fleeing the safe zone
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
accusations against the Sri Lanka military of shelling
the designated civilian safe zone, it was at the least,
contradictory to hear the Sri Lankan President claiming
that he had indeed ordered to stop the use of heavy
weapons in the offensives that are likely to end within
accusation of bombing the safe zone comes at a time when
the LTTE too stands accused of using civilians as a
human shield, severely compromising their physical
‘No-Fire Zone’ was Friday, May 8, redemarcated. The new
area is 2 km by 1.5 km.
According to Spokesperson, ICRC, Sarasi Wijeratne, a
safe zone is a ‘geographical area where the parties to a
conflict have agreed that they will not engage in or
conduct any hostilities.’
United Nations a fortnight ago not only critiqued the
shelling of the safe zone but the UN Under Secretary
General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief
Co-ordinator, Sir John Holmes inferred that previous
calls to this effect by the UN had fallen on deaf ears.
his two-day mission, Holmes visited camps and claimed he
had reliable information of continued shelling despite
government assurances to the contrary in an area where
civilians were facing “critical levels of hunger.”
firing in the No Fire Zone is an accusation the
government simply refutes. Amidst mounting concerns over
the civilian safety in an area now believed to be
anything but safe for them, for those who have escaped
the LTTE and now seeking to enter government held
territory, the situation is not much better.
Spokesperson, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told The
Sunday Leader with emphasis: “We have not resorted to
shelling, as claimed. We only use small arms. We fight
within the globally accepted principles of combat. We do
not have to be defensive about what we do because we do
it right,” he said.
some video footage of heavy shelling on April 26, 27 and
28 was used in the international media that gave lie to
government claims of no fire within the safe zone.
made doubly difficult to ascertain the truth given that
it is a ‘no witness war’ that precludes journalists’
fair access and so far, even the United Nations had been
matter about civilian security and the possible shelling
that continues within the safe zone has caused concern
at the UN Security Council too.
the government lives in denial of bombing the so called
safe zones where tens of thousands of civilians find
themselves in, Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona was
quoted in the foreign media having stated that the
military had indeed shelled the area with aircraft and
heavy weapons, though these air strikes had focused on
LTTE artillery, well away from the civilians.
Opendemocracy.net referring to statements made by Kohona
said: “When Kohona was confronted with detailed
satellite pictures from the UN satellite imaging agency
(Unosat), which depicted large craters within the safe
zone, he initially challenged their authenticity. Only
when it became clear that this was an untenable position
did he concede that military forces carried out aerial
bombing over an area containing thousands of civilians.”
meantime, the UN estimates around 50,000 civilians to
remain trapped in the four square kilometre stretch with
thousands of civilians fleeing the area seeking safety
in government held territory.
Government Defence Spokesperson Minister Keheliya
Rambukwella is adamant that the war is being executed
upholding the highest traditions of warfare and within
UN engineered rules of combat. “This war is being waged
fairly and squarely. There is no firing where it
shouldn’t be. Civilian safety is our priority.”
The common denominator is that there are non
military functions within a ‘safe zone’ or ‘no fire
for the UN, there are two types of safe zones —
treaty based and UN declared.
Some treaties allow countries to establish specific
types of safe zones. For example, the 1949 Geneva
Conventions provide for the establishment of
hospitals and safe zones or localities to protect
the wounded, the sick, the elderly, children, and
pregnant women from the effects of war (First Geneva
Convention, Article 23; Fourth Geneva Convention,
Pursuant to its mandate to maintain or restore
international peace and security, the United Nations
Security Council has designated some areas or
otherwise urged the protection of innocent persons
in designated places.
The creation of safe zones have sometimes been
accompanied by the imposition of no-fly zones, which
may be employed to provide a degree of enforcement.
United Nations Safe Areas (UNSAs) were first
established in 1993 on the territory of Bosnia and
Herzegovina. Through a Security Council resolution,
the territories were brought under the protection of
the UN peacekeeping units though now viewed as a
controversial UN decision that caused a diplomatic
spat. The original UN designated safe areas were
Serajevo, Serbrenica, Gorazde,
a safe area is in fact used for military purposes,
the zone may be attacked. However, the attack must
follow the laws and customs of war.
According to another definition, a safe zone is an
area reserved for noncombatant operations of
friendly aircraft, surface ships, submarines or
ground forces. Yet another describes a safe zone to
be, ‘a place during armed conflict or strife, set
aside where people who are not involved in fighting
may find a degree of refuge.’
The term safe zone has other uses as well. During
the Second Persian Gulf War the United States and
its allies declared the area around
Basra, Iraq to be a safe zone in the sense that it was safe for
humanitarian relief efforts. In the mass media, safe
zones mean places where there is no fighting.
key aspect common to all types of safe zones is that
they are nonmilitary in use. Essentially, a bargain
is struck — the zone is protected so as it does not
serve a military purpose, such as housing soldiers
or storing ammunition. Safe zones and military
assets must not be situated near each other
particularly when there are concerns about
protecting military assets.
A war with no witnesses
By Stewart Bell
There is no monitoring of what is going on in the
war front by independent journalists
northern coast passes through fishing villages where men
haul nets and dump their catch into wicker baskets, and
past rows of look-alike houses built after the tsunami.
lagoon, it stops and a barge powered by a 15-horsepower
outboard skims cars across. A few kilometres later, a
second ferry traverses another waterway and lands at a
military checkpoint on the outskirts of Pulmuddai.
war is not far off. The strip of sand where the Tamil
Tigers rebels are holed up with thousands of civilians
is an hour up the coastline, but this is as close as
reporters can get without government approval. We have
no such permission, and are forced to turn back.
has been called a war without witnesses.
Journalists have been unable to get close enough to the
fighting to provide independent accounts. With the
exception of the International Committee of the Red
Cross, no humanitarian workers have been allowed into
the combat zone.
reasons are partly geographic (Sri Lanka is an island
whose waters are patrolled by naval craft), partly
logistical (the north is an active war zone filled with
land mines) and partly government-imposed.
able to observe the events themselves, news agencies
have been resorting to interpreting satellite photos and
videos, along with photos provided by others, which may
or may not represent the true state of affairs.
Otherwise, the only information about the war comes from
the conflicting parties themselves. They provide starkly
divergent accounts: One side says the government is
waging genocide, the other says the Sri Lankan military
is conducting a rescue mission to free trapped
Whether the army is adhering to its promise to refrain
from firing heavy weapons, or is continuing to use
artillery, and whether there are 15,000 civilians with
the rebels, as the government says, or 100,000, as the
Tamil Tigers claim, nobody can verify.
fog of war makes it difficult to be certain of the facts
of the present situation. This is compounded by the lack
of access for international agencies and the media,”
David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, told the
House of Commons in London after his visit to Sri Lanka.
