Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

“Humanitarian” Intervention

Co-Chairs re-discover the wheel

by Dr. S Sathananthan, TamilCanadian, March 12, 2009

By most accounts, the LTTE appears to be stretching out the resistance. How long it would last and what forms it will take remains to be seen; and many are praying for the organisation’s demise. For the moment, however, the Sinhalese regime is confronting the dictum Henry Kissinger distilled out of the American defeat in Vietnam: “if the government is not winning, it is losing; if the guerrillas are not losing, they are winning”. As victory for the army becomes increasingly elusive a variety of institutions and individuals have weighed in to rescue the army...

As hopes for an outright military victory over the LTTE began sinking into the Mullaitivu quagmire, the US and United Kingdom stepped in to salvage the army’s fortunes with the standard damage-control technique: it discovered “humanitarian” values.

A journalist invited former President JR Jayawardene to comment on then President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s military “victory” over the LTTE in December 1995. His laconic reply, “so far so good”, no doubt came out the chastening experience of his army commander (and nephew) Brigadier Weeratunga supposedly winning the war fifteen years earlier, in December 1979. Altogether Sinhalese regimes have “defeated” the LTTE three times: by Jayawardene’s in 1979, Kumaratunga’s in 1995 and most recently by President Mahinda Rajapakse’s regime this year (2009). The Indian government’s claim that its Occupation Force – euphemistically named a Peace Keeping Force – had crushed the LTTE in a “ring of steel” 1987 is the fourth instance.

Mullaitivu March 2009

The Rajapakse regime has dished out sunshine stories of how the Sinhalese army “defeated” the LTTE in Kilinochchi, has allegedly “boxed in” the remaining LTTE cadres and leadership within their shrinking bastion in Mullaitivu and is poised to deliver the coup de grace to end Eelam War IV. The regime’s websites are busy feeding the gullible population colourful maps with aggressively sliding arrows outlining the army’s advances towards Mullaitivu; journalists and analysts barred from the battlefront are faithfully regurgitating official propaganda dressed up in journalistic overkill about the LTTE’s supposed “last stand.” However, it is common sense that guerrilla fighters cannot be corralled in a jungle they know like the back of their hand; neither would they obligingly gather in a corner of Mullaitivu nor cheerfully wait for the marauding army to wipe them out. What is more likely, most of the cadres and leadership withdrawing from Kilinochchi would have spread out in the Vanni jungles, sucking the army into jungle warfare in a terrain the cadre knows intimately.

It follows that Eelam War IV may have almost imperceptibly metamorphosed into Eelam War V, the guerrilla phase of which appears to be spreading. Between October and December 2008, the LTTE reportedly carried out 7 guerrilla operations in Amparai and 9 in Batticaloa, which are so-called “cleared” areas. This year (2009) the LTTE, quarantined in Mullaitivu according to the regime, already has carried out 4 operations in Amparai and 3 in Batticaloa. If the number of ambulances barrelling down Colombo streets from the airport towards hospitals over the past two weeks is any indication, the continuing battles in Mullaitivu are exacting a heavy toll on the army. The A9 Jaffna-Kandy highway, captured in early January and opened on 3 March with great fanfare by the Rajapakse regime, is reportedly partially closed – open only for 3 days in a week – “due to clashes breaking [out] along the road and security concerns”.

By most accounts, the LTTE appears to be stretching out the resistance. How long it would last and what forms it will take remains to be seen; and many are praying for the organisation’s demise. For the moment, however, the Sinhalese regime is confronting the dictum Henry Kissinger distilled out of the American defeat in Vietnam: “if the government is not winning, it is losing; if the guerrillas are not losing, they are winning”. As victory for the army becomes increasingly elusive a variety of institutions and individuals have weighed in to rescue the army.

