate to areas outside the High Security Zones, the first phase of the Action Plan will focus on such areas.” (http://www.island.lk/2003/01/11/news07.html)
The importance of this breakthrough was that it was achieved while the Sinhala nationalists tirelessly kept on working to mobilize the southern masses against the talks. Praising the Army for rejecting LTTE’s demand to allow the displaced people to return to their lands, they urged the army to “stick to their guns” without backing down. “We would rally together all Sinhalese nationalist parties to fight against the traitors” said the leader of the extreme Sinhala nationalist Sihala Urumaya (SU) party while addressing a press conference in Colombo, soon after the conclusion of the fourth round. (http://www.island.lk/2003/01/11/news06.html)
But even for the moderate thinking Sinhalese, the visible success of the talks was difficult to deny. Reflecting these sentiments, the parliament leader of the opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa (the present president in Sri Lanka) who was from the same party as the President Chandrika Banadarakayaka, said while on an official trip to Jaffna :“Peace we all desire is not far away from us. Permanent peace will dawn in the country shortly if we adopt a give and take attitude. All of us can be confident that peace will come to the country… Our wholehearted support will be given to present peace talks.”(http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=8193)
Encouraging the positive feelings, on 22nd January, SLMM issued their monthly summary statement praising both parties: “A clear downward trend in the number of ruled ceasefire violations can be seen in the last months of 2002. Violations of LTTE went down from more than 50 cases in September, to under 40 in November and being only 19 in December. Violations of the Government side went from 5 in September to none in November and only 1 in December… Decreasing amount of complaints and violations of the Ceasefire Agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has been the overall development in the Ceasefire during the last months. This is a positive and ongoing development.”(http://www.slmm.info/STATEMENTS/2003/22%2F01%2F03+-+Complaints+and+Violations+of+the+Ceasefire+Agreement+in+December+2002.9UFRnI4X.ips)
The Prime Minister, sensing the inevitably positive outcome of the negotiations, said in the Parliament on 31st January ‘peace talks between the government and the Liberation Tigers has entered a crucial stage. My government would not allow the peace talks to be derailed at any cost. I want the opposition to be involved. The ethnic conflict in the country was not a result of the LTTE. But the LTTE is a result of the ethnic divisions in the country. These problems have to be answered.’
But between the fifth round, (7 and 8 Feb 2003) which was held in Berlin and the sixth, there was a major naval confrontation that threatened the peace process to breaking point. On 10th March, a LTTE ship which they claimed to be a merchant vessel was attacked and sunk by the Sri Lankan Navy killing all the 11 members who were on board. The LTTE claimed that the ship was sailing in international waters, about 220 nautical miles off Trincomalee while the Navy said they attacked a ship which was carrying “war like material” when it entered Sri Lankan waters, 185 nautical miles away from Mullaithivu coast. The conflicting claims whipped up tensions to a level sending clear signals that it might end the talks, at least for the time being, if not permanently. It was just a week before the scheduled 6th round and there were little hope that the tensions would ease within a week.
On the 13th March, the Prime Minister stated that ‘path towards the goal was not that easy. There are obstacles and controversies on the way. Some shortcomings are found in the implementation of the MoU. They should be overcome by talks and negotiations.’ (http://www.island.lk/2003/03/14/news02.html) On 15th March 2003, LTTE surprised most people by expressing its willingness to take part in the sixth round in Japan, despite the tensions. The statement made by its chief negotiator said: “Our leadership has taken a decision to attend Japan peace talks. The boycotting of the Japan peace talks could result in bringing undesirable consequences. Further, a boycott will likely provide Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) a propaganda tool to cast doubts on our commitment to peace talks. Hence our leadership decided to participate in the Japan peace talks. Our leadership felt that expressing direct condemnation of the action of the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) for sinking our merchant vessel in most severe terms to the GOSL, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) and to the international community interested in peace would be more appropriate at this juncture.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=8546)
The teams met in Japan on 18th March. Wiping out the confusions and doubts, the sixth round focused its attention on issues related to a federal system. The Norwegian mediators issued a statement summarizing the conclusions where it detailed the outcome of the discussions: “In their political discussions, the parties reiterated their commitment to develop a federal system based on internal selfdetermination within a united Sri Lanka. As the point of departure for planning how to give effect to the general principles of federalism in a final settlement of the ethnic conflict, the parties discussed the essential elements of fiscal federalism. The parties discussed preliminary issues and a framework for political matters and agreed to expand this into a complete plan at the seventh session of talks. The plan will outline the next steps to be taken by the parties and the topics that must be addressed in order to negotiate a federal solution for Sri Lanka. The parties recognise that a considerable amount of time will be required to address this wide range of topics, which will include geographical regions and the division of powers between the centre and regions. In this context, the parties decided to invite the Forum of Federations, a Canadian-based international organization, to participate as consultants at the seventh session of talks. The LTTE reported on the formation of a Political Affairs Committee consisting of twenty-one leading members of the organization. This committee will undertake an intensive study of federalism over the course of the next three months to build the LTTE’s capacity for political transformation. The committee will study federal systems in other parts of the world, arrange seminars for LTTE cadres, consult Tamil parliamentarians and academics and seek advice from lawyers and constitutional experts, to prepare the ground for the process of establishing internal self-determination within a united, federal Sri Lanka.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=8581)
When consider the tensions that surrounded the sixth round, the achievement was commendable indeed. It sent a clear and a strong message that the Sri Lankan conflict is heading towards a historical ending point and nothing could stop it from reaching a permanent settlement. The sixth round was in fact a litmus test since it managed to find a way forward in spite of heated emotions that ruled the day. The teams agreed upon the dates as well as the venues to hold the 7th, 8th and 9th rounds of negotiations.
The talks braved storms and fire. The air of optimism gave Sri Lanka, a hope.
Washington Conference: the assassination plot
On the 18th of March 2003, the LTTE and the GoSL negotiating teams commenced the sixth round of peace talks in Hakone, Japan about 89 KM west of Tokyo. On the same day, ‘The Hindu’ correspondent reported from Washington: “As the clock started ticking on the near-certain showdown with Iraq, the United States military is “promising’’ such a massive use of force that the regime of the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, will figure out the inevitable end at the outset itself. The fire-power ranged around Iraq is simply awesome over and beyond the 300,000 American and British forces in the theatre of war. There are nearly 1,000 strike aircraft, including the Stealth F-117B Nighthawks that have been added to the arsenal in the last few days… All this is not to forget the heavy duty B-52s and the B-1’s which will be unleashing their munitions in the first hours of the military conflict. The idea, in the words of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, is to create “such a shock on the system… The Pentagon has recently tested the 21,000-pound MOAB, nick named the Mother of All Bombs. A “grand-mother” is in the works as well — testing is on for a 30,000-pounder; and with this, the clear impression that irrespective of the test phase, this — code named the Big BLU — could see “action” in Iraq. Daisy Cutters of the Vietnam War era, which levelled vegetation, seem to be a thing of the past, but one that could be back in action.”(http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/2003/03/19/stories/2003031902311400.htm)
After 30 years of bloodshed, by 18th of March 2003, Sri Lanka was on the verge of achieving a permanent peace. But the world stood on the eve of war.
On the day the GoSL and the LTTE peace delegates mutually shook each other’s hand, the cosponsors of the Sri Lankan peace process – US and Europe – stood literally at the parting of the ways. “U.S. President, George W. Bush’s decision to launch a war against Iraq if Saddam Hussein does not step down is a serious decision that jeopardises future methods of peaceful disarmament” said French President Jacques Chirac. “Iraq does not represent today an immediate threat that would justify an immediate war” he added. In a nationally televised statement, the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, said “My question remains: Does the level of threat posed by the Iraqi dictator (President Saddam Hussein) justify war, which will result in the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children? My answer remains: No.” (http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/2003/03/19/stories/2003031902301400.htm)
On the 20th of March, U.S. President George W. Bush unleashed a massive war on Iraq with thundering dawn air attacks while Tomahawk cruise missiles rained down on Baghdad. B52 and B-2 stealth bombers that took off from uninhabited island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, about 960 nautical miles South of Sri Lanka, dropped satellite guided bombs on Iraq. “These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign” Bush said in his televised address to the nation from the Oval Office. (http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-iraq03202003-archiveb,0,2635432.story)
But in Hakong, Japan, on 20th march, “ground breaking talks on the core political issues commenced when the Government and LTTE took up the fiscal aspect of power sharing during the morning sessions on the 3rd day of the 6th round of peace talks “ the state owned ‘Daily News’ reported. “We are paying our attention on the matter of the availability of resources to the units, and how well these resources can be raised within various models, government chief negotiator Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris told the media at the conclusion of yesterday’s talks. On a preliminary level the parties also touched on the modalities of power sharing at the centre” the report further added. (http://www.dailynews.lk/2003/03/21/new12.html)
One of the most important decisions that parties managed to take during the talks, was to hold democratic elections in the war torn north. It was reported that LTTE has given the green light showing its willingness to hold elections in the North of Sri Lanka. Talking to media at the end of the discussions, LTTE’s chief negotiator Dr. Balasingham said “we are keen to impress the international community that we are not only committed to peace but also democratic practices.” Asked if the LTTE would take part at the election Dr. Balasingham said, “we are not a political party but a militant organization, but we will support parties who endorse our views. We will also encourage those who oppose us”.(http://www.dailynews.lk/2003/03/22/new02.html)
But there was an interesting remark made by LTTE’s negotiator, when he was asked about the LTTE’s position regarding the Iraq war which started just one day before the end of the sixth round of peace talks. He reportedly said: “The warring parties could take an example from the LTTE on how to resolve a conflict by negotiations. We on the other hand are in a stage of peace building after 25 years of war. We know the horrors and realities of violence and war. Now we have renounced violence and pursuing the course of peace. This example can be taken by the countries that are at war”. (http://www.dailynews.lk/2003/03/22/new02.html) The well known Indian daily “The Hindu” ran a report titled “Learn from us” – LTTE tells U.S., Iraq” in which they wrote: “The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) today said the United States and Iraq should learn from its example of making peace with the Sri Lankan Government and urged the United Nations to prevail upon the two warring parties to restore normality. “It is regrettable that the U.S. attacked Iraq without proper endorsement of the U.N.” he LTTE’s chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham, said.” (http://www.thehindu.com/2003/03/22/stories/2003032202941200.htm)
But the US position seemed contradictory. While testifying at a hearing of the House of Representatives International relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific held on March 20 – exactly on the very day that US commenced its massive attacks on Iraq – U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Christina Rocca praised the commitment of both parties but said that the parties “have made significant progress toward a political solution that protects the dignity and security of all Sri Lankans and preserves that country’s unity. But the LTTE would need to renounce violence in word and deed.” (http://www.dailynews.lk/2003/03/24/new01.html)
In less than a week US Embassy in Colombo issued a statement commending the achievements in Japan talks. It stated that the US is encouraged by the substantive and comprehensive nature of the talks, which focused on such issues as federalism and human rights while welcoming the discussions on ways to improve ceasefire modalities. “We hope that these discussions will lead to a cessation of efforts by the LTTE to smuggle arms into Sri Lanka and prevent confrontation” it added. (http://www.island.lk/2003/03/26/news07.html)
The war in Iraq was already causing enormous suffering and misery. “After a week of U.S.- U.K. attacks, Iraq’s health minister reported on March 27th that 350 Iraqi civilians had died and 3,600 had been injured and the Pentagon reported that 600 Tomahawk cruise missiles, more than 4,300 “precision-guided” bombs had been dropped in the first 6 days of the war”. (http://cursor.org/stories/mythofprecision.html) On 21st March, as quoted by AFP, the German Chancellor called the US decision to launch war against Iraq is a “defeat for politics”. But in Sri Lanka, politics seemed to be winning. But there were clear signs that the geo-politics are going to override the crucial breakthroughs which were achieved internally after painstaking efforts of negotiations.
Meanwhile, on 26th March, in a another prepared statement to the US senate committee on Foreign relations outlining US assistance to South Asia, Assistant Secretary of State Rocca said: “Even as we advance our efforts in the Middle East, South Asia remains at the front-line of the war on terror, and regional stability remains critical. We must remain actively and effectively engaged in this region where our most vital interest are at stake. Several U.S. agencies, including Treasury, Commerce, and Department of Defence, sent assessment teams to Sri Lanka last year to examine how we could most effectively use our bilateral assistance and engagement in support of the peace process. As a result, we are providing demining support, and we plan to establish new programmes to strengthen Sri Lanka’s peacekeeping capability and reform its military institutions…. U.S. support has contributed to substantial progress over the past year and a half.”(http://www.island.lk/2003/03/28/news04.html)
It seemed that the Sinhala nationalist lobby clearly understood the message. They saw a “window of opportunity” can be gained by siding with the US interest in the region. This was well reflected in an article published in “The Island” – the most outspoken promoter of anti-peace mobilisations. “New relationships based on shared threat perceptions appear to be emerging. A new relationship is being forged on our own sub-continent between the US the hyper-power and the emerging regional super-power India, which appears to be cozying up to the US perhaps reluctantly abandoning its old friend Iraq. Japan too is coming out arm in arm with the US from her self imposed isolation to play her natural role in Asia and the world. The Anti- Terror Special Measures Law has helped Japan circumnavigate the restrictions imposed upon her by the Constitution. She can now play a role in the defence of the Asia-Pacific region. Next there is China whose economic presence is being increasingly felt in the region and beyond; it would not be too long before we see her blue water navy in the Indian Ocean. China which has her own problems with terrorists would also forge a new relationship with the US with whom she too would share a threat perception. There is no gainsaying the fact that the US would have a major presence in the region to safeguard her interests. Should we therefore not be realistic put aside our prejudices and think only in terms of our own interests… at the end of the day it would be better to ensure that our powerful friend’s interests and ours converge and that they have a special interest in safeguarding the unity and territorial integrity of this country.
This friendship is vital especially at this point of time as the LTTE is not beyond launching a surprise attack taking advantage of the chaotic international situation that would result from the invasion of Iraq to launch its final assault to establish Eelam.” (http://www.island.lk/2003/03/23/politi01.html)
In the midst of new wars and widespread chaos that seemed to be threatening the strategic stability of South Asia, the upcoming big event which was next on the agenda was the scheduled meeting of the donors in Tokyo. Following the successful initial Oslo talks in November 2002, which focused on challenges on the economic level, it was agreed to hold a second round in Tokyo, in June. Both parties planned to make joint appeals to the international community seeking further support to sustain peace. Speaking to media from Japan at the end of sixth round, the GoSL chief negotiator said “the US was working behind the scenes to make the June 19th donor conference a success. “I will be flying to Washington soon after this session to meet Assistant Secretary of States for the South Asian region Christina Rocca” (http://www.dailynews.lk/2003/03/21/new12.html)
On 25th of March 2003, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage praised the Sri Lankan peace process and said that he looked forward to a very positive outcome of the donors’ conference scheduled to be held in Tokyo in June. On 29th, the European Union formally agreed to become the fourth co-chair at the upcoming Tokyo donor conference. The decision brought in fifteen more nations within the EU determined to support aid for Sri Lanka at a crucial time in the peace process. But the disturbing news followed the good one. On 29th of March, the state owned “Daily News” reported that “in the lead up to the Conference on June 9 and 10 there will be two advance consultative meetings. The first will be on April 14, in Washington Chaired by Richard Armitage… second meeting will be held in Colombo on May 6, where many of the final preparations for the Tokyo meeting will be confirmed.” (http://www.dailynews.lk/2003/03/29/new04.html)
With the announcement of the consultative meeting in Washington, the immediate doubts were raised whether the US would invite the LTTE or not. Since the LTTE was still on the US list of Foreign Terrorists Organizations, all the sceptical views had reasonable grounds. On 30th March, “The Island” newspaper wrote in its lead story: “Speculation is rife about the US inviting the LTTE to take part in a crucial meeting in Washington DC next month despite it being among the groups including Al-Queda proscribed by the Bush administration as a part of its strategy against international terrorism… Diplomatic sources said that India will not sit with Tigers. “India’s position remains the same,” the sources said, reminding that New Delhi boycotted an earlier international parley in Oslo… Tamil political sources pointed out that there was no point in having the Washington meeting without the LTTE’s participation. They were of the view that the group’s absence would make the whole exercise purposeless. Critics were of the view a US invitation would give a tremendous propaganda victory for the group.” (http://www.island.lk/2003/03/30/news01.html)
LTTE remained tight lipped without making any statements on the rising speculations. On 28th, a delegation of Political Affairs Committee of the LTTE left Colombo to visit Nordic countries to study aspects of federalism, constitutional frameworks and administrative structures employed in those countries. “The 16 member LTTE committee that left the country consists of 5 females and would be joined by a further 5 members from United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada and Norway on their arrival first in Norway. Subsequently the LTTE delegations will visit Finland, Denmark, Switzerland before returning home.”(http://www.island.lk/2003/04/01/news18.html)
The Government too maintained the same policy without commenting on the controversial ‘Washington’ issue, and remained focused on other matters. On the 1st of April, both the GoSL and LTTE announced that they are jointly working to formulate a declaration on Human Rights and Humanitarian principles as agreed at the sixth round of peace talks in Japan. “The declaration would reflect the fundamentals of international human rights law and humanitarian standards which both parties are obliged to ensure, pending full entrenchment of human rights standards in the eventual Constitutional arrangements and in federal and local law” the Colombo ‘Daily News” reported. “Workshops and training programs will be held to train government officials, police and prison officials and LTTE cadres on human rights protection. The United
Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in relation to the child rights, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in relation to the rights of internally displaced people and International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) will help in human rights education. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights will be invited to coordinate this programme” it further added. (http://www.dailynews.lk/2003/04/01/securitylead.html)
But ironically, on the same day the US Department of State came out with a report focused on the state of human rights in Sri Lanka, castigating the Tigers and attacking them for maintaining a parallel legal system in the areas under their administration, though it has been a fact that the Sri Lankan government knew quite well for a long time. The report said ‘LTTE has implemented its court system through threat of force and expanded the operations of its court system into areas previously under the government’s judicial system in the North and the East. It states that with the expansion of its court system the LTTE has demanded all Tamil civilians to stop using the government’s judicial system. The report also states that the LTTE judges have no legal training and its courts operate without codified or defined legal authority.”(http://www.island.lk/2003/04/02/)
A day after the report was released, the US Ambassador to Colombo, Ashley Wills stressed: “We have never had in mind inviting the LTTE or any of its associated organisations to the
Washington meeting on April 14. Under US law, it is not possible for us to play host to an organisation on our list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTOs). The U.S. listing of the LTTE as a FTO will remain in effect until the group renounces terrorism in word and deed.” (http://www.island.lk/2003/04/03/news01.html) The U.S. stance paved the way for India’s participation at the meeting. But it struck the deadliest blow to the peace process.