Liberal Leader, Michael Ignatieff, last week voiced
concern about the information vacuum. “Because of the
exclusion of international media and aid agencies, Tamil
Canadians here in Canada have limited information about
loved ones trapped in the conflict zone,” he said. “This
is a war without witnesses. And any such conflict is
the briefing room where the military updates reporters
on the war, a sign on the wall reads, “It’s the soldier,
not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the
press. It’s the soldier, not the poet, who has given us
the freedom of speech.”
Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, the Sri Lankan military
spokesman, said the army had taken reporters close to
the frontline but they were not allowed any further for
their own safety and that of the troops.
Courtesy The National Post
Heavy fighting in ‘Safe Zone’
Heavy fighting has hampered rescue efforts
By Arthur Wamanan
than 196,000 persons have fled LTTE controlled areas
since October last year and another 50,000 are believed
to be still trapped in the No Fire (Safe) Zone, the UN
said last week.
Agencies had also raised concerns over the health issues
pertaining to those who had already crossed over to
government areas from the conflict zone.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report released last Friday
(8), 196,044 persons have been able to cross over to
government held areas since October 27. It said that
1252 persons had been released from temporary camps to
host families and elders’ homes as at April 28.
added that an estimated 144,000 persons had come out of
the conflict zone since April 20. Civilian influx
reached an unprecedented level during the latter period
of April when the military entered the safe zone where
the LTTE leaders, including Velupillai Pirapaharan are
believed to be in hiding.
estimates that around 50,000 persons are still in the
LTTE controlled areas, now limited to a 2km by 1.5km
strip off the Mullaithivu coast.
25 metric tonnes of food
ICRC continues to transport food items to the zone. Last
week, the ICRC transported 25 metric tonnes of food
provided by the WFP to the Safe Zone and evacuated 495
injured patients and accompanying relatives from the
area. The ICRC also said that there was heavy fighting
in Mullavaikkal, near a medical assembly point.
fighting is taking place near the medical assembly point
at Mullavaikkal, which puts the lives of patients,
medical workers and ICRC staff at great risk,” ICRC Head
of Operations for
South Asia, in
Jacques de Maio said last week. “This hampers medical
evacuations of wounded civilians and their families.”
The ICRC was not able to carry out its operations for
seven consecutive days prior to its last operation due
to security constraints.
13,000 patients evacuated
ICRC had evacuated more than 13,000 patients and their
relatives from the conflict area to Trincomalee and
Pulmoddai since February 10. It has also transported
over 2,300 metric tonnes of food to the area since mid
addition, UN OCHA said that the health capacity in
Pulmoddai had been overstretched due to the large amount
medical centres are functioning in the three camps in
Pulmoddai, with medical staff regularly visiting IDPs on
a rotational basis, in addition to the Indian medical
team. However, due to the large numbers of patients,
health capacity is overstretched,” the report by UN OCHA
said. “The establishment of a mental health clinic has
been suggested by a medical officer of the Ministry of
Health as many patients show trauma and stress
last week was engaged in allocating 300 emergency
shelters to Persons with Specific Needs (PWSN) close to
medical and water and sanitation facilities in Menik
Farm Zone 2.
Meanwhile the ICRC, in addition to transporting
essential items to the uncleared areas, will begin to
distribute food and NFI packs donated by the Indian
Government for 20,000 displaced families in Menik Farm.
MSF has commenced the construction of a field hospital
in Menik Farm with the authorisation of the Health
A long, slow descent into hell
Thousands of ordinary people have died in the
war and thousands of others have
never known anything but war
The decades of bitter fighting between the Sri Lanka
Army and Tamil rebels has left a beautiful country
bereft and thousands caught in the crossfire. Novelist
Romesh Gunesekera mourns his island’s fate…
six years ago, I was writing the earliest of the stories
that would end up in my first book, in which a man
called CK dreams about opening a guest house on the east
If one tries to pin his dream down on a map, I guess it
would be just a few miles from the so-called “no-fire
zone” today, a place where Tigers are said to be
shooting Tamil hostages who do not want to be human
shields, and the Government of Sri Lanka is accused of
bombing civilians; the strip of land where the BBC says
the endgame of this long civil war is being played out,
and from where 160,000 men, women and children have fled
in the last couple of weeks.
heart-wrenching images of those refugees are
superimposed for me on CK’s dream and an idyllic sepia
photograph, in a family album, of the small town of
Mullaitivu, where an uncle and aunt lived 60 years ago.
Between my first draft of CK’s story in the spring of
1983 and the second in the summer of that year,
went into freefall. Tension had been building up for
some years in Sri Lankan politics. Many Tamils felt
heavily discriminated against in the increasingly
Sinhala-focused agenda of successive nationalist
governments in Sri Lanka, whereas many in the majority
Sinhala population saw the government’s changes as
redressing imbalances instituted under British rule.
These tensions burst into sporadic militant attacks in
the north through the 1970s and an increasing government
military presence in the area.
in 1981, in an act of incomprehensible malice, the
revered Jaffna Public Library was set alight by a
Although there had been a precursor in the serious
communal riots of 1958 (in part flowing out of the
controversy over the national language issue), 1983 was
a horrific watershed. In July that year, the ambush of
13 soldiers in the north sparked anti-Tamil riots all
around the country, especially in the capital, Colombo.
Hundreds, some estimate 2,000, ordinary Tamils were
killed, and many tens of thousands were made homeless.
fledgling militant group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE), formed in 1976 and commonly known as the
Tamil Tigers, gained massive support at home and abroad
and grew quickly to become a formidable guerrilla force.
Very soon it was engaging in conventional warfare with
the Sri Lankan army to establish an independent
the next few years, the fighting in the north of the
island and the invective between partisans around the
world intensified. My small story finally found its
shape and a publisher. The editors of Stand magazine
wrote to me and said: “We want to print it, but the
office is divided on the coda. The final paragraph on
the violence politicises the text. Half of us want it
in, half of us want it out because maybe the story does
not need it.” I said it could not be left out; the war
had invaded even that little page.
time the story became the core of a book, Monkfish Moon,
in 1992, the earlier lines had expanded: “... the east
coast, like the north, would become a blazing
battleground. Mined and straffed and bombed and
pulverised, CK’s beach, the dry-zone scrub land –
disputed mother earth — would be dug up, exploded and
exhumed. The carnage in
massacres in Vavuniya, the battle of
were all to come. But that day... in the middle of May,
we knew none of that.”
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, too — 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.
country that was once an admirable model of democracy,
leading the way in agrarian reform, quality of life
indices, and health and education services, got stuck as
the prototype for suicide bombers on the one hand, and
the new benchmark for “shock and awe” tactics with
unbridled military muscle on the other. I find it
difficult to believe that it was allowed to happen.
