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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2643

Problematic Solutions

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

"A virulent critic of the LTTE, Jayalalitha had kicked off her campaign…with pro-Eelam rhetoric… Blaming the UPA government at Centre and DMK government in the state for what she called ‘genocide’ of Tamils, Jayalalitha said talking anymore about finding a solution within the framework of the Sri Lankan Constitution through devolution of power was a waste of time”. The Times of India (26.4.2009)

Last week’s mass exodus of more than hundred thousand civilian Tamils from the war zone gave the lie to both the LTTE and the Rajapakse administration. It definitively debunked the preposterous Tiger claim of Tamils civilians staying in the war zone voluntarily. It also conclusively disproved the Lankan government’s oft (and angrily) repeated assertion that no more than 75,000 civilians were left in the war zone.

The absolute majority of civilian Tamils were/are in the war zone not because they do not want to leave the LTTE but because the LTTE would not let them leave. The Tigers always set great store by the myth of ‘sole representative’; therefore they need Tamil people to die with them. They also need civilians to blunt the Lankan offensive and to provide indispensable props for their propaganda. That is why the LTTE is doing all it can to keep as many civilians as possible in the war zone; that is also why the usually voluble Tiger propaganda machine is silent about last week’s mass exodus of Tamils.

The Lankan government insisted that there could not be 100,000 civilians in the war zone. Humanitarian agencies and journalists placing the number of civilians caught in the war zone at or beyond 100,000 were accused by the Rajapakse government of being Tiger propagandists. Last week’s mass exodus proved that the government – like the LTTE – was being economical with the truth, because it wants to play down civilian casualties. The mass exodus also proved the existence of a humanitarian crisis in the war zone, contrary to the regime’s claims of adequately fed and sheltered civilians. According to Gordon Weiss, the UN Spokesman in Colombo, no food has been sent to the ‘safe zone’ since April 1st. As Neil Buhne, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator, stated after returning from Vauniya, “I saw infants with dysentery, malnourished children and women, untended wounds, and people dressed in the ragged clothing they've been wearing for months” (AP – 25.4.2009).

The UN, in an internal document distributed among diplomats, claims that 6,432 civilians were killed and 13,946 injured from the 20th of January 2009; these numbers exclude last week’s casualties (which are believed to be high). This places the daily death toll of civilians at 70 – a shocking figure by any standards. It is also obvious that those civilians who are still alive live in abysmal conditions, without basic facilities. They lack food, clothing, shelter, medication and even water. Many are sick or injured. They have been shot at by the LTTE and bombed and shelled by the Lankan Forces. They have lived in hell and to say otherwise is a dastardly lie. Irrespective of the fate of the LTTE and Vellupillai Pirapaharan, Sri Lanka will not be able to move forward towards a future different from the past, if this simple, basic truth remains unaccepted and unacknowledged by the government and the Sinhala people.

Stark Realities

The First Eelam War was avoidable; not so the subsequent ones, because the Tigers wanted those wars and went out of their way to ignite them. The Fourth Eelam War was planned and provoked by the LTTE. Consequently a permanent ceasefire makes no sense; it will merely give the LTTE time, space and opportunity to recoup its losses and begin another war a few years down the road. But the manner in which the Rajapakse administration is prosecuting this unavoidable war renders it far otherwise from the ‘humanitarian operation’ it is claimed to be. Instead of making maximum efforts to minimise civilian casualties, the administration focuses on making maximum efforts to hide not just the magnitude of but also the fact of civilian casualties.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse said, “Nothing should exist beyond the no-fire zone… No hospital should operate in the area” (Interview with Sky News – 2.2.2009); the Director of the Media Centre for National Security declared, “The government cannot be responsible for the safety and security of civilians still living among the LTTE terrorists” (The Independent – 3.2.2009). Thus was (and is) the attitude of the regime towards civilian Tamils caught in the war zone, which inevitably turned these unfortunates into ‘legitimate targets’ of the Lankan offensive. The extremely high civilian casualty rate is a result of this inhumane attitude of the regime as well as the LTTE’s forcible retention of hundreds of thousands of unarmed men, women and children as its weapon cum shield last resort.