Within two days the Tigers issued a statement strongly condemning the decision of the US and the surprising silence of the Government of Sri Lanka. The statement said: “The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is disappointed by its exclusion from the international conference to support reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in the north and east of Sri Lanka to be hosted by the United States in Washington on April 14. From the outset of the Norwegian-brokered negotiations, the two parties to the conflict, the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), agreed to equal and joint partnership in efforts to solicit international financial assistance for reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in the north and east of Sri Lanka. We point out that Sub-Committee on Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs was formed in the context of this equal and joint partnership. It was also in this context that the first international donor conference held in Oslo on November 25, 2002 was successfully staged…. Regrettably, the United States has undermined this joint effort by isolating the LTTE and solely promoting the GoSL at the preliminary meeting on April 14. The exclusion of the LTTE from reconstruction efforts in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka is against the spirit of the peace process. It also undermines confidence in both the reconstruction initiative and the peace process. The LTTE is therefore dismayed and disappointed by the US action. We call upon the United States and international donors to actively support the Norwegian peace process by endorsing the joint participation of the LTTE and GoSL in reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in the north and east of Sri Lanka.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=8673)
But the opposition expressed by the LTTE fell on deaf ears. The GoSL remained mum about the controversial US position to exclude the Tigers from an important conference for the first time since the negotiations commenced. The EU and the other members too, maintained a dubious silence about the sudden decision to exclude the Tigers, knowing full well that such a unequal approach in the middle of a successful peace process would obstruct the remarkable and landmark achievements earned through previous six rounds of talks. The US did not respond, implying that they would not change their position of not inviting Tigers or consider a change of venue.
In the early hours on the 7th of April US forces stormed into central Baghdad. An officer from the US Third Infantry Division told Fox News that troops had carried an American flag into the palace. “Saddam Hussein says he owns Baghdad. We own Baghdad. We own his palaces, we own down-town” the officer said.
On the 12th of April the LTTE virtually walked out of peace talks announcing that they would review its decision to participate at the Tokyo Donor’s Conference in June in protest against the exclusion of their accredited representatives from the crucial international aid conference in Washington in preparation for the main donor conference in Japan.
“In gross violation of the pledges taken at the peace negotiations that the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE should work together and approach the international community in partnership, Sri Lanka has opted to marginalise our organisation at the Washington Conference. This deliberate exclusion of the LTTE from discussions on critical matters affecting the economic and social welfare of the Tamil nation is a grave breach of good faith. We are deeply disappointed that the Sri Lanka Government and Norway, as our facilitator, have failed to ensure the LTTE’s participation in this crucial preparatory aid conference by not selecting an appropriate venue” the statement said. “Whilst all of Sri Lanka has suffered from this protracted and bloody conflict, we point out that the north and east are the regions worst affected by the war and decades of underdevelopment, and hence the most urgently in need of international assistance. Apart from the continuing military occupation of Tamil property and buildings there is an unacceptable delay in starting resettlement and reconstruction works in the north and east. In these circumstances, it is only fair and just that the authentic representatives of the Tamil people should have been invited to this major international conference to articulate the interests and aspirations of our people” it further added. (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=8758)
The “Washington plot” was successfully implemented. The conference went ahead as planned without the most important party to the conflict.
In his opening remarks at the conference, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage reportedly said: “I know the Tigers are unhappy about their exclusion today, but let me explain their absence. The United States placed the LTTE on our list of foreign terrorist organisations back in 1997. That designation carries with it legal restrictions including a prohibition on issuing visas to the members of the organisation for entry into the United States. Therefore our position is crystal clear. The LTTE must unequivocally renounce terrorism in word and deed if we are to consider withdrawing the designation. I think it is fair to say that with the way the current negotiations are going, the United States can see a future for the LTTE as a legitimate political organisation, but it is still up to the LTTE to change the situation. It is upto them to demonstrate that they are capable and worthy of such legitimacy” (http://www.island.lk/2003/04/16/news01.html)
On the 21st of April LTTE Political Advisor and the chief negotiator, Dr. Anton Balasingham wrote to Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasingha informing the organization’s decision to ‘suspend its participation in the negotiations for the time being.’ The letter stated: “You are well aware that the Ceasefire Agreement that has been in force for more than one year and the six rounds of peace negotiations between the principal parties has been successful, irrespective of the occurrence of some violent incidents that endangered the peace process. The stability of the ceasefire and the progress of the peace talks, you will certainly appreciate, are the positive outcome of the sincere and firm determination of the parties to seek a permanent resolution to the ethnic conflict through peaceful means. The cordial inter-relationship, frank and open discussions and the able and wise guidance of the facilitators fostered trust and confidence between the negotiators and helped to advance the talks on substantial levels. The negotiating teams were able to form important sub-committees on the basis of equal and joint partnership.
“The LTTE has acted sincerely and in good faith extending its full co-operation to the government of Sri Lanka to seek international assistance to restore normalcy and to rehabilitate the war affected people of the northeast. The LTTE to date has joined hands with the government and participated in the preparation of joint appeals and programmes. In spite of our goodwill and trust, your government has opted to marginalize our organisation in approaching the international community for economic assistance. We refer to the exclusion of the LTTE from the crucial international donor conference held in Washington on 14 April 2003 in preparation for the major donor conference to be held in Japan in June. We view the exclusion of the LTTE, the principle partner to peace and the authentic representatives of the Tamil people from discussions on critical matters affecting the economic and social welfare of the Tamil nation, as a grave breach of good faith. Your government, as well as our facilitator Norway, are fully aware of the fact that the United States has legal constraints to invite representatives of a proscribed organisation to their country. In these circumstances an appropriate venue could have been selected to facilitate the LTTE to participate in this important preparatory aid conference. But the failure on the part of your government to do so gives cause for suspicion that this omission was deliberate. The exclusion of the LTTE from this conference has severely eroded the confidence of our people in the peace process.
“The exclusion of the LTTE from critical aid conference in Washington, the non-implementation of the terms and conditions enunciated in the truce document, the continuous suffering and hardship experienced by hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Tamils, the aggressive Sinhala military occupation of Tamil cities and civilian settlements, the distortion and marginalisation of the extreme conditions of poverty and deprivation of the Tamils of the northeast in the macro-economic policies and strategies of the government have seriously undermined the confidence of the Tamil people and the LTTE leadership in the negotiating process. Under these circumstances the LTTE leadership has decided to suspend its participation in the negotiations for the time being. We will not be attending the donor conference in Japan in June. While we regret that we were compelled to make this painful decision, we wish to reiterate our commitment to seek a negotiated political solution to the ethnic question.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=8824)
The talks reached an abrupt end. The momentum slipped away. The radiance of hope started to fade. But the worst turbulent times still lay ahead.
7. From below for peace and from above for war
Sustaining the peace: initiatives from below
After more than one year’s peace, Sri Lanka’s future seemed to be shrouded in uncertainty and confusion. With the disastrous consequences of Washington episode, the so called “safety net” of the UNF, suddenly turned into a deadly time bomb that endangered the whole peace process. The top level negotiations were terminated indefinitely. The only practical mechanism that kept the two parties connected on the ground was the remaining Sub-committee on Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs (SIHRN). But as the North East Reconstruction Fund (NERF), the instrument that was established for channelling the funds into rehabilitation priorities in the conflict-affected areas was not provided with any financial assistance, SIHRN remained simply a nominal body with almost no ability to implement any of the rehabilitation plans. Virtually, the CFA stood as the only remaining structural link bridging the parties to prevent them from sliding into war.
But while the GoSL and the Norwegian mediators tried to amend and minimize the damage caused by the Washington decision, the US policy of issuing routine threats continued unhindered. On the 30th of April, the US State Department’s annual report on the “Patterns of Global Terrorism” was released by the office of the Coordinator for Counter Terrorism. Commenting on the South Asian situation, the report quoted from the Congressional testimony of the Assistant Secretary of State, Christina Rocca, who said: “(Our) relationships with South Asian states have been central to our successful prosecution of the war on terrorism. All have been fully supportive, and their support in this war has been, and will continue to be, absolutely crucial.” Further providing a brief update on the specific conditions in Sri Lanka, the report went on a verbal rampage against the Tigers as usual: “The LTTE has publicly accepted the concept of internal autonomy within a federal Sri Lankan state, conceding its long-standing demand for a separate Tamil Eelam state. Its recent public statements give reason to hope that it intends to transform itself from a terrorist organization into a legitimate political entity. The LTTE, however, has not renounced terrorism… It is too early to tell whether the Sri Lankan peace process will ultimately bear fruit or whether the LTTE will actually reform itself. Although guarded optimism surrounds the peace process, the United States will continue to designate the LTTE as a Foreign Terrorist Organization until it unequivocally renounces terrorism in both word and deed.” (http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2002/html/19982.htm)
Aside from expressing a clear intention to override the authority of the eminent professionals attached to the SLMM, who were legally authorized to monitor the ceasefire, the US statements and reports always reinforced the fears spread by the Sinhala nationalist elements by reproducing a strong sense of insecurity and instability. Disregarding the fact that the LTTE was very much involved in a negotiating process with the Sri Lankan government for nearly one and half years, US insistence on “renouncing violence and terrorism in both word and deed” ironically contradicted their own conduct in Iraq where more than 7,400 civilians got killed barely within 6 weeks since the US invasion. (http://www.iraqbodycount.org/analysis/reference/press-releases/12/)
Given all these setbacks and in the absence of a strong mechanism that would safeguard the smooth functioning of the truce, there is an important question still remains to be answered: How was the Sri Lankan peace initiative sustained and preserved in this crucial period? The answer lies beneath a less known truth about the recent history of conflict ridden Sri Lanka. That was the remarkable courage showed by a sizeable portion of the population – both Tamil and Sinhala – who valiantly fought against all odds to preserve the hope for coexistence and to uphold the true sense of mutual human dignity in a time of profound despair and mistrust. A hitherto unknown story that unravels the essence of the human spirit deserves to be told, at least now.
But before going into any further details, there is a need to understand one of the central weaknesses of the Sri Lankan peace process. The ultimate weakening of the peace process can be largely attributed to the lack of a pro-peace public sphere in the South of Sri Lanka, which could have effectively functioned as a true “safety net” functioning from below and organically linked to the masses. If there had been such initiatives, it could have undoubtedly prevented the country from slipping back into the war by rationalizing and upholding the positive achievements of the negotiations. Unlike the Tamil people, the majority Sinhalese were never given a sense of responsibility and their role as an equally important stakeholder of the peace process as a whole. The structural political imbalance that existed inside the Sinhala society and was strengthened by calculated external pressures was never confronted in a political manner. There was no political mobilization in favour of pro-peace and projustice agenda which could have eventually averted the colossal loss of human lives in the long run. The state was divided in its efforts along the lines of executive and legislative powers which were largely driven by pragmatist or opportunist motives. The majority of Sinhala masses were left clueless while remaining encircled and fed with vicious racist propaganda by an army of right wing media spin doctors and warmongering chauvinists. The regional and global forces either exploited the growing uncertainty or simply ignored the possible consequences, creating an ideal condition for disorder and confusion. At the end of the day, the bitter truth was, the “peace” became rather a “business” to manage than a “passion” worth fighting for.
When the direct talks collapsed and the existing sub committees became virtually defunct, the success was overshadowed by looming uncertainty. The anti-peace forces worked overtime in order to seize the opportunity and to increase the sense of indecisiveness. On the 20May 2003 the mouthpiece of the Sinhala hardliners, “The Island” newspaper wrote in its editorial: “With the LTTE refusing to talk peace, it is quite prudent to presume that they are preparing for war. Our Lotus-eaters in the Defence Ministry, Prime Minister’s office and other echelons of power may be dreaming of Prabakaran (the leader of the LTTE) as an angel of peace. We, however, cannot afford to do that because Prabakaran may be thinking of a lightning strike, running over the Jaffna peninsula and then offering to talk peace!” (http://www.island.lk/2003/05/20/editoria.html)
The negative predictions aimed at creating fear psychosis among masses, dominated the day. In the midst of rising confusion, making a breakthrough in bi-lateral dialogue seemed a distant possibility. But a natural disaster broke the ice.
In mid May, the monsoon rains created havoc in the South, the worst to hit the country for over 50 years. The number of missing persons and the death toll due to flash floods kept rising while many lowlands in various districts predominantly populated by the Sinhalese, reported rising water levels. More than 255 people were confirmed dead in the floods which rendered 170,000 families homeless. By 20th May, the number of persons missing was as high as 700 to 800. On the 21st, the state owned “Daily News” carried a striking news item revealing LTTE’ proposal to organise and provide relief for flood victims in the South. The report said: “In an unprecedented gesture signifying goodwill and reconciliation the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has
come forward to organise flood relief to the affected victims in the South. Most of the dry rations and similar items are to be collected from the North East population. The LTTE has also enlisted the support of other Tamil social organisations in their effort to muster flood relief and has indicated its decision to supply dry rations, food items and other assistance that are deemed necessary to the flood ravaged areas in Ratnapura, Kalutara, Matara and Hambantota… On the directions of the LTTE, dry rations and other essential consumer items have been mainly collected from the Tamil people in Mannar, Kilinochchi and Jaffna.”(http://www.dailynews.lk/2003/05/21/new03.html)
On the 22rd May the “Tamilnet” website reported: “A convoy of six lorries loaded with flood relief supplies valued at more than three million rupees sent by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from north arrived Colombo Thursday (22), government sources said.
The relief supplies were immediately sent to the affected areas in the south for distribution.
Minister and the leader of the Upcountry People’s Front (UPF) and LTTE representatives distributed the relief materials at Kalutara, State run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation reported Thursday. The LTTE’s goodwill gesture would strengthen the relationship between Tamils and Sinhalese, Minister said.”(http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=9039)
In the backdrop of failed talks, when the fears were rising in South about a possible outbreak of fresh violence, Tigers struck back with a goodwill gesture that took the South by surprise. The collective emotions created by the move were reflected in a special editorial published in the “Daily News” on the same day: “North-South, people-to-people bridge-building is likely to receive a tremendous boost as a result of LTTE efforts to go to the assistance of the flood-affected in Southern Sri Lanka. This fraternal gesture from the North could help to dispel some of the gloom which has descended on this country in the wake of the furious floods which have engulfed parts of Sri Lanka… These Northern – inspired flood relief operations are a measure of the degree of reconciliation which the peace process has established in Sri Lanka. While the negotiatory effort – to be sure-has run into some problems, the peace process, per se, could be said to be alive and well. The Northern organisations’ willingness to help out in humanitarian relief operations for the flood-affected is one proof of this. This is also evidence that years of ruthless bloodletting have failed to extinguish the flame of humanity in the hearts of the people, although, admittedly, the people have suffered immensely as a result of the conflict, both physically and psychologically…This fund of goodwill among the peoples of the land should be steadily built-up. Ideally, it should lead to consistent, reciprocal gestures of goodwill among the peoples of all parts of Sri Lanka. It is this durable, people-to-people basis which would ensure the continuance of the peace process, come what may.” (http://www.dailynews.lk/2003/05/22/editorial.html)
On the 25th, the state run “Sunday Observer” movingly illustrated the warmness still prevailing in the South, in its editorial: “Even more heartening has been the historic initiative of the political leadership of the North-East; those who, at one-time, only sought to break away from the larger Sri Lankan nation, now, in a gesture of national unity, coming to the aid of their fellow Sri Lankans in the South. If Sri Lankans in recent years have trekked North to hear the protestations of Northerners over ethnic oppression and to express solidarity with the North-Eastern community as it suffered from political turmoil, now we see Sri Lankans journeying South to express solidarity with Southerners in their moment of suffering…. This moment of adversity has become a moment in history in which Sri Lankans have come together. With the world watching and helping out, can this moment become at least the beginning of a new phase in the life of our island community?” (http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2003/05/25/editorial.html)
The much appreciated LTTE’s move to reach out the Sinhala society in a time of adversity was not their first attempt aimed at breaking the hostile ethnic barriers. There had been countless previous efforts, which expressed their intention to resist the negative stereotyping and to escape the “narrow nationalist straitjacket” that was imposed on them. But above all, it reflected the yearning intention of the Tigers to create and maintain a public sphere, in which the achievements of the mutual dialogue could sustain. It was clearly evident when the LTTE took the initiative to publish a regular newspaper in Sinhala language, merely five months after the CFA was signed. The “Dedunna” (Rainbow), the official Sinhala newspaper of the LTTE, which hit the headlines in the Southern press shortly after the CFA, was the first ever such attempt from the side of the Tamil militants to get engaged in a constant dialogue with the Sinhala majority. Anyone who has the slightest idea about the role played by the language factor to widen the ethnic gulf in Sri Lanka would understand the significance of such an initiative.
On the 7th July 2002, the Colombo weekly, “Sunday Observer” revealed that the Tigers are planning to publish a Sinhala newspaper aiming to initiate a dialogue with the ordinary masses: “The LTTE is to shortly begin publishing a Sinhala language newspaper, the ‘Sunday Observer’ learns. This will be part of a major mass communication being launched by the Tigers, which includes an English language weekly newspaper, Sinhala radio broadcasts and a Sinhala Website…. The communication effort by the LTTE is a bid to create awareness among the Sinhala intelligentsia and the common people of the South, of their aspirations and commitment to the peace process, according to informed sources. The Sinhala broadcasts will be beamed island wide on FM and SW bands. The Website is being set up with the assistance of Sinhala intellectuals and academics… The Website, radio broadcasts and the English weekly will focus mainly on the Tamil people’s right to selfdetermination, their current problems and their desire to achieve a negotiated settlement, according to the sources.”(http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2002/07/07/new05.html)
During the first week of August, six months after the truce deal, the first issue of “Dedunna” hit the news-stands in the North-Eastern region of the island. The newspaper was sold among the Sinhala Buddhist and catholic pilgrims who freely travelled through the Tiger held territory after 30 years of conflict, to reach historical places of worship in the North. Describing the content of the first issue, Colom bo based “The Sunday Tim es” wrote on the 18th August: “The LTTE last week published its first Sinhala newspaper ‘Dedunna’ (rainbow) in Jaffna in what it said was a move to keep the Sinhala people who visit the North informed about LTTE activities.The first edition was sold yesterday to Sinhala pilgrims who attended the Madhu church festival. The paper is priced at Rs. 12. The paper which is to be published monthly has the peace talks as its editorial with the headline ‘ Be bold to bring about peace’.” (http://sundaytimes.lk/020818/index.html)
Without hiding its admiration, the Colombo “Sunday Observer” wrote in its editorial on 29th of September, 2002: “The newest newspaper to hit the stands is the ‘Dedunna’ or ‘Rainbow’, the Sinhala language official publication of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. It is part of the recent initiative by the LTTE to communicate its message to the Sinhala public. In a country where not only has decades of war widened the gulf between ethnic communities but, the mass media itself has helped create the socio-cultural divergence that has rendered futile all attempts to create a homogenous nation and polity, it is vital that the media takes on the task of re-orienting communicational structures, practices and content in a way that would provide for socio-cultural plurality. The publication of a newspaper by an organisation that was previously seen as remorselessly hostile to the ethnic community in whose language that newspaper had been published is surely a radical re-orientation of communications. A past enemy is reaching out across the ethnic divide in an attempt to bridge the vast gulf of suspicion, anger and fear. While welcoming this initiative, and wishing ‘Dedunna’ well, the Sunday Observer hopes that such exercises in communication are reciprocated between all communities in the country.” (http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2002/09/29/editorial.html)
The Sinhala social activists from the South volunteered to distribute the paper facing immense difficulties, when the ordinary news-stand owners showed reluctance to openly sell it fearing consequences. Despite the enormous limitations imposed upon it, the newspaper managed to reach the targeted non-elite readership in the South, who were hitherto kept in darkness of misinformation. Ordinary Sinhala people wrote in their opinion which was regularly published in the “Letters to the Editor” section in the paper. A dialogue that was deliberately prevented from taking place by the mainstream Sinhala and English media in the South, found sufficient space in a small publication coming out from the rebel held remote areas persuading the ordinary Sinhala readers to engage constructively with their Tamil brothers and sisters. The newspaper which lasted nearly for four years until the war started in 2006, functioned as an alternative space for live and interactive communication intended to sustain a constant dialogue on the public sphere.