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
poetry. Even those who plant landmines, 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. Every Sri
Lankan, and almost every visitor to Sri Lanka, carries a
longing for the place in some small form — hiraeth, the
Welsh call it — wherever they go and whatever their
background. It binds them however much the war and
politics might try to divide them.
recent years, despite the escalating violence, I found
it bubbling up in so many places in
in ethnically mixed children’s peace camps, in young
writers’ imaginations, Sinhala and Tamil, in cricket
crowds that brought everyone together. Only a few months
ago, an armed soldier I spoke to on the street put it
very simply: “There is no country like Sri Lanka
anywhere in the world, is there? That is why everyone
wants to come here, no?”
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
a pile of newspapers, I find a copy of the old tragedy
from which I filched that quote. I open it and find
Macbeth in the second act, speaking after he had killed
the men he wished to pin Duncan’s murder on. His cunning
excuse sounds familiar: “Who can be wise, amazed,
temp’rate and furious,/loyal and neutral, in a moment?
No man./The expedition of my violent love/ outrun the
doesn’t tell us much about how to live, but we can
certainly see how not to live. Disturbing, traumatic
events do not reduce the relevance of poetry and
fiction. For me, they make imaginative writing all the
more urgent and necessary.
been back to
twice in the last six months, trying hard to find
something of the optimism I felt writing my last book,
The Match. I started writing it when peace had
unexpectedly broken out in 2002. The novel was going to
be like a bookend to the story I mentioned at the
beginning of this piece, to celebrate a new beginning.
But soon after it was published in 2006, the peace talks
floundered. A few months later, the war entered a new
and more fearful phase.
Wherever I went on these last two visits, no one —
Sinhala or Tamil — wanted to talk about the war. They
were fed up with the war. It had gone on too long, cost
too many lives, hurt too many families. They all wanted
it over one way or another. Taxi drivers, waiters,
businessmen, writers, journalists, cobblers, farmers,
and even soldiers. No one wanted to talk because no one
believed it was nearing an end. No one believed anything
about the war in the news. Too many journalists had been
famous editor had just been killed by yet unidentified
gunmen. The concern I heard was about corruption and
when government forces finally took Killinochchi, the
LTTE administrative headquarters for years, my trishaw
driver did not believe it. Now, it seems, there is a
growing belief that the war, at least the one of tanks
and planes and artillery bombing, will soon be over. The
government is determined to completely destroy the
military capability of the LTTE under its present
leadership, and is unlikely to deviate from that
mission. It has made single-mindedness one of its core
characteristics and an electoral attraction. The
paradigm has shifted.
comes next? Some fear a dangerous mix of triumphalism
and chauvinism; entrenchment of resentment; 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?
here is a list to start with:
must believe that the fighting will be over tomorrow and
there will be no more killing, indiscriminate or
must believe that those who have the power will ensure
that future generations will not be brought to this
point of suffering again.
must believe that everyone believes murder is wrong.
must believe that aid will flow into the country and
that it will go wholly and directly to those who have
must believe that money for war will be converted into
money for peace and reconstruction, wherever it may come
must believe that a military victory will not lead to
must believe that all those who have been trained only
to fight will be found gainful civilian employment.
must believe that the ambitions of the military will not
grow ever larger.
must believe that a just and democratic society nurtures
and protects all its people and treats them equally.
must believe that dissent will not be punished.
must believe that the press and media will be free and
fair and brave.
must believe that journalists will not be intimidated.
must believe that goodwill is stronger than ill-will.
must believe that good leaders are honourable people who
will always place the interests of their people before
the interests of themselves.
must believe that the young will learn from the mistakes
of the elders.
must believe that we will not be fooled again, wherever
we are and whoever we are.
must believe in the human capacity for compassion and
must believe all wrongs will be righted.
must believe that in words we will find what in fury we
must I also believe — as leaders on all sides seem to —
that the end justifies the means? Does it, really?
demonstrator chants slogans, during a protest at
Trocadero Plaza near the Eiffel Tower in Paris,
– AP and Police react as demonstrators break
at the High Commission of India, during a pro-
Tamil protest in London, April 27 – Reuters
By D. B. S. Jeyaraj
1989, this writer attended a conference organised by the
pro-Tiger publication Tamil Voice International in
London. Among the participants were politicians,
journalists and bureaucrats from India such as P.
Upendra, S. Unnikrishnan, Aladi Aruna, N.V.N. Somu, K.
Veeramani, A.P. Venkateswaran and Samantha Datta Ray.
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Leader
Velupillai Pirapaharan sent a felicitatory message to
the conference. The delegates, consisting mainly of
members of the worldwide Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, were
shocked by a reference in that message. Pirapaharan
described the diaspora as tholaintha santhathi or “lost
generation.” The diaspora representatives were seething
with anger but were unable or unwilling to challenge the
Tiger supremo’s poor opinion of them.
Despite members of the diaspora playing an important
role in the affairs of the LTTE, that organisation
regarded those who had “left the homeland” (pulam
peyarnthor) generally with contempt. The LTTE described
them as people who had deserted “Tamil Eelam” at a
former LTTE spokesperson told a German journalist that
the expatriates were economic refugees. The LTTE “poet
laureate” Puthuvai Rathinadurai in a poem called them
opinion began to change as more and more Tamils left Sri
Lanka as refugees to swell the numbers of a global
diaspora. Even as contributions to the LTTE decreased at
home, the funds from abroad increased. In recent times,
the shrinkage of the LTTE sphere of control in the
island has resulted in the reduction of the Tigers’
revenue base also.
the Tigers who had at one time ridiculed the diaspora
were compelled to rely more and more on funds raised
from it. The bizarre twist was yet to come.
the LTTE getting gradually boxed into a tiny strip of
coastal territory in the Assistant Government Agent
division of Karaithuraipattu in Mullaithivu District,
the endgame for the Tigers began. The fate of
Pirapaharan itself was a big question mark.
Desperate, the LTTE turned to the diaspora. The wheel
had turned full circle. The LTTE claiming to liberate
the Tamil people now started looking to the pulam
peyarnthor to extricate itself from the morass it had
Need for oxygen
felt that only high-level pressure exerted by the
international community could compel Sri Lankan
President Mahinda Rajapakse to call off the offensive
and enter into negotiations with the LTTE. The Tigers
gasping for breath needed oxygen.
this task, the LTTE hierarchy thought that the Tamil
diaspora would be the trump card. Sections of the
diaspora in Western countries would mount pressure on
their respective governments and make them pressure
Colombo. The Tiger lobby in Tamil Nadu was expected to
do the same in India.
international campaign focusing on the plight of Tamil
civilians in Tiger-controlled territory was to be
orchestrated. Charges of genocide were raised. The
objective was to use the civilians’ plight to pressure
the international community into fulfilling its
responsibility to protect civilians.
