War and peace in Sri Lanka

A Plea to the International Community on Sri Lanka

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, November 2006 (ID. 2006-11-01)
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OUTLINE

Abbreviations

1. Background

1.1 Firepower
1.2 An International Safety Net to the Sri Lankan Government
1.3 LTTE Ban in Canada and the European Union

2. Sri Lanka Attempts a Military Solution

3. A Darfur in Sri Lanka

4. What can the International Community Do?

4.1 Three Options
4.2 The "Ten-Year" Solution
4.3 The "No-Fly-Zone" Solution
4.4 Strengthen LTTE

ABBREVIATIONS

EU - European Union

IC - International Community

JHU - Jathika Hela Urumaya (an extremist Buddhist party)

JVP - Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (a Marxist Sinhalese party)

LTTE - Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

SLMM - Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission

UN - United Nations

USA - United States of America


1. Background

1.1 Firepower

After over four years of ceasefire, war has started in Sri Lanka between the Sri Lankan military (representing essentially the interests of the Sinhala majority) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (protecting the interests of the Tamil minority). At the time the ceasefire started at the closing days of 2001, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), having won many battles in the preceding year, seemed to have a military edge. Sri Lankan military increased its firepower substantially during the ceasefire, especially in aerial bombing capabilities. Although both sides acquired weapons and ammunition during the ceasefire, LTTE had to purchase them clandestinely and bring them to the country surreptitiously. Sri Lanka acquired them openly as well as covertly. www.tamiltribune.com Obviously Sri Lanka seemed to have acquired considerably more firepower than the LTTE. The LTTE might also have lost some of its naval assets during the 2004 tsunami. The Sri Lankan military had always vastly outnumbered the LTTE in manpower and firepower, but now it has reached proportions that made Sri Lanka think that it could impose a military solution to the ethnic problem.

1.2 An International Safety Net to the Sri Lankan Government

The fact that Sri Lanka was increasing its firepower was no secret; it was in newspapers. LTTE, knowing the details of its own acquisitions, knew that Sri Lankan military was using the ceasefire period to get a substantial edge in firepower. Any military force is such a situation would strike before the other side gains a decided military advantage. LTTE did not. Why?

Why did the LTTE watch without striking even as the Sri Lankan military was increasing its firepower multifold? Answer: "The International Safety Net to the Sri Lankan Military". The international community (IC), essentially America and the European Union (EU), had given assurances to the Sri Lankan Government that if the LTTE were to break the ceasefire they would come to its rescue (most likely through military training and advanced weapons). For example, on January 10, 2006, U.S. ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead said, "if the LTTE chooses to abandon peace ... we want it to be clear, they will face a stronger, more capable and more determined Sri Lankan military.'' Thus Sri Lanka amassed firepower under an "international safety net", promising the international community that it would not seek a military solution.

The international community gave Sri Lanka the "safety net" or the "military cover" because of the perception that LTTE could not be trusted to hold on to the ceasefire but Sri Lanka could be. Recent events clearly showed the world that that trust was misplaced. It was Sri Lanka that started the war, or at the least escalated local incidents into full-scale war, according to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM).

1.3 LTTE Ban in Canada and the European Union

Even as it was increasing its firepower, Sri Lanka successfully persuaded Canada and the European Union (EU) to ban LTTE, in spite of contrary advice from the peace facilitator Norway and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission. This dried up, at least partly, LTTE funds for acquiring weapons. This put LTTE into a double jam: on the one hand Sri Lanka was on a shopping binge for weapons; on the other hand its own ability to purchase weapons was curtailed.

2. Sri Lanka Attempts a Military Solution

Ever since the start of the peace talks in 2002, Sri Lanka had promised the international community that it would not re-start the war and seek a military solution to the ethnic conflict. It had also told the international community that it would offer a just solution to Tamil grievances. It was under these promises that the international community offered Sri Lanka the "safety net"; Canadian and European Union ban on LTTE was also based on these promises. Sri Lanka had obtained all it could get from the international community: the safety net and the LTTE ban. Sri Lanka needed nothing more from the international community. Now it can ignore the international community and go for a military solution to the ethnic conflict; a military victory over LTTE that the newly elected President Mahinda Rajapaksa promised its electoral allies JVP and JHU. The Sri Lankan publication Sunday Leader reported in December 2005 that the President told JVP and JHU that he was playing for time [going along with the peace process] because it would take at least three months to acquire necessary firepower to go to war with the LTTE. True to his word, ignoring repeated requests from donor co-chairs (USA, European Union, Japan and Norway), President Rajapaksa started the war and is continuing with it. Obviously the President thinks that he could defeat the LTTE and impose a Pax Sinhala solution on the Tamil minority, reneging on his repeated promises to the donor co-chairs that he would not seek a military solution.