Some of the articles which were been serialized in the paper, were later compiled into books and launched as official publications of the LTTE’s political division. The launching ceremony was
organized in Vavunia, a government controlled northern town, on 20th June 2004 with the participation of more than 100 Sinhala social and cultural activists as well as the general readers of the newspaper. The ceremony, presided by prominent Sinhala and Tamil intellectuals shed a ray of hope for a sustainable peace.
Parallel to these efforts initiated from the North, there were similar efforts initiated by the progressive Sinhala groups in the South too. Among other things, one of the most historical events was the massive cultural festival organized by the “Hiru – Group” in October 2003. The Hiru Group – a breakaway faction from the JVP’s second rebellious generation who rose against the state in 1989 –worked tirelessly on rebuilding ethnic solidarity and promoting a negotiated settlement, long before the ceasefire agreement was signed. The group’s support base was built up upon their well known journal “Hiru”, which was instrumental in organizing the historical cultural event.
Soon after the event was announced it became a target of the right wing media campaigns backed by the Sinhala ultra nationalist groups. Despite the continuous threats, the two day event commenced on 29th October 2003 in the heart of Colombo. Notwithstanding repeated threats, hundreds of prominent artists and cultural activists from both communities took part in the event. The atmosphere was warm with emotional solidarity that remained suppressed for nearly three decades. But within hours, the conference was attacked by the Sinhala mobs led by the leaders of the ultra nationalist “Sihala Urumaya” (JHU’s predecessor) party. The organizers fought back defending the Tamil participants who remained locked inside the Colombo New Town Hall, preventing any hostile intruders entering the premises. While the police remained reluctant, the organizers of the event managed to chase away the mobs, sending an important message to both communities on the year that marked the 20th anniversary of largest Anti Tamil communal riots (1983 Black July) occurred in the post independent Sri Lanka. Several organizers, who were Sinhalese, got injured in the clash. But the event continued despite the attack, which was seen as a humiliating blow to the pro-war Sinhala nationalists in the South.
Commenting on the event, the state owned “Daily News” wrote in its Editorial on the 31st of October: “The brutal violence frenziedly unleashed against the Sinhala-Tamil Cultural Festival at New Town Hall, Wednesday, besides being a sound measure of the panic and desperation which have seized the anti-peace forces of this country, carries a dire warning to those sections which are taking-up and are supportive of the cry of intolerance, nonaccommodation, war and ethnic hatred…. If ignominious incidents of the kind which were witnessed at New Town Hall on Wednesday continue to go unopposed and un-condemned we would soon find ourselves a benighted people, weighed down by the unbearable chains of tyranny and intolerance… Meanwhile, we warmly salute those
working tirelessly towards ethnic reconciliation and a just peace in this country. We call on the organisers of the cultural event in Colombo and others in like endeavours to carry on courageously with their great enterprise. It is their growing successes which have helped open some democratic space. May their tribe increase.” (http://www.dailynews.lk/2003/10/31/editorial.html)
But the right wing media defended the attackers while condemning the cultural festival as an “event backed by the Tigers”. Reflecting the sentiments of the Sinhala chauvinists, on the same day “The Island” newspaper in its Editorial titled ‘The harm that good men do’ wrote: “…On Wednesday, however, Sinhalese and Tamils clashed at the New Town Hall and even though it could be categorised as a minor event it was certainly deplorable and should have never happened…..Ironically, the organisers of the event at the New Town Hall say that it was a Sinhala-Tamil cultural show meant to draw the two communities together. Others however, including many Tamils saw it as an extension of ‘Pongu Tamil’, a Tamil chauvinistic cultural show actively backed by the LTTE… Whatever the name of the show may have been, the organisers as well as the government should have been well aware of the possible fallout of such an event being staged in Colombo…. Some of the organisers are well known to have extremely cordial relations with the LTTE and have the patronage of an embassy whose sympathies towards the LTTE are well established.” – (http://www.island.lk/2003/10/31/editoria.html)
But the true political impact of the historical event – organized completely independent from the state – was reflected in a special article written by the Chief Editor of the state owned “Sunday Observer” on the 2nd of November: “On Wednesday and Thursday last, a Sinhala-Tamil Arts Festival was conducted by the Colombo-based ‘Hiru’ Group. The attack came within an hour of the start of the festival, just after the keynote addresses.. The Hiru Group, which organised the Sinhala-Tamil Arts Festival, is the name adopted by the circle of largely Sinhala social activists, writers, poets and other cultural workers gravitated around the Hiru Sinhala language fortnightly. Hiru is well known for its avant-garde Sinhala cultural output and stringent, social-critical journalism that focuses on and develops fearlessly incisive news coverage of burning social and political issues…..Its originators and its staff are from the Sinhala middle and lower-middle class intelligentsia known for their social activism as well as their professionalism……In fact, it is this very legitimacy of Hiru in the eyes of the mass of the people that enables it to be upheld today by the mainstream media and even receive generous police protection from a Government, which is normally cautious of, if not hostile to, such radical activist groups…the Hiru Group must be finding it quite strange today to be held as heroes by much of the mainstream ‘elite’ or big media which previously either ignored it or tended to brand it as either ‘fringe’ or as an insincere, ‘goody-goody’ and misled NGO. Of course, the attack by Hela Urumaya elements on the Arts Festival was not a surprise to Hiru…..At face value, the Sihala Urumaya, prevented from completely disrupting the Festival, may claim a ‘draw’ and some of them have been heard to mutter dark threats hinting at even worse violence against all “Sinhala Koti’ and ‘traitors’ to the Race.”(http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2003/11/02/fea04.html)
Undoubtedly, the event strengthened the deep emotional bond and inter-ethnic solidarity between the two communities who stood firm and confronted the vicious chauvinist attack. But the violent disruption by the mobs was seen as a “spontaneous and unfortunate” incident by many liberal ‘dogooders’ rather than a rising political tendency that might quickly grow to threatening proportions. The vague condemnation that lacked any solid content negligently overlooked the true danger looming underneath the social fabric by undermining the strength of the forces that were determined to destabilize the peace process. The courageous resistance put up by the groups such as “Hiru” against warmongering chauvinist forces could not sustain long, due to the now dwindling democratic space created by the CFA. The lack of consistent and dedicated independent socio-political initiatives from below to promote and uphold the interaction between the two communities, gradually gave away the ground without much resistance. The extremist forces that were seen as “isolated, marginalized and insignificant” became increasingly dominant and more main stream than ever in the course of the time. Within six months, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) – the successor of Sihala Urumaya – contested the legislative elections and gained 6.0% of the popular vote, securing 9 parliamentary seats. By the end of 2005, JHU joined the broad electoral alliance led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, who pledged to tear up the CFA and to pursue a military solution and subsequently gained an influential position including cabinet portfolios.
Tokyo Donor Conference: ‘the hunting party’
The breakdown of direct negotiations understandably increased the fears among the masses in both societies. When the Tigers reiterated that they would not take part in Tokyo conference, many observers concluded that the war was inevitable.
But when many were anticipating a terror strike somewhere in South triggering off the Fourth Eelam War, the Tiger’s took everyone by surprise by demonstrating goodwill organizing flood relief to the South. Apart from expressing its willingness to stay engaged, by doing so the Tigers conveyed a clear message to the government that they would not drift away from the CFA. Consequently, the informal discussions regarding an interim rule commenced using indirect channels in order to sustain the ground, despite severe setbacks.
Sticking to their position, the Tigers refrained from attending the Tokyo Conference, which started on the 9th of June, 2003. Despite the physical absence of the Tigers, the international community was largely convinced that the Tigers were not hell bent on restarting the war. The LTTE simply renewed their demand for an interim set up, as a safe exit from the deadlock. The Tigers insisted that without putting a mechanism in place that is capable of dealing with the immediate humanitarian needs of the Tamil people, there is no way to proceed any further to discuss the core political issues. Their message was quite simple and frank: “in order to address the day to day problems we asked for an interim set up. But at the end we compromised accepting your proposals to try sub committees. Now the Sub committees have failed. So, let’s go back to interim set up.’
Inaugurating the conference which was attended by 52 nations, Prime Minister Wickramasinghe said that “the government would set up an interim administrative structure for the North East to manage the transition and the restoration of normal regional administration.” But the US representative Richard Armitage, maintained the same old contradictory and ambiguous position within and outside the conference. Addressing the delegates on the first day of the conference he said: “I am making a personal appeal to the LTTE: prove to your people, to all the people of Sri Lanka, and to those donor nations that want to help you, that you are committed to a negotiated settlement. Prove it by coming back to the table… Certainly the LTTE has expressed their frustration and I can understand that. The delivery of goods to these areas has to improve if people are to have faith in the process.” (http://www.dailynews.lk/2003/06/10/new17.html)
No matter how consolatory these words may sound, it did not last that long. On the following day, speaking to Sri Lankan MTV from Akasaka Prince Hotel, Tokyo, Armitage twisted the facts and slipped back into his favourite “big bad wolf ” role:
“Question: …What do you now expect of the government and the LTTE to start the peace process back on track? What can the international community and the United States in particular do to bring the two parties back to the negotiating table?
Deputy Secretary Armitage: First of all, it was the position of the United States government that this Tokyo conference should absolutely be held — notwithstanding the fact that the LTTE chose not to participate. The international community cannot be blackmailed by a group who refuses to take part in the peace process.” (http://www.america.gov/st/washfile-english/2003/June/20030612100502namfuaks0.8872339.html)
He even made it clearer without leaving any space for ambiguity, when he was interviewed by Japanese TBS – TV on the same day at the US Embassy in Tokyo:
“Question: ….what kind of role or initiative is the U.S. government taking?
Deputy Secretary Armitage: As I say, the facilitator in this is Norway. The role of the U.S. government is actually, in a way, to be the bad guy. We have designated the LTTE as a foreign terrorist organization. They will not be eligible to visit our country or have visas, etc. In fact we will hunt them down and try to stop their finances if we can catch them. We would like them to work into a situation in which they are no longer a foreign terrorist organization. They could do that by giving up, once and for all, violence as a political weapon.” (http://www.america.gov/st/washfile-english/2003/June/20030612100502namfuaks0.8872339.html)
The US position spelt out by Armitage in quite clear terms, immediately drew wide support from their enthusiastic Sinhala nationalist admirers in the South. Praising Armitage’s frankness, on 14th June, “The Island” newspaper wrote in its editorial titled “Hunt them down”: “The Deputy Secretary of State made his position quite clear when he told interviewers: ‘The international community cannot be blackmailed by a group who refuses to take part in the peace process…’. Mr. Armitage in answer to a question by the TBS-TV (Tokyo Broadcasting System) on the kind of role or initiative the US government is taking in the prevailing circumstances, has said: ‘The role of the US government is actually in a way to be the bad guy..’ Indeed, bad guys, at times, could do very good things…. Mr. Armitage in his interview has provided a solution: Hunt them down.” (http://www.island.lk/2003/06/14/editoria.html)
The converging interests of hunters were very much visible even at that point.
Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA)
As it was pointed out above, since the provisional mechanism implemented through the sub committees failed, the LTTE went back to their initial demand of seeking an interim administrative set up in order to implement the decisions taken at the six rounds of peace talks. Justifying their stance, the rebels wrote to the Prime Minister Wickramasingha”: “As we have already explained to you our leadership was compelled to seek an interim administrative structure set-up for two reasons. Firstly, we realised that a permanent political settlement in the form of regional autonomy and self-government for the Tamils through radical constitutional transformation is not feasible under the current unstable political environment created by the dual, ferociously opposed power centres in Colombo. Secondly, the institutions created by laborious dialogue at the negotiating table failed to function effectively to address and redress the immense humanitarian problems faced by hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons and refugees who need immediate and urgent relief.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=9089) Tigers insisted that it’s pointless to proceed further without implementing the decisions that have already been taken. On the 22nd of May, the Tigers stressed that a capable mechanism is essentially needed in order to address the immediate humanitarian needs of the people living in the war ravaged areas. While some sections looked at it sceptically, others viewed it as a positive indication of the intention to preserve the constructive space created by the CFA while taking forward the dialogue to find a lasting settlement.
In response to the rebel demand, the UNF government submitted a three layered structure (named ‘Interim Apex Body’) to carry responsibility for planning, prioritizing and monitoring programmes in the north-east. On the 30th May, Tigers wrote t the Prime Minister, rejecting the proposals: “Having studied the contents of your proposals we are surprised, and at the same time, dismayed that your government did not address the critical issue of setting up an interim administrative structure for the northeast as suggested by the LTTE leadership. Instead, you have proposed a development orientated structure with extremely limited administrative powers in which the participatory role of the LTTE is not clearly defined, or rather, left deliberately ambiguous…. You have commented that the government has to operate within the laws of the land. We can certainly understand the fragile position of your government caught up with an enraged President seeking revenge and an entrenched constitution that allows no space for manoeuvre. You will certainly agree that if the political system is unstable and your administration is powerless, it will be impossible to resolve the ethnic conflict either by interim means or by permanent settlement. How long can our people wait and tolerate their hardships if your government seeks refuge under legal and constitutional obstacles?” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=9089)
The LTTE’s request for an interim set up for the North-east was equally supported by a majority of mainstream Tamil political parties, including some who were well known for having critical views about the LTTE. This became evident when “The Island” newspaper ran a story on 13th June, titled “Most Tamil parties justify LTTE demand”, quoting some of the Tamil political leaders: “Most of the Tamil political parties were of the view that the LTTE’s request for an interim council for the north-east was nothing new and was justified but it only could be solved through direct talks and dialogue… The leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), MP and representative of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Appathurai Vinayagamoorthy said yesterday that it was not too late to restart negotiations with the LTTE… This government during the last parliamentary elections stated in its manifesto and got a mandate to grant an Interim Administration for the LTTE in the north-east. So what is wrong in the LTTE’s request for such an administrative structure at the time when large amounts of funds are expected to be spent for the rehabilitation, reconstruction, resettlement and development of the northeast? Now one cannot give an excuse or explanation that such an administration would not come within the constitution. If that is so even the signing of the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE was also outside the constitution…. The leader of the PLOTE and DPLF MP Dharmalingam Siddharthan said yesterday that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stated clearly in his election manifesto and got a mandate from the people to grant an interim administration to the LTTE in the north-east.” (http://www.island.lk/2003/06/13/news16.html)
Instead of the proposed Apex Body, rebels reiterated its call for “an innovative new structure with specified politico-administrative functions, vested with adequate authority and legal status and with wider participation of the LTTE” through a letter written to the Prime Minister on the 4th June 2003. They made it clear that an interim arrangement is compulsory to restart direct talks, since the immediate needs of the people cannot be addressed without such arrangement. The complains of the Tigers regarding the miserable conditions of the people living in the conflict areas even 15 months after the CFA was echoed by a powerful Cabinet Minister who visited North in July. Minister of Lands, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne who made a two-day visit to Jaffna was reported saying: “These people have no proper drinking water, no roofing sheets, no proper place to sleep, and to make a long story short they really have little or nothing’” The report further said: “Dr. Senaratne told Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting that lakhs of internally displaced people were living in horribly un hygienic conditions and that Jaffna was as bad if not worse than Ethiopia with some people living in virtual kennels… Dr. Senaratne asked what all this talk about peace would mean to internally displaced people who were languishing in varying degrees of degradation and destitution. He said many of the children he saw there reminded him of something worse than the horrifying scenes the world had seen from Ethiopia. He said the internally displaced people had little by way of drainage, toilet or bathing facilities and some of the kennels in Colombo were lot better than the abodes of those people.” (Daily Mirror – 06.07.2003)
Since the Tigers rejected the first set of proposals submitted by the government, UNF came out with two more proposals during the next two months, for establishing an Interim Administration.
But the Tigers insisted that the both proposals do not contain adequate powers to address the serious humanitarian problems of the war affected people. They analyzed the proposals in detail explaining why it was not adequate. The Government responded saying that the pressure exerted on them by the Executive President (who is also the leader of the opposition alliance in the parliament) as well as by other extreme Sinhala nationalist groups, have made things extremely difficult for them to move any further beyond the limits of submitted proposals.
