Sri Lanka

Is this One Way to End the Ethnic War in Sri Lanka?

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, February 2000 (ID. 2000-02-02)
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1. Introduction

2. Future Sri Lankan Presidents

3. Looking Back and Looking Forward

4. Independent Tamil Eelam is the Natural Solution

5. A Solution Short of Independent Tamil Eelam


LTTE - Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization

UN - United Nations

UNP - United National Party

Author proposes a solution for the Sinhala-Tamil ethnic conflict within the country of Sri Lanka but safeguards the interests of the Tamil minority.

1. Introduction

Recently, in January 2000, Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe, leader of the main Sinhala opposition party, UNP, said that his party would support the devolution package proposed by the Sri Lankan President. He wrote to President Chandrika Kumaratunga, "It is our position that your course of action (her devolution proposal) is not the solution to this problem (the ethnic war between minority Tamils and the Sri Lankan government). But since you do not have another solution we will not stand in the way of the course of action you intend to adopt." Until now the UNP refused to support the devolution package, and thus the necessary constitutional amendment needed for the devolution package to become law could not be passed in the Sri Lankan parliament. Now, with UNP support, the constitution can be amended.

This development would now put enormous international pressure on the minority Tamil people to accept the devolution package and end their armed struggle. Well-meaning nations around the globe who are eager to see an end to the bloody war between the Sri Lankan military and Tamil fighters (the LTTE) would no doubt sincerely hope that the devolution package would end the conflict and every one in Sri Lanka could live happily ever after.

This article does not go into whether the proposed devolution package goes far enough. Even the Tamil politicians who support President Chandrika Kumaratunga are of the opinion that it needs to be "improved". For the purposes of this article, let us say that a "suitable" devolution is passed by the Sri Lankan parliament. Will that end the discriminations against the minority Tamils once and forever and bring permanent peace to Sri Lanka? How can we tailor a peace settlement that would avoid future problems?

2. Future Sri Lankan Presidents

Who will be the next president of Sri Lanka when elections are held 5 or 6 years from now? One thing is certain. It will be a Sinhalese. Alright, no harm done. The critical question is, "Will he/she be in favor of the devolution enacted by his/her predecessor? What about the president after that? 

Even today there is no unanimous consent among Sinhalese people, parties or politicians about what powers should be devolved to the Tamil minority. There are many influential people within the ruling party itself who have serious reservations about the proposed devolution package. They may vote for it under pressure from the president but their hearts are not with it. Some Buddhist monks, who wield enormous influence with the Sinhalese people, are also opposed to devolution. Still the devolution package may be passed in the parliament because the Sri Lankan army is unable to defeat the Tamil fighters, the LTTE.

What if a future president, may be 5 years from now, may be 15 years from now, is opposed to the devolution. Will that president bring forth a constitutional amendment to nullify the devolution? It is perfectly legal. Under pressure from Sinhala chauvinists he/she could get the necessary votes in the parliament too. Sinhala members of parliament will always have an overwhelming majority in the parliament. What the Sinhala members of parliament vote for today, can be taken away tomorrow by Sinhala members of parliament of tomorrow! They can strip away powers devolved to the Tamil people and introduce discriminatory legislation. It is not an idle speculation. This happened before and we fear that history will repeat itself. People who enacted discriminatory laws in the past are still in high positions. The present Prime Minister, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, was the one who repealed in 1972 the original constitution that gave constitutional protection for minorities. The new constitution she brought forth had so many discriminatory clauses against the Tamil people. 

When the British rule ended over Sri Lanka, the new democratic constitution had several clauses that protected minorities. One by one, these protections were removed by Sinhala members of parliament, and one by one, discriminatory laws were enacted in spite of unanimous opposition from Tamil members of parliament. Sinhalese will always have substantial majority in the parliament to amend the constitution at will. They destroyed the original constitution that protected minority rights and they will do so again with the devolution.

