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Anything but ‘safe’ zones

 Civilians fleeing the safe zone

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Amidst 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 days.

The 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 safety.

The ‘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.’

The 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.

Continued shelling

During 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.”  

The 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.

Army 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. 

Yet, 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. 

No witnesses

It is 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 denied access.

The matter about civilian security and the possible shelling that continues within the safe zone has caused concern at the UN Security Council too.

Though 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.

Untenable position 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.”

In the 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.

But 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.”

Safe zones

The common denominator is that there are non military functions within a ‘safe zone’ or ‘no fire zone.’

As 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, Article 14).

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, Tuzla and Bihac.

If 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.

A 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

The road up Sri Lanka’s 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.

At a 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.

The 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.

This 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.

The 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.

Not 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 civilians.

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.

“The 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.

Canada’s 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 especially dangerous.”

Inside 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

More 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.

It 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.

The UN 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

The 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.

“Heavy 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 Geneva, 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

The 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 February.

In addition, UN OCHA said that the health capacity in Pulmoddai had been overstretched due to the large amount of patients.

“Mini 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 disorders.”

UNHCR 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 Ministry.

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… 

Twenty 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 coast of Sri Lanka. 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.

The 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, Sri Lanka 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.

Then, in 1981, in an act of incomprehensible malice, the revered Jaffna Public Library was set alight by a policeman.

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.

The 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 homeland.

Over 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.

By the 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 Colombo, massacres in Vavuniya, the battle of Elephant Pass, were all to come. But that day... in the middle of May, we knew none of that.”

Today, 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.

Sri 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.

For 26 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 massive bombardment.

Sadly, 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.

In 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 India boomed. But in Sri Lanka, the story remained the same.

A 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.

Sri Lanka 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.

In recent years, despite the escalating violence, I found it bubbling up in so many places in Sri Lanka: 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?”

Today, 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 will not”?

Under 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 pauser, reason.”

It 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.

I have been back to Sri Lanka 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 intimidated.

A famous editor had just been killed by yet unidentified gunmen. The concern I heard was about corruption and censorship.

Even 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.

What 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.

The other night, in London’s 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?

So, here is a list to start with:

• I must believe that the fighting will be over tomorrow and there will be no more killing, indiscriminate or discriminate.

• I must believe that those who have the power will ensure that future generations will not be brought to this point of suffering again.

• I must believe that everyone believes murder is wrong.

• I must believe that aid will flow into the country and that it will go wholly and directly to those who have suffered most.

• I must believe that money for war will be converted into money for peace and reconstruction, wherever it may come from.

• I must believe that a military victory will not lead to triumphant jingoism.

• I must believe that all those who have been trained only to fight will be found gainful civilian employment.

• I must believe that the ambitions of the military will not grow ever larger.

• I must believe that a just and democratic society nurtures and protects all its people and treats them equally.

• I must believe that dissent will not be punished.

• I must believe that the press and media will be free and fair and brave.

• I must believe that journalists will not be intimidated.

• I must believe that goodwill is stronger than ill-will.

• I must believe that good leaders are honourable people who will always place the interests of their people before the interests of themselves.

• I must believe that the young will learn from the mistakes of the elders.

• I must believe that we will not be fooled again, wherever we are and whoever we are.

• I must believe in the human capacity for compassion and reconciliation.

• I must believe all wrongs will be righted.

• I must believe that in words we will find what in fury we cannot.

But must I also believe — as leaders on all sides seem to — that the end justifies the means? Does it, really?

Deploying Diaspora 

A demonstrator chants slogans, during a protest at
Trocadero Plaza near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, April 22.
– AP and Police react as demonstrators break windows
at the High Commission of India, during a pro-
Tamil protest in London, April 27 – Reuters

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj

In 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 critical juncture.

Called “dogs”

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 “dogs.”

That 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.

Thus, 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.

With 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 sunk into.

Need for oxygen

It was 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.

For 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.

An 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.

The 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’ plight.

Held against will

The 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.

But 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.

In 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

A new, 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.

A 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.

Though 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.

With 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.”

Puerile manoeuvre

In 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.

In a 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 with.

The demonstrations were shown as being expressions of concern about the civilian plight. That this humanitarian concern was only a facade was exposed by four factors.

First, 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.

No criticism

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 responsive.

They 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.

While 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 intervention.

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.

At 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.

Tensions within

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 ‘eclipse’ grew.

The 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 the struggle.

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 loyalists.

In 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 was adopted.

With 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 Tamil people.

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 representative.”

Cosmetic change

There 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.”

The ‘official’ flag of the LTTE until then had the image of rifles on it. In one swift move, the LTTE exposed its true colours.

The 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.

When 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.

The problem was being viewed in humanitarian terms and a possible change of heart may have evolved.

The 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 escape.

Since 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.

The 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.

This 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.

Avoided demos

In spite of massive demonstrations, paralyzing traffic at times, most mainstream Western politicians particularly those holding political office avoided any public identification with demonstrators.

At one 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.

Things 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.

A 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 counter-demonstrations.

A 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 wider mobilisation.

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.


Sadly, 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.

This 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.

Unless 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 terrorism.

This certainly is not in the best interests of the global Tamil diaspora in the long run.

Courtesy: Frontline

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

On the 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 Hambantota.

This 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.

This 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

Even 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.

The 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.

The 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

The 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 . . .”

China 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

Many 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.

In 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 Defence Weekly.

China 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.”

Since 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.

China 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 contributions.

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.”

— TimesOnline

The West propels Sri Lanka towards alliances they question

Mahinda Rajapakse and M. Ahmadinejad

By Faraz Shuketaly

Both, 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.

In the 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.

There 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.

But 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.

The 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

Told 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.

The 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?

Is 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.

The 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.

LTTE propaganda

Such 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.

In the 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.

After 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

Faced 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 war.

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.

 By 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.

Grand plan

The 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.

It may 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.

To 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.

The 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 their wars.

Islamic extremism

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 Indonesia.

Sri 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.

But it 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?

The 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 alliances.”

Financial backing, military hardware, high morale and political will created winning formula

Harsh weather conditions delaying final push

Army operating in the Wanni

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

The 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.

The 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.

“In 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.

Even 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 significant results.

But 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 India’s concerns.

IANS 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 intelligence official.

The 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.

Among 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.

They 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

“Don’t 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.

Even 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.

A 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 forces.

“The battle requirements were met long before Mavil Aru happened which gave the government the opening to declare war over humanitarian concerns,” he explained.

While 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 dissent. 

On 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 talks.

That 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.

Propaganda war

A 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.

“The 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.

In 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 vital.

“That 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.

The government justifies its current military offensives claiming it is one aimed at liberating civilians so far held in bondage by the LTTE.

While 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

She 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.

Little 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 month.

“Ours 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.

Indu said that she was dark-skinned and he was fair skinned. She had hoped that she would grow into a swan, but she never did.

“As we 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 affair.

‘Like a film star’

“I was 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.

“I 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.

Petty 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 done.

“He 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 on leave.

He 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.

That was the last time Indu saw her husband.

Called three times

On 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.

But on 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.”

“There 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.

A ‘casualty’

“The 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.

“We 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.”

“And 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.

And along with that coffin died Indu’s and Ekanayake’s determined commitment to bring home a baby this year.




More War Articles...


A war with no witnesses

Heavy fighting in ‘Safe Zone’

A long, slow descent into hell

Deploying Diaspora

Chinese billions in Sri Lanka
   fund battle against Tamil Tigers

The West propels Sri Lanka
    towards alliances they question

Harsh weather conditions
   delaying final push

No one can replace a husband



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