A cool head and a warm heart
Protests it seems will go on and
Survival is the toughest battle
By Jeevan Thiagarajah
title borrowed from the book by Minister Moragoda of his
involvement during the CFA regime. An essential
necessity for those intimately involved on matters of
pauses, zones and internally displaced Sri Lankans.
now in throes of another full blooded tsunami! Captured
by three distinctive elements; protecting lives of those
still under LTTE control, further steps to improve
dignity and protection for those now in the care of the
government and concrete steps which would facilitate the
prompt and sustainable return of the displaced.
announcement which led to the chief minister of Tamil
Nadu getting back to proper eating and sleeping habits
showed the perilous circumstances of those trapped
amidst great danger to life and limb. If words can lie,
pictures more often than not do not. Such are the
pictures, the predicament of the civilians trapped, it
is untenable to watch anymore.
Demilitarising the zone of all forms of offensive fire
and the non use of offensive weapons currently found
within the zone seems a prerequisite in the end. Such
an arrangement would be a pause plus. For serious
humanitarians driven by moral obligations, watching
civilians getting hurt is impossible. A key turning
point and change can only come from the hearts and minds
from within the Tamil polity agreeing on how best to
protect those trapped without further losses of the
numbers we average now.
Equally important would be for the key elements within
the GoSL, UN, ICRC, and CHA to collectively put in place
the plans and resources to ensure we are ready to
provide what is necessary for the well being of those
Furthering the cause of dignity and protection
component is the work of humanitarian agencies. It calls
for a framework of understanding along with commensurate
facilitation. Within which lies the on gong discussion
of a MoU. The background to which explained by a
After the tsunami, there were many INGOs that came and
worked without any kind of agreement with the line
ministries. The government has the impression that some
with one mandate, but then they get involved in areas
outside their mandate based on funding availability. The
government wants to avoid a situation where INGOs are
working outside their mandate and not complementing
national institutions like the line ministries. They
expect the work of INGOs, including rehabilitation and
reconstruction activities, to complement the national
international NGOs have come to Sri Lanka and set up
their own office, implemented projects and left without
building local capacity. There are regional and national
NGOs that have closed due to competition from these
short-term international agencies. The government’s
position is that international agencies should not build
up large local structures with expatriates in
decision-making positions since these institutions are
tied to international projects, and they leave the
country when the funding is finished.
would like INGOs to work through local intermediaries to
build long-term local capacity. Hence, the government
has request for copies of MOUs between international
agencies and their main local partners. The sticking
points revolve around the use of information by agency
interventions and the copyrights to such information.
quest to improve the lot of IDPs’ and the issues to be
weighed is best captured by from this quote of a
narrative by an associate.
date, NGOs, donors and the UN have followed a particular
advocacy line to the Government of Sri Lanka as regards
the IDP camps in Vavuniya and the north. In line with
international standards, they have called for the
the host family option for shelter and support be
prioritised, camp safety and security be assured,
humanitarian access be assured, civilian character of
camps be assured, law and order inside camps be
maintained, SPHERE standards be met in camps, access to
education be assured, screening process should be
systematic, documented and observed. Freedom of movement
and contact with visitors be assured, IDP involvement in
decision making wherever possible, family reunification
to be prioritised, especially vulnerable individual (EVI)
support should be prioritised.
of these calls have been un-contentious, others are
considered by the Government of Sri Lanka as impossible
to meet without compromising the security of the Sri
Lankan population at large, and this has resulted in a
stand off whereby international donors and agencies are
unable to offer full support, while the government is
unable to meet the concerns of the international
community because ‘they have information that some LTTE
members have also sought refuge in the camps.’
RSG on IDPs has proposed concrete steps where he has
welcomed the government’s commitment to devise an action
plan endorsing fundamental principles and indicating
clear benchmarks, criteria and timetables for security
screening of IDPs; registering them in order to enhance
their freedom of movement; and facilitating return. He
is willing to support the government and the
international community in developing such a plan in
accordance with international standards. Given the
resources being generated we need to be smart in their
use so as to support the future.
The wind down zone
Templer writing in Foreign Policy states:
are disturbing signs that a new generation of young
Tamils in the United States, Canada, Britain, Europe,
and India are being radicalised. That process has the
potential to produce new forms of terrorism and
violence. While the Tigers’ targets have so far been
contained to Sri Lanka, they might soon find new venues.
If the Tiger’s leadership is removed or killed in a
government assault, it’s easy to imagine one of the
newly energised generation stepping in to fill the void.
The deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Tamil
civilians, while their family members watch from afar,
is a recipe for another, possibly more explosive,
generation of terrorism.’
are grim warnings. If you consider the manner in which
youth from Pakistan living in overseas lands have at
times shown new found militancy possibly inheriting the
generation of terrorism by us, alluded earlier would not
be shocking if we do not do enough to reach out to them.
column was given an article by Sri Lankan novelist
Romesh Gunasekera in the Guardian (UK) http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian
titled A long, slow descent into hell in the April 30,
edition. It echoes the sentiments of many moderates.
quote a few passages without losing the beauty of his
we do know all of that, and more. We know that in the 26
years since 1983 at least 70,000 people have been killed
in the conflict. Another 6,500 have died in the last
three months, as reported by the UN. Large numbers of
both government soldiers and Tigers who had not even
been born at the time the story was written are dead.
