EU, Japan, Norway, USA and the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict

International Community Should Balance the Military Equation in Sri Lanka (2006)

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, December 2006 (ID. 2006-12-02)
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OUTLINE

1. International Community Acted with Good Intentions

2. The Flawed Hypothesis

3. International Safety Net for Sri Lankan Military

4. European Ban on LTTE

5. Why Did the International Community Trust Sri Lankan Government?

6. Sri Lankan President Betrays the Trust

7. What Can the International Community Do?

ABBREVIATIONS

CFA - Ceasefire agreement

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

USA - United States of America


1. International Community Acted with Good Intentions

[When we talk of the actions of the international community, we are primarily talking of the actions of the co-chairs of donor nations, namely, the European Union (EU), Japan, Norway and the United States of America (USA), who represent 58 donor countries.]

International community (IC) did not get much involved in the bloody Sri Lankan ethnic conflict until the 2002 ceasefire agreement (CFA). The international community had nothing but good intentions in Sri Lanka. They have not much vested interest in Sri Lanka other than a stable, peaceful Sri Lanka where the Tamil minority is treated equal to the majority Sinhalese. IC had said that in its various statement at different junctures. For example,

"... there are legitimate issues that are raised by the Tamil community and they have a very legitimate desire, as anybody would, to be able to control their own lives, to rule their own destinies and to govern themselves in their homeland; in the areas they’ve traditionally inhabited [within a united Sri Lanka]" - U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher (US State Department Release, June 2, 2006)

Although the international community had good intentions, it made all its decisions on the basis of a flawed hypothesis. Unfortunately those decisions and the resulting actions had a deadly effect on the Tamil population.

2. The Flawed Hypothesis

International community's decisions and actions were based on the wrong belief that the Sri Lankan Government could be trusted but the Tamil freedom fighters, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), could not be trusted. The IC believed that the LTTE could not be trusted to respect the 2002 ceasefire agreement; sooner or later it would break it and re-start the war. The Sri Lankan government, on the other hand, could be trusted to honor its pledge that it would not restart the war and seek a military solution. The flawed nature of this belief would become evident as events unfolded in 2006. It was the LTTE that was eager to keep the ceasefire alive and it was the Sri Lankan Government that would not end its aerial bombings and other offensives in spite of repeated requests from the international community.

3. International Safety Net for Sri Lankan Military

It was because of that flawed hypothesis that the international community offered a "safety net" to the Sri Lankan military; if LTTE were to break the ceasefire and re-start the war, the international community (essentially America) would train and arm the Sri Lankan military so that LTTE would lose the war.

"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." - U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka Jeffrey Lunstead, January 10, 2006.

While the international community was totally distrustful of LTTE, it totally trusted Sri Lanka Government's pledge that it would not break the ceasefire and seek a military solution to the ethnic conflict. Even as the newly elected Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa told his electoral allies, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP - a Marxist Sinhalese party) and Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU - an extremist Buddhist party) in December 2005, 

"The army does not have sophisticated, modern firepower to crush the LTTE. So I am trying to play for time because it will take at least three months to acquire the necessary firepower to begin the onslaught against the LTTE. The new army commander is researching and collecting the necessary data on the strength, firepower and fighting capabilities of the LTTE. After that, we can make necessary arrangements to be prepared for war" 

The international community thought that it was a politician saying what his allies wanted to hear and nothing more. The co-chairs representing the 58 donor countries (the European Union (EU), Japan, Norway and the United States of America (USA)) gave the president the benefit of the doubt. After all, President Mahinda Rajapakse has given his solemn word to the diplomats visiting Colombo that he would not opt for a military solution. The international community (IC) trusted him even as he sent his military officers shopping around for offensive military weapons. IC thought that a stronger Sri Lankan military would be a deterrent for LTTE opting for the path of war. It thought that a stronger Sri Lankan military would assure a peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict. Again, the co-chairs reached this wrong conclusion on the basis of the flawed hypothesis that the Sri Lankan government could be trusted to keep its assurances to the IC but the LTTE could not be trusted. Unfortunately, events that unfolded in Sri Lanka in 2006 showed that a stronger Sri Lankan military meant the Sri Lankan government opting for a military solution.

4. European Ban on LTTE

European ban on the LTTE in 2006 was also based on the selfsame flawed hypothesis: Put more pressure on LTTE and weaken it; they would not re-start the war. What the European Union (EU) did not seem to foresee was that the Sri Lankan government would re-start the war if it believed that LTTE was sufficiently weakened. There were at least two discerning voices in the international community. One was Norwegian diplomats facilitating the peace talks. The other was the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) monitoring the ceasefire.

Former Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) head, retired Brigadier General Ulf Henricsson, said that the European Union ban on LTTE meant the Sri Lankan government thought it had "carte blanche" to take on the LTTE. He added, "I would say it's a mistake, it was a wrong decision" (August 25, 2006).

