Reports last week of Sri Lankan Tamils crossing the Palk Strait to Tamil Nadu and more people particularly those from Trincomalee arriving at Mannar for crossing over were indeed ominous for the Rajapakse government. The main reason they gave for leaving their homes was the violence that has broken out in the Trincomalee area.
Whether this crossover to Tamil Nadu was LTTE inspired or due to genuine fears is not certain. But it has to be taken very seriously not only because of humanitarian reasons but also for the inevitable international implications that are likely to result.
No doubt the stepping up of violence by the LTTE during the election campaign for the Tamil Nadu State Assembly which was just concluded was meant to attract the attention of Tamil Nadu leaders. Now with M. Karunanidhi of the DMK who has been sympathetic towards the LTTE at certain periods in the past sweeping the polls, LTTE Leader Velupillai Pirapaharan will be attempting to get Karunanidhi to take up the Sri
Lankan Tamil cause. With the DMK being a party to the coalition government of Manmohan Singh, the LTTE would no doubt push for this issue to be taken up by New Delhi not only with the Sri Lanka government but the four Co-Chairs to the Sri Lankan peace process — US, EU, Japan and Norway — at their meeting in Tokyo this week.
In fact there are already indications of such a development with Chief Minister Karunanidhi stating publicly he cannot watch silently as the influx of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka continues. Pirapaharan’s strategy throughout this conflict that has gone on for over 20 years has been to sway world opinion against Sri Lanka by projecting that the Tamil minority is being persecuted by Sri Lankan governments.
For over a decade Sri Lankan governments have scrupulously avoided such allegations being made but President Rajapakse played right into the hands of the LTTE with the recent aerial bombings targeting LTTE camps at Sampur which affected the civilian population in the area. That is in addition to further reports of the security forces clashing with the civilian population.
President Rajapakse was under severe pressure to retaliate against the LTTE , the CFA not withstanding, after Tiger attacks against the armed services culminating in the attack on the Army Headquarters and the attempt on the life of Army Commander Sarath Fonseka. Now he has to undertake immediate damage control measures and avoid attacks on civilians by the security services either by air or on the ground. The
influx of ‘refugees’ has to be brought to a halt.
After all no government has aerially bombed the south during the terror eras of the early 1970s and late 1980s though it was the hot bed of JVP activity. No government did so simply because there were a vast majority of Sinhala people living in those areas infested with JVP terrorists at the time and the innocent could not be asked to pay the price for the atrocities of the terrorists.
Why should it be any different when it comes to Tamil civilians? They too are citizens of Sri Lanka and the very battle against separation is to keep them within a united Sri Lanka and aerial bombardment in that context does not help the government’s case. A legally elected government has to respect international law and no amount of provocation can justify acting to the contrary. That is the difference
between an internationally accepted government and a terrorist organisation.
When the Co-Chairs meet in Tokyo with the LTTE keeping out, our government representatives are bound to be asked for their strategy in the face of the stepping up of violence and the LTTE boycotting the peace negotiations, especially given the government’s own inconsistent position on the Oslo Communiqué and the Tokyo Declaration.
The government’s strategy of working out a negotiated settlement with the LTTE taking into consideration the rights of all minorities within a united Sri Lanka will have to change if any progress is to be made at the conference table. Government representatives should try to change tactics by not permitting the LTTE to call the shots as they had always done and instead have them on the defensive and the only
way to do that is by proving to the international community not only by word but also by deed that Tamils are not children of a lesser God in Sri Lanka.
Agreeing to a federal solution based on the Oslo Communiqué may be a good starting point for the government to establish its bona fides.
President Rajapakse will be finicky about making such a proposal public having pushed very strongly for a unitary state at the election campaign but he could always advocate a ‘constitution on the Indian model’ which is not exactly federal in composition but is federal in outlook. President Rajapakse will be going back on his election pledge of standing by a unitary state but already he has broken two such
pledges: scrapping or amending the CFA and removal of Norwegians as facilitators of the peace process.
He should try to give leadership to the people for the benefit of the nation instead of being stuck in a groove of election demagoguery. He must realise that the hard-line he had pushed and won the election on albeit by a wafer thin majority cannot work in the present context of international politics Sri Lanka has been caught up with and it could only lead the country further down the abyss.
One success his supporters can claim is the decision of the EU to proscribe the LTTE though it is still to be formally adopted by the European Council of Ministers for it to become law. The proscription will no doubt be a reality soon. But will be proscription change the situation in Sri Lanka vis-a-vis terrorism?
America was the first Western country to proscribe the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, almost 10 years ago. Such proscriptions or bans have been proclaimed by countries in various regions of the world, India, Malaysia, Australia, Canada and Britain. But have these bans resulted in curbing the LTTE in any effective way? Each time a ban was imposed on the LTTE by a foreign country, those opposed to the
LTTE went into a whoop and a dance but nothing came out of such bans.
Have LTTE funds been frozen in any country? Does the LTTE keep its funds in banks? Has any person been arrested for taking part in terrorist activities on behalf of the LTTE? What are the LTTE fronts that have been banned in these countries? Have LTTE collections and extortions been stopped? Doesn’t the LTTE continue to operate its shipping lines under different names? How is it that arms shipments are still
being made to the eastern coast of Sri Lanka if there is international satellite surveillance on clandestine shipping? Isn’t gun running from South Asian countries continuing? Therefore let the government not kid itself and the people by proclaiming that the ban will be the end of the LTTE.
It does appear that this proscription as a terrorist organisation is a mere label in these countries where Sri Lanka is concerned. They do not bother to deploy anti terrorist squads to act against the LTTE members and that will not happen either when the government itself is seen to be dragging its feet on meeting the legitimate grievances of the minorities. Alliance partners like the JVP hollering for war and
insisting on a unitary state does not help Sri Lanka’s case either. Sooner Rajapakse realises this fact it is better not only for him but Sri Lanka as a whole.