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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2614

The Economic Cost of LTTE Terrorism; Lost opportunities for the Tamils.

By Raj Gonsalkorale

The highest cost of LTTE terrorism in Sri Lanka is the loss of lives of thousands of Sri Lankans, of all communities, most of them young men and women on both sides of the conflict. Some have died in battle and many have died caught in the cross fire of battles. Sadly, many innocent people, mainly Sinhala people have been massacred by the LTTE in the most cruel and unjust manner. The loss of life as a result of LTTE terrorism, estimated to be over 75000 people now, has an infinite, indeterminable and irreplaceable cost, and these deaths have impacted directly on several thousands of others like their loved ones. Many mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters are still weeping for those who have died as a result of LTTE terrorism. Despite this, the LTTE is still continuing their violence without any regard to human life.

LTTE terrorism has many determinable economic costs, and there are many ways of measuring these. One clearly determinable economic cost of LTTE terrorism is the cost of lost economic opportunities. While communities in the rest of the country have also lost many opportunities, those in the North and the East, who happen to be mostly Tamils, especially in the North, have suffered most as a result of LTTE terrorism.

As mentioned earlier, Sri Lanka as a whole has suffered as a result of LTTE terrorism. However, considering that the country has been averaging economic growth in excess of 7% despite the conflict, and the fact that virtually the entirety of this growth is in areas outside the North and the East, demonstrates what people in the North and the East have lost as a result of LTTE violence. While economic growth data is not available for the North and the East, it is likely that there is negative growth of maybe around 7% (at the minimum) in those areas. It does not require any knowledge of economics to visualize what the North and the East would have been like economically if they also had a growth rate of 7% like the rest of the country. Surely, this would have been the minimum growth for the North and the East had it not been for the LTTE.

One only has to look at some recent developments in the South to imagine what might have been possible in the North and the East, if the LTTE was not there to unleash their violence and the country was growing economically like several other Asian countries in the region, principally India. One such development is the impending signing of several mega projects announced by the Minister of Investment Promotion, Dr Sarath Amunugama. One is the expansion of the Colombo Port by reclaiming 450 acres of the sea around the harbor. This John Keels Holding and P&O venture is expected to cost US$ 500 million just for the first phase. Minister Amunugama has also listed several other mega projects including a proposed Mass rapid Transit system for Colombo costing $800 million, a refinery in Hambantota costing over one billion dollars, and the Hambantota industrial port development costing over 450 million dollars. Dr Amunugama expects foreign investments in mega projects to exceed 4 billion dollars.

The spin offs from these huge projects is equally huge. They will provide direct and indirect employment to thousands of people and generate very substantial economic activities, specially in the South surrounding Hambantota area.

Just imagine what might have happened if the North and the East were free of LTTE terrorism, not just the South of Sri Lanka, but for the North and the East and for the people of those areas who are mainly Tamils! Tourism would have been one of biggest industries, especially in the East providing direct and indirect employment to thousands of Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim men and women. As per the blue prints that have already been drawn up by the Sri Lanka government, Trincomalee would have been developed as a regional centre, with an expanded port, and international airport to cater mainly to tourists and an industrial complex to produce goods for exports.

In the North, the KKS harbor would have been expanded and some of the industries that functioned well prior to LTTE terrorism would have been revived. Fisheries and marine food industries would have mushroomed and that would have brought substantial economic benefits to small holder operatives in the region. Jaffna could also have been developed as a university town, to cater to a national and international clientele. None of these are pipe dreams as over 4 billion dollars was pledged by donors only if the LTTE gave up their violence and joined the political mainstream and enter into discussions with the Sri Lankan government along with other Tamil political parties who are already in the mainstream.

In comparison to the multi billion dollar economy that the North and the East could have had if not for LTTE terrorism, the current LTTE/Tamil Diaspora economy is like petty cash, although at present, it is very substantial. While a multibillion dollar economy would have benefited so many people, the current Tamil Diaspora/LTTE economy benefits only a handful of elite people within the LTTE and the Tamil Diaspora, as most of it is spent on arms procurement and the LTTE’s worldwide disinformation service. Those Tamils who are contributing to the LTTE, primarily those who are doing so willingly (those who are being forces have no choice), under the misguided belief that the LTTE will “emancipate” the Tamils, are very much like the Ostriches hiding their heads in the sand, not wishing to see the reality of what the LTTE agenda is and how counter productive their actions are, considering that had the LTTE not been there, the North and the East could have developed very substantially providing real “emancipation” to Tamils.

Politicians in the South may not be perfect considering they are as imperfect as those in the North and the East. However, they are all interested in economic development and providing opportunities to people they represent in the electorates they come from. Some politicians may be interested in economic development for this reason as well for the opportunities that will come their own way if there is massive economic development in their areas. That is reality. They might benefit from them, but so will the country.

Those who argue for economic development in the country as a means of addressing this conflict must consider why there cannot be larger scale economic development beyond what the South has achieved despite the conflict. It is not the current Sri Lankan government or previous ones that have stood in the way of development. It is the LTTE that has stood in the way of prosperity, not just for those who they claim they are fighting for, but for the entire country.

It is time that the Tamils did a reality check on how they are being hood winked by the LTTE and the Diaspora elements, and supported democratic Tamil leaders and political parties to pursue a sustainable, just and fair political solution in a democratic environment and bring real emancipation for the long suffering people in the North and the East.

The opportunity is there now for all parties to embrace the All Party Conference process to seek a democratic solution to this conflict and act as mature visionaries to look towards the future and not dwell on the past. The ruling party proposals are due next week and so are those from the Jatika Hele Jathika Hela Urumaya and the Ceylon Workers Congress, the principal political Party of the Tamils of recent Indian origin. No doubt there will be some political grandstanding by various parties outside the ruling party to make themselves heard by the electorate for future electoral benefits. However, at the end of the day they all must realize that that this may be the final opportunity to find a political solution by peaceful means and that if they make a mess of this, they may not even be able to face an electorate, let alone get elected.

- Asian Tribune -

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