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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2554

Raviraj, refugees & the state

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Young sailors are burning and drowning as a consequence of the legacy of a previous administration. The absence of the 30mm cannon is the reason our Dvora Fast Attack Craft (FACs) cannot outgun the Sea Tigers in their more maneuverable boats, and that absence is NOT primarily due to financial corruption on anyone’s part, as popular misconception has it, though that may have played a part. It is due to political sabotage.

The Navy remains outgunned because the cannon were never bought. They were available in offers from both the USA and Israel. They were never bought because their purchase was interrupted or aborted, by creating a huge scandal about financial corruption. Even if there had been an element of financial turpitude, what was vital was the fitting of the cannon onto the Dvoras. That was delayed by an objection by the then PM Ranil Wickremesinghe through Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, MP and publicly in the Sunday Leader, which launched a campaign against the purchase for many weeks if not months.

This tactic was all of a piece with the Millennium City affair (during which the arrested soldiers were valiantly defended by the then military spokesperson, currently eastern sector commander, Gen Sarath Karunaratne, against the advice of some of the army brass). The tactic of sabotage was also in a direct line of descent from an earlier episode, the prevention of the purchase of vitally necessary thermo-baric ordnance by the Sri Lankan armed forces.

In that instance, the presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the chairman of the UNP Charitha Ratwatte wrote to the Commissioner of Elections alleging a plot to kill Mr Wickremesinghe by none other than the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) of the Sri Lankan armed forces! It was alleged that units of mixed ethnicity, involving Sri Lankan soldiers and anti-Tiger Tamils were training together; the location of the camp and the firing ranges was mentioned, as were thermobaric weapons. This was taken up by the Sunday Leader, with photographic illustrations of the Russian made weapons. This in turn was followed up by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) going in delegation to all foreign missions in Colombo, alleging that the Geneva Convention was being violated by the use of such weapons.

In an interesting coincidence, all this took place at a time that the Long Range reconnaissance patrols (LRRPs) and the Long Range patrols (LRPs) were going deep into the jungles and taking out Tiger leaders, sometimes with the use of shoulder fired, bunker busting thermobaric weapons - which would doubtless have been pieced together by Tiger intelligence!

If we are to avoid further defeats at sea and on land, this government has to reach out at the highest levels (a personal telephone call followed by a state visit) to Russia and China, supplemented by the method of ‘crisis purchase’ from Israel, to secure for our armed forces, the firepower they need to overcome the enemy. According to Jose Ruiz, a US Southern Command spokesman quoted by USA Today’s Barbara Slavin (on Nov 10), China "has approached every country in our area of responsibility" and has exchanged senior military officials with Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and Cuba and provided military aid and training to Jamaica and Venezuela.

Vakarai: Tragedy, not Atrocity

While the results of the Sri Lankan army shelling which hit the refugee camp in Vakarai, as well as the killing of parliamentarian Raviraj were horrifying, the reactions have more than a little bit of hypocrisy involved. It is dishonest to ignore the report by Simon Gardner of Reuters, filed November 10th, which quotes Tamil refugees as saying that the Tigers fired heavy guns from near the refugee camp and then sped off (the guns mounted on trucks), with army shells coming in minutes later.

This confirms that the army was suckered into a Tiger trap, but it also confirms that the shelling by the army was not deliberate and unprovoked. The army’s error was in not having the refugee camp’s location on its coordinates as a no-fire zone. However, shelling in retaliation and hitting a civilian target from close to which the enemy fire originated, is rather distinct from deliberately targeting Tamil civilians in refugee camps, which is what many sources have accused the Sri Lankan armed forces of doing! One notes that these same sources have yet to condemn Israel for firing tank shells at two civilian houses in Gaza and killing 18 unarmed Palestinian civilians, around the same time that the Vakarai tragedy took place!

Raviraj and Revenge

Mr Raviraj was a pleasant, personable character, and his provocative performances on television were entertaining and useful; useful because it represented a challenging Tamil ultranationalist perspective within our mainstream media and politics. While the armed enemy deserves death in combat, Raviraj was not an armed enemy. His politics did help the armed enemy; but that deserved a different, non-lethal, non-violent response. (In the USA for instance, he may have had a problem with Homeland Security!) Removing Mr. Raviraj does not harm the Tigers. The TNA parliamentarians are expendable, "useful idiots" in the eyes of the LTTE, and his killing has only provided them some valuable ammunition in the propaganda war.

The Tigers should be killed but the TNA left alive so we have someone to negotiate with someday - and the TNA without the Tigers would be quite manageable a proposition.

While this is the case from the point of view of the interests of the Sri Lankan state, it must be recognized that this may not be the reading of things if one belongs to a Tamil organization whose political cadres and supporters have been repeatedly targeted by the Tigers. From the point of view of the anti-Tiger Tamils, Mr Raviraj’s death would be an execution of a collaborator, not a murder; and a retaliatory execution at that: an eye for an eye. The Sri Lankan state cannot be blamed for Tamil-on-Tamil, or more correctly, ex-Tiger-on-Tiger killings, any more than the Los Angeles Police Department can be blamed for internecine killing in the gang wars of South Central LA!

By the way, I cannot figure out how those who were unmoved by the killing of Kethesh Loganathan and justified it on the grounds that he had pretty much asked for it by making the mistake of joining the government’s peace secretariat thereby ‘becoming a political cadre of the state’, do not see how the same logic applies to the late Mr Raviraj.

- Asian Tribune -

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