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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2783

The Tigers’ Indirect UDI

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

"You don't attempt to classify us as a non-state actor."

S P Tamilselvam to the SLMM Chief (Tamilnet – 12.5.2006)

The final act of the tragicomedy that was the Third Peace Process commenced with the Tigers making their Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), albeit indirectly. Subsequent to the latest attack on the Lankan Navy by the Black Sea Tigers, the SLMM Chief rushed to Killinochchi to protest against the LTTE’s gross CFA violation, which placed the Nordic truce monitors in grave danger. A non-contrite SP Tamilselvam told Maj. Gen. Henricsson that no one has the right to call the Tigers a non-state actor and emphasised the “sovereign rights of our access to the adjacent sea and airspace of our homeland”. The message could not have been clearer – as far as the LTTE is concerned the (as yet unofficial) state of Tiger Eelam, with its army, navy, air Force, administration and judiciary, is an existential reality.

We can hide our heads in the sand and ignore the LTTE’s statement or even dismiss it as a meaningless piece of braggadocio. Unfortunately facts are stubborn and Mr. Tamilselvam’s statement demonstrates beyond any doubt that a negotiated peace is not possible with the LTTE. The Tigers obviously see themselves as an ‘unofficial’ state with all the ‘sovereign rights’ of a legitimate state, equal in everyway to the state of Sri Lanka. Given this unmistakable Tiger declaration, anyone who continues to believe in the possibility of a negotiated settlement with the LTTE within an undivided Sri Lanka is either a fool of the first order or a traitor acting on the Tigers’ behest.

A negotiated settlement is still possible, desirable and necessary – with the Tamil people. A democratic political formula based on power sharing is needed to win over the Tamil people to the idea of Sri Lanka and away from that of Tiger Eelam. The energies of the government should be spent in coming up with such a formula and creating a Southern consensus for it. Since the Tigers are claiming their sovereign rights on behalf of the Tamil people, the best way to counter this Eelam threat would by debunking the sole – or even majority - representative claim by doing a devolution deal with the anti-Tiger Tamil parties. This is also important as a necessary precondition to win the complete backing of India and the Western world for the war effort.

A Bridge to Legitimacy

The present peace process was intended by the LTTE as a bridge to legitimacy. The CFA was crafted with this objective in mind. As the London Economist reported even Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was not “consulted about the wording of the Memorandum. It appears to have been composed by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry after discussions with the Tigers” (2.3.2002). Throughout the peace process the Tigers followed a policy of progressive escalation, politically and militarily. A concession today would be a right tomorrow which will be used to force another concession which in turn would become a right. Every new step forward was based on the previous step, often made possible by a concession on the part of the Lankan state and the SLMM. The Tigers used each of these (often seemingly innocuous) concessions as one more plank in their bridge to legitimacy.

The fundamental premise of this CFA was the parity of status between the LTTE and the state of Sri Lanka. As Mr. Tamilselvam reminded the SLMM head on Friday "We did not enter the negotiations to be passed judgements based on classifications such as non-state actor. The CFA and the entire peace process is between two parties, it is not based on LTTE as a non-state actor and GoSL as a state actor". Throughout the peace process the Tigers have been careful to maintain this ‘parity status’. There was that memorable statement by Anton Balasingham at Vellupillai Pirapaharan’s one and only media conference in April 2002 that the Tiger Supremo is the President and the Prime Minister of Tamil Eelam.

At the Oslo Donor conference in November 2002, Anton Balasingham insisted that he and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe should enter the conference hall together; his request was granted in the interests of peace. When Anton Balasingham (in his book ‘War and Peace – Armed Struggle and Peace Efforts of Liberation Tigers’) waxes lyrical about special treatment accorded to the Tiger delegation at various peace conferences (form officials rushing to greet them to policemen waving them through traffic lights), his boasts are not simply a sign of venality but symbolic of the LTTE’s growing legitimacy in the international arena.

When the SLMM, doubtless urged by a concern for the safety of its own monitors, condemned Wednesday’s Sea Tiger attack on the Lankan Navy declaring that the Tigers have no rights at sea, the LTTE responded by quoting a position paper prepared by the SLMM in April 2003, urging the Lankan government to accord legitimacy to the Sea Tigers: "When the Ceasefire Agreement was signed on the 22nd of Feb 02, the LTTE fighting formations, including the Sea Tigers, existed. Consequently, the LTTE Sea Tigers exists as a De Facto Naval Unit...Balance of power is one of the basic elements for the present Ceasefire. Hence, to maintain their Forces‚ capabilities both Parties must have the right to carry out training and exercise in designated areas." (Press Statement by the SLMM on April 25th 2003).

This issue of the right of mobility of the Sea Tigers was initially brought up by Vellupillai Pirapaharan when the outgoing SLMM head Gen. Furuhovde and the incoming SLMM head Gen. Tellefson paid him a courtesy call in Killinochchi on 5th March. As Anton Balasingham recorded in his book “Pointing out Gen. Furuhovde’s theory of ‘balance of forces’ as a cardinal factor for the maintenance of ceasefire, the LTTE leader argued that Sri Lanka’s build up of military assets, while suffocating the LTTE’s naval force, would shift the balance of forces in Sri Lanka’s favour… He also said that there were serious flaws in the truce agreement with regard to the mobility of the Sea Tigers, which might lead to serious incidents” (War and Peace).

