A Commentary on:

Foreign Minister L. Kadirgamar’s Response to Mr. V. Pirapaharan’s Maveerar Day Address.

By Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam, Ph.D.

This commentary is primarily for those who read Mr. Kadirgamar’s response to the most recent Maveerar Day address by Mr. Pirapaharan [Sunday Observer; December 2, 2001]. Mr. Kadirgamar’s response indicates to me that he has not read the Tamil version or even an English translation of the entire speech. His response also appears to be motivated solely by his desire to further a hopeless and bankrupt government agenda. That is to isolate and eliminate the Tigers militarily, and to persuade Tamils to accept a second-class status within a Sinhala Sri Lanka.

For the five themes Mr. Kadirgamar identified in his response, he used 657 words on ‘terrorism’ and 839 on ‘peace talks’. The ‘Tamil aspirations’ theme was dismissed with 32 words. The ‘general election’ theme took 110 words. He only needed 127 words on the subject of ‘de-proscription’. His priorities are obvious.

Chandrika Kumaratunge chose Kadirgamar as her Foreign Minister to promote her Terrorism theme, and Neelan Tiruchelvam to promote her (pseudo) peace package to impress the international community. Both these ‘Tamils’ did an admirable job in the eyes of the Sinhala people. Neither, however, had the mandate or the confidence of the Tamil people. They were not elected; they were merely appointed as Members of Parliament, for specific tasks.

Mr. Kadirgamar’s assignment was to label, demean and isolate the Liberation Tigers as a terrorist organization and get them proscribed internationally. It was intended to quash the support for the LTTE among the Tamil people, both those in the island suffering under the hands of the current SLG, and of those Tamils who have fled the island in the face of terror at the hands of the governments of Mr. Bandaranaike, Mrs. Bandaranaike Mr. Jeyawardena, Mr. Premadasa and Ms Kumaratunge.

Broken Covenants, Rebellions and Terrorism

Mr. Pirapaharan in his speech urged the international community to carefully scrutinize the term ‘Terrorism’, define it and eradicate the ‘real terrorism’, rather than engage in knee-jerks, quick fixes and hasty reactions. He wanted the international community to identify and bring to justice those oppressive governments, such as Sri Lanka, whose violation of human rights has risen to genocidal proportions, as documented by international governments and NGOs. He emphasized that when an oppressive state uses terrorism, the oppressed people have no alternative, especially after fifty years of peaceful protest with no help from international governments, but to respond in kind to stop state terrorism.

I need not quote John Locke to Mr. Kadirgamar at length. Suffice to say that Locke asserted that it is the right of a people to take up arms when a government breaks the covenant with the people, because in that case it is the government that has rebelled against the people - in this case the Tamil people. The LTTE is the manifestation of that government rebellion against the Tamil people. When the Sri Lanka government used its majority to force the Tamils to accept a second class status in 1956 and then in 1972 (incidentally by governments presided by both parents of the present President) by first defying the rule of law and then by removing the right to appeal to the Privy council, no one raised the specter of terrorism. Was it not terrorism when the successive governments unleashed violence on the people who peacefully protested these acts?

Selective Memory Loss

Mr. Kadirgamar conveniently forgot the statement made by President Bush in China on October 20, 2001,

“No government should use our war against terrorism as an excuse to persecute minorities within their borders. Ethnic minorities must know that their rights will be safeguarded—that their churches, temples, and mosques belong to them. We must respect legitimate political aspirations, and, at the same time, oppose all who spread terror in the name of politics or religion.”

President Bush’s reference to ‘all who spread terror’ includes States too. Mr. Kadirgamar has conveniently ignored the state terror his own government has used and continues to use on innocent Tamil civilians to compel them accept political decisions imposed by the Sinhala majority.

Mr. Kadirgamar takes pain to summarize a definition of terrorism thus:

“The common element in all these statements on terrorism is the unequivocal condemnation of the use of violence to promote a political cause by provoking a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or a particular person and thereby intimidating the public or influencing the government. These various definitions of terrorism also make it clear that no cause or consideration can be invoked to justify an act of terrorism. Motivation is irrelevant.”

But he fails to recognize that this applies to the actions of his and previous SL governments’ terrorist actions against the Tamil people also.

Democracy in Sri Lanka began to rot right from the day of independence more than fifty years ago. Mr. Pirapaharan recognized the rot twenty-five years ago and took up arms with the support of the Tamil people to put down the rebellion of the majority. His action has the solid backing of the Tamil people, in the form of an electoral mandate (1977) the people gave to establish a separate Tamil state in the lands where the Tamils had lived for more than twenty centuries and considered their motherland.

Let us apply the criteria, which Mr. Kadirgamar tells us is universally accepted, to the atrocities committed by the armed forces and the governments of Sri Lanka and their civilian supporters since 1958. Each Sinhala political party has acknowledged all of the atrocities, but in terms of only the ‘other party’. The sum of this, however, is that both parties together have accepted that all governments have committed atrocities against the Tamil people.