Tigers, who are known for grave political
miscalculations, were way off the mark in this too.
While being sympathetic to the tragedy, the
international community had a different take on its
causes and possible remedy. The unwritten consensus was
that the LTTE was primarily responsible for the Tamils’
Held against will
bulk of the Tamil people were being held against their
will by the Tigers. As such the crisis amounted to a
“hostage” situation. The best option, therefore, was for
the LTTE to release the civilian hostages and discuss
terms of surrender.
then the LTTE, which is known for its disconnect with
political reality, opted to go along the doomed course.
The Tigers, underestimating the collective intellect of
the international community, resorted to stratagems that
were patently obvious.
Tamil folklore and everyday usage, there are many
sayings and references about the tiger. Pasuthhol
porthiya puli is one such descriptive phrase, which
means the tiger covered in a cow’s skin or hide.
Metaphorically, this alludes to something fiercely
dangerous portraying itself as harmlessly docile -- an
equivalent of the English idiom “wolf in sheep’s
clothing.” An interesting phenomenon within the global
Tamil diaspora was the carnivorous tiger attempting to
portray itself as a herbivorous cow.
New pattern of protests
different pattern was discernible. For the first time in
many years, demonstrations and protests were being
staged in Western capitals and important cities without
two familiar items. One was the portrait of Tiger
Supremo Pirapaharan and the other, the flag with the
image of a roaring tiger symbolising the LTTE. They were
conspicuous by their absence.
harsh reality in recent times was that no significant
public demonstration or meeting of a political nature
could be convened or conducted by anti-Tiger or
non-Tiger sections within the diaspora.
low-key events with adequate security arrangements were
held occasionally by persons independent of the LTTE, it
was virtually impossible to organise something
“political” on a large scale. Such was the LTTE’s grip
on the Tamil diaspora.
the Tigers enjoying a monopoly of large-scale “public
politics,” most demonstrations and meetings organised by
the Tiger and pro-Tiger elements usually saw an
abundance of placards with Pirapaharan’s picture and
flags with the Tiger emblem.
Against this backdrop, it was indeed a noteworthy
deviation from the norm when large-scale political
demonstrations and events began proliferating amidst the
Tamil diaspora without these familiar objects. The
reasons were not hard to seek. Fundamentally it was a
change of tactics dictated by the politico-military
circumstances in northern Sri Lanka. The situation “back
home” for the LTTE was bleak.
Realising fully well that the writing on the wall was
clear for the LTTE if this trend continued, its
supporters and sympathisers began orchestrating a
campaign to “save the Tiger.”
what seemed a tactical yet puerile manoeuvre to hoodwink
the world at large, the lead role in these efforts was
delegated to students and youths who were not openly
identified as LTTE supporters. Well-known LTTE elements
adopted low profiles.
further bid to show that the demonstrations were not
LTTE-oriented and that the concern displayed was
altruistic in purpose, the tell-tale signs of
Pirapaharan placards and Tiger flags were dispensed
demonstrations were shown as being expressions of
concern about the civilian plight. That this
humanitarian concern was only a facade was exposed by
no such concern was shown when civilians in the Eastern
province were in distress owing to the military campaign
or even when civilians in the north-western regions of
Wanni were affected. It was only when the LTTE-dominated
north-eastern enclave was under threat that this
cacophony for civilian concern increased in volume.
Secondly, these voices were stridently loud about the
damage and destruction caused by artillery shelling and
aerial bombardment by the armed forces but were
conspicuously silent on the atrocities committed by the
LTTE against its own people. There was no condemnation
of the Tigers’ endangering civilian life, limb and
property by locating their artillery and mortars in
thickly populated places and engaging the enemy, thus
bringing about inevitable retaliatory attacks.
Thirdly, there was no criticism of the LTTE for
preventing sections of the people fleeing its territory
for safety reasons. The LTTE has killed and injured
several civilians for daring to escape its clutches and
seek army protection. Only the armed forces were blamed
by these sections of the diaspora.
Fourthly, these sections wanted a permanent ceasefire.
The United Nations has called for a temporary ceasefire
to help facilitate the humanitarian exercise of
evacuating entrapped civilians. But the pro-Tiger
elements agitating for civilian protection are not
want a permanent ceasefire to safeguard the LTTE. Their
intention was to let the LTTE survive further by
bringing about an end to the military campaign. They
also wanted the entrapped civilians to remain as human
shields in Tiger areas rather than obtain safety and
relief in government-controlled areas.
these frantic attempts were on, Colombo seemed to be
firm that the military juggernaut should keep on rolling
forward until the Tigers were firmly dislodged from
their positions and the LTTE’s remnants were chased
away. The only way the government’s resolve could have
been weakened was through Indian or international
Despite the endeavours of pro-Tiger elements and the
well-meaning concern shown by organisations such as
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, there
seemed very little hope that the military campaign would
be called off.
best, there could be a ‘humanitarian pause’ to
facilitate evacuation of civilians but a permanent
ceasefire seemed unlikely. This was the real situation.
However much the Tiger elements protested and
demonstrated about the civilian crisis, neither Colombo
nor the international community was prepared to budge.
Whenever the demonstrators evinced concern for
civilians, they were informed directly and indirectly
that the best option was for the LTTE to send civilians
out and that arrangements could be made for that.
Meanwhile, tensions emerged within the Tiger ranks. The
‘old hands’ were getting jittery that the ‘leadership’
role was slipping away from their hands to new sections.
They were becoming increasingly irrelevant in a
‘Tiger-free’ environment. Resentment at their enforced
hard-core Tiger elements were also becoming unhappy.
These emotion-driven sections are usually devoid of
logic and reason. Their usual role is to generate heat
and not to shed light. These people started protesting
against the new decision to “blackout” the leader and
the flag. They remonstrated that it was a betrayal of
Aggravating this situation was the cold war between
Veerakathy Manivannan alias “Castro,” the accredited
head of the LTTE’s overseas branch administration and
the newly appointed global Tiger chief Selvarasa
Pathmanathan alias “KP.” While KP advocated the ‘soft’
approach of focusing on the civilian predicament,
Castro, unwilling to relinquish his power, fomented
revolt against the diktat through his hard-line
this situation, the LTTE hawks within the diaspora began
to gain the upper hand. The earlier, comparatively
sensible, approach was jettisoned. Instead, a defiant
but unwise decision to pursue a confrontational course
this change, the focus shifted. The crocodile tears shed
for helpless civilians dried up. The demonstrators and
protestors began singing a different tune. Instead of
lamenting about innocent civilians, they began demanding
that the Western nations lift the ban on the LTTE and
formally recognise it as the sole representative of the
placards showing scenes of suffering civilians and
slogans urging international intervention were replaced
by ones supportive of the LTTE. Placards with
Pirapaharan’s portrait were displayed at demonstrations
with the slogan “Our Leader Pirapaharan.” Tiger flags
fluttered proudly as crowds chanted “LTTE sole
was a cosmetic change in the flag. The two rifles at the
bottom went missing in some. The glib explanation was
that the flag with a roaring tiger sans the firearms was
the “Tamil national flag.”
