A Response to Boston Globe
India and big powers must play a role in helping Sri Lanka find peace
By Robert Rotberg
(Boston Globe, 20 Nov 99)
Robert Rotberg’s article titled “India and big powers must play a role in helping Sri Lanka find peace” (Boston Globe, 20 Nov 99) is full of factual errors, contradictions and erroneous conclusions.
His delineation of a color difference between the Sinhalese and the Tamils -- “The Hindu Tamils [who] comprise about 18 percent of the population are physically darker…” -- is an old cliché used by the Sinhala supremacists to describe themselves as light skinned Aryans and the Tamils as darker Dravidians. Even the Sinhala hardliners don’t use it anymore!
In his statement that, “The LTTE leadership… lacks widespread popular support for its uncompromising military tactics, even among Tamils”, he is just repeating the Sri Lanka government propaganda. The truth is, an overwhelming majority of Tamils do support the LTTE. In the absence of a plebiscite one cannot ‘prove’ the kind of support, or the lack thereof, the LTTE enjoys among the Tamils. Obviously, with the Tamils of Sri Lanka now ousted and living all over the world, such a ballot cannot be conducted. However, there is plenty of observational evidence.
In 1995, about half a million people left their homes in Jaffna to be with the LTTE, in spite of the real danger of revenge attacks by the Sri Lankan army. Volumes have been written about the hardships the people of Jaffna peninsula endured in this mass exodus. It has been said that they did this out of fear of the LTTE, but to say that five hundred thousand people left their homes to live under trees in bad weather, because LTTE had their guns pointed at them is absurd. Would a guerrilla movement, that depends on the people for its sustenance, have turned their guns on their own people?
The conduct of the Tamil Diaspora is another piece of evidence. They congregate in the thousands in major cities all over the world to show support for the LTTE. Every year there have been demonstrations and mass rallies in London, Toronto, Paris, New York, Geneva, etc., with tens of thousands of Tamils gathering to show support for the LTTE. One has not seen the so called ‘moderate’ Tamil parities being able to garner even a hundred supporters to show similar strength!
Sinhala propagandists have said that the five hundred thousand strong Tamil population in the south Sri Lanka doesn’t support the LTTE. This again is ridiculous reasoning. When a mere suspicion of being an LTTE supporter could land one in jail, or worse cause that person to disappear, one must be really stupid or suicidal to live in the south and openly express support for the LTTE!
Professor Rotberg states that ‘Kumaratunga seeks a strong mandate for peace’ (implying that she genuinely seeks peace), and that she ‘has been unable to give minority Tamils the regional autonomy they have long sought’ because “United [National] Party parliamentary votes have blocked the two-thirds required for constitutional change.” Is he unaware of the fact that even her own party parliamentarians don’t support her devolution proposals? Even the watered down third revision has not been formally presented to her own party.
He argues, “If Kumaratunga can gain a large enough majority in parliament, she can amend the constitution to devolve power from the central government to new regional governments.” Professor Rotberg doesn’t seem to know that the electoral system devised by the former President J.R. Jayewardene is such that, no single party can win the two thirds majority required to make constitutional changes. Under the circumstances, it is quite convenient for Kumaratunga to mouth platitudes, knowing fully well that she will never have to implement any of her promises, without fear of foreign criticism.
The opposition UNP doesn’t help for obvious political reasons. As expected, they wouldn’t want to give Kumaratunga credit for ‘solving the problem. ’ Kumaratunga also makes sure that UNP doesn’t help, with her harsh criticisms of the UNP leadership, physical attack on UNP party supporters, etc.
It is truly surprising that someone of Professor Rotberg’s caliber doesn’t know all this.
He says, ‘peace cannot be achieved until the insurgents are harder-pressed than now.’ What exactly he means by this is not clear. Paradoxically, at the beginning of the article he said, ‘A year ago, the LTTE appeared to be near defeat after government offensives drove it out of the Tamil stronghold of Jaffna in the far north and confined Tiger insurgents to jungle areas south of Jaffna.’ If making the LTTE weaker could lead to peace why didn’t it happen a year ago when, as he says, ‘the LTTE appeared to be near defeat?’
He needs to understand that total annihilation of the LTTE is what the Sinhala dominated Sri Lankan government seeks, in the hope that the Tamil demand for equality will also die.
Professor Robert I. Rotberg, considered to be an expert on Sri Lanka by the Boston Globe and the Harvard University, needs to educate himself further.
