Issue 1, September 11, 2006
Effects of Ceasefire
Ceasefire also brought into fore several other handicaps for the LTTE. The person widely responsible for the group gaining artillery and conventional force ability, ‘ Col ’ Karuna, and Prabakaran fell out for indeterminate reasons. The Tamil Muslims also started asserting their identity and expressing fears that their voice may be strangled by a domineering LTTE. The so-called Indian-origin Tamils in plantations (settled by the British over last 100 years) started expressing fears that they are not being heard by the more populous and asserting Tamils of the North. The Tamils of the North have a documented 2000+ year history of being inhabitants of the island. The regions of the East, where there has been large infusion of Sinhalese populations, also stood divided from those of the North and provided a platform for Karuna. The LTTE persuaded Tamils of the North and East from voting for Ranil Wickremesinghe as President in November 2005 leading to his defeat and the entry of Mahinda Rajapakse. Unlike Wickremesinghe, seen as a peace-loving moderate willing to accommodate the Tamils, Rajapakse is a hardliner who depends on the support of hard-line parties such as Janata Vimukthi Peramunna (JVP) and Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU).
The SLG exploited these reverses to the hilt in many ways. Firstly, it campaigned in Western capitals to portray the LTTE as a terrorist organization without disclosing the hideous role played by successive governments. Heavy with historical baggage of the IPKF role and the Gandhi assassination, India was an unintentional supporter of this campaign. Consequently, several nations banned any financial support for the LTTE or front organizations thus drying up fund-raising sources for the LTTE. Secondly, the SLG exploited the differences within the Tamil community by arming Tamil militias in the East and some among the Muslims to fight the LTTE. With the Tamils group fighting among themselves, left the SLA enough room to focus on raising new units and training for future war. Thirdly, the SLG has used the diplomatic and policy paralysis in India and the disaffection for Tamils in TN to qualitatively and quantitatively improve relations with India in military, policing, trade, economy, and tourism. This earned it extra resources that it diverted into bolstering its military. Fourthly, because of India ’s reluctance to deploy military advisors in SL and also sell it arms, the SLG successfully tapped Indo-Pakistan rivalry by inviting Pakistani military advisors to train its forces.
Alarmed by the tilt in balance in favor of the SLG, the LTTE tried to handicap the SLG through several measures. First, it instigated small but crippling attacks on the SL Navy using its Sea Tigers with reasonable success. Secondly, it is accused of assassinating well-respected moderate leader and former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar (a Tamil Christian) on August 12, 2005 . Kadirgamar said that “People who live in Sri Lanka are first and foremost Sri Lankans, then we have our race and religion, which is something given to us at birth.” The theory is that the LTTE wanted to let ambitious Tamil politicians know that it will not tolerate anyone’s career that could damage their demand for a separate homeland or accept sharp criticism. Thirdly, the LTTE is accused of attempting to assassinate Sri Lankan Chief of Staff Sarath Fonseka in a high-security campus under suspicious circumstances. There are theories challenging the Government assertion that the attempt was triggered by LTTE because it is inconceivable that a Tamil woman pretending to be pregnant could sneak into the most sensitive military facility. Fourthly, the LTTE is accused of assassinating third-ranking Major General Parami Kulatunge. Fifthly, the LTTE is accused of trying to assassinate the Pakistan High Commissioner very near Rajapakse’s office. While SLG has accused the LTTE, Pakistan has accused India ’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) for the attack.
In the meanwhile, the Norwegians who facilitated the ceasefire have been trying to restart stalled talks between the two groups triggered by the unilateral termination of the peace process by the LTTE. The LTTE had accused the SLG of war preparations and non-goodwill negotiations to justify its unilateral decision. Afraid that the increasing attacks on each others positions and human rights violations by both parties could lead to escalation of violence, there was increased diplomatic activity to rekindle conversation. Encouraged by India to develop political consensus among non-Tamils often referred to as “Southern Consensus,” Rajapakse called an all party conference in January 2006 where he hammered out this consensus to discuss peace with the LTTE. In February 2006, Rajapakse also promised devolution of power to the North and East while promising to rein in militias his government arms, trains, and funds. In February 2006, the two groups even agreed to “respect and uphold the ceasefire” and individually to take “all necessary measures to ensure that there will be no intimidation, acts of violence, abductions, or killings.” Individually the SLG promised to stop its support for the militias and in return the LTTE promised to stop its attacks on the SLA . Despite such promises, the violence unleashed by either party was assuming alarming proportions. The LTTE continued with its policy of blowing up its boats to destroy SL Navy attack boats while the SLA continued to compromise rights of Tamils.