‘official’ flag of the LTTE until then had the image of
rifles on it. In one swift move, the LTTE exposed its
diaspora demonstrations now openly identified themselves
with the Tiger cause. The poor civilians were abandoned.
The tiger had shed its cow skin and was on the prowl
with its growl.
demonstrations focusing on the civilian plight were held
earlier there were signs of a slow but gradual growth of
sympathy for the tragic Tamil civilian plight among the
governments, people and the media in the West. An
important reason for this was the absence of Tiger
symbols and emblems in the public demonstrations.
problem was being viewed in humanitarian terms and a
possible change of heart may have evolved.
logical and humanitarian course to be adopted by the
Tamil diaspora was to persist with its earlier role of
focusing on the civilian predicament alone. Shifts in
public opinion take time. Though not definite a possible
change may have been on the cards.
Instead, the LTTE hierarchy blundered in typical fashion
by readopting its earlier hard-line stance. Complicating
matters further were consistent media revelations that
the LTTE was holding the bulk of civilians against their
will and had even brutally punished those trying to
the pro-Tiger demonstrators glossed over or denied the
infamous conduct of the LTTE international public
opinion could not be swayed. The “civilian plight” card
by LTTE had outlived its usefulness.
confrontational course of affirming solidarity with an
organisation banned in many Western countries and
expressing loyalty to a man like Pirapaharan as
“national leader” was not going down well with the
mainstream opinion in the West.
trend in public opinion became more and more visible.
Media coverage began dropping in quality and quantity.
Mainstream Western politicians, except for a few,
started avoiding demonstrations and meetings where
Pirapaharan’s placards and Tiger flags were displayed.
spite of massive demonstrations, paralyzing traffic at
times, most mainstream Western politicians particularly
those holding political office avoided any public
identification with demonstrators.
point demonstrators started playing childish games like
folding up Tiger flags for periods of time to enable
politicians to show up at demonstrations and raising
them again when expected leaders did not turn up.
took a turn for the worse as the LTTE declined further
back home. A new “militancy” was displayed abroad.
Committing self-immolation, going on fasts unto death,
stopping traffic on public roads, storming public
departments and ministry buildings, protesting outside
embassies, high commissions and consulates, throwing
rotten eggs and tomatoes, vandalising Sri Lankan and
Indian diplomatic missions and other acts in similar
vein started spreading.
disturbing trend was the tendency on the part of young
activists to confront the law-enforcement authorities.
There were also incidents of friction with members of
the Sinhala diaspora who had commenced
tactical blunder by the diaspora is its ethno-centric
approach to what is essentially a humanitarian
catastrophe. If it dispenses with its Tiger-oriented
agitation and alters the focus to that of a human rights
perspective there are vast possibilities of attracting
many human rights organisations also into joining the
demonstrations. But the LTTE flavour prevents such a
Likewise another mistake is depicting all Sinhala people
as the enemy. There are many liberal and/or left-leaning
Sinhalese who would join in demonstrations to protest
the killing of innocent civilians by both sides. But the
Tiger dimension naturally repels such people.
the younger generation of the Tamil diaspora is being
politicised and radicalised for an unworthy and
unwinnable cause. Moreover, the demonstrators’ open
identification with the LTTE had rendered the campaign
ineffective with no scope for success. It is indeed
pathetic to see the passionate idealism of youth being
diverted and sidetracked into a dead end.
short-sighted conduct of the LTTE within the diaspora is
just one more instance of the irreparable damage
inflicted upon the Tamil people by the Tigers. After
having brought Tamils to the precipice of disaster in
Sri Lanka, the LTTE is now compelling the diaspora to
embark upon a confrontational course with Western
governments and law-enforcement authorities.
saner elements among the Tamil diaspora are willing and
able to protest against the monstrous activities of the
LTTE in their midst, this trend is likely to continue.
Apart from being totally counterproductive to their own
interests, this conduct of the LTTE will in the long run
stigmatise the Tamil diaspora as being supporters of
certainly is not in the best interests of the global
Tamil diaspora in the long run.
Chinese billions in Sri Lanka fund
battle against Tamil Tigers
Hambantota Port which is being
constructed with Chinese Aid
By Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent
southern coast of Sri Lanka, 10 miles from one of the
world’s busiest shipping routes, a vast construction
site is engulfing the once sleepy fishing town of
poor community of 21,000 people is about as far as one
can get on the island from the fighting between the army
and the Tamil Tiger rebels on the northeastern coast.
The sudden spurt of construction helps, however, to
explain why the army is poised to defeat the Tigers and
why Western governments are so powerless to negotiate a
ceasefire to help civilians trapped on the front line.
is where China is building a $1 billion port that it
plans to use as a refuelling and docking station for its
navy, as it patrols the Indian Ocean and protects
China’s supplies of Saudi oil. Ever since Sri Lanka
agreed to the plan, in March 2007, China has given it
all the aid, arms and diplomatic support it needs to
defeat the Tigers, without worrying about the West.
Sri Lanka’s long-time ally
India, Sri Lanka’s long-time ally and the traditionally
dominant power in South Asia, has found itself sidelined
in the past two years — to its obvious irritation.
“China is fishing in troubled waters,” Palaniappan
Chidambaram, India’s Home Minister, warned last week.
Chinese say that Hambantota is a purely commercial
venture, but many US and Indian military planners regard
it as part of a “string of pearls” strategy under which
China is also building or upgrading ports at Gwadar in
Pakistan, Chittagong in Bangladesh and Sittwe in Burma.
strategy was outlined in a paper by Lieutenant-Colonel
Christopher J. Pehrson, of the Pentagon’s Air Staff, in
2006, and again in a report by the US Joint Forces
Command in November. “For China, Hambantota is a
commercial venture, but it’s also an asset for future
use in a very strategic location,” Major-General (Retd)
Dipankar Banerjee of the Institute of Peace and Conflict
Studies in Delhi said.
Foothold in the Indian Ocean
British Navy used the Sri Lankan port of Trincomalee as
its main regional base until 1957 and still shares a
naval base with the US on the nearby island of Diego
Garcia. China has no immediate plans for a fully fledged
naval base but wants a similar foothold in the Indian
Ocean to protect its oil supplies from piracy or
blockade by a foreign power, analysts say.
