Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

An Open Letter to the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka

by Dr. Victor Rajakulendran, Sidney, Australia, January 8, 2009

It took only one month and the sacrifice of only 600 soldiers in 1996 for the Sri Lankan forces to take over Killinochchi.  This time the Sri Lankan forces have been forced to spend more than 5 months and have had to lose, in the army commander’s words, 12,000 soldiers, including many officers out of action.  This must tell the world how much stronger the LTTE is now when compared to prior to the last ceasefire...

During the same campaign Hillary Clinton told a leading British newspaper that she would like a more 'nuanced' approach to armed non-state actors who were routinely dubbed as terrorists in the current war on terror. Some of these groups needed to be viewed differently, she said, and mentioned the Tamil Tigers as one group that deserved such consideration.

“We’ve always believed that it was going to be difficult to defeat the LTTE. At some point the government will have to hold talks to persuade the LTTE to lay down arms because it will be impossible to defeat them completely by military means alone. A total ban on the LTTE would make this difficult. Whether the government negotiates or not is another matter - that’s up to them to decide. They clearly don’t plan to at this time.”

Ambassador Blake with Hard Talk in the Sri Lankan 'Daily Mirror' - 1st of January 2009

The United States does not advocate that the Government of Sri Lanka negotiate with the LTTE, a group designated by the United States since 1997 as a Foreign Terrorist Organization”.

Ambassador Blake in the US Colombo Embassy Press Statement – 6th of January 2009

 

Hon. Robert Blake
U.S. Embassy
210 Galle Road,
Colombo 03,
Sri Lanka

Dear Sir,

Re: Your contradictory statements on Sri Lankan conflict in the New Year - 2009

Area claimed as the Tamil homeland I have spent 8 years of my youthful days in your country, in Texas, and am still proud of the two postgraduate degrees I earned in that free country. I have a daughter who still proudly talks about her US citizenship.  We both have been appreciating until yesterday all that you have been saying about the conflict in Sri Lanka from your embassy in Colombo like a typical American.  Both of us are confused now after you contradicted, on the 6th of January, your own statement that you had made only 4 days before.

In addition, the day after you spoke out about the LTTE to the Sri Lankan “Daily Mirror”, AFP released the news from Washington that “The US State Department on Friday urged the Sri Lankan and Tamil Tigers to start negotiating over the "legitimate" demands of the Tamils after Colombo announced a key win over the rebels.” 

AFP went on to quote Gordon Duguid, a State Department spokesman who told reporters, when asked for comments on the government forces capturing Kilinochchi, that,  “But we repeat our call that the differences they have should be resolved peacefully…..The Tamil Tigers have been one of the most notorious and brutal terrorist organizations over the past 20 years and a peaceful dialogue is what's called for in order to resolve the differences and the legitimate concerns of the Tamils."

When I think of the possible reasons as to what made you to make this sudden somersault on the 6th of January, even after the State Department reiterated the same position you stated on the 1st of January, it becomes clear that it is your own decision made under the circumstances in Colombo for the purpose of making the Sri Lankan government happy, or due to your misjudgement of the war situation based on the sudden fall of Kilinochchi.

If the former was the reason, I can understand that, as usual, after your 1st of January statement, you would have received telephone calls protesting against your statement.  Therefore, like anyone else in Sri Lanka does these days, to avoid trouble, you could have come up with your second statement contradicting yourself.

If the latter was the reason, then you do not know the history of this conflict and you have not fully grasped the nature of this armed conflict between the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE.  I can understand the confusion because you arrived in Sri Lanka only on September 8, 2006 to take up duties as Ambassador.  During your stay in New Delhi, India for 3 years prior to 2006, you also would have been deliberately fed distorted information on the Sri Lankan conflict by Indian policy makers.

Therefore, when the LTTE in a surprise move, a surprise even to the Sri Lankan forces, suddenly withdrew first from Paranthan and next from Kilinochchi, you and others like you would have thought that the LTTE’s back has been broken and it will be soon annihilated by the Sri Lankan forces.  Perhaps you might have thought that the Sri Lankan administration need not bother anymore about talking to the LTTE.

Dear Mr Blake, history has been repeating itself in this conflict and the LTTE has proven again and again it has a great power of resilience to withstand military pressure and bounce back with a vengeance and with more energy.

You may not be aware that in 1995, after running their administration in the Jaffna peninsula for almost a decade, the LTTE withdrew from the Jaffna peninsula and fled to Mallawi which is located south-west of Kilinochchi.  At that time in Paranthan there was a Sri Lankan army camp, there was a very strong Sri Lankan army garrison at Elephant Pass and another one in Mullaitheevu town.  Tamils were living in the Wanni in between these camps, like the way Tamils are now living in Jaffna.