By the end of August 2003, the LTTE agreed to formulate and present their own set of proposals for an interim administration and the government expressed their consent. During the next two months, a special team of well known legal experts put their collective effort to draft the document on behalf of the LTTE, which later became widely known as ISGA (Interim Self Governing Authority) proposals. On the 23rd of August at a conference held in Paris, declaring that they are taking over the responsibility to draft the interim proposals, the head of the LTTE’s political wing S. P. Thamilchelvan stated: “This Paris conference is a victory for our liberation struggle. The GOSL proposal for an Interim Administration for the Northeast falls way short of the aspirations of Tamil people. This conference will define a response that reflects the just aspirations of our people’” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=9719)
While the Sinhala nationalist forces intensified their agitation and protest campaigns with the backing of the President Kumaranatunge, the Tamil observers expressed their optimism regarding the ISGA document which was to be finalized by the end of October. Reflecting these sentiments, a well known critique of the Tigers, journalist D.B.S.Jeyaraj wrote in October, a few days before the proposals were submitted: “The Tigers in the recent past have been engaged in an exercise of revolutionary constitutionalism. Much time and work has been devoted to this project. Nominally it is only a set of counter proposals comprising a response to the four page discussion document presented on July 17 by the United National Front (UNF) government. Its content however goes far beyond that of a formal reply and encompasses a wide range of issues. The LTTE has encapsuled in its penultimate draft the Tiger vision for constitutional change in Sri Lanka. The proposals consist of several parts and are phased out with the completion of one phase leading to the commencement of another on the road to the ultimate solution. It calls for a very bold reinvention of the Sri Lankan state and equitable structures of power sharing to ensure the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka in the future’’’’ Whatever the LTTE’s strategy and whatever the final document there is no doubt that painstakingly serious effort has been put into this counter proposal drafting exercise. It is of great historical importance being the first ever LTTE proposal of its kind. It is of a constitutionalist yet revolutionary nature and envisages the radical restructuring of Sri Lanka to preserve its unity and territorial integrity’” (The Sunday Leader – 26 October 2003)
On the 1st of November 2003, the Government of Prime Minister Wickramasingha, issued a statement acknowledging that the LTTE has submitted their final proposals through the Norwegian facilitators. The statement further said: “The Government of Sri Lanka has received the proposal submitted by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to the Ambassador of Norway on 31st October 2003. This document outlines the LTTE’s vision regarding the framework for a political solution to the conflict. It differs in fundamental respects from the proposals submitted by the Government of Sri Lanka. Both documents contain proposals in respect of which no agreement has been reached so far. While the disparities between the positions of the parties are evident, the Government is convinced that the way forward lies through direct discussion of the issues arising from both sets of proposals.” (http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/shrilanka/document/papers/gov_northeast.htm)
Explaining the basis of the proposals at a press conference held in their de facto capital – Kilinochchi – LTTE’s political wing leader S. P. Thamilchelvan said “that the proposals of the LTTE handed over to the government via the Norwegian facilitators on behalf of the Tamil People for an agreement to establish an Interim Self- Governing Authority (ISGA) for the North-East of Sri Lanka had been prepared in consistent with the principles of the rule of law, human rights and equality of all persons and the right to self-determination of the Tamil people. “A careful study of the proposals will reveal that it is not the penultimate to “Eelam”. They are based on the humanitarian needs”, he re-iterated…. He further said that he does not believe in fixing a time-frame for the ISGA as it may prove to be detrimental to the Tamil people, however though he opted for a realistic and rapid negotiation, based on rational political thinking.” (http://www.island.lk/2003/11/04/news09.html)
On the same day, the European Union member states welcomed the unveiling of the LTTE’s proposals stating “This represents an important step forward in the peace process. The EU Heads of Mission hope that there will now be a resumption of direct talks between the parties aimed at reaching an agreement on a solution acceptable to all communities in Sri Lanka.” (http://www.island.lk/2003/11/03/news04.html)
But four days after the submission of the LTTE’s proposals, on the 4th of November 2003, President Kumaranatunga launched a fresh political offensive against her political rivals – the UNF – by declaring a state of emergency, after sacking three UNF ministers and taking over three most important ministries which included defence, interior and media. The Prime Minister, who was on an official visit to the US, accused the president and her allies for “deliberately attempting to endanger the peace process.” In fact it was deliberate and a well calculated move which pulled the rug from under the opponent’s feet, in a manner that effectively destabilized the renewed informal negotiations between the LTTE and Wickramasingha’s regime. The importance of constructively responding to much awaited ISGA proposals were completely undermined by the renewed tensions and sharpened antagonisms inside the Sinhala ruling class. LTTE’s proposals were turned into a pretext for waging a renewed war against one ruling block by the other. On the 5th of November, addressing a press conference in Colombo, Lakshman Kadirgamar, the former Foreign Minister and an advisor to President Kumaranatunge, said: “We can in no way consider the LTTE’s proposal. It is totally unacceptable that they (Tigers) would have access rights to 2/3 of Sri Lanka’s coast. This is not negotiable” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=10359)
The LTTE immediately responded to the Southern political unrest by clarifying their position and pledging that they will not resume hostilities while assuring that ‘the group will not withdraw from the peace process although the President’s actions were a threat to the peace process.’(http://www.island.lk/2003/11/06/news18.html)
US and the Sinhala nationalists: A Band of Brothers
In midst of internal disputes and wars, the immediate reaction of the United States towards the LTTE’s proposal deserves careful scrutiny. Just days before the ISGA proposals were submitted, the Bush administration reasserted their position on Sri Lanka’s peace process at a joint hearing before the Sub Committee on Asia and the Pacific of the House of Representatives in Washington. On 29th of October, appearing before the Committee, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, Christina Rocca submitted her statement, in which she made several references to Sri Lanka, explicitly elaborating the US policy regarding the peace talks: “Since December 2001, the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have kept a cease-fire and conducted several rounds of peace negotiations. The U.S. supports these negotiations in the hopes of creating a permanent peace and political solution to the conflict with the LTTE…. On October the 2nd, the U.S. Government re-designated the LTTE as a foreign terrorist organization and made clear that the designation could be revoked only if the LTTE renounced terrorism and ceased all terrorist activities…. Across South Asia the United States continues to work with our allies to limit the ability of terrorist groups to work and move around. We are supporting these governments through intelligence sharing where appropriate, resources, and training….. The LTTE and the Maoists still pursue violent means to achieve their ends. Until all these activities stop, we will not cease our efforts.”(http://www.foreignaffairs.house.gov/archives/108/90363.pdf)
Two days after the above statement, the Tigers handed over the ISGA proposals to the Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo. As in the past, the virulently anti-ISGA sentiments shared by die hard
nationalists in the South, were largely based themselves upon the same two points: the emphasis on “untrustworthiness of the Tigers” and importance of “preserving the territorial integrity.” This position was clearly expressed in most of the editorials written in mainstream nationalist newspapers. On the 2nd of November 2003, two days after the submission of the LTTE’s proposals, The Sunday Times wrote an editorial titled “Devolution or Eelam”: “and so, hatched and incubated with much fanfare, we have the LTTE’s proposals for a Provincial Self-Administration under their command in Sri Lanka’s North and East provinces… One thing however needs to be said, i.e. devolution of power was never an LTTE demand in its early days. They simply wanted a separate state. Devolution was thrust down our throats by the Indians of the day, who at the time sided with the LTTE. The LTTE has now come to accept reality and settled for devolution, which would explain the mad rush in recent months criss-crossing the globe in search of devolution models….The question that would linger nevertheless, is whether the LTTE by accepting devolution has given up its goal of a separate state, or whether this Interim arrangement is simply the stepping stone for that separate state.” (http://www.sundaytimes.lk/031102/editorial.html)
On the same day, calling a press conference, nationalist JVP slammed the proposals in line with “Sunday Times” argument. Speaking to the press, JVP’s General Secretary said: “It is not an interim arrangement,… it would definitely lead to the division of the country on ethnic lines… What they have sought is not a federal state but a separate state in the island of Sri Lanka…” (http://www.island.lk/2003/11/03/news01.html). President Kumaranatunge, who spearheaded the Sinhala nationalist opposition echoed the same sentiments in same words while she was addressing an official ceremony in Colombo on the same Sunday: “President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga said although she accepted devolution, she would not agree to any proposal to grant the LTTE an ‘Eelam’ or a separate state by any other name…She said the LTTE interim administration proposals went far beyond devolution.” (http://www.island.lk/2003/11/03/news29.html) The similarities between the opinions held by the JVP and the SLFP paved the way to hold an immediate meeting between the two parties at President’s house on the same night to seek possibilities for joint action.
The far right Sihala Urumaya party which slammed the Tiger proposals went even a step further in demanding an immediate termination of the whole negotiations based on the same standpoints expressed by the President and the JVP: “..Sihala Urumaya (SU), Sunday (02) appealed to the United National Front (UNF) Government to terminate the peace talks with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the basis of the contents of the proposals for interim self-governing authority (ISGA), which the SU said will lead to the formation of a separate state, media sources said.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=10327)
As it is plainly evident from the above quoted paragraphs, the crux of the nationalist argument was that the ISGA proposals of the LTTE go beyond devolution and are intended to achieve a separate state marking the end to the territorial integrity and therefore should be rejected outright. When carefully analysed comparing with the official US position on the ISGA proposals, one can easily identify a
common ground that binds it with the Sinhala nationalist position, quite similar to previous occasions. Even though the responsibility to analyse the proposals and to respond accordingly lay upon the Sri Lankan Government, the US, as usual, crossed the line in a provocative manner that encouraged the Sinhala nationalist opposition.
On the 3rd of November 2003, US officially ‘welcomed’ the interim proposals while re-asserting their commitment to Sri Lanka’s “territorial integrity’ and stressing their position towards Tigers as “terrorists”. US Acting Secretary of State Richard Armitage fielded questions from media after meeting the visiting Sri Lankan Prime Minister in Ritz Carlton Hotel in Washington: “..I would think from my reading of this almost twelve page document that it does go outside the bounds of what was envisioned in Oslo and in Tokyo…. where we talked about a federation, democratic society, respect for human rights and territorial integrity… I would say that we need to come back to the boundaries envisioned by the Tokyo and Oslo Declarations…. This does not in any way remove the LTTE from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations….In order to be removed from the list, the LTTE must in word and deed eschew the use of terrorism, the use of violence against innocents, as a political weapon….I think our strategic interest is that where there is violence and struggle in any place, it can spread to other places…So, in that regard, we have a strategic interest.” (http://www.island.lk/2003/11/05/news03.htm)
A day after Armitage’s clarification, the US embassy in Colombo announced that the US Air Force is looking forward to conduct Subject Matter Expert exchange in Sri Lanka within the month of November. As to the report published in “The Island” on 4th of November, 2003: “Approximately 30 members of the U.S. 13th Air Force’s 613th Contingency Response Group (CRG) are participating in their first Subject Matter Expert exchange with the Sri Lankan Air Force. The 613th CRG consists of highly qualified specialists from 35 different career fields who, working as a team, can-provide an assessment of the security medical, engineering and operations environment of a deployed location. This information is then quickly communicated back to decision-makers who can determine whether they wish to deploy to a specified operating location. During the program, the 613th CRG will exchange information on tactics, techniques and procedures. They will also conduct a combined survey of airfields with the Sri Lankan Air Force. This long-planned Subject Matter Exchange between the U.S. and Sri Lankan Air Forces is one of many ongoing programs between the U.S. and Sri Lankan militaries, and exemplifies the strong relationship between the two nations.” (http://www.island.lk/2003/11/04/news03.html)
But one of the most interesting revelations were made by the same newspaper, in the midst of political chaos created by President Kumaranatunge’s decision to sack several UNF ministers and to take over three ministries. In a report, published on November 9th issue of “The Island” it was reported:”Army headquarters is optimistic the US will not withdraw military personnel due to the crisis triggered by Tuesday’s taking over of three key ministries including defence by President Chandrika Kumaratunga. “Almost 100 US personnel are engaged in different training exercises with us,” a senior security forces officer said. “Some of them are engaged in exercises with the Navy and the Air Force,” he said….. A US official has raised security concerns during a recent Army headquarters meeting, the Sunday Island learns. This was raised at the meeting attended by defence advisors and political affairs officers representing over a dozen countries including the US, UK, India, Pakistan and China. “We assured the US representative that there is nothing to worry,” the officer said, expressing confidence the ongoing exercises would continue as planned. Office of the Chief of Defence Staff insisted that there is “absolutely no reason to call off planned exercises.” US personnel including men from highly specialised units conduct regular joint exercises with Sri Lankan forces.”(http://www.island.lk/2003/11/09/news05.html)
Apparently, the Sinhala nationalists had more than one good reason to rejoice. Behind all the widespread fears about a strengthened Tiger that is crouching in order to leap, a grand strategy was already in place, with the active participation of the big brother – the US.
ISGA fades away
The government’s outright rejection of LTTE proposals for an interim administration was seen as unfortunate and destructive by many observers. ISGA clearly reflected the collective intention of the Tamil movement to stay engaged with the Sinhala state instead of moving away from the negotiating path. In a speech delivered at Colombo based International Centre for Ethnic Studies, a Professor from Nebraska Wesleyan University pointed this fact out in a more precise manner: “the LTTE presented the Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) proposals with a limited scope—namely to oversee the rebuilding of the north and east. It is clearly intended to be a five year plan bridging the gap between the Memorandum of Understanding and a final solution to the conflict. There are a number of features of interim plans which need to be kept in mind.”(Daily Mirror – 19 December 2003)
No matter how significant the ISGA proposals were when consider the fact that it has been the first ever LTTE proposal of its kind, the internal conflict inside the Sinhala ruling class prevented the state from seriously considering the proposal at all. According to a prominent Sinhala intellectual’s observation : “the ISGA proposals of October 2003 were the first concrete set of ideas that the LTTE has elaborated as its blueprint for negotiated solution’ The moment those proposals were unveiled, Sri Lanka’s political establishment plunged into a major crisis, resulting in an open clash between the president and prime minister, dissolution of parliament, and an eventual regime change. This highlighted a core dilemma in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict management: any settlement proposal emerging from the Tamil polity as a credible offer would far exceed what the Sinhala political class could constructively consider, precisely because it would envisage a radical reconstitution of the existing State’” (Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda – Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka/ Page 19 /East-West Centre-Washington)
What followed has now become history. The UNF was thrown out of power and a new government of United People Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was formed with the help of anti-CFA groups in April 2004 under the leadership of President Kumaranatunga.
Interestingly, the change of regime seemed to be pleasing the US authorities, though it was obvious that the anti-CFA position did work as the main binding thread behind the new coalition. The new regime was undoubtedly an evolutionary outcome of the loosely knit political alliance that was found soon after the CFA was signed on the basis of total opposition to negotiations. But as soon as the new UPFA government was formed, the US jumped into the scene renewing their proposal to sign an Access and the Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), which was previously postponed indefinitely due to various reasons. In less than month after forming the government, the new Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, an ethnic Tamil, paid special visit to Washington. Reporting on the bilateral talks that was taking place in Washington, “The Island” newspaper wrote on 10th, May 2004: “The visiting Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar is expected to meet with senior US defence officials to discuss the ongoing defence and security relationship and related bilateral issues….Kadirgamar is also scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice during the visit. Talks are expected to cover the proposed Access and the Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) to allow US warships and aircraft to use Sri Lankan bases for refuelling and obtain other related services. Although the US discussed this particular agreement with the previous government it was never finalised. US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage during his brief visit to Colombo in early August 2202 expressed confidence in finalising the agreement.
The agreement was to be signed in July 2002 but the previous government backed off at the last moment. “Current relations between the two countries are marked by regular, high level contacts and meaningful bilateral cooperation in the areas of trade, investment, national security and global issues,” the embassy said. Sri Lanka also benefits from regular joint exercises involving US advisors including members of highly specialised units and the Sri Lankan special forces (Navy’s Special Boat Squadron included) and commandos. Joint exercises began during Kadirgamar’s first tenure as the Foreign Minister, defence sources said. “They train on a range of skills from humanitarian things like first aid on the battle-field through reconnaissance techniques and other skills,” the sources said…. The embassy said that Minister Kadirgamar will meet with Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor to discuss bilateral cooperation and peace initiatives of the Government.”(http://www.island.lk/2004/05/10/news02.html)
During the visit, the US defence authorities pledged to speed up the process of handing over a decommissioned Coast Guard vessel to the Sri Lankan Navy, free of charge. ‘US Coast Guard (USCG) cutter “Courageous,” which was later received by the SL Navy, was a B-Type Reliance Class 210-Foot Cutter equipped with 2×2,500 h.p. 251B 16-cylinder Alco diesels which can power the vessel to a maximum Sustained Speed of 18 knots.’ The US offer was made according to September 2002 classified assessment of armed forces of Sri Lanka by a United States Pacific Command team (mentioned above) who recommended that the Sri Lanka Navy which is key to SriLanka’s defence must “possess long-range surveillance aircraft and maritime interdiction vessels” capable of stopping the LTTE’s re-supply of arms by sea.’ (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=12249)
The Foreign minister’s visit was followed by high profile visits to the country by high-ranking Generals from the US Pacific Command. In June, Lieutenant General James L. Campbell, Commanding General, US Army Pacific Command visited the military installations in Northern peninsula accompanied by a special team of US Military Officials. He was followed by another “friendly visit” by Lieutenant General Wallace C. Gregson, Commander United States Marine Forces Pacific; Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force Pacific; and Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Bases, Pacific. The visit of General Gregson, who also visited Jaffna peninsula and met with the commanders was publicised only after it was ended. Observing the increasing ties between the two countries, an Indian strategic analyst wrote: “Both visits were long planned ones and followed a strikingly similar routine and were in that sense a clear message to all concerned that the Government in Sri Lanka had the backing of the Americans. The visits could also have been aimed at as an attempt to send a reminder to parties concerned about the ‘international safety net’ that former Sri Lankan premier Ranil Wickremasinghe mentioned in the past especially in the later half of 2003 when the peace process was in limbo. The move could also be seen as an attempt to send a message that the US was backing not just the Ranil Wickremasinghe led government, whose party has traditionally been pro-American but also that of the SLFP led United People Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which is in power at the moment. The Sri Lankan Government has in the past hyped up the US Government’s backing by overstating the gesture of the US government’s decision to gift its ‘scrapped US Coast Guard’ cutter as representing strengthened military ties between the two nations. However, these two recent visits gain significance as they could be seen as America’s attempts to bolster the Sri Lankan Government’s hints that the US was backing it.”(http://www.orfonline.com/cms/sites/orfonline/modules/strategictrend/StrategicTrendDetail.html?cmaid=1716&mmacmaid=1717&volumeno=II&issueno=33)
Emphasizing their willingness to back the new regime while continuing its attempts to de-legitimise the other stakeholder of the CFA, the US renewed the ban on LTTE on June 2004. AFP reported on 22nd June: “We will not remove our designation of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) as a terrorist organization until it has firmly and decidedly given up terrorism and such policies as the recruitment of children as soldiers,” Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca said. Rocca, who is in charge of South Asian affairs, told a congressional hearing that she did not expect peace talks to resume before August… Rocca also said that the United States would revive talks with Sri Lanka on establishing a free trade agreement following discussions with the new government which came to power in April after elections.” (http://www.island.lk/2004/06/24/featur05.html)
The US actions provided a strong encouragement to maintain the hard line position of the UPFA government while strengthening its confidence to openly turn down any requests to start negotiations on equal footings. This was clearly expressed by the Foreign Minister Kadirgamar, who reiterated his government’s position regarding the ISGA proposals while addressing a conference in Washington. He was reported saying “the Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) proposal, on the face of it, will be very difficult for a sovereign government to accept….It is a blue print for a future separate state’” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=11974) But Professor Jayadeva Uyangoda Colombo University, a well known Sinhala intellectual responded to government’s position in an article written to Colombo based ‘Daily Mirror’ on the 9th of July 2004: “Many UPFA critics have argued that the LTTE’s ISGA proposals are a stepping-stone to secession. But, a government that is serious about negotiated peace in Sri Lanka should also be able to see a negotiated ISGA as the prelude to reunion after years of a secessionist war. Without such flexibility of assessing a broad political process, no government in Colombo could have the courage or capacity to take the peace process any further.” (Daily Mirror – 09th July, 2004)
Responding to government’s hard line position, Tiger political chief clarified their stand in an interview given to a Colombo daily in September 2004, regarding the proposals saying that ‘the ISGA proposal is not rigid or final and its open to discussion” He further said that the LTTE is even willing to visit the Southern part of the country in order to explain their position to the Sinhala masses in order to end the prevailing confusions and misunderstandings’ “We want to come to the South and from a platform directly to take our message to the people”’ (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=12903) The statement reflected a clear policy of flexibility adopted by the LTTE, which was even praised by their critics in Sri Lanka and India’ For example, in October, a well known Indian writer on strategic affairs questioned the Sri Lankan government’s reluctance to engage and to consider the ISGA.“The GOSL may have reservations on the details and so do we, but as pointed out, accepting to talk on ISGA proposals does not amount to accepting the proposals as such… The LTTE has also softened its stand on the issue of ISGA. Thamilselvan, the political leader told the Press that the proposals were not rigid or final and that it was ready to negotiate the issue.” (Dr. S.Chandrasekaran – What is holding up discussions on ISGA? – http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/notes3/note241.html)
But the expected talks never commenced. The GoSL remained unchanged and the frustration on the Tamil side was clearly visible. On the 27th of November 2004, while delivering his famous annual Heroes Day speech, the LTTE leader expressed this growing frustration and desperation in clear terms: “We cannot continue to be entrapped in a political vacuum without an interim solution or a permanent settlement, without a stable peace and without peace of mind. The Sinhala nation neither assimilates nor integrates our people to live in co-existence nor does it allow our people to secede and lead a separate existence. We cannot continue to live in the darkness of political uncertainty, without freedom, without emancipation, without any prospects for the future. There are borderlines to patience and expectations. We have now reached the borderline.” (http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/shrilanka/document/papers/heroday2004.htm)
8. Tsunami: The Killer Wave
The Heroes Day speech was a clear warning to the Colombo regime. The deliberate prolongation of the negotiations without delivering any substantial dividends and dragging the process indefinitely had clearly exhausted the Tigers. Moreover, realization of the fact that the unnecessary prolongation was caused by the internal power struggle of the Sinhala ruling class deepened the frustration among the Tamils as a whole. On one hand the practical obstacles that prevented the implementation of sub committees was seen as government’s reluctance to set up any workable mechanism to address the profound humanitarian issues of the Tamil people. The right wing Sinhala opposition that obstructed any such implementation was seen as an extra barrier that prevented Tamil people from enjoying a normal life even after one year’s peace. On the other hand, the deliberate exclusion of the Tigers from the Washington meeting by an external force, where important decisions related to Tokyo Donor Conference were taken, increased the Tiger suspicion about Colombo Government’s true intentions. The Sinhala ruling class’s flat rejection of interim proposals submitted by the Tigers was considered as the last nail on the coffin of the peace process.