Beijing sent three ships on an unprecedented anti-piracy
mission to the Gulf of Aden in December, and in January
a Chinese Defence White Paper said that the navy was
“developing capabilities of conducting co-operation in
distant waters . . .”
has cultivated ties with Sri Lanka for decades and
became its biggest arms supplier in the 1990s, when
India and Western governments refused to sell weapons to
Colombo for use in the civil war. Beijing appears to
have increased arms sales significantly to Sri Lanka
since 2007, when the US suspended military aid over
human rights issues.
$37.6 million deal
of the arms have been bought through Lanka Logistics &
Technologies, co-headed by Gotabaya Rajapakse, the
Defence Secretary, who is also the President’s brother.
April 2007 Sri Lanka signed a classified $37.6 million
(£25 million) deal to buy Chinese ammunition and
ordnance for its army and navy, according to Jane’s
gave Sri Lanka — apparently free of charge — six F7 jet
fighters last year, according to the Stockholm
International Peace Research Institute, after a daring
raid by the Tigers’ air wing destroyed 10 military
aircraft in 2007. One of the Chinese fighters shot down
one of the Tigers’ aircraft a year later.
Crucial diplomatic support
“China’s arms sales have been the decisive factor in
ending the military stalemate,” Brahma Chellaney, of the
Centre for Policy Research in Delhi, said. “There seems
to have been a deal linked to Hambantota.”
2007 China has encouraged Pakistan to sell weapons to
Sri Lanka and to train Sri Lankan pilots to fly the
Chinese fighters, according to Indian security sources.
has also provided crucial diplomatic support in the UN
Security Council, blocking efforts to put Sri Lanka on
the agenda. It has also boosted financial aid to Sri
Lanka, even as Western countries have reduced their
China’s aid to Sri Lanka jumped from a few million
dollars in 2005 to almost $1 billion last year,
replacing Japan as the biggest foreign donor. By
comparison, the United States gave $7.4 million last
year, and Britain just £1.25 million.
“That’s why Sri Lanka has been so dismissive of
international criticism,” said B. Raman of the Chennai
Centre for China Studies. “It knows it can rely on
support from China.”
The West propels Sri Lanka towards
alliances they question
Mahinda Rajapakse and M. Ahmadinejad
By Faraz Shuketaly
success and failure, it is said, begin and end at home.
That is a lesson — according to a top British economist
— that has eluded Sri Lanka since independence, but it
is a lesson that President Mahinda Rajapakse appears to
be alluding to, in his quest to rid his island nation of
a terrorist threat that has been alive for 26 years. As
the same economist put it recently, “no country owes
another country a living” and President Rajapakse has
learnt that lesson well.
26 years that his country has been subject to a
terrorist war, support for a military end to the terror
in the north and north east of the country, was
painfully slow and fraught with so many conditions. By
the time President Rajapakse was elected, Western
nations namely the USA and UK made it patently clear
that no arms or ammunition would be available.
was in effect, a full blown international attempt to
coerce the legitimate government of Sri Lanka to
accommodate the aspirations of a group of terrorists —
the LTTE. India, the regional superpower extended tacit
support — whilst making yearly requests for the
repatriation of Pirapaharan for Rajiv Gandhi’s murder —
mindful of the political connotations of its own
southern state, Tamil Nadu.
Ignored the attempts
Successive administrations in the United States and
Britain, have largely ignored the attempts by Sri Lanka
to end the war save for asking Colombo to bring about a
political solution — diplomatic speak for a call on
Colombo’s sovereignty. For a southern born and bred
politician as Mahinda Rajapakse is, that call was all
but anathema. It was he knew, a political solution he —
as well as any other Sri Lankan mainstream politician —
would be unable to sell to the majority of Sri Lankans.
with his election as the fifth President of Sri Lanka,
with a populace that had grown weary of the war and its
drain on the resources of the island, the need to bring
about an end was paramount. A concerted effort to bring
the LTTE to the negotiating table in Europe or the Far
East failed while, at the same time Sri Lanka suffered
with the effects of an unprecedented increase in terror
attacks by the LTTE. With The Presidential coalition
partners clamouring for the cancelling of the Ceasefire
Agreement, the fate of the LTTE was all but sealed when
the President had enough of the LTTE’s double-talk.
West with its mulishness was of no use to Sri Lanka’s
efforts to contain the war. There were no calls for
ceasefire but plenty of calls for a ‘political’
solution. That’s diplomatic speak for a compromise of
sovereignty. The recent visit to Sri Lanka of the
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband left Sri
Lankans with more questions than answers.
Not for a ceasefire
in no uncertain terms that this government was not for
turning in terms of a ceasefire and that it was the LTTE
that needed to give up its arms, Miliband returned to
the UK only to declare there that they had not called
for a ceasefire but that they were merely in Sri Lanka
out of concern for the civilian population.
double standards employed by the West is almost beyond
belief. In Afghanistan just this week, over 100 were
killed in US airstrikes. The dead included many women
and children. What kind of bombings are these? Are they
not heavy artillery? Air strikes of the utmost accuracy?
this not what the Sri Lankan government is attempting to
do — to rid itself of a terrorist menace in the form of
the LTTE? Collateral damage in situations such as
Northern Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, is unavoidable — it
can be minimised but certainly not avoided.
West’s al Qaeda is Sri Lanka’s LTTE. The West is not for
a political solution with regard to al Qaeda — neither
is Sri Lanka’s government with the LTTE. Both outfits
thrive on terror and have enormously superior ‘spin
departments’ — carrying their message to the Western
world’s capitals and attempting to change public opinion
of their actions.
was the success of the LTTE propaganda all over the
world, that the US and the UK played scant attention to
the real problems being faced by the Sri Lankan
government. It is however a lesson to students of
foreign relations, as to how, a small, poor country,
resolved its own homegrown terrorist problem without
relying on support from the West — which in any event
was hardly forthcoming.
26 years of the terror perpetrated by the LTTE, Sri
Lanka has been forced to ‘miss the bus’ — much has
changed: the Berlin wall was pulled down, India has
emerged as the regional superpower and Indians and
Indian companies are amongst the upper echelons of
achievers in the global corporate world, China is on a
boom and all the world flocks to it in search of
opportunities, the Soviet Union is nowhere to be seen
and Sri Lanka has been at war.
26 years a nation was weary, they had in President
Rajapakse a man whose greatest strength it is said is
his simplicity. His family as well as he, are well known
for their single mindedness: nothing and no one will
detract them from their focus. Their mantra on winning
the war on terror, was steadfastly followed — aided by
Army Commander Sarath Fonseka — as good a tactician as
one can find.