India and big powers must play a role in helping Sri Lanka find peace
By Robert I. Rotberg,
Sri Lanka is like Chechnya, not the climate or the terrain, but the nature of civil war. In both, a determined, fanatical, comparatively few guerrilla fighters hold off and sometimes outwit a much larger military juggernaut. In both, the rules of war are regularly breached and civilians suffer.
Stopping both wars, just as the world finally brought pressure on Indonesia to end its cruelties in East Timor, is a humanitarian imperative. The levels of bloodshed and displacement in both Chechnya and Sri Lanka cry out for global action.
But the wrongs in both settings are less easy to establish in Chechnya and Sri Lanka, as compared to East Timor, Sierra Leone, or Liberia. For that reason outside diplomatic intervention may be less useful than establishing a strong international barrier against the resupply of weapons to the insurgents.
The case of Sri Lanka, where the guerrilla group this month launched a surprisingly successful counterattack against the island's army, is clearer in context and outline, too.
Two new elements in the 16-year-old war between the Sinhala-dominated central government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are the Tigers' unexpected multiple victories this month across the northern part of the island and an early election scheduled for December by President Chandrika Kumaratunga of the ruling Peoples' Alliance.
Kumaratunga seeks a strong mandate for peace, which means winning seats in parliament from the United National Party, a rival for Sinhalese votes. Despite a striking parliamentary victory in the 1994 elections, again after calling for peaceful settlement with the LTTE, Kumaratunga has been unable to give minority Tamils the regional autonomy they have long sought. United Party parliamentary votes have blocked the two-thirds required for constitutional change. But as she campaigns this month, the LTTE, representing militant Tamil aspirations, has routed the army in successive attacks.
A year ago, the LTTE appeared to be near defeat after government offensives drove it out of the Tamil stronghold of Jaffna in the far north and confined Tiger insurgents to jungle areas south of Jaffna. Since the Tigers are estimated to have no more than 10,000 guerrilla fighters, compared with 143,000 troops wearing official uniforms, the government should have ended the war long ago. Yet either through incompetence or corruption, it has rarely mounted decisive and credible campaigns against its crafty adversary.
The LTTE leadership, like that in Chechnya, lacks widespread popular support for its uncompromising military tactics, even among Tamils. Its assassinations and suicide bombings against Tamil moderates claimed several prominent lives this summer. Then, probably to test Kumaratunga's will, it probed the army's defenses last month. This month it succeeded in killing hundreds of soldiers. The Tigers once again have demonstrated a formidable ability to regroup, rearm (by purchasing and then smuggling arms from Europe and Asia), and surprise the sleepy, poorly trained Sri Lankan defense force.
If Kumaratunga can gain a large enough majority in parliament, she can amend the constitution to devolve power from the central government to new regional goverments. Moderate Tamils, especially those who oppose the LTTE's attacks on civilians, believe only a generous transfer of authority to new Tamil-majority regions can protect Tamils from being oppressed by the country's Sinhala majority.
Eighty percent of Sri Lanka's 17 million people are Sinhala-speaking and Buddhists. The Hindu Tamils comprise about 18 percent of the population, are physically darker, and are akin to fellow Tamils in India. There is little intermarriage, but until the civil war began, Sinhala and Tamil mixed freely in the cities.
The appeal of the LTTE reflects Sinhala-motivated legalized discrimination, beginning after Sri Lanka's independence in 1948. Harsh discrimination was enacted into law, ironically, when Kumaratunga's father, and then mother (Solomon W.R. Bandaranaike and Sirimavo Bandaranaike) ruled Sri Lanka. They banned the use of the Tamil language in government, limited the number of Tamils who could attend the country's major universities, and disenfranchise poorer Tamil tea estate workers.
There were several brutal episodes of ''ethnic cleansing,'' too, in which more than 200,000 Tamils were displaced and thousands killed. The LTTE emerged in the 1970s to seek ''eelam'' (a homeland), where Sinhalese leaders could not compromise Tamil freedom.
Washington has declared the LTTE a terrorist organization and attempted, as London has done, to prevent the LTTE from obtaining financial backing from Tamils abroad. But these policies have accomplished little.
The big powers must work with India to prevent the LTTE from rearming. The United States or Britain also can assist the government by retraining its army and reinvigorating the defense force's woefully inadequate intelligence capability. Once the tide of war has turned decisively, a Scandinavian-supplied third-party negotiation can bridge the final gaps.
Just as total victory on the battlefield is impossible, so peace cannot be achieved until the insurgents are harder-pressed than now.
Robert I. Rotberg is director of the Kennedy School's Program on Intrastate Conflict at Harvard University and president of the World Peace Foundation. His latest book is ''Creating Peace in Sri Lanka.''
Courtsey: Boston globe
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