When the peace seemed to be failing, war seemed inevitable.
But on the fateful morning of December 26th 2004, the giant killer wave struck Sri Lanka.
The destructive Tsunami wave that wiped out thousands of lives in the neighbouring countries in the Indian Ocean, created havoc in the Island. Tens of Thousands perished within minutes while many more were left homeless. The entire North-eastern coastline was devastated and the region became one of the worst hit areas in the Indian Ocean. In the deep down South too, many lives were washed away.
Two days after the tragedy caused by Tsunami, the Tigers publicly made an appeal to the Colombo government to ‘de-ethinicise’ their understanding of the natural calamity that occurred. When interviewed by a London based TV station, Deepam TV, the LTTE’s Naval Commander Col. Soosai was reported to have said, “no one should think in terms of Sinhala or Tamil in dealing with this disaster. It is a Sinhala driver who is working with us to recover and cremate bodies in Uduthurai (an area)’” The Tiger commander conveying his organization’s official sentiments further added: “The Sri Lankan government should not look at this as a Sinhala or Tamil issue. It should see it as a human tragedy and help. We should now ensure that the people rescued from the Tsunami devastation are protected from diseases rather than let the enormity of the tragedy make us inactive. The government of Sri Lanka should consider our people also as human beings” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=13789). These sentiments were echoed by the Chief Negotiator of the Tigers Dr. Anton Balasingham, when he was interviewed by the foreign press.
On December 29th, the Tiger leader officially issued a statement appealing to the international community to help the surviving people while conveying his condolences to the families of the victims. The statement expressed the willingness to reconcile with the South based on understanding of the common tragic fate of all the communities. “Our homeland has faced an unprecedented major disaster and is submerged in deep sorrow today. A few days ago, totally unexpected by anybody, a sudden surge of a ferocious seismic tidal wave hit the coastal belts of the South East Asian region. In the island of Sri Lanka, the coastal belt from Jaffna to Galle and especially our homeland territories became targets of Nature’s fury resulting in massive destruction of life and property. The devastation caused by this tidal surge has exacerbated the sufferings of our people already affected by a war that continued for over twenty years and has torn asunder our nation. I convey my feeling of attachment, consolation and deepest condolences to our people who have lost their beloved and dearest, and undergoing unbearable sorrow and pain. My condolences also go to our Muslim and Sinhala brethren in the southern coastal areas, who have lost their kith and kin, and in deep sorrow.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=13778)
But the Colombo government and the Southern media seemed to be more interested in finding out how many tiger leaders were killed by the wave. On the 8th of January 2005, the state radio announced that the Leader of the Tigers and their intelligence chief are among the dead. The report quoted Government’s Navy Commander Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri as their source of information. According to an AFP report, “the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), in a statement posted on its official Peace Secretariat website, slammed the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation for carrying the reports, saying now was “not the time for gossip mongering and malicious propaganda’. The LTTE and the Tamil people wish to strongly protest against this mischievous act of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, stooping down to such low level of broadcasting news that (is) fabricated by interested parties’’. At a time of a national catastrophe of this magnitude, it is very regrettable that a responsible media of the Government takes upon itself the job of spreading rumours and speculation that tend to create confusion in the minds of the people.” (http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200501/s1278831.htm).
The tragic disaster opened up an unexpected space conducive to a reconciliatory political approach in order to heal the wounds and to break the deadlock. But the Sinhala political class apparently remained glued to short-sighted age old discriminatory policies rather than pursuing such paths of reconciliation. This was well evident in an interview given by President Kumaranatunge speaking to an UPI reporter, a week after the Tsunami disaster. While shamelessly ethinicising the tragedy by comparing the numbers of dead people on the two sides, her self-contradictory statement provides an exemplary summary of the regime’s thinking:
“Q. Do you think that the disaster will bring the two warring sides together? Will the Tamil Tigers now consider talking peace with the government?
A. I cannot read the minds of the LTTE. I don’t know (if) they will come because of a disaster; they will come only if they think they can get what they want, nothing else. So what they will decide about the peace process, I don’t know. But at the moment, they are cooperating and permitting the government to do the relief work for the people in those areas.
Q. Would you travel to the areas controlled by the LTTE?
A. A little bit of Jaffna is affected, and that is about the only area I could visit. Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi (districts) are 100 percent LTTE controlled, and they don’t like anybody coming to help. They chase people away. … Sinhalese people who took lorry loads of food were turned away by the LTTE. The Tigers told these people that they did not want their help.
Q. The LTTE has accused the government of practising discrimination. Guerrillas have claimed that the government was sending more relief supplies to the south than the north. Is that correct?
A. The Tamil Tigers are cooperating very well in the relief efforts, and we are sending in tons and tons of food into the LTTE-held areas as well as the others. Jaffna, Kilinocnchi and Mullaitivu, which are the three districts out of the five in the north that have been badly affected, we have sent up to two days ago 2,000 metric tons of basic food items alone. That is not counting the medicines and the medical doctors, (and) equipment that we sent there, like mats and clothing.
And the entire south, the three districts of the south that have been very badly affected, many more people have died in the south, about five times or six times more than Jaffna, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi. To the south we have sent only 180 metric tons of food.” (http://www.priu.gov.lk/news_update/features/2005/20050104interview_disaster_may_not_bring_rebels_talks.htm)
But as a matter of fact, the information provided by the state’s own ministerial sources, clearly proved the contrary. According to the statistical data compiled by the Government’s own Disaster Management Centre, as of 3rd of January 2005, the official death toll stood higher at 20,090 in the North-east of the island compared to 10,150 in the other affected areas in the South. (http://www.undp.org/cpr/disred/documents/tsunami/srilanka/sitrep030105.pdf?OpenDocument) The district level data collected and compiled by the government’s Disaster Relief Monitoring Unit which covered 13 affected districts proved the same facts. (http://www.drmu.gov.lk/drmu/impact.php) An analysis of these data reveals that, 61% of the deaths, 66% of the displaced persons and 89% of the affected families were from the North East. (http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers13/paper1226.html)
The President’s statement stands as a shameless example of the Sinhala ruling class’s incapability to overcome the decade old dividing lines that separated the two ethnic communities, even in the face of an unprecedented natural disaster. Besides, it proved their inability to accommodate the grievances of the affected communities in the north-east, which could have paved the way to resume the peace talks at least on the basis of newly discovered commonness in the aftermath of Tsunami.
Tigers take the lead
Given the unprecedented magnitude of this natural calamity, immediate implementation of well coordinated relief operations was seen as the need of the hour. Despite the tensions with the Colombo government, Tigers showed a tremendous capacity in swiftly responding to the situation and bringing
it under control. As it was highlighted by numerous external observers, mainly foreign correspondents who roamed the island, Tigers easily out-performed the Colombo government in carrying out well organized and coordinated relief operations in their areas.
On December 31, 2004, BBC’s Jeremy Bowen filed a story from Tiger administered Mullaithivu: “Tamil Tiger rebels here say that more than 3,000 people died in Mullaitivu – that is out of a population of more than 5,000. Buildings on the beach were completely flattened by the waves. There is almost nothing left standing….. You get the impression that the clean-up operation is very organised. The Tigers are planning to chlorinate wells and spray disinfectant around.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4137669.stm see also http://www.humanrights.de/doc_de/countries/sri-lanka/tsunami/video/bbc_mullaitivu_g_subs_512.wmv)
But more descriptive reports followed. On January 03rd , 2005 “The Washington Times” ran a special report filed by the New Delhi Bureau Chief of the Associated Press, who commended Tiger relief operations in an article titled “Tamil relief teams fast, efficient” : “Veterans of a long guerilla war, the Tamil rebels who control northern Sri Lanka moved with military precision to help victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. The speed and efficiency of the massive humanitarian operation showed an administrative capability that underscored the rebels’ demand for Tamil independence from the Sinhalese-dominated southern part of Sri Lanka. Within minutes of the disaster, soldiers of the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were evacuating survivors and pulling bodies from the still-roiling water, villagers and aid workers said. In a well-practiced drill, squads set up roadblocks to control panic and prevent looting. Others requisitioned civilian vehicles to move the injured to hospitals. Many donated blood. Teams with digital cameras and laptops moved into disaster zones to photograph the faces of the dead for later identification, then swiftly cremated or buried the corpses.
Sathinathan Senthan, the village mayor of Kallappadu, said boats of the elite Sea Tigers, the LTTE naval arm, which had a base in the neighbouring town of Mullaitivu, arrived even as the tsunami floodwaters were receding. Other sailors arrived on bicycles, he said. By the end of the first day, the first refugee centres were set up. Women in the Tigers’ camouflage uniforms began registering the survivors and recording the relief items they received — ensuring no one received more than he should.
“They applied a very efficient military machine. All they had to do was give the command,” said Reuben Thurairajah, a British doctor who watched the manoeuvre in amazement….
Meanwhile, in the south, the government was struggling to cope while politicians argued over who was in charge. From the field came isolated reports of corruption and hijacking of relief trucks.” (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2005/jan/03/20050103-095929-7247r/)
On the 5th of January, 2005 “Boston Globe” correspondent Jehangir S. Pocha’s report from Kilinochchi provided more details about the nature of the relief measures carried out by the Tigers: “The Tigers appear to have taken the initiative in organizing their own relief program, creating refugee camps, and providing comparatively efficient assistance efforts. Yet nine days after the tsunami hit, ‘’international aid here is limited and no new international [organizations] have set up operations” in Tamil areas, said N. Karthigesu, senior Tiger relief coordinator at the Pallai refugee camp 15 miles west of Kilinochchi…. There is an air of industriousness, and ‘’without it we’d be dead,” said Karkarthigesu. ‘’Most things you see here we’ve done ourselves. The government [in Colombo] talks a lot, but we haven’t seen a thing from them.” Some international aid workers have said they were surprised by the speed and efficiency with which the Tigers organized relief efforts after the tsunami hit on Dec. 26. While some Sri Lankan authorities appeared to be overcome by a shock-induced inertia for days, the Tigers organized search and rescue operations in the first hours of the disaster, according to refugees. The Tigers also set up a multi agency task force of Tiger officials, representatives of the international organizations present in the area, local nonprofit groups, and even some Sri Lankan government officials. This facilitated the quick disposal of bodies, clearing affected areas and setting up more than 35 refugee camps. (http://www.boston.com/news/world/articles/2005/01/05/sri_lanka_rebels_take_up_aid_effort/?page=2)
The paper ran a moving editorial in the same issue, quoting the Executive Director of UNICEF who seemed to be very impressed by the swiftness and precision of the relief operations put in place in the Tiger administered areas: “A relief organization that cooperates with the Tigers, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, or TRO, has been assisting not only Tamil Hindus in the northeast but also Buddhist Sinhalese and Muslim families. The central government, however, wants nothing to do with the Tiger-linked TRO… After visiting a Tamil town in the northeast that was destroyed by the tidal wave, Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, said Monday that the TRO’s “well-coordinated relief arrangements put in place within so short a time are all really commendable….The tsunami took away the lives of 12,000 Sri Lankan children, Sinhalese as well as Tamil. Those bereft parents whom Bellamy saw wandering along the beach and looking out to sea for a sign of their lost children are no more or less grief-stricken for belonging to one ethnic group or the other…. It is enough that Tamil and Sinhalese parents have lost children to the sea. No more of their children should be lost to a pointless war.” (Boston Globe – January 05, 2005)
The positive remarks made by western media who observed the Tigers’ efficiency on the ground, were repeated by many others including Indian defence and policy analysts, who held strong views against Tigers. One such example was provided by an article written by a retired Indian Army Colonel and a specialist on counter insurgency intelligence, who served as the head of the Military Intelligence during the Indian Peace Keeping Force’s (IPKF) failed mission in Sri Lanka. On January 21st, 2005 he wrote:
“….LTTE showed its organizational capability and discipline by organizing relief efforts in a matter of hours in areas under its control particularly in the north, in cooperation with Tamil Relief Organisation (TRO). The first relief camp came up on the same day. LTTE went about systematically to organize its international effort to collect support in cash and kind from all over the world directly, independent of TRO’s own effort. It set up special action committees for collecting funds in ten countries including France, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Germany, UK, Switzerland, Sweden, Holland and Australia…. The TRO has a better organization and has more than two decades of experience in relief. It has a lot of commitment difficult to find in a government mechanism. According to TRO, 3000 persons are involved in the relief work. Over 100 professionals from the Tamil Diaspora network and the international community are presently working with us in afflicted regions apart from 12 medical teams (including 52 doctors from the Diaspora and 18 international doctors) are involved in healthcare and work to prevent outbreak of epidemic diseases. Fifteen engineers are working on immediate and long-term rebuilding of shelters, water purification and sanitation. Local psychiatrists are providing counselling support to the traumatized victims of the tidal wave.” (http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers13/paper1226.html)
But on the contrary, the Southern mainstream media showed more interest in publishing stories about “how tsunami crippled the tigers” and how the entire Tamil areas have ‘run into a state of utter confusion and disorder.’ Without sending any of their reporters to the affected areas, “The Island” ran a story on 2nd of January, 2005 titled “Tsunami deals a crippling blow to LTTE” based on undisclosed sources: “the LTTE simply could not cope with the scope of the disaster. Unlike in the south, where television stations, companies, and members of the public organized a massive relief effort which dwarfed that of the government, the Tigers could not count on any such effort in their war ravaged and impoverished areas. Road conditions from Kilinochchi to the Mullaittivu district coastline were also very bad, as the roads have not been repaired to any great extent, unlike the A9 highway where work has been completed.” (http://www.island.lk/2005/01/02/features9.html) By twisting facts “The Island” report not only covered up the real situation in the affected Tamil areas, but it also tried to prevent the affected Sinhala people in the South from realizing the truth about government’s incapability in dealing with the situation. It simply symbolized the sentiments of the Sinhala nationalist forces, which remained unchanged even in the midst of a unimaginable tragedy.
Despite the disagreements that caused a certain tension between the Government and the Tigers, the most impressive initiatives were launched on the grass root level by the unaffected ordinary
people who made attempts to organize relief aid to the affected areas in the North and East. While condemning the Government’s discriminatory policy, the Tigers welcomed these people to people initiatives.
But the most devastating blow came when the Colombo government prevented the visiting UN General Secretary from visiting the most affected areas in the North-east of the island which remained under the administration of the LTTE. Besides the LTTE’s official appeal, numerous statements were made by Tamil religious and community leaders appealing Kofi Annan to visit the Tsunami hit regions in the North and East. On January 7th, 2005, – on the very day the General Secretary arrived in the Island, Bishops of Jaffna, Mannar and Trincomalee issued separate appeals inviting the Mr.Annan to visit the areas and meet the affected people.
“All the coastal cities in the northern province of Jaffna had to bear the brunt of the tidal wave. About six thousand people have perished in this disaster, two thousand are missing and 170,000
people had been rendered homeless. The town of Mullaitivu has been totally devastated and all buildings have been razed to the ground… as Roman Catholic Bishop of Jaffna together with the Bishops of Trincomalee-Batticaloa and Mannar and all the people of Jaffna I am humbly requesting the Secretary General Mr. Koffi Annan to visit the affected parts in the north and meet LTTE leaders and discuss with them about the future rehabilitation of the Tsunami victims” the joint statement appealed. (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=13906) A similar appeal was submitted by the International Federation of Tamils (IFT), a consortium of expatriate Tamil organizations on the same day, which emphasized: “..We would like to call your honour, to visit Mullithivu and north eastern part of the Island of Sri Lanka to console and support the badly affected people. Your visit is important to us as that region is facing severe uncertainty on the question of aid and future mechanism for rehabilitation…” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=13904)
On the 8th of January, on behalf of the civil organizations, a group of community representatives, which included Consortium of Civil Organizations, Consortium of NGOs, National Awareness
Front, Medical Professionals Association, Society for Three Wheeler Owners, Federation of Farmers‚ Associations, Federation of Women’s Organizations, Association of Businessmen, and Tamil Students Association met the UNICEF representative in rebel capital Kilinochchi and handed over another appeal pleading the UN official to visit the region. (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=13911) But the Colombo government remained adamant by not including the region for the travel schedules.
On 8th, a Reuter report titled “Politics muddy Tsunami relief efforts” revealed the displeasure held by the UN General Secretary regarding Combo’s unchanging position on his travel schedules: “Politics have got in the way of tsunami relief efforts with Sri Lanka stopping United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan from visiting disaster areas controlled by its rebel foes…. A day after saying he was shocked by what he saw in Indonesia, Mr Annan visited Hambantota, a popular tourist resort in south-eastern Sri Lanka, which has been largely ruined. But Mr Annan was prevented from visiting the island’s hard-hit north and east where he had been invited by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels, whose bloody two-decade war for autonomy has killed more than 64,000 people and is on hold thanks to a three-year cease-fire.
“I am here on a humanitarian mission. I would like to visit all the areas, but as you know I am here as a guest of the Government and they set the itinerary,” Mr Annan told Reuters. UN officials said they had been striving to convince the Government, but to no avail. A government official cited security concerns among others.
“[Mr Annan] hasn’t gone to Ireland and met with the IRA, he hasn’t gone to Spain and met with Basque [rebels],” a government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “There doesn’t seem to have been a precedent.” (http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200501/s1278837.htm)
The government’s decision to stop UN General Secretary from visiting the affected areas under the Tiger administration was not only an act that fuelled the mistrust that already existed. But it was also a clear betrayal of their own words. A week before the government prevented the UN officials from meeting the Tamil civilians who lost their kith and kin, President Kumaranatunge said in her New Year message: “The mighty forces of Mother Nature has humbled all of us in the country… What significance then should be accorded to the little quarrels and the petty conflicts that little groups of people within our nation manage to generate for a little bit of land or a little bit more of power. I would say none at all.. It belongs to all of us, each one of us, in the same way with the same privilege to use it with care. The tsunami has devastated our land with relentless indifference to regions, provinces, ethnicities and religions and all other man made frontiers. We have been left in the same devastation in the West, in the South, in the East and in the North.. It is no doubt the most tragic and the most massive disaster that Sri Lanka has known in its history.” (http://www.dailynews.lk/2005/01/01/new01.html)
But “little quarrels and the petit conflicts” still seemed dominating the day.
“No to joint efforts”: the nationalist uproar
Obstructing Kofi Annan’s visit clearly demonstrated the state’s inalterable discriminatory attitude towards the Tamil community, even in the middle of unparalleled natural disaster. Encouraged by the regime’s reluctance to explore possibilities to co-operate with the LTTE, the hard line nationalist elements in the ruling coalition intensified their campaigns to prevent any such joint efforts being implemented. The nationalist opposition against recognizing the LTTE – or even the TRO – as an equal partner for carrying out relief operations in the affected areas was supposedly based on their uncompromising stand on “safe guarding the national sovereignty.” Accepting LTTE as an equal partner in relief efforts, they argued, would legitimize its’ de-facto administration while strengthening its role as the pre-dominant political force in North and East of the island. The efficiency and the organizational capacity demonstrated by the Tigers in addressing the immediate humanitarian needs of the affected population were conveniently put aside. Instead, it was argued, that the unexpected situation should be considered as an opportunity to “dismantle the terrorist outfit.”