The first thing the LTTE did at that time, with the help of the people in Wanni, was to carry out a daring operation on the Mullaitheevu camp by crossing the A9 highway. They completely demolished the camp and almost all the soldiers stationed there perished.  In 1996, however, the Sri Lankan forces fought with the LTTE for a month and, after losing 600 soldiers, evicted the LTTE from the Kilinochchi area and established a massive camp with 12 satellite camps there.  Later, in 1997, Sri Lankan forces started a major operation to recapture Mullaitheevu and, like now, moved from Vavuniya and reached Mankulam and proceeded to Oddusuddan.  This 18 months forward movement of the Sri Lankan forces was  overturned in one week's time and the Sri Lankan forces were chased away back to Vavuniya.  The LTTE then proceeded northwards and demolished the Killinochi camp, Paranthan camp and finally the Elephant Pass garrison and moved up to the Muhamali-Nagarkovil front in the Jaffna peninsula.  It was only with these defeats of the Sri Lankan forces at the hands of the LTTE, and the attack on the Katunayaka airbase next to the International airport, that paved the way for the peace process.

Although the LTTE has been designated by the United States since 1997 as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, the US willingly joined as one of the co-chairs of this peace process in 2002.  Four years later you came to Colombo and at that time the Present Rajapaksa administration had already started to try its military solution to this armed conflict.  Many countries, including India and the country you represent so ably, started helping this regime to implement its military solution to the national conflict.

It took only one month and the sacrifice of only 600 soldiers in 1996 for the Sri Lankan forces to take over Killinochchi.  This time the Sri Lankan forces have been forced to spend more than 5 months and have had to lose, in the army commander’s words, 12,000 soldiers, including many officers out of action.  This must tell the world how much stronger the LTTE is now when compared to prior to the last ceasefire. In addition, the LTTE has so far been on the defensive and has not gone on the offensive yet.

However, Mr Blake, you must know better than me how many countries are backing the Sri Lankan forces now, which is the major difference this time around.

I also would like to quote what B. Raman, Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, wrote just after the fall of Kilinochchi under the title “Sri Lanka: Mission Accomplished.”  He compares the events in Colombo with those in Baghdad soon after your country’s forces entered that city:

There have been understandable scenes of jubilation in Colombo and other Sinhalese majority areas of Sri Lanka over the occupation of Kilinochchi, which used to be the administrative capital of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), by the Sri Lankan Army on January 2, 2008. These scenes bring to one's mind similar scenes one witnessed after the US army moved without resistance into Baghdad vacated by Saddam Hussein's army in 2003 and shortly thereafter President George Bush proclaimed "Mission Accomplished". Almost six years later, the violence still continues in Iraq. His proclamation of "Mission Accomplished" has kept haunting him since then. Shortly after the US troops entered Baghdad, I had pointed out that the US Army's entry into Baghdad marked the end of one phase of the war and the beginning of another”. ... “So too in Afghanistan where the Taliban, whose death was proclaimed with fanfare in December 2001, rose from its proclaimed grave and staged a come-back causing much bleeding and destruction. The fighting is still going on in Afghanistan.  To mention all this is not to under-estimate the significance of the LTTE's loss of control over Kilinochchi after remaining in occupation of it for 12 years, but to stress the inadvisability of premature claims of victory in unconventional conflicts between a State actor and a non-State actor.

Mr. Blake, you should be more aware than me what President-elect Barack Obama and his future Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have said about this conflict and the LTTE.  During the Presidential campaign, in an interview to candidates@google, Obama said that conflicts, such as those in Sri Lanka and Northern Ireland, stemmed from the inability of people to accommodate others who were not like them.  Speaking about Sri Lanka, he said that a 'vicious civil war' raged in that country, even though 'everybody there looks exactly the same.'  During the same campaign Hillary Clinton told a leading British newspaper that she would like a more 'nuanced' approach to armed non-state actors who were routinely dubbed as terrorists in the current war on terror. Some of these groups needed to be viewed differently, she said, and mentioned the Tamil Tigers as one group that deserved such consideration.

Mr. Blake, I am sure when these two officials start making decisions on US foreign policy in few days time, you will have to give voice to a different policy than the one you are expressing today in the last days of the “War on Terror” Bush era.

As you have witnessed during this week, the threat to Tamil journalists’ lives first and then to Singhalese has gone to the extent of the bombing attack campaign against the MTV-MBC as seen in the early hours of Tuesday, and the brutal assassination of the famous critic of this government, the Sunday Leader Chief Editor, Lasantha Wikramathunga who was gunned down in broad daylight on his way to work on a street in Colombo today.  Harassments and attacks on the media have been stepped up after Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa brought the Media Ministry under him on New Year's Day.  

Mr. Blake, with impunity the order of the day, Sri Lanka is fast descending into a Zimbabwe-style dictatorship, window-dressed in the garb of patriotism. Your comments like the one on the 6th of January 2009 go a long way to justify and sustain this Zimbabwe-style dictatorship in Sri Lanka. 

Last, but not least, will you change your stand again and advise the Sri Lankan government to negotiate with the LTTE if once again history repeats itself on the battlefront with regard to Kilinochchi?

Respectfully,

Dr. Victor Rajakulendran

M: 0402 484 209

PS:  I will send you my e-mail address details in case you like to communicate concerning these matters.