ACTION GROUP OF TAMILSp
The armed conflict in Sri Lanka took a decisive turn on 11 September 1998. Jaffna Mayor Mr Pon Sivapalan (a Tamil) and Jaffna Brigade Commander Brigadier Susantha Mendis (a Sinhalese), together with six army and police officers and five Tamil civilians, were killed by a remote controlled explosive device. Although the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have not claimed responsibility, the general opinion is that it carried out the attack. The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), which nominated Mr Sivapalan to the post of Mayor, expressed "outrage and anguish". President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (a Sinhalese) reportedly was "shocked" by the killings. Many other individuals and groups too similarly expressed surprise and shock.
The National Peace Council (NPC), which advocates the protection of human rights and promotion of conflict resolution, condemned the killings as a "reprehensible act" committed in "a place of civilian administration" in a press release on the same day. The NPC thus skilfully distorted the act of war committed by the LTTE within a war zone as an attack on a civilian target.
However, neither the TULF nor the human rights and conflict resolution organisations had expressed surprise or shock when President Kumaratunga threw down the gauntlet at a public meeting held in Mirigama about a month and half earlier, on 19 July. She issued a bloodcurdling challenge to the Tamil people: "if the Tigers want peace they would get peace, if they want war they would get war" (Virakesari, 20/Jul/98).
Prime Minister JR Jayawardene (a Sinhalese), leader of the then United National Party (UNP) Government, had beaten the same war drum almost twenty-one years ago. Whilst the 1977 pogrom raged and the Tamil people were reeling from the slaughter, he rose to his feet in Parliament on 18 August and arrogantly issued a similar challenge to Tamils: "if you want to fight, let there be a fight; if it is peace, let there by peace" (Hansard, vol 23, no 2, col: 246).
President Kumaratunga, Deputy Leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which is the dominant party within the ruling Peoples Alliance (PA) Coalition Government, supplemented the 19 July challenge with the denial of the national rights of the Tamil people. In a live interview given to two South African TV channels during her visit to Durban in the first week of September 1998, she derogated the Tamil nation to "a minority community" and relegated Tamils to an inferior political status in relation to the Sinhalese by denouncing the Tamils as "not the original people of the country". [Video Clip]
Her inflammatory comments, which callously restated the chauvinist assertion that only the Sinhalese are the bhoomi putra ("sons of the soil"), were broadcast in Sri Lanka by Rupavahini television news on or around 10 September. But the Tamil political parties and the human rights and conflict resolution organisations have so far failed to demand a retraction of the statement by, and an apology from, the President.
President Kumaratungas next step was in keeping with the Sinhalese political culture of whipping up chauvinist Tamil phobia among the Sinhalese people, especially for electoral gain. She resorted to the myopic practice of Tamil-baiting. At the SLFPs District Conference held in Kurunegala on 8 September 1998, she alleged that the UNP and the LTTE are "conspiring to overthrow" her Government (Sarinihar, 17-30/Sep/98).
The Presidents hawkish posture, which now stands fully revealed, was evident as far back as mid-1994. In fact, in an article titled "Broker Politics: Betrayal of the Tamil Struggle" published about two months before the Parliamentary elections of that year, we argued that the SLFP is bent on a military solution to the Tamil Question (Lanka Guardian, 15/Jun/94). The argument was reiterated and fleshed out in a subsequent article, "The Peace Hoax" (Lanka Guardian, 15/Aug/95). In the latter essay we examined the so-called "peace process" between September 1994 to April 1995 and concluded that the PAs stated commitment to a negotiated settlement to the armed conflict between the Government and the LTTE-led Tamil National Movement is a Goebbelsian lie. The intention here is to examine the PAs war strategy during the period from mid-1995 to October 1998.
