Issue 1, September 11, 2006

    Background to Conflict

    India and Sri Lanka (SL) have had millenniums of joint history with generations of inter-marriage, trade, inter-dependent economies, culture, arts, religion, history, and tradition. Both nations were colonized by the British and earned independence around the same time and became multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, plural, democratic, and liberal societies. However, post-colonial independent, democratic SL adopted a divisive Constitution that essentially colonized the minority Tamil population of the North and East denying them administrative power, political representation, development, and accommodation. The Sinhalese-Tamil struggle goes back more than 2000 years to Middle Chola times (from Ellara Chola).  Initially, the SL Tamils (Tamils) started a movement that was peaceful, collaborative, and cohabitate orientated. However, successive negotiations and deals were unilaterally violated by successive SL Governments (SLG) leading to a severe rupture in trust between ethnic Sinhalese and Tamils which blew into violent conflict between the two communities from mid-80s by many groups. However, the one group that started dominating the scene was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led by a radical, much admired, much hated, and much feared leader Vellupillai Prabakaran.

    Despite such a rich joint heritage, Indo-Sri Lankan relations in the last half-century has been dominated in dealing with this ethnic conflict since the South Indian State of {Tamil Nadu (TN)} has a maritime border with the island state. Ethnically, culturally, and historically linked to the Tamils in SL, TN often responds adversely to national Indian policies if they would compromise the rights of the SL Tamils. Nationally, India faces a major refugee crisis every time fighting flares up in the island as tens of thousands reach Indian shores.

    The Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of 1987 was signed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayewardene with substantial opposition from India and Sri Lankan polity and most importantly the Tamils of both Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. While well-intentioned, the deal sought to create peace by force and led to the death of more than a 1000 Indian soldiers of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and several thousand LTTE combatants and civilians. By some estimates, the takeover of Jaffna alone resulted in the death of thousands of civilians. The side-affect to all this was that the LTTE was vastly marginalized and angered by what Gandhi had done to their cause. A suicide bomber, believed to be an LTTE sympathizer and operative, detonated a strapped-on bomb instantly killing Gandhi.
    Policy Hibernation
    Thereafter, India ’s SL policy went into hibernation and continued conflict and refugee influx did not arouse any sympathy from India or people of TN. In fact, there was substantial anger against SL Tamils, particularly the LTTE, among the Tamil population in India blaming them for a stream of violence, instability, loss of peace in their state. Facing internal insurgent movements supported by Pakistan in { Punjab } and {Jammu & Kashmir (J&K)}, India became increasingly ardent refusing to entertain any suggestion of a separate nationhood for the Tamils of Sri Lanka.
    Finally, the power vacuum and the stalemate between the SL Army (SLA) and the LTTE led to the entry of Europeans into SL trying to broker peace between the warring groups. A Norway brokered Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was signed by the warring parties in February 2002 and held till the end of 2005. During this time, both groups accumulated enough weaponry, training, and consolidated their respective positions. The SLG acquired new fighter planes to man its 9 squadrons, fast attack boats, artillery, attack rifles, military operations trainers, and counter-intelligence advisors from Pakistan , Israel , and China . The SLG has also employed Israeli and Pakistani mercenaries to fly their aircraft. Comparatively, the 9/11 imposed embargo on nations to sell arms to non-state actors, restrictions on transferring monies to suspected terror groups, increased naval patrolling, and increased airport vigilance and restrictions greatly limited the sources, quality, quantity, and type of weapons that the LTTE could acquire. Not withstanding these restrictions, the LTTE managed to acquire artillery weapons, fast attack boats, and even a small air-force comprising micro & ultra light aircrafts and range of small helicopters.

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