On January 08th, the JVP – the main coalition partner of the UPFA government requested the UN General Secretary not to support the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), which carried
out extensive rehabilitation and relief work in the Tiger administered areas. As to report published in The Island on 11th January: “Please pay the utmost serious heed to the fears expressed by the Canadian Government that funds raised by the TRO for tsunami sufferers would be used not for relief, but for buying armaments for the LTTE,” the JVP leader said in his meeting with the UN Secretary General Annan at the President’s House on Saturday (08) where Annan met with the leaders of the political parties…. The JVP leader said the international community has an obligation now to ‘stand up to what they advocate on democracy, free elections, human rights, free speech, the rule of law, accountability, transparency and the rights of children’ by helping the government to dismantle the terrorist outfit. (http://www.island.lk/2005/01/11/news11.html)
The Sinhala nationalist fears reflected through the JVP were mainly based on rumours and speculation about the increasing international pressures, mainly by the EU, that might compel the
UPFA government to strike an alliance with the Tigers to carry out massive rehabilitation work. They feared that such a working arrangement may re-establish the necessary foundation to resume peace talks on an equal footing. While addressing a large gathering of its relief workers, the JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe clearly stated that his party would vehemently oppose any such effort to collaborate with the LTTE. On January 24th, The Island reported: “The JVP is opposing the ongoing efforts to involve the LTTE in the rehabilitation and reconstruction process in the north and east provinces. They will not accept the LTTE’s participation as it would legitimize the group despite it being a proscribed organization abroad… Amarasinghe said the LTTE should not be allowed to take advantage of the situation to legitimise its armed power..…The JVP leader emphasized that the LTTE wouldn’t be welcome as long as it remained armed.”(http://www.island.lk/2005/01/24/news2.html)
It seemed that the hard line nationalists – mainly the JVP which was the second biggest coalition partner, is disturbed by the possibility of being sidelined and weakened as a result of any such
dealings with LTTE. Given the fact that such a move may ease the tensions and diffuse the hostilities between the UNP and the SLFP, the JVP’s fears seemed well grounded as far as their political agenda was concerned. The formation of any joint mechanism between the UPFA government and the LTTE that might inevitably pave the way to resumption of peace talks contained the possibility of filling the gulf between the main two political parties to a certain extent, at least on the basis of mere pragmatism.
The increasing differences that manifested the growing power struggle within the ruling UPFA was explained somewhat in detail by “The Sunday Times” political columnist on 06th February, 2005: “The JVP leadership has been keeping Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera posted on their differences. In fact, I referred last week to how Kadirgamar, quite oblivious to the fact, prevented the JVP from making a public announcement giving the government notice it would quit the Alliance when he explained what the government was doing in regard to the relief efforts. At the discussions within the JVP leadership they feel that these complaints of theirs are not getting registered with President Kumaratunga. That she is
not taking their complaints seriously. President Kumaratunga, somewhat distracted by the tsunami, had her own game plan for the immediate future. Her term of office properly expires this year. Certainly that is what the UNP is saying. She has a trick up her sleeve to extend the term, but that is only till the end of next year, not much longer…. There is a perception within the JVP hierarchy that the President is moving away from her earlier strategy believing it’s not going to work, and time is running out. The new plan is to work a deal with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse. A rapprochement with the Premier is what is on the cards… The JVP is in a dilemma. It has vowed to see that Wickremesinghe will not become the President of this country. At the beginning its dislike for Mahinda Rajapakse was not a secret. And the feelings were mutual. Now, however, relations have thawed. They are working together, in a kind of a way.” (http://sundaytimes.lk/050206/columns/political.html)
Apart from the JVP’s long standing die hard opposition to Tamil national demands, there were several other important reasons that remained concealed behind their breast beating chauvinist
campaigns. On one hand the JVP desperately fought an internal war within the ruling coalition to hold its’ ground against being checkmated by a possible unofficial alliance between the UNP and the SLFP. On the other hand, the JVP was determined to prevent the continuous attempts made by its competing nationalist opponent – the JHU – to break the monopoly it had over the nationalist political forces in the South. The JHU who remained outside the ruling alliance raised a serious challenge to the JVP’s position as the champion of the Sinhala nationalism, by threatening to wage an all out political war if the UPFA decides to strike a deal with Tigers.
It was the internal conflict within the Sinhala ruling class that kept the Tamils at bay, despite the grave humanitarian situation prevailed on the ground. In fact, the necessity to work out a practical strategy to address the immediate humanitarian issues was thwarted not by any inflexibility of the Tamil side, but instead by the lack of consensus within the Sinhala political class. The
aftermath of Tsunami, which was seen as an opportunity to resume trust and mutual respect provided by an unexpected catastrophe was ruthlessly neglected in favour of “little quarrels and the petit conflicts”.
“Good Samaritans” on war ships: The arrival of US troops
On 30th of December, 2004, at least 30 members from the 613th Contingency Response Group at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and Marines from the III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa arrived at Katunayake military base in Sri Lanka. Apart from the team that was specialized in civil affairs, medical treatment, preventive medicine, contracting and civil engineering, there were airmen from the 613th CRG are to conduct an airfield suitability assessment.
“Right now we have a group of 10 members on the team to evaluate the conditions of the airfield and to select the best place for strategic airlift,” said Lt. Col. Paul Williams, 613th CRG commander. “We will make sure that the local airfields can support aircraft like the C-17 (Globemaster III) and the C-5 (Galaxy) during disaster relief operations.” (http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?storyID=123009495)
On 1st of January, 2005, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Jeffery Lunstead along with Commander of U.S. Joint Task Force 536th’s Disaster Relief Assessment Team (DRAT), Colonel Thomas Collins and a official from the USAID briefed media about the arrival of US troops. “The Aircraft Carrier, USS Bon Homme Richard – a 40,530-ton Wasp class amphibious assault ship – which is to support full fledged U.S rescue operations in Galle, Amparai, Trincomalee and Jaffna coasts is also equipped with five small scale hovercrafts, the officials said in the press conference….. 200 US Marines are expected to arrive on Sunday (02) afternoon or Monday (03) morning to setup the required Command and Control system for the rescue operations….He said that initially the operation would begin in worst-hit Amparai, Trincomalee, Jaffna and Galle districts and the US Marine and the Joint Task Forces (JTF) would engage in “point to point distribution” using the Hovercrafts and Marine Helicopters to carry the relief items to the needy areas.
He said that the number of the Marines in Sri Lanka may go up or down depending on the requirements and the co-operation they get from the Sri Lankan armed forces on the ground.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=13822)
According to a report published by Colombo’s Sunday Times, US Secretary of State Colin Powell had phoned Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on January 1st to finalize the deployment of US troops in the island. The report further said, that “the rapid increase in the US commitment, first at US$ 12.5 million, then raised to US$ 35 million and now US$ 350 million has already been officially announced. US Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead told a news conference last evening that 1,400 marines would be assigned for rebuilding work….US troop deployment in Sri Lanka and their possible presence in the eastern waters have caused considerable anxiety in the LTTE hierarchy. Reports from Kilinochchi said the guerilla leadership was discussing whether or not to raise issue over the matter with Norwegian peace facilitators. The move has already received the endorsement of the Indian Government, according to diplomatic sources.” (http://sundaytimes.lk/050102/news/8.html)
The report further highlighted the growing interest among the high profile US officials in visiting Sri Lanka. ‘Among them are Secretary Powell, Governor Jeb Bush, brother of President George Bush, and Senate Minority Leader Dr. Bill Frist described as one of ten top influential leaders in the United States. They are trying to schedule visits to Colombo’ – the Sunday Times report revealed.
On 15th January, the US Embassy in Colombo said in a press release that “the United States has so far provided more than US $38 million in emergency relief assistance to Sri Lanka not including the cost of deploying military personnel and assets to the country…. the US military has deployed several ships and detachments of military personnel in the region. The USS Duluth, carrying earth moving equipment, Marines and helicopters is lying off the coast of Galle and approximately six hundred members of the United States Marine Corps are currently working to provide humanitarian aid in Sri Lanka. Approximately 11 US military aircraft are flying relief missions in the south and east.”
By the first week of January, USAID Disaster Assessment team members including Col. Tom Collins and Bill Berger were conducting assessments in three areas around the country in the south
and east (Galle, Matara, and Trincomalee) as part of the international effort. Following the visit of US State Secretary Colin Powell to Sri Lanka on 7th of January, the sailors from USS Duluth (LPD 6) – Austin class amphibious transport dock – and Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) landed on the shores of Sri Lanka on 12th January. They were followed by the US Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz and Admiral Thomas Fargo, commander of the US Pacific Command, who arrived on 17th January. By the time of their visit, at least 600 US marines and military aircraft and a landing craft remained deployed in Sri Lanka.
The nature of the “intervention” which was summarized later in a pamphlet published by the US Naval War College proves the rapidity and the vastness of the entire operation: “On 2 January 2005, Brigadier General Panter arrived in Colombo to establish Combined Support Groups–Sri Lanka. He immediately set up a civil-military operations center, called a combined disaster relief center, in order to facilitate the distribution of supplies and serve as the “central coordination point” with respect to other external organizations. Two days later, an advance contingent of seventeen Marines landed at Colombo airport, supported by thirty Air Force communications and technical experts. Eventually Panter deployed 1,500 troops around Sri Lanka—mainly in the south, so as to avoid rebel strongholds in the north… During the first week, they helped deliver approximately thirty-one thousand pounds of food, water, and medicine throughout southern Sri Lanka, mainly by HH-60 (Pave Hawk) helicopters from the 33rd Rescue Squadron, based in Kadena Air Force Base, on Okinawa….. In addition to providing aid, American Seabees and other engineers helped clear damage in Galle, one of Sri Lanka’s seven “world heritage sites.” They demolished two damaged buildings and moved 250 cubic yards of rubble at a women’s college in Galle to clear space for future construction. These teams also cleared debris at several schools and at a Sri Lankan army base. “We’ve seen an immediate effect through our efforts,” said LT Jorge Cuadros, the air detachment officer in charge of Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 7, from Guam. During the second week, the supplies delivered by U.S. forces increased to fifty thousand pounds as CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, sent from Iraq, flew a total of thirty-five missions.” (http://www.usnwc.edu/Publications/Naval-War-College-Press/Newport-Papers/Documents/28-pdf.aspx)
The overall picture appeared to be purely ‘humanitarian’. The good Samaritans were clearing the debris, building roads, repairing schools and distributing candies while the aircraft carriers and assault ships remained at anchor, off Sri Lanka’s shores. Though a certain section among the Sinhala nationalists seemed to be enjoying a sense of power by the presence of US military, some cast doubts
on the motives behind such presence. On January 10th, The Wall Street Journal wrote: “One reason for the Americans’ speedy appearance on the scene: They had long planned on coming here anyway. Thailand hosts annual military exercises with the U.S. that have expanded in recent years to include Singapore, the Philippines and even Mongolia. The U.S. officers were coming to prepare for the exercise’s next round….American military cooperation with Asian counterparts has been growing elsewhere in the region. Last year, colonels and generals from 13 countries in the region gathered in Sri Lanka to attend a training seminar by U.S. Marines on the use of non-lethal weapons, such as those used to quell riots. India and the U.S. last year exchanged officers to observe one another’s artillery exercises…..The developments show how U.S. military ties in South and Southeast Asia have been gradually expanding in recent years, mostly under the radar of ordinary citizens in the Asian countries involved, many of whom have been sharply critical of the Iraq war and aspects of Washington’s global anti-terrorism campaign.” (U.S. Military Ties To Region Allowed Faster Response / The Wall Street Journal – January 10, 2005)
Interestingly, it was the Anglican Church of Sri Lanka, and not the “ardent anti-imperialists” among the nationalist, who blew the whistle, sensing the danger of being exploited for a wider geopolitical game. Amidst reports that some 1,650 US marines have already arrived in Sri Lanka and with a government official reportedly saying they may stay on for two years, Colombo’s Anglican Bishop Duleep de Chickera in a statement said: “There is growing concern about the presence of foreign military personnel for relief work. Undoubtedly, these personnel are trained to respond quickly and professionally and can be easily mobilized when disasters happen. Being mindful however of current geo-politics and power struggles that particularly threaten and exploit the more vulnerable countries, it is imperative that once the task of relief is complete, these military personnel should return to their home base. While we appreciate their present humanitarian assistance, it would be a serious mistake with alarming consequences if those who arrive for humanitarian purposes become entrenched into a politico-military agenda”. (http://sundaytimes.lk/050123/news/17.html)
Instead of exploring the true motives behind the swift US response, the Southern nationalists welcomed their presence while undermining doubts expressed by others. This was evident in a statement issued by the JVP in the first week of February, which hailed the international military presence, including the US . According to a report on The Sunday Times on 6th February, “the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has hailed the services of foreign troops including the US teams which assisted in relief and rehabilitation work following the tsunami disaster. JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe in a statement said that they were hailing the services of foreign troops including India, US and Pakistan who sent members of their armed forces without weapons to help Sri Lanka. Usually armed forces entering a country was a threat to the sovereignty of the country, but sending of unarmed troops to help a country which is trying to rebuild after a major catastrophe cannot be seen as a challenge to the sovereignty of the country”, he said. Therefore we do not have any hesitation in hailing the services of the unarmed forces which offered a hand of friendship to Sri Lanka.”(http://sundaytimes.lk/050206/news/14.html)
But the “unarmed forces” were armed with a well calculated long term strategic agenda. Tsunami devastation simply provided an ideal pretext to address the strategic needs by enhancing military ties with the region and projecting US military power throughout the Indian Ocean, which could have whipped up widespread opposition under normal conditions. There is no wonder why the very issue became one among the “Top 05 censored stories in 2005” according to Project Censored listings – a sociological project managed through the School of Social Sciences at the Sonoma State University Foundation. : “During subsequent tsunami relief operations, the U.S. reactivated its military co-operation agreements with Thailand and the Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines. U.S. Navy also vessels utilized facilities in Singapore, keeping with previous treaties. Further, the U.S. marines and the navy arrived in Sri Lanka to bolster relief measures…”. Quoting from an article written by Delhi based defence journalist and long-time defence correspondent of Jane’s Defence Weekly Delhi, Rahul Bedi, the Project Censored researcher writes: “According to Bedi, Washington has long wanted a navel presence in Trincomalee, eastern Sri Lanka, or alternatively in Galle, further south, to shorten the supply chain from its major regional military base in distant Diego Garcia, which the British Ocean Territory leased to the U.S. in 1966 for the length of fifty years. The use of these bases would ring China, giving the U.S. added control over that country’s activities. Diego Garcia’s geostrategic location in the Indian Ocean and its full range of naval, military and communications facilities gives it a critical role supporting the U.S. Navy’s forward presence in the North Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean Region. However, because of the bases’ remoteness and the fact that its lease from Britain expires in 2016, the U.S. seeks an alternative location in the region. “Clearly these new bases will strengthen Washington’s military logistical support in the region,” says Professor Anuradha Chenoy at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University……. Post-tsunami U.S. actions in the Indian Ocean illustrate its intention to move this agenda forward sooner rather than later.”(http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/5-us-uses-tsunami-to-military-advantage-in-southeast-asia/)
The message concealed behind the rapid US response was clear and straight forward. While forcefully re-asserting its’ military and political pre-dominance in the region through swift action, US
emphasized in un-ambiguous terms – to both state and non-state actors in the region – of its capabilities and strengths. As it was spelt out by Jeffrey Bader, a National Security Council Asian expert during the Clinton administration, noted, “This gives us an opportunity to remind the countries in the region that there are things that we can do that no one else can do – and, in particular, China can’t do.” (http://www.usnwc.edu/Publications/Naval-War-College-Press/Newport-Papers/Documents/28-pdf.aspx)
Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS)
Despite the rising tensions, even in the Southern politics there was a slow tendency that started to realize the magnitude of the disaster, moving beyond the ethnic lines. This was reflected when the head of the Government’s Secretariat for coordinating Peace Process (SCOPP) Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala said on the 13th of January at a press conference in Colombo, that “there is a greater base on which we [GOSL and LTTE] can work together. After the tsunami disaster, there is a remarkable opportunity created to resume the stalled peace talks” While openly acknowledging “that the accessibility to rush the urgent assistance to the North-East was hindered during the first three days, he hailed the LTTE of having shown “remarkable efficiency in handling rescue and relief efforts in such a difficult circumstance” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=13972)’
But on the 7th February 2005, just two weeks before the CFA completed its 3rd year and just one month after the Tsunami disaster, the Eastern Province Political head of the Tigers was gunned
down along with a parliamentarian from Tamil National Alliance and several others. They were assassinated as they were crossing the government controlled area after informing the relevant authorities. LTTE’s Eastern political chief Eliyathamby Nagenthiran Lingarasa alias Kausalyan’s death had a severe impact on post – tsunami peace process, as it was seen as a crucial blow to reaching an understanding between the two parties. Kausalyan, was considered as an important figure in the East, where the tensions between the Tamils and Muslims were high due to various unresolved issues. As the political chief in the area, Kausalyan took important initiatives to rebuild harmonious relationship between the two communities, mainly through Tsunami relief and rehabilitation work. He was gunned down while he was returning from an important meeting held in Tiger political headquarters in the Vanni regarding the relief operations in the East. Even the critics of the Tigers praised him for the remarkable work he had performed. One such example was well illustrated in one of the columns written by Tamil journalist D. B. S.Jeyaraj: “One of his greatest achievements was mending fences to a great extent with the estranged Muslim community. He took exceptional care to prevent Tamil – Muslim enmity erupting. He allowed Muslim traders to visit Tamil areas and do business. His death is a great loss to Tamil – Muslim brotherhood. The spontaneous hartal observed in Muslim areas to protest his killing and the remarkably large Muslim attendance at Kausalyan’s funeral at Thandiaddy is illustrative of his relationship with the Muslims… Kausalyan had left leaning tendencies. Coming from an agricultural worker background he was interested in land reform. Kausalyan spearheaded the acquisition of land from rich Tamil and Muslim landowners and distributing it in small allotments to landless peasants.” (http://www.tamilweek.com/Kausalyan.html)
Tigers angrily reacted to the killing of Kausalyan. The bitterness was expressed by many prominent Tiger leaders who were seen present at Kausalyan’s funeral. K. V. Balakumaran, one of the most senior political leaders of Tigers said: “We thought the tsunami disaster which killed Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese, regardless of their race and class, would have driven some sense into Sinhala political leaders. Kousalyan’s murder shows they have not changed. They are still intent on crushing the Tamil nation by foul means” (“This peace is not an easy one” – Tamil Guardian / February 23, 2003). The words of the Tiger leader was echoed not only by Tamils who shared same sentiments, but even by prominent Sinhala scholars such as the Head of the Political Science Department in the University of Colombo, Professor Jayadeva Uyangoda:” “The CFA gave the Sinhalese political class the necessary breathing space to resolve the conflict in partnership with the LTTE, but they seemed to have squandered the opportunity. Not even the unprecedented natural disaster of December tsunami has moved them in a constructive direction.” (Daily Mirror – 16 March 2005)
Nevertheless, the continuous efforts were made to find a way to coordinate the relief work as an initial step towards resuming direct negotiations. Despite their frustration, the Tigers conveyed these intentions to GoSL, through the Norwegian facilitators who frequently met with both parties. By the beginning of March, there were positive signs from both sides showing certain willingness to cooperate. On the 10th March 2005, the prominent Indian newspaper “The Hindu” reported ‘that the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE are closer to an agreement on a joint mechanism for post-tsunami reconstruction’. Quoting from a Colombo based Tamil daily the report further added that “the details of the proposal reportedly agreed to by the Tigers were not made public. The latest discussions between Mr. Solheim (the chief Norwegian envoy) and Mr. Balasingham are against the backdrop of ongoing efforts since January to put in place a joint-mechanism for post-tsunami reconstruction and the distribution of aid in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. While there is a broad agreement on a range of issues, the sticking points between the two sides are on access to the sea, the composition of ethnic representatives in the joint mechanism team and the mode for channeling aid to the LTTE held areas.” (http://www.hindu.com/2005/03/11/stories/2005031103081400.htm)
By April, both parties managed to sort out disagreements regarding a joint mechanism to carry out post tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction work. In spite of stalled direct talks, both the GoSL and the LTTE communicated through the Norwegian facilitators. Commenting on the positive developments, a diplomat believed to be close to the chief Norwegian envoy, was quoted in a report filed on 24th of April saying that “a deal on joint tsunami relief operations between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka could be completed by the end of May”. (http://cngs.erd.gov.lk/news/diplomat%20says.htm)
But now it was UPFA’s turn to face the rising opposition whipped up by its own allies against the proposed joint mechanism for tsunami relief. The main coalition partner of the UPFA government – the Sinhala nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP – Peoples Liberation Front) actively involved in organizing massive demonstrations through their front organizations while the extreme right wing
party of the Buddhist monks, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU – National Heirtage Party) convened parallel protest campaigns separately. JVP strictly warned that if the government decides to go ahead with the plan to establish a joint mechanism with the LTTE, that will inevitably mark the end of the UPFA government.