5. Why Did the International Community Trust Sri Lankan Government?

Why did the international community (IC) put so much trust on the Sri Lankan government and totally distrusted the LTTE? It is easier to trust someone who is like you. Sri Lankan diplomats, ministers, prime minister and president are "like the" diplomats and decision makers of the international community. They are well educated, spoke English and knew the nuances of diplomacy. It is easy to trust someone you know; someone who is like you.

Very few decision makers have met LTTE leaders. They are constantly demonized by the Sri Lankan government and even at times, unwittingly, by foreign press. Most of the LTTE leaders in Wanni (Vanni) are far less educated, spoke hesitant English and not sophisticated diplomats. It is easy to think of them as bloodthirsty barbarians who would never stick to the ceasefire.

Events in 2006 have clearly shown that such on-the-face impressions could be wrong. Events show that it is the LTTE that wants to continue with the ceasefire and it is the Sri Lankan government that is determined to continue with the war, seek a military victory and enforce a Pax Sinhala solution.

6. Sri Lankan President Betrays the Trust

The international community had made a mistake in trusting the Sri Lankan government, offering it a "one-sided" safety net thus allowing it a freehand to increase its firepower, and possibly weakening LTTE through the European Union and Canadian ban in 2006. It is an understandable mistake. The international community did what it did with good intentions - a just, peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict in which "the Tamil community would be able to control their own lives, to rule their own destinies and to govern themselves in their homeland; in the areas they’ve traditionally inhabited [within a united Sri Lanka]" as stated by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher (US State Department Release, June 2, 2006).

But it backfired. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa who seemed so sincere in seeking a peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict has now shown his real face to the international community (a face that the Tamil people are very familiar). Discarding all pledges and assurances he had given to the donor co-chairs, the European Union (EU), Japan, Norway and the United States of America (USA), he had chosen the path of war. Once he got what he needed from the international community (ban on LTTE, a safety net for the military while it increased firepower), he had opted for war as he promised his political allies in December 2006 (see Section 3).

"It is important to be clear that the purpose of our [military] assistance [to Sri Lankan government] is not to encourage a return to war." - U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher (June 2006).

But that is exactly what has happened. Sri Lankan government had returned to war.

7. What Can the International Community Do?

Do not allow a Darfur situation to develop in Sri Lanka. The only way to prevent a Darfur in Sri Lanka is to give a safety net to the Tamil people. Offer it now and offer it firmly. Please tell the Sri Lankan government that the war MUST stop now, respect the 2002 ceasefire agreement (CFA) and return to talks with Norwegian mediation. If the Sri Lankan government continue with its military course, the international community must make sure that the Sri Lankan military loses the war that it was so eager to re-start.

U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka Jeffrey Lunstead said on January 10, 2006,

"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."

Now please tell Sri Lankan government in no uncertain terms,

"If the Sri Lankan government chooses to abandon peace ... we want it to be clear, they will face a stronger, more capable and more determined Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam."

At the time the Eurpean Union (EU) banned LTTE it said,

"The EU will keep the situation in Sri Lanka under active review, taking account of the activities of all parties to the conflict... It will remain ready to adopt further measures as and when they may be warranted by changing circumstances."

Circumstances have changed drastically. While campaigning for the ban, the Sri Lankan government promised the international community that it would continue with the peace talks with LTTE. See what it says now.

""The international position on negotiations with the LTTE can best be described as seemingly contradictory" - Sri Lankan Ambassador to USA Bernard Goonetilleke (November 8, 2006)

Sri Lankan governments position, attitude and demeanor about a negotiated settlement has changed in spite of its lip service to peace talks. European Union should warn Sri Lanka that if it continues with the war, the ban would be lifted temporarily. Even if the removal of the ban does not end the war, other measures to return to the military balance that existed at the time of the 2002 ceasefire agreement should be taken. For example, impose a "no-fly-zone" over the northeast thus negating Sri Lanka's air superiority that tilts the military balance in its favor. If it is not practical to send a few fighter planes to impose the "no-fly-zone", I am certain that NATO and US military experts could find some way to balance the military equation to force the Sri Lankan government to stop its offensives and return to negotiations in sincerity. Diplomatic pressures, press releases, resolutions and even economic sanctions would not end the war. Only the balancing of the military power would persuade Sri Lanka that a military solution is not an option.

International community has a responsibility and, in fact, an obligation to protect the Tamil people from the Sri Lankan military onslaught and also assure that their legitimate grievances are addressed satisfactorily. First stop the war and then ask the Sri Lankan government to accept Norwegian mediation for future talks.


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. A Plea to the International Community on Sri Lanka (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, November 2006 (20 KB) (t)

2. More Articles on the Sri Lankan Ethnic Conflict

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