The civilians stayed in the war zone not because they wanted to die with the LTTE but because the LTTE forced them to stay, at gun point. The civilians fled from the war zone not because they support the Lankan government but because that was the only way to escape bullets, bombs and shells. The LTTE gave them a choice between staying with it and being killed; the regime gave them a choice between fleeing and being killed. Since the Lankan Forces are stronger and have the upper hand, staying has become more dangerous than fleeing. The civilians stayed out of fear and they fled out of fear. Ever since the war began they have lived between the devil and the deep blue sea, between two self-anointed liberators whose last concern is the safety of the civilian Tamils they claim to represent.

The regime’s reluctance to grant UN agencies or local and international media free access to the displaced Tamils is comprehensible in this context – because it has as much to hide as the Tigers. The displaced Tamils can tell the world about Tiger atrocities, of being conscripted and shot, of being used as human shields and abused as military slaves. They can also tell the world about being shelled by Lankan artillery and bombed by Lankan Kafirs, even in the ‘safe zone’, about living without basic facilities. Thus the need to keep the world out of the ‘welfare camps’. But from the point of a lasting peace and a Sri Lankan future, it would be wiser to admit to the truth about civilian casualties and tender an unqualified apology to those who lost their loved ones, their health or their homes to the war. The healing process cannot begin without openness and a sincere expression of regret on the part of the regime. If there is no acknowledgement of civilian suffering and of our own contribution to it, the war will linger, as a memory, even in peacetime. The more the government denies the very existence of civilian casualties, the more the Tamils will nurture the images of the dead and the dying.

Unfortunately such openness is unlikely from an administration which believes in the myths of humanitarian operations and zero casualties. Moreover, anyone contesting these delusions is likely to be branded a Tiger supporter and treated accordingly. This was the fate of the editor of Sudar Oli, N Vidyadaran. Mr. Vidyadaran, a vocal critic of the government’s treatment of civilian Tamils, was arrested two months ago in a highly questionable manner. He was accused of being a Tiger supporter by no less a personage than Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse: “He is involved in the recent air attacks. I’m telling you if you try to give a cover up for that person you have the blood in your hands… He is a terrorist. He is responsible for coordinating air attacks in Colombo. He is a terrorist. We have arrested him and it is the right thing to do. We will take legal action against him” (Hunting the Tigers – Dateline). Mr. Vidyadaran was released by the courts last week because the police was unable to produce any evidence against him. If this is the way the government deals with prominent Tamil dissidents, one can imagine the treatment that will be meted out to ordinary Tamils suspect of being Tiger supporters.

This is a particularly topical issue given the large number of Vanni displaced. These are people who lived under Tiger rule for a long time. They would have had to have dealings with the LTTE, often on a daily basis. Most would have also supported the Tigers at some point. Many would have had one or more family member/s in the LTTE, especially given the policy of child proscription. How would these people fare in their new life? How will their Sinhala masters and jailors treat them? How will the regime decide who is a Tiger and who is not? Will it use the same unjust criteria applied to Mr. Vidyadaran?

Given the nature of the LTTE, a Truth Commission is not possible in Sri Lanka. But the government will have to make clear distinction between Tiger cadres and supporters/sympathisers, between hardcore Tigers and those who were conscripted and stayed unwillingly, particularly the recent child conscripts. If a policy based on distinguishing between cadres and civilian supporters, hard core members and unwilling conscripts is not followed, many of the displaced will be deemed LTTE and treated accordingly, like Mr. Vidyadaran or worse. How can a lasting peace or a Sri Lanka future be possible under such circumstances?