On the 10th of June, the UPFA coalition partner JVP announced a five-day dead line in which to drop the proposal of a joint mechanism with LTTE’ After emphasizing the deadline continuously, the JVP quit the ruling coalition on the 16th of June. They were joined by the JHU who demanded that the ‘joint mechanism has to be approved at a referendum, and it should also be approved by the Maha Nayakas with the blessings of the Maha Sangha.’
The massive opposition culminated by fast unto death campaigns by two Buddhist monks representing JVP and the JHU forced the government to accept their demand to discuss the agreement with Buddhist prelates before implementing it. The four Maha Nayaka Theros of the four leading chapters gathered to issue a Sangha Agna (command) and to summon a mass gathering to object to the signing of the Joint Mechanism between the GoSL and the LTTE. On the 23rd of June, in a statement to the parliament on 22nd of June, JVP signalled a possible future alliance with the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who remained silent over the controversial joint mechanism. While addressing the parliament JVP’s Parliamentary group leader expressed their solidarity with the Prime Minister Rajapaksa: “If the struggle you are engaged in to defeat the conspiracy, staged by a minority clique sustained by foreign aid of a few NGOs, is successful, maybe we’ll meet on one platform again.”(http://www.lankanewspapers.com/news/2005/6/2350.html)
Notwithstanding the growing opposition, on the 24th of June 2005, the Government and the LTTE signed an agreement for establishing a Joint Mechanism on Tsunami Aid Distribution. Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure or P-TOMS as it is widely known is the regulatory outcome of the above said joint mechanism. On the same day the JVP announced that it will legally challenge the P-TOMS. On the 27th JVP filed a case in country’s Supreme Court stating ‘that the PTOMS should be made null and void, and that the court should place an interim injunction with immediate effect on its authority to divest development funds.’
Even though the signing of the agreement was interpreted as a break through, the government’s action did not show any significant progress with regard to practical implementation of the agreement. The relevant committees weren’t appointed until three weeks had elapsed. Foreseeing the fate of the joint mechanism long before it was signed, Dharmaratnam Sivaram, the brilliant analyst and well known journalist wrote on the 24th of April: “Lets take the joint mechanism. This has to do with the destruction of homes, displacement and refugees. The six rounds of talks between the Liberation Tigers and the government of Sri Lanka sought to resolves issues around these. But what happened? Nothing! The first thing needed to address the destruction of dwellings and to resettle refugees is land, then money. Both of these remain in the firm hold of the government of Sri Lanka. Its constitution prevents the dissemination of its executive powers on these matters to any other body. That is why the former government and the Liberation Tigers failed to create any meaningful body to reconstruct the Tamil areas devastated by war or to resettle displaced civilians. Sinhala legal experts pointed out then that any such body would contravene the constitution of Sri Lanka and some chauvinists even threatened to ask the Supreme Court to render it invalid. The joint mechanism in relation to the Tsunami damage also relates to the destruction of dwellings, displacement and refugees. Therefore no one can prevent the same basic stumbling blocks appearing again.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=14796)
The article became his very last journalistic contribution. On the 28th of April 2005, four days after the article was published, Dharmaratnam Sivaram was gunned down, after being abducted in Colombo. But his death could not prevent his prophetic words becoming a reality. On the 15th of July, the Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court delivered its judgement on the Interim Relief, sought by the JVP, against the P-TOMS agreement. The petitioners sought interim relief against the establishment of the Regional Committees and the Regional Fund, in the tsunami affected areas of the Northern and Eastern Coasts. They held that the proposed bodies are illegal and unconstitutional. Through its judgement, Supreme Court stayed critical operational clauses of the P-TOMS signed by Colombo and the LTTE. “The three-member Bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice, unanimously stayed the project approval and fund management functions of the committee — the most critical element of the joint mechanism at the regional level.”(The Hindu – 16.07.2005)
On the 18th of July, the Tigers expressed their deep frustration through an interview given by LTTE’s political chief, while confirming their further commitment to the CFA: “As Tamil people have repeatedly witnessed in their tortuous history of the past several decades, Colombo has shown its reluctance to provide remedies to Tamil people even after humanitarian disasters of colossal proportions… This is an unfortunate turn of events. Sinhala leaders have been using one strategy or another to scuttle any deal that provides some benefit to Tamils. Sinhala leaders often resorted to using Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists, extreme Sinhala nationalist parties, or Buddhist clergy and if all fails, using the judicial system to defend the injustices and institutionalized discrimination of Tamils. Joint Mechanism was drafted to provide swift redress to a people who have undergone untold hardships. The reaction of the Sinhala polity to this humanitarian deal can be explained in the above historical context.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=15414)
On the 12th of September, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court extended its interim injunction on the implementation of certain clauses of the P-TOMS until November 22. It fixed the inquiry into the
petition filed by the JVP seeking the cancellation of the P-TOMS on the same date. But by then the presidential election date was set for 18th November. The extreme nationalist forces such as JVP and JHU, who fought relentlessly to abolish the P-TOMS had turned into closest allies of the UPFA presidential candidate, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. UPFA election manifesto clearly spelt out his future policy regarding the Tsunami joint mechanism: “The proposed Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure would not be implemented. It would be replaced with ‘Jaya Lanka’ programme, which would be designed to immediately provide for rehabilitation in keeping with the views and proposals of Sinhala, Tamil and Muslims’’” (Victory for Sri Lanka: Mahinda Chintana – Page 36)
First the Sub Committees collapsed. Then the proposals for an Interim Self Governing Authority was abandoned. Now it was the time to throw another bilateral agreement into the same old dustbin, as it frequently happened in Sri Lankan history.
9. The Die is Cast
Laying the ground work for ‘Final War’
The widespread belief is that the recent war triggered off spontaneously when the Tigers closed a sluice gate in the Eastern province in May 2006, compelling the government forces
to march into the Tiger territory which later developed into a full scale war. But this oversimplified interpretation of events fails to give a satisfactory explanation to the final episode of the Sri Lanka’s armed conflict. The factors that made the war a reality, is deeply intertwined with the conditions that destabilized the peace process with the weakening the CFA. Therefore in order to understand the underlying causes of the recent war, one has to grasp the logic behind the sequence of events that led to unravelling of the CFA, thereby destabilized the negotiation process.
The strength of the CFA depended solely on the progress that was achieved in the process of bringing normalcy and establishing demilitarized environment in the war torn north-east provinces
of Sri Lanka, which were seen as a preconditions for the creation of a conducive atmosphere for the holding of dialogue between the two parties. Therefore, right from the beginning of the peace process, both parties accepted the fact that the “improving the living conditions of the war affected people” should be prioritized in order to find a lasting negotiated settlement to the conflict. This very fact was explained in clear terms in the preamble of the CFA: “The GOSL and the LTTE recognise the importance of bringing an end to the hostilities and improving the living conditions for all inhabitants affected by the conflict.
“Bringing an end to the hostilities is also seen by the parties as a means of establishing a positive atmosphere in which further steps towards negotiations on a lasting solution can be taken” (Agreement on a ceasefire between the Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – Preamble). It further mentions that “the parties have agreed to…. refrain from conduct that could undermine the good intentions or violate the spirit of this agreement and implement confidence-building measures…”
While stressing the importance of implementation of confidence building measures, under the “Article 2: Measures to Restore Normalcy”, both parties agreed to undertake such “confidence
building measures with the aim of restoring normalcy”, to achieve a lasting peace. The importance of establishing provisional mechanisms (such as joint sub committees, an authority for interim administration or the post tsunami joint mechanism) should be viewed within the context of these agreed notions.
All such mechanisms ended in failure completely due to the structural incapability of the existing state to accommodate any such provisional set up and its inability or reluctance to build a common consensus within the majority community to support such initiatives. Therefore, by November 2005, though the CFA remained intact, there was no clear substantial progress achieved through the negotiating process that could have influenced the presidential election campaign. The fragility of the peace process was evidently visible.
As a consequence of the success achieved by anti-peace elements with the fullest backing of certain international powers in blocking every positive move towards achieving a permanent settlement, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was restructured by bringing the most right wing forces that had remained in the margins of power, into the main stream politics of Sri Lanka. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who maintained a dubious silence over P-TOMS agreement, was understandably chosen as the common candidate to voice the hard-line position of these forces. In his election manifesto, which was drafted under the influence of these forces, there was no declaration of any substantial policy which explains how to restart the stalled peace talks or how to address the disputed issues which caused the dead lock. Instead, the UPFA manifesto clearly signalled that they are intended to ‘amend’ the “Cease Fire Agreement entered into by the United National Front Government in much haste and in a short sighted manner…compromising national security.” (Victory for Sri Lanka: Mahinda Chintana – Page 31). The manifesto further stressed that Rajapaksa’s, “primary aim would be to arrive at peaceful political settlement where the power of each and every citizen is strengthened to the maximum, without being trapped within concepts such as traditional homelands and right to self determination” (Victory for Sri Lanka: Mahinda Chintana – Page 32). Since the very concepts of traditional homelands and right to self determination of the Tamil people had occupied the centre of Tamil national politics for over three decades, were rejected outright, the foundation were made for future hostilities. By expressing his will to unilaterally “amend” a bilateral agreement, the UPFA candidate clearly undermined the fundamental premises upon which CFA was based, namely accepting the parity of status and the importance of building mutual confidence between the two parties.
On one hand, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s grand strategy to win the upcoming presidential elections heavily depended on his ability to bring the JVP and the JHU into the fold of UPFA. But on the other hand, it was quite clear that such an alliance would definitely become a stumbling block that would restrain any further progress in the peace process. But Rajapaksa went ahead with his plan and signed a 13 point Memorandum of Understanding with the nationalist JVP on 8th September and on 13th he struck another 12 point deal with the JHU. Reporting on the developments, Indian daily “The Hindu” wrote on the 09th of September, “The key conditions set by the JVP and accepted by Mr. Rajapakse include a solution to the island’s separatist conflict which would preserve the unitary state, abolition of the executive presidency, reworking the 2002 ceasefire agreement and the need to reconsider the role of the facilitators, Norway…. The JVP leader, Somawanse Amarasinghe, said the agreement was reached to defeat the “common enemy” and overcome the “threats to national interest.” It was also “time for all forces to come together to defeat terrorism,’ he said.” (http://www.hindu.com/2005/09/09/stories/2005090904721400.htm)
The impending and inevitable threat was clear. The faint hopes of a negotiated settlement that still remained slowly started to wither away. Expressing their deep dismay, Tigers “described the political alliances in Sri Lanka as having a “nullifying” effect on the steps taken during the last three years.” Speaking to “The Hindu” the Tiger political wing leader said, “The overwhelming desire one sees in the political landscape in the south seems to be the continuation of the unitary state and throw to winds any understanding on humanitarian delivery for tsunami victims through a well-structured mechanism….this nullifies the efforts taken during the last threeand- a-half years to build confidence.” (http://www.hindu.com/2005/09/09/stories/2005090904681400.htm)
The election became an open competition between the two main candidates determined to convince the southern voters about their capability to encircle and destroy the Tamil resistance, arousing the anti-CFA sentiments among Sinhala masses. While the UPFA candidate assured that the CFA would be “amended” and the “ceasefire monitoring mechanism would be reviewed” (Victory for Sri Lanka: Mahinda Chintana – Page 35), a week before the elections the UNF claimed credit for weakening the Tamil struggle by “splitting the Tamil movement through the peace process” (an interview with UNF minister Milinda Moragoda – Daily Mirror / 08.11.2005).
Reflecting on these electoral power plays that governs the collective thinking of the Sinhala polity, Sinhala intellectual Prof.Uyangoda writes: “Excessive politicisation of the peace process has been a negative experience in Sri Lanka’s recent peacemaking efforts. The politicisation has occurred on partisan electoral considerations. The two main political parties, instead of forging a coalition for peace, have engaged in an exercise in “ethnic outbidding”. When the party in power initiated the peace process with LTTE, the partyoutside the power mobilized the nationalist opposition to it.” (Prof.Jayadeva Uyangoda -Transition from Civil War to Peace: A policy brief / Social Scientists Association, Colombo – Page 05)
Fuelled by the competing claims made by two main pre-dominantly Sinhala political coaltions over their ability to outmanoeuvre the Tamil national movement, the Tamils were pushed further away from the electoral process. Ethnic polarization was clearly reflected throughout the election campaign exposing that the three and half years of ceasefire had not been able to end the alienation of Tamil people from the main stream politics of Sri Lanka. These bitter sentiments were vividly illustrated in a report compiled by a foreign journalist who travelled the Northern parts of the island during the height of the election campaign which was published two days before the elections: “Marutani Kesevarajah is 63 and has lived in Killinochchi all her life….She says she does not see a reason to vote. “Neither candidate will give us what we need. Eventually both will just bring war.”…Just across the street, nineteen-year-old P. Selvan proclaims that he does not care one way or another about the Nov. 17 election….”These elections are not for the Tamils,” he says. “They do not care about us in the North. No matter what happens we will not get what we need to prosper and be free…both [candidates] will probably bring war. One might bring it sooner, but it will come. We have lost our hope for peace.”
“In Jaffna, a northern city that houses Sri Lankan troops, soldiers walk the street…Their presence has some residents on edge and some are too fearful to speak on record. They don’t see the election as bringing real peace and they don’t plan to vote.Just outside of town, in a refugee camp for persons displaced during the war, a group of adults has crowded into a tiny preschool. This particular village has not been allowed to return to their homes since 1990. For “security reasons,” the Sri Lankan military now occupies their land. The residents plan to boycott the election, arguing that ceasefire hasn’t permitted them to return home.”
“The polls open shortly, but many Tamils in the north are convinced that the candidates don’t understand their real security and economic concerns. They will be staying away. Open warfare has ceased, but in some communities people say peace feels more like occupation than freedom.” (http://www.asiamedia.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=33699)
Under the pretext of “democratic elections”, the stage was set for renewed hostilities. The war had been virtually declared on the southern election platforms by opposing candidates who refused to respect the elementary democratic principles of equality and dignity, on which the negotiations were based upon. A victorious alliance consisted of extreme Sinhala nationalists groups that actively and vehemently opposed a negotiated settlement right from the beginning of the peace process including the CFA, setting up of sub committees, the ISGA and the P-TOMS could not assure anything other than a renewed military confrontation. What needed was an “event” to trigger off the conflict.
Escalation of War: The Eastern Theatre
More than any other devastative military onslaught carried out by the Sri Lankan government during the first two decades of war since 1983, the final offensives concluded recently had been destructive and murderous in every sense.
After four years of relative peace, tensions started to accumulate in the Eastern port city of Trincomalee in the end of July 2006, following a dispute over distribution of irrigation water. The new crisis appeared to emanate from a dispute over the closing down of Mavil Aru sluice gate in the Tiger controlled areas cutting the water supply to several villages situated inside the Government controlled areas. Closing the sluice gate was an act of protest by the villagers who were backed by the Tigers who blamed the government for excluding Tamil villages from Asian Development Bank funded project to provide clean drinking water. A well informed analyst explaining the background of the crisis wrote: “The recent edition of the crisis started with the ADB funded project on drinking water supply to the area along with the use of the reservoir. The initial project plan was to supply drinking water only to the government controlled areas. But when people of the LTTE controlled areas protested, ADB decided to extend the project to the whole area, irrespective of who controlled them. The tense situation in Trincomalee since last year prevented the project to take off. But, when the GOSL recently announced to go ahead with the project in the areas under its control, the people in the “un-cleared” areas, without giving room for negotiations, closed the sluice gates of the anicut (irrigation channel), blocking water to some 30,000 acres of ripe paddy fields and 60,000 people. – (Mavilaru Crisis: Implications for Ceasefire Agreement in Sri Lanka – Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies / http://www.ipcs.org/article_details.php?articleNo=2088)
In order to prevent further escalation, the SLMM intervened and the rebels agreed to compromise by opening the sluice gates. But the government responded by launching a fresh full scale military offensive on 26th of July. Artillery and heavy air power was used on both civilian and rebel targets. When the SLMM tried to prevent the violence spreading any further, they too became a target of government criticism: “The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) had entered this area unannounced. The SLMM had NOT INFORMED the Secretariat for Co-ordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) regarding intended travel to Mavil Aru. SCOPP informed the SLMM Headquarters in Colombo and sought the withdrawal of the SLMM from this operational area in order to prevent endangering the lives of SLMM Monitors.” (Press Release of the Sri Lanka Secretariat for Coordinating Peace – 06 August 2006)
On the 7th of August, an independent reporter visiting the area wrote: “The shelling came after the rebels offered to give in on a key government demand – to re-open a sluice gate which provides water to farms on government-held territory – but warned that new attacks would spark “full-scale war. Ulf Henricsson, the Swede who heads the unarmed Nordic-staffed ceasefire monitoring mission, was heading towards the sluice gate, near the northeastern port of Trincomalee, when the artillery opened fire. Tommy Lekenmyr, the chief of staff for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, said: “[The government] have the information that the LTTE has made this offer. They said if you have any personnel in the area, make sure that they leave because we are starting an operation.
“It is quite obvious they are not interested in water. They are interested in something else. We will blame this on the government.”( PETER APPS – Fifteen aid workers found executed / http://news.scotsman.com/srilanka/Fifteen-aid-workers-found-executed.2799099.jp)
Summarizing the objectives of the government’s offensive, a retired Indian Army Colonel , concluded on 12th August: “It is clear the objective of the GOSL from the beginning was not merely humanitarian but to re-establish its credibility in its ongoing cold war with LTTE. It had totally sidelined the SLMM efforts to negotiate a solution with the LTTE and resolve the Mavil Aru issue. …Thus a dangerous situation is developing towards full-fledged war in Sri Lanka and Operation Watershed appears to be an overture for that. One can only hope President Rajapakse encouraged by his political and military success in this episode does not go for the military option” (SRI LANKA: Mavil Aru Operation and After – Col.R.Hariharan http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers20%5Cpaper1908.html)
Mavil Aru episode marked the initial declaration of final war by the Sri Lankan Government. The year that followed (which ended by capturing the entire eastern province in July 2007) witnessed a profound human tragedy in the east of Sri Lanka killing, maiming and displacing hundreds and thousands of civilians. As a consequence of the government military offensives aimed at “flushing out terrorists” more than 200,000 civilians got displaced (http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5726) in addition to uncounted number of deaths.