President Chandrika has rightly accused the UNP leaders of the past of crimes against the Tamils, but she and her Ministers deny their own actions as exhibited by her recent interviews with the BBC’s Hard Talk program and the CNN.

Mr. Kadirgamar tried to cover up the Navaly Church bombings even when priests and the Government Agent of Jaffna confirmed the bombing and the civilian casualties. His defence was that the LTTE was inside the church. Incidentally, by this assertion he inadvertently admitted the fact that the airforce indeed targeted the church! The FM and his President then hid behind diplomatic protocol and reprimanded the ICRC for bringing that crime against humanity to the notice of the international community. A foreign Minister who is so concerned with a Buddhist place of worship, as mentioned in his latest response, did not defend the desecration of the Navaly church, and the mass murder of the innocent children, women and men who took refuge in that church.

Mr. Kadirgamar, in his response, also forgot the desecration of Thiruketheesvaram temple and the destruction of more than a thousand Hindu temples by the armed forces of Sri Lanka. On the human side, he may not want to remember the regular indiscriminate shelling of the Jaffna town and surrounding villages from Mandathivu and Palaly on a regular basis where innocent civilians were killed and maimed. Please don’t deny it. I was in Jaffna listening to sounds of shells exploding day after day and night after night during 1994-1995. I saw the gunner in a helicopter at noon circling and indiscriminately firing into houses of innocent civilians. That afternoon I saw the first Sri Lankan airforce plane shot down by the Tigers. I saw the people carrying pieces of the wreckage on their head with joy. The next morning another plane was shot down. Mr. Kadirgamar may remember that Minister Athulathmudali, a President’s Counsel colleague of his, as Minister of Internal Security, authorized his airforce to drop barrels filled with explosives dubbed as “Barrel Bombs” by the Jaffna people, on the innocent civilians. Who can blame the people for celebrating the downing of the immediate source of state terror?

Mr. Kadirgamar struggles to equate the attacking of a police post outside the Dalada Maligawa and the violence in Anuradhapura to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan by the Taliban. He conveniently forgot the attack by the PA political ally, the JVP, and their attempt to steal the Tooth Relic in the eighties.

What Mr. Kadirgamar does not understand is that the international community does not consider Mr. Pirapaharan to be a bin Laden nor do they equate the LTTE to al Quaeda. The LTTE does not have any quarrel with international governments, their institutions or their citizens. It has no animosity towards innocent civilians. The FM takes great pains to equate the September 11 tragedy to the Central Bank bombing in Colombo. Tamils will never equate the Holocaust of the Jews in Germany to the SLG’s attack on Tamils in 1983, or even 1995, however painful that tragedy was to the Tamils people and whatever genocidal motive underlies such state terrorism. In all cases we must mourn the innocent lives lost and the suffering caused to the living due to terrorism. Mr. Kadirgamar’s cause is different. His was to draw parallels between the Tamil community and its leaders and the Taliban and the al Queada in the minds of the international community and the international press. Not what the innocent civilians suffered.

Peace Talks and General Election

The international community understands that the Chandrika government’s solitary motive in talking peace is to get loans, aid and investments to prop-up the economy that is deteriorating due to the war.

The much talked about devolution package, which no self respecting Tamils wanted, was a red herring that got dragged around until its maggot infested flesh got stripped to its bones. Even the stripped down skeletal remains were rejected by the PA representatives for debate in parliament, let alone passage. The Chandrika government and the FM did not fool anyone with this charade.

May I also, at this time, ask the FM why he failed to mention as to what happened to the “Equal Opportunity Bill” that was presented by the President and Prof. G. L. Peiris to the Cabinet for approval in mid-September 1999. The newspapers reported that there was vehement opposition to the draft bill by key Ministers and it was shelved indefinitely. It was never taken up again. Perhaps, Prof. Peiris could shed some light on the origin, the path and the current status of that Bill. The fact is that Chandrika government does not want to use its political capital to achieve equal rights for the Tamil people.

Will a UNP government take the risk to grant an autonomous state to the Tamils? I think not. Mr. Athulathmudali (of the UNP) said to me on February 4, 1985 that resolving the conflict through a federal political structure, such as the one in the US, would be political suicide. This was when the UNP had a two-third majority in parliament! Nothing much has changed with the UNP in the last fifteen years for the Tamils to feel optimistic. It only got worse.

Now the Prime Minister wants the Sinhalese to produce more babies to boost the armed forces and defeat the LTTE in three months! How can Tamil leaders have talks with a President who wants to solve the problem militarily, a FM who wants the Tamil leaders to be proscribed worldwide, a PM who wants the people to produce more babies to be soldiers to defeat the Tamils in three months, and a cabinet who visits the Maligawa, as though the incumbent is a religious hereditary monarch, for advice and guidance on politics and governance. Who will want to negotiate with such a government?