If you say, "This time is different", we ask, "Why?" Agreements reached between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil leaders have been unilaterally reneged by the government in the past. Look at what happened to the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957 and the Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Agreement of 1965. Sri Lankan governments under Bandarnaike and Senanayake, respectively, after signing agreements with the then Tamil leader Chelvanayakam, reneged on them. Why are we to believe that agreement reached between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE will not be reneged by the government soon after the LTTE lays down its weapons?

It would be easy for the Sri Lankan government to tell us, "Trust us. This time is going to be different." Trust is a good thing but trust without adequate safeguards would be suicidal for the Tamil minority of Sri Lanka. If a future Sri Lankan government were to pass legislation and constitutional amendments that take away the devolved powers and minority rights one by one, as they did to the original Sri Lankan constitution, what could the Tamil people do? Absolutely nothing effective. We will be back to square one, to the situation that prevailed back in the 1950s, 1960s and the 1970s when the Tamil people were totally at the mercy of Sinhala politicians, police and soldiers. Let me elaborate a little.

3. Looking Back and Looking Forward

As we discussed in Section 2, the first democratic constitution of Sri Lanka after the end of British colonial rule was fair to the minorities. But Sinhala members of the parliament, because of their numerical strength, amended the constitution and enacted laws that stripped away the safeguards for minorities and passed discriminatory laws, ignoring the pleas and opposition of Tamil members of parliament. Unable to block the discriminatory laws in the parliament, the minority Tamil people did the only thing they could; they protested peacefully-protest marches, fasts, etc. Not a single Tamil protestor was armed; neither did they indulge in violence. Such protesters were violently attacked by Sri Lankan police again and again, year after year. Not only that, Sinhala mobs went on an orgy of violence, raping, torturing and murdering defenseless Tamil people and looting and destroying their houses and businesses, as the Sri Lankan police and army looked on or joined in the orgy of violence against the Tamil people. Such "riots" against the Tamil people, with the full connivance of the Sri Lankan police and army, took place in 1956, 1958, 1961, 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1983.

What we fear is that the same scenario will repeat itself if we agree to a devolution package and the LTTE lays down its weapons. Once the LTTE lays down its weapons and the Tamil people are unarmed, defenseless and totally at the mercy of the Sri Lankan police and soldiers, Sinhala politicians will strip away the devolution (as they did to the original constitution) and enact discriminatory constitutional amendments and laws against the minorities. With no armed fighters to defend the Tamil people, peaceful protests by the Tamil people will be met with brute force from Sri Lankan police and army and "mobs" as it happened repeatedly in the 1950s, 1960s and the 1970s. The defenseless Tamil population will be enslaved again under Sinhala guns.

No outside force will come to protect the Tamil people. No, American jets will not thunder over the Sri Lankan capital Colombo to force the Sri Lankan government to stop the raping, killing and looting of the Tamil populace as the American bombers did over the Yugoslav capital Belgrade to stop the killings of the Albanian minority in that country. No, NATO armies will not come to the Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka to expel the Sri Lankan army as they did in the Kosovo Province to expel Yugoslavian army and police. No, no such help will come to the Tamil people. The Tamil people will be bullied, beaten and butchered and be enslaved again by the Sri Lankan government, police and army.

If this is our fear (surely it is well founded), then, is there a way to end the bloody Sinhala-Tamil war that is taking an enormous toll on the Tamil people and, to some extent, on the Sinhala people?

4. Independent Tamil Eelam is the Natural Solution

The solution is staring at us, and the Tamil people had spelled it out in the 1977 election that an independent country for them in their historical homeland in the northern and eastern regions of the island is their preference. (They call that proposed country "Tamil Eelam"). No such voting choice was offered to the Tamil people after 1977. 

An independent country for the Tamils of the island, namely Tamil Eelam, will let the Tamil Nation and the Sinhala Nation to coexist in this island, within the boundaries of their historical homelands. This will end the ethnic war and provide a lasting solution.