Following the ‘victory’ a process of ‘sinhalisation’ was initiated with the blessings of the state and its military. Up till the present, state backed colonization schemes have created unending tensions among the ethnic communities in the region. As International Crisis Group pointed out in one of their reports: “Both Tamils and Muslims suspect the government plans to “Sinhalise” the east – through development projects that will bring in new Sinhala settlers, environmental regulations that will remove public lands from use by Muslims and Tamils and the recovery of ancient Buddhist sites. Development plans for Trincomalee district, in
conjunction with a high security zone that has forced some 8,000 Tamils off their lands, are objects of particular suspicion. In Ampara district, there are serious tensions between local Muslims and Sinhalese, with the government ally and Sinhala nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) accused of working against Muslims interests.” (Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province: Land, Development, Conflict – http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5726)
As explained earlier on, more than 90 square kilometres out of a total area of 179 square kilometres have been confiscated and declared as a high security zone. The Sri Lankan government has already signed an agreement with the India’s National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC.BO) to build a $500 million coal power plant in this area which was previously inhabited by Tamil and Muslim communities. This is in addition to selling off 35,000 acres of land in Trincomalee district to two private companies for a banana cultivation project and a Cadju plantation. (http://sundaytimes.lk/090726/News/sundaytimesnews_07)
By the end of 2008, nearly one and half years after the so-called liberation, the Eastern province still remained trapped in misery and state terror. According to a Human Rights Watch statement issued on November 24, 2008: “The Sri Lankan government says that the ‘liberated’ East is an example of democracy in action and a model for areas recaptured from the LTTE. But killings and abductions are rife, and there is total impunity for horrific abuses. Human Rights Watch investigations have found that there have been at least 30 extrajudicial killings in the Eastern Province since September.” (http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/11/24/sri-lanka-human-rights-situation-deteriorating-east)
Abrogation of the CFA and the Northern Operations
Following the Eastern victory, the government troops moved into rebel held territory in the Northern Province under the banner of “humanitarian operation to rescue Tamil civilian hostages forcibly held by the Tigers”. In fact the northern operations commenced on a small scale in March 2007, four months before achieving the final victory in the Eastern military campaigns. The advancing troops who largely depended on their heavy fire power and air support forced civilians to flee further into the rebel held areas.
On the 2nd of January 2008, the government of Sri Lanka unilaterally abrogated the 2002 ceasefire agreement, thus making clear of its unhesitant willingness to pursue a military path. Abrogation of the CFA was a clear signal to understand that the Sri Lankan Government is focusing its attention in waging an all out war on Tamils, completely shutting all the doors for any negotiations. Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, who is the president’s brother, bluntly blamed the LTTE for the breakdown of the ceasefire, telling the state owned “Sunday Observer” on December 30, 2007 that the truce existed only on paper and was “a joke”. The Sri Lankan regime insisted that pursuing the military option is the most viable method to end the conflict. Whatever that was said about the political objectives of the ongoing operations, the political and military leaders several times openly admitted the majoritarian thinking that backed the so called “humanitarian war”.
In an interview given to state owned “Daily News” on 19th of July, the Chief of Army clarified the state’s political objectives in clear terms: “In any country the majority community is running the administration. We cannot prevent that situation. If a minority is ruling the majority that is a dangerous situation and it is a problem. That is an unrealistic situation.
“In any democratic country the majority should rule the country. This country will be ruled by the Sinhalese community which is the majority representing 74 percent of the population. More than 50 per cent of the Tamil population is living in and around Colombo.
“Sometimes they are living much better than the Sinhalese and Muslim community. Even today I am saying that they have not been subjected to injustices as claimed.” (Daily News / 19.07.2008 – http://www.dailynews.lk/2008/07/19/fea01.asp)
Within two months when expressing his opinion on the ongoing operations, he emphasized the same position, exposing the underlying political thinking of the military offensives. When General Fonseka was interviewed by the Canadian newspaper “National Post”, he was quoted saying: “”I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese. But there are minority communities and we treat them like our people. We being the majority of the country, 75%, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country.
“We are also a strong nation … They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.” (http://www.nationalpost.com/story.html?id=832374)
A war without witness: Media blackout
From the very beginning, the recent war had been a “war without witnesses” in every sense. The total media blackout maintained by the state justified the accusations levelled against the SL regime about their intention to carry out closed door massacres. No independent journalist was allowed to travel into the conflict areas, during the height of the military campaign forcing them to totally depend on the limited information provided by the Sri Lankan Army and the Ministry of Defence. It was considered as the only battle zone in the world that was declared as out of bounds to any independent media.
Blocking information was not the only method utilized by the state to curtail press freedom. Many journalists were subjected to continuous threats from the state authorities. Since December 22, 2005, 23 media workers were killed, including 11 journalists. Except two, all the others were ethnic Tamils (a detailed document will be provided separately). Since throughout all these years, not a single perpetrator has been brought to justice. By looking at the evidence that is available, it is not difficult to understand that there is a clear intention expressed through the actions of the armed forces and para-military operatives associated with the state, to silence independent Tamil media through an organized intimidation and terror campaign.
Apart from carrying out selected assassinations, many were threatened, abducted, assaulted and tortured or imprisoned. Over 50 journalists, both Sinhala and Tamil were forced into exile within the last three years for voicing the concerns of the people who were affected by the war. According to the well known media rights group – Reporters Without Borders – press freedom Index 2008, “Sri Lanka was ranked 165th out of 173 countries. This was the lowest ranking of any democratic country.” (http://www.dailymirror.lk/DM_BLOG/Sections/frmNewsDetailView.aspx?ARTID=37276)
A similar report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists in February, 2009 highlighted the deteriorating conditions related to press freedom: “Sri Lanka’s journalists are under intensive assault. Authorities have failed to carry out effective and credible investigations into the killing of journalists who question the government’s conduct of a war against Tamil separatists or criticize the military establishment. Many local and foreign journalists and members of the diplomatic community believe the government is complicit in the attacks. The lack of credible investigations into these crimes is in keeping with a long history of impunity for those who attack journalists in Sri Lanka.” (http://cpj.org/reports/2009/02/failure-to-investigate-sri-lankan-journalists-unde.php)
Many foreign correspondents who tried to expose the conditions of the war affected people during and after the war, were deported immediately from the island, as it happened to a group of journalists from the British television Channel 4 in May 2009, for reporting on the horrendous conditions inside the internment camps where the displaced Tamils are being held against their will.
A month before, in April 2009, the South Asian correspondent for the “Times” was stopped at the airport and turned back in the same manner, for not toeing the government line. Describing his experience, Jeremy Page, the deported correspondent later wrote : “I regularly interview members of the Taleban in Afghanistan. In Russia I reported on both sides of the Chechen conflict. In China I interviewed dissidents and Tibetan independence activists. To do the equivalent in Sri Lanka is not only forbidden, it is highly dangerous… The Government denounced me personally at a news conference, but the most surreal response came in a letter from the head of the Government’s Peace Secretariat, who accused me of sensationalising the use of barbed wire in the camps. “Unfortunately, a man from a cold climate does not realise that, in the sub-continent, barbed wire is the most common material to establish secure boundaries, to permit ventilation as well as views,” he wrote.” (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6112835.ece)
A war without witness: Expulsion of aid agencies
Apart from the blocking of information, Sri Lanka became the only country that forced all the relief agencies working in the conflict zone to leave the area, before a given deadline. On September 5, 2008 the Sri Lankan authorities ordered all UN agencies and humanitarian non-governmental organizations to withdraw their staff and operations from the Vanni conflict zone, only allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Catholic church-affiliated Caritas, which employs local staff only, to continue their operations. On the 12th September, displaced civilians who gathered in front of the UNHCR office in Ki’linochchi, pleaded with the remaining officials of the UN and International NGOs not to leave Ki’linochchi as their presence was critical.
As it was later described by a foreign aid worker who had to leave the area “I remember feeling deep shame as I drove past civilians who were watching me from the side of the road, in my ballistic vest, heading for safety, as they stood there in their trousers and shirts and saris.” According to the BBC report, he further said: “We were scheduled to leave Kilinochchi on Friday, 12 September but large-scale protests were held outside our compounds. The people were chanting “Don’t Leave, Don’t Leave”.
“The demonstrators were so polite and respectful to us. They were not angry, they were desperate. They understood that we needed to end our operations, and told us that they would manage themselves with shelter and water. It was the prospect of our physical departure that terrified them. With no international presence and no witness to the conflict, they believed that many atrocities would occur and no one would see this.
“For three days the protests continued. We all understood and felt their fear but our hands were tied. The situation was becoming incredibly dangerous; some international aid workers had to leave their compounds and move to “safer areas” as artillery shells were landing within a few hundred metres of our compounds.” (Pain of Sri Lanka Aid Pullout – 23.09.2009 BBC News – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7630187.stm)
The final phase: the ‘Number Game’
By the end 2008, the stage was set for the worst scenario. The media was barred. The aid workers were ordered to leave the conflict zone. Predicting the impending tragedy, Executive Director of the Australian Council for International Development, told Radio Australia on the 9th September:
“We had a critical food and water shortage for many people, we’re talking here about currently tens of thousands of children who are starving. According to UN estimates, 40 per cent of all children in this area are currently malnourished and don’t have access to any prospect of food. That will deteriorate dramatically over the coming weeks in the absence of humanitarian workers. Clean water is not available in many areas and medicine has been deprived from these communities by the Sri Lankan government, in fact by not allowing medicines through to hospitals and clinics in the area. So this situation is likely to become a bloodbath in the next several weeks. Apart from the direct military conflict we would expect that many, many people will die or be in extreme circumstances if humanitarian workers are not able to access this area.” (http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/programguide/stories/200809/2359170.htm)
But there were deliberate attempts to downplay the magnitude of the impending blood bath. The GoSL kept on insisting that there are no more than 70,000 civilians remaining inside the conflict areas. As it was highlighted in a statement released by the Amnesty International on 19th of November 2008, there were at least 300,000 civilians remaining inside the conflict zone (http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/sri-lankan-government-must-act-now-protect-300000-displaced-20081119). On 28th of January 2009, in one of their press communiqués, Médecins Sans Frontières confirmed that “an estimated 250,000 people trapped in heavy fighting in the Vanni.” (http://doctorswithoutborders.org/news/article.cfm?id=3372&cat=field-news). These numbers were confirmed by the Human Rights Watch who issued a statement titled “SRI LANKA: Urgent Action Needed to Prevent Civilian Deaths” on the same day.
But the Sri Lankan government kept on playing with the numbers by making contradictory statements about the remaining civilians inside the conflict zone. According to two reports published by both BBC and France 24 on the 2nd of February 2009, the government admitted that there are about 120,000 civilians trapped in the area. But a report published on the 15th of February in “The Island” newspaper which quoted the Minister of Human Rights and Disaster Management said that there are only 65,000 civilians left in the battle area. It didn’t stop there. Again on the 27th of February the state owned “Daily News” quoted the Defence Secretary saying that there are still around 88,000 civilians left to be “liberated.” After two weeks, when the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes visited the country, he was told that there are about 70,000 people remaining in Vanni. But on the 13th of March, while having a telephone discussion with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the humanitarian situation, President Rajapaksa was quoted saying that only 50,000 civilians are left to be “rescued”.
Eventually, during last days of the war, more than 200,000 people who survived the brutal onslaught crossed over to the government controlled areas. Contradicting everything that was said by the responsible leaders of the state, including the President and the Defence officials, by the end of the war the Defence Ministry website published a detailed report on the “rescued Civilians”. It revealed that from 20th of April to 16th of May, 145,674 civilians were “rescued” from the battle zone. (http://www.defence.lk/hm/hm.asp)
The deflated numbers are part of the government strategy to limit the required food and medical supplies to the conflict zone. The strategy had a drastic effect on the conditions of the people who remained inside the Tiger controlled areas. Frequent reports on starvation deaths and severe malnutrition among the children were a direct result of this deliberate policy. As it was highlighted even in the recent US State Department report that was submitted to the US congress, “69% of children were malnourished” and “vaccine coverage was below 50%.” The report further says “an HRW source in the Vanni reported that the only functioning hospital in Mullaittivu, the Mattalan hospital, was closing due to drug shortages.”
“March – An organization’s local source reported that the quantity of food items arriving in the NFZ was totally insufficient. Medicines allowed to be brought by ships did not meet the rising medical needs of the people. Antibiotic drugs and syrups, vaccines, IV fluids, analgesics, and surgical items were in acute shortage.”
“May 6 – An organization’s sources expressed their belief that the GSL was deliberately preventing delivery of medicine to the NFZ and reported that ¯over the last week, at least 20 people have died due to starvation and lack of medication”. (Report to Congress on Incidents During the Recent Conflict in Sri Lanka )
“The End Game”: Mass slaughter
The last 5 months of the war caused unprecedented human tragedies due to heavy artillery fire and indiscriminate air bombardment carried out by the Sri Lankan state. On the 2nd of February, an AFP report quoted a government statement which stated that “the fight against the cornered Tigers was at “the decisive stage” and that it could not guarantee the security of tens of thousands of non-combatants living outside a designated “safety zone” in rebel-held territory…. The government cannot be responsible for the safety and security of civilians still living among LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) terrorists,”” (http://www.france24.com/en/20090202-government-tells-civilians-getsafety- zone-)
According to a Associated Press report filed on the 13th February at least “40 civilians were dying on a daily basis” apart from “100 who were getting wounded” by the end of January, (http://www.thehindu.com/holnus/001200902140332.htm).
On the 13th of March, quoting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Reuters reported “Pillay said the government had repeatedly shelled the designated “no-fire” zones for civilians and also cited reports that the separatist guerrillas were holding civilians as human shields and had shot some as they tried to flee… More than 2,800 civilians may have been killed and more than 7,000 injured since Jan. 20, according to a range of credible sources, Pillay said. Many had been inside the “no-fire” zones. Hundreds of children were believed to be among the dead. The current level of civilian casualties is truly shocking and there are legitimate fears that the loss of life may reach catastrophic levels, if the fighting continues in this way,” Pillay said.”(http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSLD269650._CH_.2400)
But instead of calling an immediate ceasefire which has been the normal procedure in many other conflicts of parallel situations, the UN pleaded the SL government to hold back the final push until “civilians rescued”. (http://www.topnews.in/un-urges-sri-lanka-delay-final-assault-until-civiliansrescued-2132654)
On the 24th of April, based on an Associated Press report, The Guardian newspaper wrote that more than 6,500 civilians have been killed in the war zone. The AP report was based on an UN internal memo, which was obtained by the news agency. “At least 2,000 people are understood to have been killed in the last month but the death toll does not include all of those killed in this week’s intense fighting. The UN has declined to publicly release its casualty figures. …According to the UN figures, 6,432 civilians have been killed in the fighting since 20 January and another 13,946 have been wounded. The government denies allegations – supported by credible witness evidence from aid agencies as well as Tamil civilians – that hundreds of innocent people have been killed by the army in heavy shelling, saying soldiers are only lightly armed and are trying to rescue trapped people.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/24/srilanka/print ) But the most shocking revelation was the daily death toll. According to the original AP report “Civilian deaths have increased dramatically, according to the U.N. An average of 33 civilians were killed each day at the end of January, and that jumped to 116 by April, the document said. More than 5,500 of those killed were inside a government-declared “no-fire” zone. (The Washington Post / 24 April 2009)
Despite knowing the horrendous nature of crimes being committed in the war zone in Sri Lanka, no responsible institution or country made a crucial move to stop the final blood bath. On the 10th of May “The Independent” reported that hundreds of civilians were killed by the government artillery fire on a single day. “The bitter endgame of Sri Lanka’s civil war may have provided its bloodiest day yet after 378 civilians trapped inside the conflict zone were reportedly killed by a barrage of government artillery. A further 1,100 civilians were said to have been wounded.” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/sri-lankaartillery-shelling-kills-257-civilians-1682408.html) But a day after fresh report appeared putting the death toll even higher. The same newspaper quoting government health officials on the ground reported on the 11th of May that “Two days of shelling in Sri Lanka’s northern war zone killed at least 430 civilians – and likely as many as 1,000, a government doctor in the area said today. The United Nations called the artillery barrages a “bloodbath” that killed more than 100 children, and a coalition of international human rights groups called for the UN Security Council to hold formal talks on the war.”(http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/doctor-says-up-to-1000-killed-in-sri-lanka-1682790.html)
Just two days before the above reports on the horrifying blood bath, Human Rights Watch released an exclusive report listing a series of government attacks on hospitals situated in Vanni area. According to the report, from 15th of December 2008 up to 2nd May 2009, the government forces had carried out 30 attacks on the hospitals in the area.( http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/05/08/sri-lanka-repeated-shelling-hospitals-evidence-war-crimes#Hospital)
On the same day, 10th May, an AFP report appeared proving the doubts that were held for a long time about the illegal usage of weapons of chemical nature. The report which was compiled after talking to the doctors deployed in the MSF run field hospital in Cheddikulam, Vavunia, provide substantial evidence to believe that the Sri Lankan government is using banned chemical weapons on civilian population. “36-year-old Susenthiran Thiressamma, was nursing horrific burns to her chest and shoulders. She said she was “burned by a chemical bomb” two weeks ago. Doctors at the French field hospital said they had seen a number of similar injuries, including “some with white hands, possibly caused by burns from phosphorus” — an incendiary weapon which is banned from use in civilian areas under an international convention. With the island’s hawkish government severely restricting access to the north, independent monitoring of how the war is being conducted is almost non-existent.
At the field hospital, the doctors are reluctant to point fingers at either side — aware that the Sri Lankan government does not take kindly to foreign criticism, and has expelled aid workers before. Here we just pull out the bullets, treat the wounds. We don’t interpret them,” the head of the mission, Eric Abraham, told AFP.” (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gGEOc5G_8nk8A97fD1FbLHIGPeow)
Three days after the above mentioned blood bath, the Sri Lankan government carried out another deadly attack on the last make shift hospital in the designated “no-fire zone”. “Shells hit the only hospital in Sri Lanka’s northern war zone today, killing at least 50 people in the second such attack in two days, a doctor said. Medics at the makeshift facility said they were using brief lulls between explosions to tend to patients but had little to offer beyond gauze and bandages. It was the third attack this month on the hospital and comes on the heels of shelling this past weekend that killed as many as 1,000 civilians. Yesterday, shells struck the admissions ward, killing 49. But trapped in the tiny coastal strip as the government presses ahead with its offensive against the rebels, the wounded had little alternative but to converge by the hundreds to seek treatment” reported “The Independent” newspaper.
On the 18th of May, the Sri Lankan government officially announced the end of 30 year civil war in the island. More than 300,000 people who survived the final slaughter were interned in barbed wire camps, which were heavily guarded by armed soldiers. The death count during the final stage of the war still remains as a tightly protected “secret.” But soon after the war ended, numerous press reports appeared exposing the extremely high death toll during the last days of war. As to a report published on 29th May in British newspaper “The Times”, it was revealed that “More than 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final throes of the Sri Lankan civil war, most as a result of government shelling, an investigation by The Times has revealed. The number of casualties is three times the official figure.”(http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6383449.ece)
The detailed information was confirmed by another report appeared parallel to the “Times” exposure, in reputed French daily, “Le Monde”. “Le Monde” went further accusing the UN for deliberately “downplaying the Tamil civilian casualties to keep peace with government and to maintain UN operations in the country.” (http://www.france24.com/en/20090529-un-accused-deliberately-downplaying-civiliandeath-toll-sri-lanka-tamil-tigers)