Their lives, as well as the foreshortened lives of
thousands of ordinary people, had never known anything
but the war. Tanks have rolled, fighter jets have
roared, and suicide belts and trucks have exploded.
Lankans of every kind, overwhelmingly the poorest, have
been bombed by one side or the other for decades. Many
MPs and ministers, both Sinhala and Tamil, hawks and
moderates, have been murdered in this conflict.
years the main story in Sri Lanka has changed little:
bombs, bullets, carnage and suffering. LTTE suicide
bombs on buses, at train stations, suicide trucks at the
Temple of the Tooth, the Central Bank, the assassination
of one president, the wounding of another, and
government military campaigns with increasing firepower
and increasing casualties, terrifying air strikes and
there have been other spikes of horror in the country
with tens of thousands of dead, the 2004 tsunami,
floods, the ’80s insurrection in the south,
disappearances, abductions, but the war has gone on
relentlessly, in one area of the north or another, with
only short periods of truce in which the Tigers and the
government each gathered strength for the next round.
those 26 years the great map of the 20th century was
transformed: the Berlin wall came crashing down, Germany
was reunified, the Soviet Union disappeared, China
became the factory of the world and
boomed. But in Sri Lanka, the story remained the same.
is an island that everyone loves at some level inside
themselves. A very special island that travellers, from
Sinbad to Marco Polo, dreamed about. A place where the
contours of the land itself forms a kind of sinewy
those who plant land mines, blow up innocents, destroy
villages or ravage the jungle, still love the place.
They love the sight of it, the sound of it, the smell of
it, the taste of it, the memory of it, the dream of it.
Whether they carry coconuts or grenades, poems or bombs,
cyanide or charms, there is a deep affection for the
place which is an unbreakable common bond.
watching video clips on the web of the grim situation on
the east coast, the demonstrations around the world, the
half-reports, the exhortations, the accusations, the
propaganda, the excuses, I don’t know what to make of
the future. Is there anyone now who “can look into the
seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which
comes next? Some fear a dangerous mix of triumphalism
and chauvinism; entrenchment of resentments; internment,
radicalisation and insurgency. Others see an opportunity
for reconciliation, reconstruction, and a slow,
painstaking path towards real respect. The compassionate
and exemplary treatment of the hundreds of thousands of
displaced people would be the first step.
other night, in
Nehru Centre, I heard the Bengali poet Sunil
Gangopadhyay recite a powerful poem against the warped
beliefs we use to excuse our sometimes atrocious
behaviour. It made me think: what should I believe in
now? What can I believe in? What must I believe in?
also believe — as leaders on all sides seem to — that
the end justifies the means? Does it, really?
Bitter pill for Tamil diaspora
the control the LTTE led by Velupillai Pirapaharan had
over land has been done with and has been discussed
extensively. With the army having pushed the Tigers away
from holding land in the north and east, it is foolish
to envisage a swift return to civilian rule devoid of
uniforms swarming over these territories.
would the emerging political landscape be? What role
would the army play in the long term? Would the presence
of the armed forces fan/revive Tamil nationalism?
a bitter pill for the dispersed Tamil diaspora to
swallow that the tri-forces have all but completed the
onward march to take full control of the designated land
for Eelam. It is a well known fact that the expatriate
Tamil community has been contributing financially to the
LTTE cause. Recall how some nations opened their borders
to the Tamil community, post 1983?
the disgrace of 1983 is all but forgotten in Sri Lanka
the expatriate Tamil community have not. They are well
into the second generation now. The emerging generation
too seem to have been inculcated into the cause. They
have been the beneficiaries though through fortuitous
circumstances, to better education, insurance, health
facilities and of course being within the first world.
continuing protests in
opposite the parliament, Toronto, Canada and in
Australia prove that the Tamil diaspora have not thrown
the towel in. What are they going to achieve by these
protests? Certainly the Sri Lankan government has shown
absolutely no inclination to accede to any foreign
demands in halting its operations in the Wanni. So is it
a last ditch stand to revive a dying Tiger or is it a
part of a long term strategy which is yet to evolve? The
latter seems the most likely.
protestors are large in number and entire families are
involved. The young are drawn in to ensure continuity.
The attention of the first world is being drawn to the
conflict in Sri Lanka.
assume that the armed forces complete the job in hand
and the political administration takes over these areas.
In the absence of a credible Tamil political leadership
in the north and Wanni, someone would have to create
that in the short term. That someone would be President
Rajapakse and he will not pass on this responsibility to
could and may hoist Daya Master or George in the
interim, in similar vein to Karuna and Pillayan. Would
the Tamil population in these regions accept this
leadership? Would they be afforded the tools and the
necessary finances to win the hearts and minds of the
people of these regions? No.
Talking to some of the protestors both in London and
Canada, who requested anonymity, it was evident that
Tamil nationalism wouldn’t be buried with the demise of
the LTTE. This would emerge in another form mainly to
showcase to the rest of the world the disparity of
progress in these liberated areas.
violent process would emerge to push for greater
devolution or even for self determination. The financial
structure of the defunct LTTE would yet be in place and
could be kept simmering through continued agitation,’
said a vociferous protestor.
have kept our distinct identity and will build and nurse
it’ said another. It would be the soft war of the
diaspora that would keep Tamil nationalism on the boil.
Whether they would taste greater success than the armed
struggle is to be tested through the strength of their
lobby with the international community.