The United States is perhaps the first foreign government to intervene. Earlier it had predictably misread LTTE’s withdrawal from Kilinochchi. “The fall of Kilinochchi represents an important point in the 25-year war that has divided Sri Lanka”, declared a statement issued on 7 January by the US Embassy in Colombo four days after the army occupied the town; and the Embassy arrogantly dismissed negotiations: “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.” The Embassy urged the Rajapakse regime to rope Tamil quislings into “a political process to reach a political solution” that “would further delegitimize and erode the support of the LTTE in Sri Lanka and abroad.” The statement of course confirms the emphatic assertions by critical Tamil analysts (including this writer) that the “talks’ orchestrated by the Norway fronting for the other three Co-Chairs (US, EU and Japan) following the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement were a Machiavellian ploy to neutralise the LTTE-led Tamil National Movement.

The position has changed in less than four weeks. As hopes for an outright military victory over the LTTE began sinking into the Mullaitivu quagmire, the US and United Kingdom stepped in to salvage the army’s fortunes with the standard damage-control technique: it discovered “humanitarian” values. It must be remembered that while the Sinhalese armed forces pursued their scorched earth strategy throughout 2008 that led up to the occupation of Kilinochchi on 3 January 2009, the four Co-Chairs (and by extension the International Community) turned a blind eye; they confined themselves to vapid pronouncements about there being no military solution. To avoid hobbling Rajapakse’s military juggernaut, they neither forcefully condemned the slaughter of Tamil civilians nor demanded a ceasefire; nor did they unequivocally insist abductions, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances must end. But the US and UK scrambled to cope with the looming military stalemate in Mullaitivu; in a joint communiqué issued on 4 February they urged “a temporary no-fire period” allegedly to “to allow civilians and wounded to leave the conflict area and to grant access for humanitarian agencies”. Almost simultaneously, and effectively conceding the LTTE cannot be defeated, the Co-Chairs urged its leadership to surrender; they called “on the LTTE to discuss with the Government of Sri Lanka the modalities for ending hostilities, including the laying down of arms, renunciation of violence, acceptance of the Government of Sri Lanka's offer of amnesty”. Three days later, Democratic Congresswoman Nital M Lowey, Chairwoman of the powerful State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, deplored the “humanitarian disaster, including massive civilian casualties and the internal displacement of approximately 250,000 innocent civilians” in her 7 February statement; in which she stridently called “on the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to negotiate a ceasefire immediately”.

Similar calls for ceasefire and negotiations – supposedly to protect Tamil civilians – also came around the same time from the Pope and the President of East Timor. India was not far behind. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee appealed to President Rajapakse for “a pause in the hostilities” to “work out safe passage” for civilians.

From the Co-Chairs’ perspective, the continuation of hostilities poses alarming risks. First, it would expose the weakness of Sinhalese armed forces. Second, continuing Tamil civilian casualties is rapidly radicalising Tamil expatriates who are resolutely coalescing, notwithstanding differences among them, to support the LTTE as demonstrated by the numerous rallies taken out by them round the world. Third, if the LTTE were to survive the current military campaign, it would resurge as a more powerful force. Since the Rajapakse regime has flatly rejected the calls for cease fire despite growing uncertainty about a military defeat for the LTTE, and since the army cannot be allowed to be seen to fail, the US (backed by other Co-Chairs) is preparing to send the proverbial cavalry riding over the hill to give the army a helping hand: President Barack Obama has directed the US Pacific Command (PACOM) to plan an invasion of Mullaitivu by its marine expeditionary brigade, with the backing of the US navy and air force, ostensibly “to evacuate nearly 200,000 Tamil civilians”. One does not need rocket science to know that the Marines’ actual target is the LTTE.

But the Obama administration put a humanitarian spin: it has euphemistically named the expeditionary force a “coalition humanitarian task force”. With this deft move the US is exploiting the call for the protection of civilians to justify the invasion and simultaneously to pre-empt opposition to it from Tamils, including expatriates, on grounds that they are heartlessly undermining Obama administration’s humanitarian intervention on behalf of suffering Tamil civilians in Mullaitivu.

Thus the Co-Chairs, led by the US, constitute the next, fifth contender thirsting to scalp the LTTE and bury the Tamil National Movement. If they succeed, the consequences are fairly clear. The tantalising question is, if the LTTE makes a fifth come-back, what would be the political fallout.