The Indian Dilemma

Alarmed by the impact of Sri Lanka on Tamil Nadu, Delhi rushed National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon to Colombo. Though the Rajapakse administration is at pains to create the impression that this was merely a friendly visit, few would credit this claim. Delhi is caught in a bind and the last thing it wants in this election season would be a Sinhala triumph in the Tamil North which will inflame passions in Tamil Nadu. The situation would be even direr if Vellupillai Pirapaharan is killed or kills himself during the election season. Both the Congress Party and its local ally the DMK will be faulted for such an outcome and will be punished electorally by Tamil Nadu voters. The UPA regime knows it well; that is why it would want any such denouement to happen only after elections are safely over. The Congress Party may not have any love for the LTTE or its murderous Supreme Leader. But it is keen to stay in power.

Sri Lanka is a dilemma not only to the UPA but also to the Indian state. The Indian state would not want developments in Sri Lanka to inflame Tamil nationalism in Tamil Nadu since that can eventually threaten Indian unity. The Indian state is also concerned about Chinese influence in Sri Lanka. The Chinese are said to be the largest donor to and the most uncritical supporter of Colombo, a state of affairs that is causing much misgiving in Delhi. Once the conventional stage of the war is over, India will feel even greater pressure to push Colombo to devolve power to the Tamils since not doing so will exacerbate Tamil nationalism in South India. Beijing will have no such compulsions. This is likely to endear China even more to the Sinhala Supremacist Rajapakses.

This is a time of parenthesis. The conventional stage of the Eelam War is coming to an end and the manner of its ending can have a defining impact on the nature of the next stage. If the last sliver of land left to the LTTE is retaken during Indian election season, it may help propel the AIADMK to power in Tamil Nadu and give its feisty leader considerable clout in Delhi, irrespective of who forms the next government. And Ms. Jayalalitha is on the record stating, “It is now clear that the Sri Lankan government’s sole agenda is to wipe out the Tamil race from the island. They have no intention of giving them equal rights” (The Times of India – 26.4.2009). And if the Indian state comes to regard the unitary nature of Sri Lanka as a threat to Indian unity, a new intervention to promote a new Accord may be the shape of our future.

- Asian Tribune -

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

"A virulent critic of the LTTE, Jayalalitha had kicked off her campaign…with pro-Eelam rhetoric… Blaming the UPA government at Centre and DMK government in the state for what she called ‘genocide’ of Tamils, Jayalalitha said talking anymore about finding a solution within the framework of the Sri Lankan Constitution through devolution of power was a waste of time". The Times of India (26.4.2009)

Last week’s mass exodus of more than hundred thousand civilian Tamils from the war zone gave the lie to both the LTTE and the Rajapakse administration. It definitively debunked the preposterous Tiger claim of Tamils civilians staying in the war zone voluntarily. It also conclusively disproved the Lankan government’s oft (and angrily) repeated assertion that no more than 75,000 civilians were left in the war zone.

The absolute majority of civilian Tamils were/are in the war zone not because they do not want to leave the LTTE but because the LTTE would not let them leave. The Tigers always set great store by the myth of ‘sole representative’; therefore they need Tamil people to die with them. They also need civilians to blunt the Lankan offensive and to provide indispensable props for their propaganda. That is why the LTTE is doing all it can to keep as many civilians as possible in the war zone; that is also why the usually voluble Tiger propaganda machine is silent about last week’s mass exodus of Tamils.

The Lankan government insisted that there could not be 100,000 civilians in the war zone. Humanitarian agencies and journalists placing the number of civilians caught in the war zone at or beyond 100,000 were accused by the Rajapakse government of being Tiger propagandists. Last week’s mass exodus proved that the government – like the LTTE – was being economical with the truth, because it wants to play down civilian casualties. The mass exodus also proved the existence of a humanitarian crisis in the war zone, contrary to the regime’s claims of adequately fed and sheltered civilians. According to Gordon Weiss, the UN Spokesman in Colombo, no food has been sent to the ‘safe zone’ since April 1st. As Neil Buhne, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator, stated after returning from Vauniya, "I saw infants with dysentery, malnourished children and women, untended wounds, and people dressed in the ragged clothing they've been wearing for months" (AP – 25.4.2009).