3. A Darfur in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan government is engaged in a systematic program of denying relief (food, medicine) to the Tamil civilians trapped in the war. It closed the key land route bringing relief to the largest Tamil city in the island. It put severe restrictions on which aid agencies can work in Tamil areas. The military murdered 17 aid workers in cold blood to frighten away others from providing relief to Tamil civilians. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission ruled that the military carried out the murders.

What we fear is that a Darfur situation could be developing in Sri Lanka. If the Sri Lankan military were to defeat LTTE as an effective military force, the Darfur nightmare would repeat itself in Sri Lanka. This is not some paranoia. Read what happened in the past anti-Tamil programs of 1956, 1958 and 1983. Read the heart wrenching accounts of rapes, tortures, mutilations and murders the Tamil people suffered. Interested readers may search the Internet for details. We will simply give a quote from Mr. Natanel Lorch, Israeli Charge d' Affaires to Sri Lanka (1958-1960):

"In Sri Lanka, in 1958, programs were committed against Tamils, barely reported in the western media, but on a scale and with a brutality which compare to the worst in the annals of the Jewish people."

1958 is not the worst of the anti-Tamil programs. 1983 was. Unspeakable crimes were committed against the Tamil people of Sri Lanka.

4. What can the International Community Do?

4.1 Three Options

What can the donor co-chairs (America, European Union, Japan and Norway) and other well-meaning nations do to deny a Sri Lankan military victory and the consequences to follow. Stopping financial aid would not move Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan government and the extremist Buddhist monks would rather starve its own Sinhala population than grant the Tamil minority their legitimate rights.

The author sees three options before the international community. These options are listed below in the order of effectiveness.

  1. The "Ten-Year" Solution
  2. The "No-Fly-Zone" Solution
  3. Strengthen LTTE

4.2 The "Ten-Year" Solution

Former SLMM monitor General Mikko Klemetti of Finland offered a solution during an interview in October 2006. General Mikko Klemetti's solution is as follows:

(1) International community should send a peacekeeping force of at least 15000 to the northeastern region of Sri Lanka.

(2) Clearly demarcate the Tamil and Sinhala areas in the island.

(3) Give economic support to both areas.

(4) Allow the people to decide their future after five to ten years.

This sounds as a reasonable and just solution. However, is the international community willing to commit 15000 armed soldiers for the next ten years? [Note: Pakistan and India should not contribute to the peace keeping force because of their past military involvement in Sri Lanka.]

4.3 The "No-Fly-Zone" Solution

Sri Lanka's military advantage, and thus its eagerness to seek a military solution, comes primarily from its air power. International community may negate it by enforcing a "no-fly-zone" over the northeastern region; this should bring Sri Lanka to look for a solution through mediated peace talks.

LTTE should be told publicly and in no uncertain terms that the no-fly zone would be provided only as long as it does not go into offensive actions beyond the 2002 ceasefire lines.

4.4 Strengthen LTTE

If the international community can neither commit a 15000 strong peacekeeping force for ten years nor provide a no-fly zone over the northeastern region, then it has to strengthen LTTE to balance the increased firepower of the Sri Lankan military. America had said that if LTTE were to break the ceasefire and seek a military solution they would face a stronger and more capable Sri Lankan military (see U.S. ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead's statement in Section 1.2). Now it is time to turn the coin and say publicly that if the Sri Lankan military were to continue with the war, it would soon face a stronger LTTE. It may make Sri Lankan President Rajapakse think twice before defying the international community and continuing with its war.


END NOTE: We mention a few times "Darfur" in this article? What is Darfur? It is a region in Sudan. The non-Arab minority inhabitants of Darfur are being systematically massacred by the Sudanese army and allied paramilitaries. America called it genocide.

RELATED ARTICLE

1. More Articles on the Sri Lankan Ethnic Conflict

FIS061027    2006-a1d


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