Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka
By Ron Ridenour
New Century Book House
Available in Australia via www.resistancebooks.com
Ron Ridenour's Tamil nation in Sri Lanka is a history of the struggle of Tamils on the island of Sri Lanka for self-determination.
Ridenour explains the reasons why many Tamils took up arms to fight for an independent Tamil state. He shows the history of racism in Sri Lanka and the violent repression carried out by successive governments against peaceful Tamil protests.
He denounces the history of mass murder of Tamils, both through government-instigated pogroms and through the bombardment of civilians by the Sri Lankan armed forces. He acknowledges that Tamil independence fighters have also committed atrocities.
Ridenour explains how the Sri Lankan government first deprived Tamil plantations workers of citizenship in 1948, then attacked all Tamils by making Sinhalese the sole official language in 1956. This law put Tamils at a disadvantage in getting government jobs and in dealing with government officials.
Tamils carried out peaceful protests against the language law and other discriminatory measures. They were met with violent repression by the army and police, as well as a series of pogroms carried out by racist gangs.
The main left parties (the Trotskyist LSSP and pro-Moscow Communist Party) opposed the Sinhalese-only law when it was first introduced. They argued that both Sinhalese and Tamil should have been official languages.
However they abandoned their principles in order to join coalition governments with the capitalist Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
As a result of the racist policies, the repression of peaceful protest, and the sellout by the main left parties, increasing numbers of Tamils began to support the idea of a separate Tamil state.
In May 1976, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF ― a coalition of Tamil parties) adopted a resolution calling for an independent Tamil state. In the 1977 Sri Lankan elections, the TULF won all the seats in predominantly Tamil areas, showing the strength of support for independence amongst Tamils.
Soon after the election, Sinhalese chauvinists launched yet another pogrom, killing more than 300 Tamils and making 100,000 homeless.
Meanwhile, some Tamil youth began to take up arms to fight for a Tamil state. Armed action began in the 1970s with small scale acts of violence.
It did not develop into full-scale war until after the state-sponsored pogrom of July 1983, in which 3000 Tamils were murdered. This resulted in mass support amongst Tamils for the armed struggle.
At that stage, there were many armed Tamil groups. However, as well as fighting the government, they also engaged in destructive warfare among themselves. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, came out on top.
In 1987, India sent troops in an effort to impose a solution. Tamils were offered a degree of autonomy ― but not independence. The Indian army ordered the LTTE to disarm.
War broke out between LTTE and Indian troops. The Indian army withdrew in 1990.
War continued until 2009, interrupted by ceasefires in 1994 and 2002. No agreement was reached at the peace talks held during these ceasefires.
For many years, the LTTE governed significant areas of the north and east of the island. However, the Sri Lankan government made use of the 2002 ceasefire to strengthen its armed forces, with the aid of many governments around the world. Governments giving military aid to Sri Lanka included the United States, European Union countries, Israel, China, India and Pakistan.
By January 2009, the government had recaptured much of the Tamil homeland.
During the final months of the war, the army indiscriminately bombed civilians, even in the “safe zones” where the government had told them to flee.
Ridenour quotes an Amnesty International report saying that: “The Sri Lankan armed forces launched indiscriminate attacks with artillery on areas densely populated by civilians. Hospitals were shelled, resulting in death and injuries among patients and staff.”
In May 2009 the war ended with the defeat of the LTTE.
Ridenour says: “Sri Lanka played one power against another: India against Pakistan and China, US against China, Israel against Iran and Libya, the West against the NAM [Non Aligned Movement]".
Ridenour gives details of the aid provided by various countries. He says that the US “has been arming and financing Sri Lanka for most of the civil war period”.
“The US signed a ten year Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with Sri Lanka on March 5 2007, which provides, along with other things, logistic supplies and refueling facilities.
“The US already has a Voice of America installation at Trincomalee, which can be used for surveillance. From at least the 1990s, the US has provided military training, financing and weapons sales averaging $1.5 million annually ...
“The Pentagon provided counter-insurgency training, maritime radar, patrols of US warships and aircraft.”
Israel also has longstanding military links with Sri Lanka. Between 1970 and 2000, formal diplomatic links between the two countries did not exist. “Under the table, however, Sri Lanka's successive regimes embraced Israel's military advisors, a special commando unit in the police, and Mossad counter-intelligence agents, who sought to drive a wedge between Muslims and Tamils.”
More recently, “Israel sent 16 of its supersonic Kfir fighter jets, some Dvora fast naval attack craft, and electronic and imagery surveillance equipment, plus advisors and technicians. Israeli personnel took part in military attacks on Tamil units, and its pilots flew attack aircraft.”
China's military links have been more recent. “In April 2007, Sri Lanka made a deal to buy Chinese ammunition and ordnance for its military.
“China gave it six F7 jet fighters … China has also given or sold on credit an anti-submarine warfare vessel, gunboats and landing craft, battle tanks, anti-aircraft guns, and air surveillance radars.”
The LTTE has been condemned as “terrorist” by many governments, including those of the US and the European Union. Ridenour, while acknowledging that the LTTE carried out acts of terrorism, argues that the state terrorism of the Sri Lankan government has been much greater.
Acts of state terrorism range from torture, murders and disappearances (affecting Sinhalese as well as Tamils) to the huge bombardment of Tamil civilians during the war: “Many tens of thousands were killed, perhaps as many as 40,000, in just the last two weeks of fighting.”
After the defeat of the LTTE, Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka are living under military occupation. Many have had their homes and land confiscated to be given to Sinhalese settlers.
After the end of the war, the size of the Sri Lankan army was not cut, but increased by 100,000. Ridenour comments: “More troops are needed because systematic ethnic cleansing is now the order of the day for the Tamil people. Their Homeland will be obliterated by introducing more Sinhalese settlers.
“The same strategy, as John Pilger pointed out, that Israel uses against Palestinians.”
Ridenour also discusses the attitude taken towards the Tamil struggle by the ALBA countries (members of left-wing Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of our America including Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador).
ALBA representatives dismissed the LTTE simply as “terrorists” and supported the Sri Lankan government in discussions at the United Nations Human Rights Council, ignoring the oppression of the Tamil people that led to the formation of the LTTE.
Whatever the reason for ALBA's attitude, it has unfortunate results. It deprives the Tamils of support in international forums.
It also damages the reputation of ALBA for those who are aware of the real situation in Sri Lanka (including the people of Tamil Nadu in southern India, who sympathise with the plight of their fellow Tamils in Sri Lanka).