The UN, in an internal document distributed among diplomats, claims that 6,432 civilians were killed and 13,946 injured from the 20th of January 2009; these numbers exclude last week’s casualties (which are believed to be high). This places the daily death toll of civilians at 70 – a shocking figure by any standards. It is also obvious that those civilians who are still alive live in abysmal conditions, without basic facilities. They lack food, clothing, shelter, medication and even water. Many are sick or injured. They have been shot at by the LTTE and bombed and shelled by the Lankan Forces. They have lived in hell and to say otherwise is a dastardly lie. Irrespective of the fate of the LTTE and Vellupillai Pirapaharan, Sri Lanka will not be able to move forward towards a future different from the past, if this simple, basic truth remains unaccepted and unacknowledged by the government and the Sinhala people.

Stark Realities

The First Eelam War was avoidable; not so the subsequent ones, because the Tigers wanted those wars and went out of their way to ignite them. The Fourth Eelam War was planned and provoked by the LTTE. Consequently a permanent ceasefire makes no sense; it will merely give the LTTE time, space and opportunity to recoup its losses and begin another war a few years down the road. But the manner in which the Rajapakse administration is prosecuting this unavoidable war renders it far otherwise from the ‘humanitarian operation’ it is claimed to be. Instead of making maximum efforts to minimise civilian casualties, the administration focuses on making maximum efforts to hide not just the magnitude of but also the fact of civilian casualties.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse said, "Nothing should exist beyond the no-fire zone… No hospital should operate in the area" (Interview with Sky News – 2.2.2009); the Director of the Media Centre for National Security declared, "The government cannot be responsible for the safety and security of civilians still living among the LTTE terrorists" (The Independent – 3.2.2009). Thus was (and is) the attitude of the regime towards civilian Tamils caught in the war zone, which inevitably turned these unfortunates into ‘legitimate targets’ of the Lankan offensive. The extremely high civilian casualty rate is a result of this inhumane attitude of the regime as well as the LTTE’s forcible retention of hundreds of thousands of unarmed men, women and children as its weapon cum shield last resort.

The civilians stayed in the war zone not because they wanted to die with the LTTE but because the LTTE forced them to stay, at gun point. The civilians fled from the war zone not because they support the Lankan government but because that was the only way to escape bullets, bombs and shells. The LTTE gave them a choice between staying with it and being killed; the regime gave them a choice between fleeing and being killed. Since the Lankan Forces are stronger and have the upper hand, staying has become more dangerous than fleeing. The civilians stayed out of fear and they fled out of fear. Ever since the war began they have lived between the devil and the deep blue sea, between two self-anointed liberators whose last concern is the safety of the civilian Tamils they claim to represent.

The regime’s reluctance to grant UN agencies or local and international media free access to the displaced Tamils is comprehensible in this context – because it has as much to hide as the Tigers. The displaced Tamils can tell the world about Tiger atrocities, of being conscripted and shot, of being used as human shields and abused as military slaves. They can also tell the world about being shelled by Lankan artillery and bombed by Lankan Kafirs, even in the ‘safe zone’, about living without basic facilities. Thus the need to keep the world out of the ‘welfare camps’. But from the point of a lasting peace and a Sri Lankan future, it would be wiser to admit to the truth about civilian casualties and tender an unqualified apology to those who lost their loved ones, their health or their homes to the war. The healing process cannot begin without openness and a sincere expression of regret on the part of the regime. If there is no acknowledgement of civilian suffering and of our own contribution to it, the war will linger, as a memory, even in peacetime. The more the government denies the very existence of civilian casualties, the more the Tamils will nurture the images of the dead and the dying.