Consequent to this argument by the Tiger leader, the SLMM presented its position paper urging that the Sea Tigers be given the right to their own zone at sea (note the similarity of the language used by the Tiger leader and the SLMM Chief). The Lankan Armed Forces protested strongly, backed by President Chandrika Bandaranaike. The resultant public outcry made it impossible for the SLMM and the Wickremesinghe administration to pursue the matter.

The Tigers’ announcement of their sovereign rights on land, sea and air is probably a trifle precipitate; it was probably intended to follow the anti-Tamil pogrom the Tigers were hoping to ignite with the suicide attack on a Sri Lankan Navy transport ship carrying 710 officers and men. Just as the Tigers, through a bomb in a crowded market place, provoked a mini riot in Trincomalee in the run up to the Sinhala and Tamil New Year Day, the attempt to sink the transport vessel was clearly aimed at making blood flow on Wesak day. If the Tiger attempt succeeded, and a pogrom against the Tamils followed, the LTTE’s unofficial declaration of sovereignty would have been sympathetically received by many international actors (inclusive of the new Tamilnadu government). What better context for an announcement of sovereignty than another Black July? The pogrom itself would provide all the justification necessary for the Tiger Eelam such an announcement of sovereignty presages.

A Terrorist State

According to media reports global shipping is facing an unprecedented threat from terrorist attacks – attacks by fundamentalist groups either trained or at least inspired by the LTTE: “The Maritime Intelligence Group, a Washington based think tank said members of a Southeast Asian Islamic militant group, the Jemaah Islamiah had been trained in sea-borne guerrilla tactics developed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)… “We know that Jemaah Islamiah has benefited from the capabilities of the LTTE’ Kweilen Kimmelman a senior analyst at the Maritime Intelligence Group told a conference on shipping security. ‘They have had training in our estimation – certainly in terms of suicide driving capabilities and ramming’.

Ramming involves loading a boat up with explosives and steering it into a target. It is one of several chilling techniques honed by the Tamil Tigers in their 19 year civil war against the Sri Lankan government. ‘The threat levels are unprecedented’ Kimmelman said” (Jihad Unspun – 25.1.2003).
So the Tigers are getting ready to officially unveil the world’s first terrorist state in which suicide bombing units would form an important component of the armed forces. At this point it is relevant to recall a statement made by Col. Soosai to Frances Harrison of the BBC about the role and relevance of the Black Tigers:

“He believes other groups should learn from the Tigers. And he says the other organisations like Al Qaeda are already copying them. ‘They are using our tactics. I think in Yemen they used our strategy of suicide attacks to blow up an American ship. That is exactly what we used to do’” (Tamil Tigers Reveal their secrets – BBC). Soosai’s words are a pointer to the direction and the ultimate destination of the present peace process which empowers terror in the name of peace and the international repercussions of such a development. As Ms. Harrison said “The ominous lesson for other armed groups is that all you need is a handful of committed people ready to die for a cause” (Ibid).

The moral of a Tiger state would thus be obvious – the race goes to those who have no inhibitions whatsoever in using terror indiscriminately in achieving one’s goals. Ruthlessness, brute force and sheer unbridled terror – these will be seen as winning qualities, essential preconditions for success. And the world will witness the impact of this new thinking for decades to come, in the form of more terror attacks, more deaths, more bloodshed and more devastation, as other terrorist groups try to emulate the success of the Tigers.

Dismissing the Tiger’s declaration of ‘sovereign rights’ would not make the problem go away. Sri Lanka should take the declaration seriously and tell the world what it means and portends. A Tiger state would be a danger not only to Sri Lanka and India but to every democracy anywhere as it would invigorate and inspire terrorism everywhere. The Fourth Eelam War can be won by Sri Lanka only if it is a war between democracy and terrorism rather than a war between Sinhalese and Tamils. The Tigers know this; and that is why they are trying so hard to ignite another Black July.

Parallel to this international campaign, discussions must be commenced with anti-Tiger Tamil parties about a democratic solution to the ethnic problem. These discussions should be serious; times bound and involve all anti/non Tiger Tamils, from Douglas Devananda and V Anandasangaree to Col. Karuna. The war against Tiger Eelam cannot be won without a political component.

The recent visit by the Lankan Foreign Minister to India demonstrates that even the Defence Pact between Delhi and Colombo cannot happen so long as the international/Indian perception of the Lankan state as a Sinhala/Buddhist state persists. And this perception will persist until we offer a generous devolution package to the Tamils. It is time for the Sinhalese to develop a ‘perception of the possible’ and be guided by it. A unitary Sri Lanka cannot defeat the LTTE; a federal or a semi-federal Sri Lanka is the only possible antidote and alternative to Tiger Eelam.

- Asian Tribune -

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