Human Rights Violations
Alarmed with this cycle of violence and fast deteriorating humanitarian conditions, the UNICEF accused the LTTE of forced recruitment of children as warriors. The LTTE has at least in one instance agreed to free some of its recruits and claims that it has since 2002 released thousands of children it had as its cadre but this claim cannot be verified. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the LTTE of extorting money from Sri Lankan Tamil immigrants in Canada , Britain , and Europe to fund its war; this is a claim that the LTTE assiduously denies. The SLG accused the LTTE of targeting population that opposes its methods in the North and East. This includes Tamils who want to participate in the political process, Muslims, and tea garden laborers. However, the LTTE says that this is a ploy by the Government to divide the Tamil population. Canada in the meanwhile labeled the LTTE a terrorist organization making it a crime for its citizens and residents to fund, aid, or support the group. The European Union (EU) created a policy to “not receive LTTE delegations.”
Shielded by the world’s focus on non-state actions and the so-called champions of Human Rights themselves indulging in violating fundamental rights of thousands of Arab and Afghan prisoners suspected of terrorism, the SLA was able to avoid criticism for systematic “enforced disappearances” of Tamils. Armed forces pick up Tamils suspected of colluding with the LTTE and these people just “disappear.” Able Sinhalese who refuse to fight for the SLA are also “pressed” into service; this is a euphemism for abduction of able-bodied youth who are then forced to serve in the Army. While there is no documentation for these allegations, alternate sources continue to insist of these violations go unreported because of collusion of media with government agencies and lack of independent ground-level documenters or reporters. Some say that the SLA also targets Christians when it suspects them of providing shelter to militants—according to one estimate 200 churches in Sri Lanka have been destroyed by the SLA and this information has not been reported or recorded. Only the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) had reported “enforced disappearances,” custodial death, and extra-judicial killings of Tamils by the SLA . However, the SLA had refused to accept responsibility for this criticism.
Collapse of Ceasefire, Peace Talks
The next round of talks in April 2006 collapsed after the SLG refused to provide “safe passage” for LTTE negotiators to Switzerland . The ostensible reason cited was the presence of claymore mines planted by the LTTE and the fear that accidental or deliberate death of negotiators will heap blame on the SLG. However, it is not clear why the SLG did not consider using helicopters or planes to transport these personnel and avoid the issue altogether. It continued to be overtly bellicose asking the international community to ban the LTTE.
Following the ban on the LTTE by the European Union mid-2006, the world lost the last entity that had any influence on the group. The Rajapakse Government could not hide its pleasure as the LTTE was increasingly diplomatically isolated, militarily weakened, and supply deficient. A desperate LTTE made a half-hearted attempt to “regret” the killing of Gandhi through its chief negotiator Anton Balasingham. While the real intention may never be known, the statement retracted later, is viewed by many as a cheap trick to wiggle out of the responsibility for the assassination of Gandhi. India was neither willing to forget nor forgive the crime and quickly rejected the “regret.”
Incensed by the EU ban, the LTTE started demanding the withdrawal of monitors from Sweden , Denmark and Finland (nations that had called it a terrorist organization). The SLG did not help matters by saying that the LTTE had no scope to challenge the composition of the SLMM because the Agreement for the mission was not signed by the rebel organization. A subsequent meeting in Oslo failed because the LTTE said that there was no political presence at the meeting. This is strange because the LTTE already had a list of negotiators from SLG and could have objected to it much earlier and demanded political participation if it was serious about negotiation.
Civil War Resumes
Early August, the SLG ordered air strikes and movement of the SLA to take over Mavil Aaru Dam because the LTTE refused to give water to 15,000 families downstream. The LTTE says that the Dam itself was created to service colonized settlers downstream and denying older residents of the area. It also says that denying water was a negotiating tool since the SLG had refused to give water to the Muttu East and Eachchilampattu areas. The LLTE ‘Commander’ for the area ‘ Col ’ Bhanu was reportedly hurt in the attack but there is no independent confirmation. With this escalation of fighting, most feel that the ceasefire agreement (CFA) is essentially dead and the SLMM Chief said that the CFA was “more of less terminated.” The SLG refused to accept mediation by the Norwegians and rejected the LTTE offer to open the sluice gates by firing over 100 artillery rounds when they saw the parties approaching to open the sluice gates. This again clearly shows that the SLG if looking for the slightest reason to continue it fight in the belief that its temporary upper hand can be used to eliminate the LTTE once and for all.