Sri Lankan foreign policy, war and peace talks

Dichotomy of Sri Lankan Foreign Policy

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, January 2001 (ID.2000-01-02)

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LTTE - Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

UN - United Nations


1. Introduction

2. Sri Lanka and Britain

3. Sri Lanka and the United Nations

4. Mediation for Peace or Weapons for War?

5. A Request to Foreign Governments

1. Introduction

There is a dichotomy in Sri Lankan Government foreign affairs. The Sri Lankan Government wants to eat the cake and have it all in the plate too. They do not want foreign countries to make any suggestions or offer any opinion on how to resolve peacefully the decades long war between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil freedom fighters, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It claims that the war is an internal conflict and wants no foreign interference.

At the very same time, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister is going around the globe asking foreign governments for help in winning the war against the LTTE. They  want countries around the world to ban LTTE and alleged LTTE-front organizations from operating from their soil. Sri Lankan Government also wants foreign nations to help them militarily by way of arms, ammunition and training to win the war. When some 30,000 Sri Lankan soldiers were almost encircle by LTTE fighters in the largest Tamil City of Jaffna in April-May 2000, Sri Lankan President pleaded with major and minor powers to help rescue the soldiers by evacuating them or by sending advanced weapons of war urgently on an emergency basis to the almost encircled soldiers.

The Sri Lankan Government cannot assert that the war is an internal matter and at the same time seek international help to win the war. It cannot get angry when another nation makes a suggestion on how to settle the war peacefully, and at the same time seek military and economic aid to defeat the minority Tamil freedom fighters, the LTTE. If foreign countries have no right to voice their opinion on how to end the war peacefully, Sri Lanka has no right to seek military and financial help from foreign countries to end the war by defeating the LTTE either. Let us discuss a couple of examples of the Sri Lankan dichotomy in this respect.

2. Sri Lanka and Britain

Speaking at the British Council in Colombo (Sri Lankan capital) on November 22,  2000, British Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain said, 

"The LTTE  need to acknowledge that, whilst a Tamil Kingdom constitutionally split from the rest of the island will not receive recognition by Europe, the USA (United States of America) or indeed India, the principle of self-determination and control over most if not all the key policies affecting daily life would be supported by the international community." 

This reasonable suggestion set the Sri Lankan Government into a sort of temper tantrum. The usually mild-mannered Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar responded angrily thus: 

"We will make it clear to the British Government that we do not welcome such statements. As the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka I do not welcome statements made by people outside the country, even though they come from very friendly countries, prescribing remedies for our problem". 

At the very same time that he was chiding the British Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain to stay out of making suggestions on how to end the war peacefully without further bloodshed, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister was asking Britain to ban LTTE there. Since the British Government did not comply immediately but is studying the situation, the Sri Lankan government went on a temper tantrum again. Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar said that, "it will put a considerable strain on relations between Britain and Sri Lanka  if the British government chose, for whatever reason, not to proscribe (ban) the LTTE".

If Sri Lanka does "not welcome statements from people outside the country" about how to resolve its war with the LTTE peacefully, what right does it have to insist that outside countries help it win the war by banning LTTE in their soil? If friendly countries cannot suggest "remedies for its problems (the war)", what right has Sri Lanka has to ask these friendly countries to arm and train its army to win the war? This is the dichotomy of Sri Lankan foreign policy. It wants Britain's help in winning the war but it does not want Britain to make constructive suggestions on how to end the war through a negotiated settlement.

3. Sri Lanka and the United Nations

Not only is Sri Lanka totally opposed to any UN role in resolving the war in Sri Lanka peacefully, it is also opposed in principle to any humanitarian intervention by the United Nations anywhere in the world even when the government brutally oppresses and massacres minorities (as it happened in East Timor and Bosnia). In September of 1999, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar told journalists in New York, "Many of us are against the UN getting involved in internal questions of states". Kadirgamar warned that though no one could stand by in the face of gross abuse of human rights, circumvention of the UN Charter "is never a good thing, whatever the magnitude, the scale and the moral content of the human rights violations may be". But at the same time, the same Kadirgamar was lobbying UN to ban LTTE in UN member countries because he alleges that LTTE is a terrorist organization killing civilians. In other words, Sri Lankan army and air force can kill thousands of Tamil civilians and UN should look the other way but LTTE should be banned because he alleges that LTTE attacks killed some Sinhalese civilians. 

In September 1999 United Nations expressed deep concern over civilian casualties in Sri Lankan Air Force bombing. According to reports, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar went livid at the UN statement. He said, "UN should be more concerned with malaria and mosquitoes -- not domestic political issues". If so, why should UN ask member nations to ban the LTTE? Is Sri Lanka claiming that LTTE is spreading malaria and mosquitoes?

This, in summary, seems to be Sri Lankan policy towards the UN: The United Nations should help Sri Lankan military win the war by banning LTTE in member countries but the UN has no right to do anything, even express concern, over the thousands of civilian casualties and outright torture-rape-murders of Tamil civilians by Sri Lankan security forces.

4. Mediation for Peace or Weapons for War?

Sri Lanka insists that it does not want any foreign nation or individuals of impeccable integrity (including many impartial political and religious leaders and Nobel Prize winners who have volunteered their services) to mediate peace talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE. It says that the war is an internal affair to be resolved internally without foreign interference. If it is an internal war to be resolved internally, why is the Sri Lankan Government going around world capitals seeking financial aid, weapons of war and military training to win the war? Sri Lanka's motto seems to be, "Mediators for peace talks stay away, but military trainers for our army welcome

This is not a peace-loving government that is interested in resolving the conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority peacefully and justly but a war-mongering government that is interested in defeating the Tamils militarily and dictating unjust terms of peace. Well-meaning foreign governments should not be taken by Sri Lankan President Chandrika Bandaranaiake Kumaratunge's talks of peace but take note of what she is doing.  

5. A Request to Foreign Governments

So far some foreign governments have given the benefit of doubt, overlooked Sri Lanka's substantial human rights violations and helped its war efforts financially, militarily and diplomatically. Now it is time that they realize the war-mongering nature of the Sri Lankan Government and its goal of militarily defeating the Tamil freedom fighters and imposing an unfair settlement on the Tamil minority. The Sri Lankan government talks to the majority Sinhalese population of a military victory to end the war and talks to foreign governments of its interest in a negotiated settlement. Who is it lying to? To the Sinhalese population or to the world community? Its actions give the answer. It is pressing ahead with waging the war, turning down any and all suggestions for a negotiated settlement under foreign mediation although all peaceful resolutions of armed conflicts in recent years were the result of foreign mediation. 

I request the well-meaning foreign nations to draw the line and give an ultimatum to Sri Lanka. Please tell the Sri Lankan Government to start peace talks with the LTTE under the mediation (not just facilitation) of Norway within two months. If the Sri Lankan Government does not engage in peace talks under the mediation of Norway in two months, stop all financial and military aid, including those already promised. Also, sanction an UN embargo on all military sales to Sri Lanka. Such international action is necessary to bring the Sri Lankan Government to the peace table and engage in serious negotiations to end the war and reach peace with honor, equality and justice for all. 

The Sri Lankan Government used to say that foreign governments' action is necessary to bring LTTE to the peace table. LTTE has now committed itself publicly and firmly to peace talks. It is the Sri Lankan Government that is dancing around and procrastinating. So, applying the same logic, it is necessary to stop all financial and military aid to Sri Lanka and also impose an international military-sales embargo to bring the Sri Lankan Government to the peace table.

----    2001-a1d

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