Obduracy of the Western powers
with nothing but obduracy on the part of the Western
powers, President Rajapakse had little option but to
forge links with other governments who had both the
understanding and the financial resources, to support
Sri Lanka in its efforts to bring about an end to the
Chinese have long supported governments in Colombo and
enjoyed a very personal relationship with the elite of
the SLFP – the party that Rajapakse’s father co-founded
in the 1950’s. The President visited China soon after
his election and came back with aid to build a port in
the southern city of Hambantota but even more
importantly, with assurances of help with the war.
the first quarter of 2007, Western nations like the USA,
UK and France as well as the mighty regional superpower,
India, had made it abundantly clear that no help would
be forthcoming in terms of armaments — in President
Rajapakse’s thinking, the very tools required to bring
back prosperity through peace to Sri Lanka.
British press have speculated that Chinese assistance
with the war, is linked with a grand plan to safeguard
its interests of imported Saudi oil which passes the
southern tip of Sri Lanka — on one of the world’s
busiest sea routes. In reality, the Hambantota Port
development is a commercial venture with the Government
of Sri Lanka paying China commercial rates on its loans.
well be a case of sour grapes on the part of the
Indians, who are also crying foul. But their
intransigence has left the Government of Sri Lanka
little choice: get help from those willing and able to
do so. Clearly the President of Sri Lanka was
unenthusiastic in waiting for help from the West and
India in his quest for an end to the war.
secure his island’s fuel supply Mahinda Rajapakse also
called in his long standing links to the Arab world: he
is the founder president of the Palestinian Sri Lanka
Friendship Society. Links and close alliances were
formed with Iran and President Rajapakse enjoys a close
rapport with President Ahmadinejad of Iran. The supply
of oil regularly and competitively was assured. An
invitation for the Iranian President to visit Sri Lanka
was accepted and a gift of an important water dam was
given to Sri Lanka. The President had demonstrated his
international savvy for the greater benefit of Sri
Lanka. Says an Arab diplomat based in Colombo until
recently, “Mahinda Rajapakse’s greatest strength, lies
in his simplicity.”
Libyan Leader Gaddafi
Recently, the President visited Libya and met its Leader
Colonel Gaddafi, not long ago sidelined and ignored by
the West. For all the cancelling of sanctions against
Libya, the West’s relationship with Libya is handled
almost at arms length. The West has clearly not
forgotten the impact that Libya had on terror groups
from all over the world. The process of reconciliation
with the West has been long and has been slow.
Sri Lankan President will soon visit the Hashemite
Kingdom of Jordan at the invitation of King Abdullah.
There is no doubt that Jordan too, will develop closer
ties with Sri Lanka helping it where it can — after all
Jordan has had a long friendship with Sri Lanka
especially enhanced when Sirimavo Bandaranaike gave the
Israeli Embassy in Colombo 24 hours to go home.
Regional countries like Thailand and Indonesia have
attracted Middle Eastern money and attracted inward
investment in their countries by the millions of
dollars. Bangkok has its own “Arab Quarter” as does
Indonesia. Along with the investments come the usual
problems, they bring with them not only their dollars
and their way of life including their religion, but also
Thailand and Indonesia has had their own share of
Islamic extremism fought on their land — some
intelligence agencies attribute this violence to the
fact that al Qaeda too have infiltrated Thailand and
Lanka has been free of al Qaeda influences — a fact that
Western agencies are quick to endorse. But, these very
same agencies are quick to emphasise the risks that Sri
Lanka will face as she accepts the aid and the hands of
friendship that these nations extend to Colombo —
especially in Colombo’s time of need.
is the West who will need to get their cheque books out
and fund the colossal cost of looking after the
Internally Displaced. Over 160,000 people need feeding
to start with. At USD 3 per day that’s USD 480,000 a day
or US$ 14.4 million per month — that’s without
sanitation, fresh water, housing and medical facilities.
It is a cost that the government of Sri Lanka cannot
afford. Will the West step in? Or will Sri Lanka have to
look elsewhere for this too?
West may well be raising their eyebrows at the alliances
that Sri Lanka is now forging and will complain at what
they perceive to be an ill-advised stratagem, but Sri
Lanka does so in the spirit of its non-aligned status.
But it is the West that has driven countries such as Sri
Lanka to develop what the West would term “questionable
Financial backing, military
hardware, high morale and political will created winning
Harsh weather conditions delaying final push
Army operating in the Wanni
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
current military hold up in the north now with a mere
four-square kilometers to be cleared is due to some
difficulties in terrain coupled with harsh weather
conditions but that would in no way daunt the prospect
of reaching the anticipated photo finish, top government
defence officials believe.
government is of the view that end of May would see an
end to the island’s civil strife.
According to Military Spokesperson, Brigadier Udaya
Nanayakkara there are no new challenges but the troops
are moving ahead with extreme caution in a bid to
prevent civilians from being harmed.
warfare, it is pointless to give deadlines. There are
diversions, tactical withdrawals, wins and defeats. All
these factors are common to all parties to a conflict.
The war will soon end,” insists Nanayakkara.
arch critics of the current regime over its style of
prosecuting the war including the international
community concede that, from a perspective of combating
terrorism, the Colombo administration has reaped
what motivated the troops to fight this war to an end
this time around when the same troops did not achieve
similar military heights during previous war efforts
against the LTTE?
Political will and strategy
According to Government Defence Spokesperson Keheliya
Rambukwella, it is part political will and part strategy
that paid off. “This war excluded politicians. The
strategies were of the military’s making. The
politicians played their role by backing the war effort.
We remained united on this policy and the soldiers did
their part,” summarises Rambukwella.
Besides, there is a school of thought that Chinese
financial backing has led the government to arrogantly
ignore international opinion and even brush aside
on May 2 reported that the Sri Lankan government has
been able to disregard international concern over its
civil war with Tamils because of financial and military
backing by China, and quoted a former senior Indian
news agency quoted The Times newspaper in claiming China
has replaced Japan as Sri Lanka’s biggest foreign donor
giving the island-nation nearly a billion US dollars
last year and added that by comparison, the US gave $7.4
million last year, and Britain 1.25 million pounds.
“That’s why Sri Lanka has been so dismissive of
international criticism,” B. Raman of the Chennai Centre
for China Studies, a former additional secretary in the
Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external
intelligence agency said.
According to Sri Lankan military experts speaking to The
Sunday Leader on the basis of anonymity, part of the
strategy was to fortify the armoury before entering
military engagements. But they acknowledge other
factors also contributed to making victories possible.
these factors, the experts count, the psychological
support that made soldiers resolute when the given task
appeared sometimes illusive.
“Staying power comes only when you build up their
psychology. Some have gone through the humanitarian law
training programme and troops have pocket guidebooks on
humanitarian law and rules of combat which is part of a
Sri Lanka Army project in capacity building. All these
combined, our soldiers are today far more focused and
disciplined,” the source explained.
add it is not just the physical fitness but also the
mental strength that makes a soldier stay strong despite
inevitable battle fatigue.