Separatism, Self-Determination and Tamil Aspirations 

Mr. Kadirgamer’s assertion that, “Those who would scrutinise the speech for an abandonment of a separate state or a specific reference to autonomy will be disappointed”, is reflective only of his own state of mind and his servitude to his President. Mr. Kadirgamar’s reading and comprehension on the question of a separate state is contrary to all the reports by well-informed journalists and erudite analysts on the Tamil question and the LTTE.

The best thing for the Sinhala people is to elect representatives who could form a government with a cabinet of persons who have not lost the ability to understand those with whom peace must be made.

Mr. Pirapaharan’s appeal to the Sinhala people

On the question of separation, meaning of self-determination and self- government, I shall translate Mr. Pirapaharan’s statements in Tamil that are relevant to the issues above, as accurately as I can, and give a short analysis below. The key points are:

1.     “Tamil people wish to live with peace and dignity and preserve their own Tamil identity, in their own land, in their motherland, where they have lived throughout their history. They wish to determine their own political and economic life. They are asking to be left alone to live peacefully by themselves. This is the Tamil people’s fundamental political aspiration. SUCH AN ASPIRATION IS NOT SEPARATISM OR TERRORISM” (Emphasis is mine).

2.     “Such a request by the Tamil people is not in anyway posed as a threat. This request does not in any form adversely affect the political independence, communal, economic or cultural life of the Sinhala people. The wish of the Tamil people is to find a political solution that will pave a way for them to live a life based on their right to govern themselves in their own land. This is what they mean when they emphasize that a political solution has to be found on the basis of the Tamil people’s right to self-determination.”

3.     “We recognize that fundamentally ours is a political problem. Our belief that the ethnic problem can be solved through a peace process is not completely destroyed yet. We are ready to discuss with a Sinhala government a political solution which would achieve our aspirations.”

4.     “For us to take part in the negotiating process as equals, independently, as the accepted true fighting force of the Tamil people and with the status of their representatives the proscription of our organization has to be removed. In sum this is also the aspiration of the Tamil people. For many years we have emphasized that an environment where there is no war and economic embargo will bring about a natural and peaceful atmosphere where negotiation can take place.”

5.     “If a solution is achieved through peaceful negotiation Tamil, Sinhala and other communities can live together in this beautiful island happily, peacefully and with common direction.”

6.     “However, at this point if the Sinhala nation refuses to agree to peacefully resolve this conflict we Tamils have no choice but to establish a separate state of Tamil Eelam. If ethnic chauvinism is what will continue to be the determining force of Sinhala governments, that ethnic chauvinism is what will form the preconditions needed for the birth of the separate state of Tamil Eelam. If the birth of a separate state of Tamil Eelam is an unavoidable consequence of the history of the conflict, no force can prevent it. Then, the birth of the separate state of Tamil Eelam will bring to reality the dream of our great heroes.”

When one reads and truly comprehends what Mr. Pirapaharan said in his speech, the irrationality of Mr. Kadirgamar’s response becomes clear.

To whichever party forms the new government (or whoever becomes the FM) the first five of the key points listed above form a solid guideline that will pave the way for a negotiated political solution that would also avoid separation. The sixth point is the buttress that would hold the solution in its foundation. If no negotiation takes place to arrive at a solution based on the right to self-determination, as clarified by the Tamil leader, the birth of the new state of Tamil Eelam will be a reality some day.

Congressman Brad Sherman in his letter dated September 1, 2000, to The Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, wrote:

“ On June 29 this year the Chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Benjamin Gilman, wrote to you about the continuing human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. He further urged that, “The US should make it clear that we would support all options including secession to be discussed in the negotiating process of resolving the differences.” The democratic process in Sri Lanka has deteriorated during the past twenty years mainly because of the continuing war and the political activity of the Singhalese extremists. The United States has an opportunity to take Sri Lanka as a model and help it to evolve, by negotiation, two autonomous democratic political structures, within a system acceptable to both parties, where ethnic communities can coexist peacefully on the Island. … in the absence of a negotiated settlement, the Tamil people could determine whether they want a confederation, or a separate state as endorsed by the Tamil people in the last democratic elections held in 1977 in the north and east of Sri Lanka.”

With such sentiments as a stimulus, a new Sri Lanka government has a golden opportunity to bring peace and economic prosperity to all the people in the Island. If it follows the advise of people like Mr. Kadirgamar and his kind, further ruination of Sri Lanka is assured. The international community will have no option but to step in and establish two separate states in the Island despite their current hopes for a solution that respects the ‘territorial integrity’ and ‘sovereignty’ of a united Sri Lanka. The continued proscription of the Liberation movement of the Tamil people will only, as Mr. Pirapaharan stated, lead the Tamil people to be firm in their resolve to stand by the LTTE as the only means to achieve their aspirations.

Mr. Pirapaharan has put forward his ideas for a solution on behalf of the Tamil people who have accepted it with popular acclaim. It is now left to the Sinhala people to respond to the appeal positively for us to begin the long and tortuous road to reconciliation and reconstruction, in order to ‘live together in this beautiful island happily, peacefully and with common direction.’

4 December 2001