Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

'Sri Lankan Forces Won't Attack Tiger Heartland' Why?

by Chandi Sinnathurai, Countercurrents.org, April 13, 2007

‘The Esplanade – the Weber Stadium is being taken over by the Army and it is from here that the multi-barrel rockets are shot over to the Kokoticholai Tiger camp. Elderly people and heart-patients have been removed from the Batticaloa hospital owing to the earth-shattering noises these rockets make…Schools had to close indefinitely because students began to collapse under the constant strain and stress…The Army should seriously consider moving away from the Esplanade.”

I had a lengthy conversation with Fr. Henry Miller in Batticaloa (East Sri Lanka) on April 11, about the Time's April 5 article [1] in which he is quoted as saying that ‘Prabaharan [The Tamil Tigers’ leader] needs the violence – or he risks irrelevancy.’

The Time article further quoted:

“You will not change his [Prabaharan] mind, says Miller. You can only stop his mind”

The Ceylon Daily News went to the extent of dedicating a whole editorial [2] to the above quote and expounded further on it. It must be said that was purely for Government propaganda purposes.

The American-born Jesuit Priest Henry Miller (81) is no stranger to the people of the East. Fr Miller alongside Fr Weber and Fr Herbert (who was martyred for protecting a Tamil boy some years ago) have served the community faithfully since 1948. He has been the most neutral and a bold voice for human rights against all manner of atrocities perpetrated by both sides.

During my conversation, Fr Miller told me that, “Both sides [LTTE and the Government] know where I stand on these matters. My lines of communication with both are open. The situation however, is volatile. I will continue to speak the truth.”

When asked about the quote on the Tiger leader, Fr Miller replied,

“I did not put it exactly like that as you read within quotations (in the article)…but it does reflect the sentiments expressed. It must be seen within the context of terror coming from both sides. In Batticaloa, people look the other way. Every morning there are bodies found – at least 10 or 15 bodies with gun shot wounds in the streets…people are terrorized and they don’t wish to speak out fearing for their lives! On the Government side they want war, and so is the case of the LTTE [Tamil Tigers]. If Prabaharan wants to be relevant, sadly he needs the violence. That is how Sri Lankan politics seem to work these days.”

The Time article failed to include what Fr Miller said about the Sri Lankan Army Camp in the heart of Batticaloa.

‘The Esplanade – the Weber Stadium is being taken over by the Army and it is from here that the multi-barrel rockets are shot over to the Kokoticholai Tiger camp. Elderly people and heart-patients have been removed from the Batticaloa hospital owing to the earth-shattering noises these rockets make…Schools had to close indefinitely because students began to collapse under the constant strain and stress…The Army should seriously consider moving away from the Esplanade.”

In assessing the war situation Fr Miller added that, a solution is not forthcoming because both sides seem to have failed to come up with any amicable solution. As for re-taking the Tiger heartland, the Vanni,by the Government forces, he said,

”The Government soldiers are not prepared psychologically to engage in such a bold adventure. Skirmishes are taking place in the out-skirts of Vanni. The Government has not attacked the heart-land because they know what they can expect and will not be able to handle the outcome.”

In the end it seems, there are no winners and losers. If at all, it is the civilians who really are the losers – in terms of life, livelihood, homes and lands. Over 80,000 people have died in this conflict since the 1980’s. Many thousands have simply disappeared. Currently some 153,000 internal refugees are newly displaced in the Batticaloa district alone.

Is there an end in sight? I asked. ‘Not at the moment’. ‘Both sides however, have to come to an agreement to dialogue’ was Fr Miller’s considered opinion.

In the past however, dialogues have failed; how will it be different this time around? I wondered. According to Fr Miller,

“When it's ceasefire, both sides must honour to cease fire – not to fire the gun and then say that it was retaliation. When we can achieve that commitment; that will be a good start…”


Fr Chandi Sinnathurai is a peasant-priest. He has written extensively on the Sri Lankan conflict. He maintains a blog at: chandi.eponym.com/blog

Note:

1] Sri Lanka: Endless War by Simon Robinson, TIME, April 5, 2007http://www.time.com/time/
magazine/article/0,9171,1606876,00.html

2] Ceylon Daily News April 9. 2007 Editorial (as appeared on the internet version)