We know that some well-meaning nations, that wish us no harm, that are unbiased in their concern for the Sinhala and Tamil people, would like us to settle for something less than independence so that this bloody war can be ended soon. We understand their wish but accepting any solution that is not endurable and that could put the Tamil population in physical harm and danger would be suicidal for the Tamil people. Any solution should protect not only the legitimate rights of the Tamil people but also their very lives and property. We cannot allow Sinhala mobs, police and soldiers to rape, murder, burn and loot the Tamil people as they did in 1956, 1958, 1961, 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1983. Mere words, promises and signed papers are not enough. Any solution should include effective protection for the Tamil population from Sinhala mobs, police and soldiers. We simply cannot allow 1956, 1958, 1961, 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1983 to repeat in the 2000s, 2010s, 2020s, etc. An independent country for the Tamil people of Sri Lanka in their own traditional homeland provides such a solution. 

Can there be a solution short of an independent country (independent Tamil Eelam)? May be. I propose here a possible solution. These are my personal views. Ultimately it is for the Tamil people to decide what solution they are willing to accept.

5. A solution Short of Independent Tamil Eelam

  • Province of Tamil Eelam consisting of the historical Tamil homeland in the northern and eastern regions of the island should be created on the basis of Thimpu principles [Reference 1]. The province will be an integral part of the Sri Lankan Federation and the federation has sovereignty over the province.
  • The province will maintain a "Provincial Guards" to protect the people of the province. The Provincial Guards will be totally under the control of the elected provincial government and funded under the provincial budget. The Federal Sri Lankan Government will have no control over it. The Provincial Guards is not a police force, it will be a well armed defense unit, equipped to defend against any incursions into the province by Sri Lankan Federal Army.
  • A small force of international monitors under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) shall be stationed along the border between the province and the rest of Sri Lanka. They will be a deterrent for the Provincial Guards from crossing into the rest of Sri Lanka and the Federal Army from crossing into the province.
  • The international monitors shall also monitor staffing levels and weapons inventory of the federal military and the provincial guards to assure that they are in balance. Weapons inventory of the provincial guards will be commensurate with the capabilities of the federal military; for example, if the federal military has bombers, the provincial guards may have antiaircraft guns.

I am sure that the Sri Lankan government would raise objections to the idea of a well armed, defensive Provincial Guards. This is the only way, short of an independent homeland (Tamil Eelam), to protect the Tamil population and prevent repetition of the tragic events of1956, 1958, 1961, 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1983. Extraordinary circumstances warrant extraordinary measures. We will give two examples of extraordinary measures taken from the very recent world history.

Though the Kurdish Province is recognized internationally as a part of Iraq, United Nations (UN) forbids Iraqi war planes from flying over this province because these planes had wrecked havoc in the recent past, killing Kurdish people and destroying Kurdish property. The no-fly restriction is enforced by American and British Air Force planes flying from Kuwait and aircraft carriers stationed in the Persian Gulf.

Though the Province of Kosovo is recognized internationally as part of Yugoslavia, Yugoslavian police and army are not allowed to enter the province because Yugoslavian police and army raped, murdered and looted the minority Albanian population of the province. NATO troops stand guard against their entry into the province.

The solution I propose here is not much different from the situation in the Kurdish Province of Iraq and the Kosovo Province of Yugoslavia. We have no illusion that America and Britain would station their aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean and enforce a no-fly zone for Sri Lankan bombers over the Tamil homeland. We are under no illusion that NATO troops would establish bases in the Tamil homeland to ward off Sri Lankan police/army attacks on the Tamil population. That is why we propose Provincial Guards to defend the Tamil people from Sri Lankan police/army violence.

UPDATE (August 2002)

According to news reports, Mr. Joseph Pararajasingham, a member of the Sri Lankan Parliament and Senior Vice President of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), told French and Dutch Ambassadors on June 26, 2002, that the Tamil people needed their own army to secure and protect their rights in Sri Lanka. We are happy that a member of the Sri Lankan Parliament has expressed an almost identical view to what we suggested in the article that, "The Tamil province will maintain a Provincial Guards to protect the people of the province." 

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1. Articles on Sri Lankan Ethnic Conflict

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