Unfortunately such openness is unlikely from an administration which believes in the myths of humanitarian operations and zero casualties. Moreover, anyone contesting these delusions is likely to be branded a Tiger supporter and treated accordingly. This was the fate of the editor of Sudar Oli, N Vidyadaran. Mr. Vidyadaran, a vocal critic of the government’s treatment of civilian Tamils, was arrested two months ago in a highly questionable manner. He was accused of being a Tiger supporter by no less a personage than Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse: “He is involved in the recent air attacks. I’m telling you if you try to give a cover up for that person you have the blood in your hands… He is a terrorist. He is responsible for coordinating air attacks in Colombo. He is a terrorist. We have arrested him and it is the right thing to do. We will take legal action against him” (Hunting the Tigers – Dateline). Mr. Vidyadaran was released by the courts last week because the police was unable to produce any evidence against him. If this is the way the government deals with prominent Tamil dissidents, one can imagine the treatment that will be meted out to ordinary Tamils suspect of being Tiger supporters.

This is a particularly topical issue given the large number of Vanni displaced. These are people who lived under Tiger rule for a long time. They would have had to have dealings with the LTTE, often on a daily basis. Most would have also supported the Tigers at some point. Many would have had one or more family member/s in the LTTE, especially given the policy of child proscription. How would these people fare in their new life? How will their Sinhala masters and jailors treat them? How will the regime decide who is a Tiger and who is not? Will it use the same unjust criteria applied to Mr. Vidyadaran?

Given the nature of the LTTE, a Truth Commission is not possible in Sri Lanka. But the government will have to make clear distinction between Tiger cadres and supporters/sympathisers, between hardcore Tigers and those who were conscripted and stayed unwillingly, particularly the recent child conscripts. If a policy based on distinguishing between cadres and civilian supporters, hard core members and unwilling conscripts is not followed, many of the displaced will be deemed LTTE and treated accordingly, like Mr. Vidyadaran or worse. How can a lasting peace or a Sri Lanka future be possible under such circumstances?

The Indian Dilemma

Alarmed by the impact of Sri Lanka on Tamil Nadu, Delhi rushed National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon to Colombo. Though the Rajapakse administration is at pains to create the impression that this was merely a friendly visit, few would credit this claim. Delhi is caught in a bind and the last thing it wants in this election season would be a Sinhala triumph in the Tamil North which will inflame passions in Tamil Nadu. The situation would be even direr if Vellupillai Pirapaharan is killed or kills himself during the election season. Both the Congress Party and its local ally the DMK will be faulted for such an outcome and will be punished electorally by Tamil Nadu voters. The UPA regime knows it well; that is why it would want any such denouement to happen only after elections are safely over. The Congress Party may not have any love for the LTTE or its murderous Supreme Leader. But it is keen to stay in power.

Sri Lanka is a dilemma not only to the UPA but also to the Indian state. The Indian state would not want developments in Sri Lanka to inflame Tamil nationalism in Tamil Nadu since that can eventually threaten Indian unity. The Indian state is also concerned about Chinese influence in Sri Lanka. The Chinese are said to be the largest donor to and the most uncritical supporter of Colombo, a state of affairs that is causing much misgiving in Delhi. Once the conventional stage of the war is over, India will feel even greater pressure to push Colombo to devolve power to the Tamils since not doing so will exacerbate Tamil nationalism in South India. Beijing will have no such compulsions. This is likely to endear China even more to the Sinhala Supremacist Rajapakses.

This is a time of parenthesis. The conventional stage of the Eelam War is coming to an end and the manner of its ending can have a defining impact on the nature of the next stage. If the last sliver of land left to the LTTE is retaken during Indian election season, it may help propel the AIADMK to power in Tamil Nadu and give its feisty leader considerable clout in Delhi, irrespective of who forms the next government. And Ms. Jayalalitha is on the record stating, “It is now clear that the Sri Lankan government’s sole agenda is to wipe out the Tamil race from the island. They have no intention of giving them equal rights” (The Times of India – 26.4.2009). And if the Indian state comes to regard the unitary nature of Sri Lanka as a threat to Indian unity, a new intervention to promote a new Accord may be the shape of our future.

- Asian Tribune -

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