No backing off
forget the political will. This time, troops knew there
would be no backing off due to internal or external
pressure,” adds Rambukwella who considers it vital in
boosting soldiers’ morale.
those who are pro-peace and partial to a negotiated
settlement such as SLMC Leader Rauf Hakeem, also
believes that if one thing done well by this government,
that was to galvanise the military that helped the
masses overcome their defeatist mentality.
retired top army officer still associated with the
present military think tank said the government during
its first flush of victory prepared the country to be
placed on a war footing and spent the first few months
making vital military purchases to strengthen the armed
battle requirements were met long before Mavil Aru
happened which gave the government the opening to
declare war over humanitarian concerns,” he explained.
the troops were given an unrelenting push, on the other
hand, the government silenced any anti war sentiments
from surfacing through calculated acts to crush
Thursday (7), President Rajapakse told the diplomatic
community in Colombo that he had no choice but to opt
for a military option given that the other mode had
failed due to the insincerity of the LTTE to engage in
there would be no de-escalation despite mounting
international criticism is a position openly taken by
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse. The message is
that it is a non-negotiable position for the government
committed to ending the war within weeks if not days.
retired top army official said: “Often, troops have been
recalled while gaining ground. The Vadamaarachchi
operation ended on such a note demoralising troops. The
troops have had their momentum killed, time and again.
The same with the advent of the IPKF here and far worse
was the confining of soldiers to their barracks, post
2002 truce,” he explained.
Another aspect, according to Foreign Secretary Palitha
Kohona is the countering of LTTE propaganda at an
international level. “There was much damage to be
undone, post 2002,” he adds.
LTTE gained some legitimacy and international
recognition through that exercise when areas were
defined as government and LTTE controlled. In one
country there can’t be areas controlled by different
parties. This required campaigning,” adds Rambukwella.
building the entire country’s morale, it is believed
that the capturing of Mullaithivu, the de-facto
administrative and political capital of the LTTE was
sent out a message that this is indeed a winnable war.
As for events, the terrorist attack on Mumbai in 9/11
style also aided growing world opinion against the LTTE
and violence that particularly consumes South Asia,”
notes a Singapore based conflict analyst.
government justifies its current military offensives
claiming it is one aimed at liberating civilians so far
held in bondage by the LTTE.
the military strategy indeed seems to have paid off, it
remains to be seen what the political cost would be —
and the social cost.
No one can replace a husband
Sealed coffin of E.M.S.A. Ekanayake
By Ranee Mohamed
remembers holding his hand and going to Montessori
school together, down the long, hard and dusty road.
She remembers him wiping the dripping water from her
plastic bottle that she carried around her shoulder.
did she know then that he would not be there to wipe her
tears when she was hurting the most. Almost one month
later Indu (27) wife of Petty Officer E. M. S. A.
Ekanayake has not stopped crying out loud for her
husband who died on the Nayaru, Mullaithivu front last
is a very special love story. We held hands from the age
of five years, we went to Montessori school together and
ours is a love that began as innocent affection,” she
said when contacted by The Sunday Leader.
said that she was dark-skinned and he was fair skinned.
She had hoped that she would grow into a swan, but she
grew older we went to separate schools. But we always
kept in touch. There was no opposition when we decided
to get married, although my parents showed an initial
hesitation because he is in the navy and there was
always the risk of me being widowed,” she said. But
their love had surpassed all trivial opposition and Indu
and Ekanayake were married after a five year love
‘Like a film star’
not so good looking but this did not stop him from
loving me with all his heart. He was such a broad
shouldered, handsome man. I was so proud of him, he
looked like a film star, but his love for me never
wavered,” said Indu.
knew he was going out to sea in the night so I limited
my calls to him during the day. But he used to call me
before he went out to sea and when he came back ashore –
even when it was 2 a.m.” said Indu in tears.
Officer E.M.S.A. Ekanayake (28) had been excited about
coming home for the Avurudhu holidays. “He was to come
home on April 21, but because I was sitting for my
degree examinations and because he wanted to be with me
on avurudhu day, he came home on April 11. I remember
when I was studying, he used to cook my meals, wash my
clothes and do other housework which I should have
never disturbed me, he would either watch TV or stand
out in the garden while I studied, but he always ensured
that I had my meals on time, he made me countless cups
of tea,” said Indu sobbing uncontrollably at the thought
of not spending enough time with him when he last came
left me on April 21 and it is customary for me to
worship this wonderful husband of mine before he left
me, on his tour of duty. As I knelt and worshipped him,
he put his hand on my head and drew me close and said
“Take care of yourself, Budhu Saranai (blessings of the
Buddha be with you). I love you.” And thereafter, he
lifted his bag and walked away from me.
was the last time Indu saw her husband.
Called three times
April 30 he spoke to me many times. It is usual for him
to telephone me three times a day. I used to stay to up
till late in the night till he gave me a call when he
returned from sea. That day on April 30, he spoke to me
in the morning at about 7.30 a.m. and said “I went out
to sea last night and I may have to go out again today,”
thereafter I kept expecting a call from him during the
day. I was scared to call him because I might wake him
up – as he goes out to sea in the night he usually
sleeps during the day.
this day, the call never came. Instead a friend had
called at about 5 p.m. and asked Indu how she was. She
had inquired after her husband; the friend had said he
is out at sea. “I asked him, how can that be, you all go
together, how can he not be there. Then the friend told
me that he had gone in a small craft and that my husband
had gone with the ‘Sirs’ in a larger craft. So I waited
and waited for his call.”
was no call even at 7 pm. I was restless and was
watching TV but the images were blurred. There were
tears in my eyes already and fear in my heart. I could
not talk, because there was a lump in my throat. Then
the same friend called again at 9 p.m. and asked me
whether I was okay and whether I was alone. He also told
me that my husband will call me at about 10 p.m. I
waited the whole night through but there was no call
from my husband.
next day at 10.30 a.m. there was a call from a senior
officer in Colombo. He asked me whether I was at home
and after the initial pleasantries he told me that my
husband was a ‘casualty’ and is now being taken to
hospital. He volunteered to send me a vehicle to get
there, but I said I can come there on my brother’s bike.
Then the officer gave me his mobile number and asked my
brother to speak to him. Fear was gnawing into me.
waited for more news and it came in the form of a
telephone call from the camp. The person calling was a
colleague of my husband. When I picked up the phone and
asked him about what had happened to my husband, he
began to cry. Then my brother took the telephone and he
began to cry. Very soon, everybody in the house was
crying. I blacked out, lost all consciousness.”
when I opened my eyes again, I saw the white flags and
that evening, my husband’s body came home in a closed
coffin,” she cried.
along with that coffin died Indu’s and Ekanayake’s
determined commitment to bring home a baby this year.