Sri Lanka: Genocidal war won't bring peace

May 23, 2009

"Our motherland has been completely liberated from separatist terrorism", Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in a May 19 "victory speech" to parliament. He was referring to the military defeat of the pro-independence Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by the Sri Lankan Army.

May 20 was declared a national holiday.

However, Sri Lanka's regime, based on the domination by the island's Sinhala ethnic majority, will not bring lasting peace. Neither will it lessen pro-independence sentiment among the Tamil ethnic minority.

The 26-year-old LTTE insurgency, which began as a popular response by Tamils to ethnic cleansing, was crushed in a four-month offensive that slaughtered thousands of civilians.

Three hundred thousand Tamils are imprisoned in concentration camps, or "welfare villages" as the government calls them, where human rights abuses and inadequate food and medicine have been reported. The United Nations, aid agencies and the international media have largely been denied access to the camps.

The SLA unleashed white phosphorus, cluster bombs, multi-barrel rocket launchers and death squads against both the LTTE and the civilian population of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka's north and east. Civilians were herded into a shrinking area named "the safe zone" and then shelled.

By the end of the fighting, this was just a strip of beach, into which 350,000 starving people were crowded. Since the SLA launched its final offensive in January, local health workers reported 15,000 people had been killed, the May 19 British Guardian said.

On May 16, three doctors were arrested by the SLA as they fled the "safe zone". The May 20 Guardian said that they had been charged under anti-terrorism laws for allegedly providing false casualty figures.

The doctors worked at the Mu'l'li-vaaykkaal makeshift hospital in the "safe zone", which was shelled several times by the SLA during the offensive.

On May 20, the BBC reported that the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, an umbrella group including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, alleged that Tamil children have been abducted by pro-government paramilitary groups.

"The motive is slightly unclear", CSUCS spokesperson Charu Lata Hogg told the BBC. "Some are being taken away for ransom, they've been kidnapped for ransom, and there've been certain negotiated releases where mothers had some jewellery and they could negotiate a release right within the camp. In other cases the children have been taken away for questioning for their alleged links to the LTTE."

The May 21 London Times said other human rights abuses included aid agencies being denied access despite "severe shortages of food, water, medicine and clothing in the camps ... There have been reports of rapes of Tamil women. The UN said yesterday that it did not know how many have died in the camps."

On May 22, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon visited Sri Lanka and joined the Red Cross and NGOs in asking that the Sri Lankan government allow international agencies access to the detained civilians.

Sri Lanka has denied these requests.

The international media has also been largely denied access — a television crew from Britain's Channel 4 that covertly filmed inside a camp were arrested and deported.

Matt Wade, from Australia's Fairfax Media, on the other hand, was given a guided tour. In return, he took at face value not only everything said by the SLA, but also the claims of an injured 14-year-old detainee (accused of being an LTTE fighter), made in an interview arranged by her captors.

Radio Australia said on May 20 that Ban had also supported threats by the European Union of a possible war crimes investigation.

The May 18 British Daily Telegraph reported that Vijay Nambiar, Ban's chief of staff and negotiator in Sri Lanka, is the brother of Satish Nambiar, a paid consultant for the SLA since 2002.

On May 18, the government claimed that LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had been killed. On May 19, footage of a corpse that authorities said was Prabhakaran's was broadcast on Sri Lankan television.

However, a May 19 statement by Selvarasa Pathmanathan, head of the LTTE's international relations department, claimed that Prabhakaran was still alive. On May 18 the SLA said Prabhakaran's body was burned beyond recognition, the corpse shown on television was not burned.

Pathmanathan also claimed that senior LTTE non-military leaders, including Political Chief B Nadesan and Peace Secretariat Director S Puleedevan, were shot on sight after a pre-arranged unarmed surrender to the SLA 58th Division.

Despite belated concern about SLA targeting of civilians, Western politicians and media have echoed the Sri Lankan government claim that the defeat of the LTTE allows the possibility of peace.

This hope is based on the assumption that the war was caused by the LTTE's terrorism. A May 19 article in the Los Angeles Times casts Prabhakaran as a "war on terror" villain — mentor to Hamas and al-Qaeda.

However, the LTTE's armed campaign was a response to the ethnic cleansing of Tamils by the Sri Lankan state, which considers Sri Lankan as synonymous with Sinhala.

Sri Lanka is around 74% Sinhala-speaking and 18-24% Tamil. Most Tamils live in the northern and eastern coastal regions — Tamil Eelam. Significant numbers also live in the Sinhala-majority central and southern regions.

Since Sri Lanka's independence from British rule in 1948, Tamils have been subjected to discrimination and, in some cases, deportation to India, as the Sinhala elite tried to use Sinhala chauvinism to divert anger from the Sinhala poor.

This did not prevent two post-independence uprisings of rural poor Sinhala youth, both of which were brutally repressed. However, fuelled by opportunist politicians and the Sinhala Buddhist clergy, increasingly violent anti-Tamil pogroms became a feature of Sri Lankan politics.

The catalyst for the war was the 1983 "Black July" pogrom in which 3000 Tamils were killed and 150,000 fled abroad.

In February 2002, a Norwegian-sponsored ceasefire left the LTTE with de facto control of most of Tamil Eelam. During this period the LTTE had not only a regular army and rudimentary navy and air force, but a functioning civil administration.

However, while the LTTE relied on donations from the Tamil refugee diaspora, criminalised by Western governments listing the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, rival global and regional powers have competed for influence with Sri Lanka by supplying arms.

In January 2008, the Sri Lankan government violated the ceasefire and began the reconquest of Tamil Eelam.

The militarisation of Sri Lanka has also increased government repression of Sinhala opponents. Disappearances have become common. lists 23 journalists murdered by the SLA or government-linked death squads between 2005 and January 2009. reported that in the capital, Colombo, and other Sinhala-majority areas, the regime's victory celebrations were accompanied by Sinhala-chauvinist mobs harassing Tamils and arbitrary arrests of both Tamils and Sinhala dissidents.

Despite the triumphalism, the military crushing of the LTTE does nothing to resolve the root cause of the conflict. The Sri Lankan regime has even used its military victory to call on Tamils to "integrate" into Sinhala society.

The oppression of the Tamil population not only continues, but indications are it will increase. The Tamil people are further away than ever from having their right to national self-determination respected.

The ongoing brutality meted to the Tamil people will make the Tamil population less willing to "integrate" into Sinhala society. The Tamil people will continue to find ways to resist the injustices meted out to them

Regardless of whether the LTTE reconstructs itself following its military defeat, until Sri Lanka is liberated from its Sinhala-chauvanist genocidal regime, Tamils will seek to win an independent state in Tamil Eelam.

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