The war strategy
The military response
The principal objective of the political component, which serves to consolidate military advances, is to politically marginalise the LTTE. Toward this end the PA revealed a plan to "re-establish normalcy", to set up an Interim Advisory Council in the NEP consisting of up to twenty-one members (Island, 6/Aug/95). The intention is to install a group of so-called "representatives", selected through "managed" elections. The plan was fleshed out through the local government elections, held in the Jaffna peninsula on 29 January 1998 under the iron heel of military rule. They threw up 234 such pliant "Tamil representatives" who are expected to run the Jaffna Municipal Council and 17 Pradeshiya Sabhas.
The PA attempted to lure the Tamil population of the peninsula into supporting the newly installed local "government" with the promise of "reconstruction and development". This so-called "hearts and minds" tactic in essence dangled the prospect of employment and incomes for the war-ravaged people, to paternalistically "wean" Tamils from the LTTE - as if the Tamil people are infants who cannot think for themselves.
The political response
Minister of Justice, Constitutional Affairs, Ethnic Affairs and National Integration Prof GL Peiris (a Sinhalese) confirmed the lack of concurrence during a press interview two days later. He qualified the proposals as the Presidents own views or "basic ideas almost in the form of a Green Paper. The next stage is for the draft chapter of the new constitution on devolution to be presented to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on Constitutional Reform. Within about two to three weeks we will try to finalise that document and that will be placed before the PSC we will have full discussion to reach consensus within that forum. Thereafter it could be presented in Parliament where we would need a 2/3 majority" (Island, 6/Aug/95). The Minister thus implied that the said draft chapter would delineate the official position of the PA Government regarding the basis for negotiating a settlement to the armed conflict.
So when Minister Peiris released more than five months later, on 16 January 1996, the Draft Provisions of the Constitution Containing the Proposals of the Government of Sri Lanka Relating to Devolution of Power, generally referred to as the Draft Provisions, Tamils expected the document to be the definitive statement of the Government. However, the Draft Provisions were found to be the individual initiative of the Minister. Because prior to its release, the document was not communicated to most of the Cabinet Ministers and to the member-parties of PA. Predictably most parties in Government again were vehemently opposed to the document (Island, 28/Jan/96).
To add insult to injury, the Draft Provisions did not contain key clauses relating to devolution of power, especially in respect of the all-important question of the extent of the alleged territorial unit for Ceylon Tamils, which, said Minister Peiris, would be dealt with "later". However, he did not publish the clauses and the Draft Provisions soon became irrelevant.
More than twenty months passed before Minister Peiris formulated and released the third version of an alleged "conflict resolution proposal" on 24 October 1997, titled Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Reform and widely known as the Draft Constitution. Minister Peiris neither communicated the document to, nor sought the concurrence of, the Cabinet and the member-parties of PA prior to its publication.
To overcome the lack of endorsement by the PA, Minister Peiris, as Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), had on the one hand slipped the document through the Committee and presented it in Parliament as an appendix to the three-page PSC statement. On the other hand, his PSC statement misleadingly described the appendix as "the Governments proposal on constitutional reform". This cunning and disingenuous procedural manoeuvre conjured up the illusion that the Government is officially presenting its "conflict resolution proposal" whilst ensuring that neither the President nor the PA could be held accountable for the Draft Constitution, that they could "maintain deniability", since the document officially is the PSCs report.
Moreover, by presenting the Draft Constitution as a PSC report, Minister Peiris attempted to anoint the document as the consensus of all parties represented in the PSC. This manoeuvre was foiled when it was pointed out in Parliament that the PSC statement was not signed by the party representatives, including those of the coalition partners of the PA (Island, 25/Oct/97).
The decrepit deception did not end there. The UNP pointed out that the Draft Constitution was incomplete, arguing that the chapters on transitional provisions and definitions are missing (Island, 12/Jan/98). To make matter worse, when Minister Peiris released it in Parliament as a White Paper it was titled Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Reform. But when he had the same Draft Constitution printed under the auspices of his Ministry for public consumption, and for the benefit of the international community, it was deceptively titled The Governments Proposals for Constitutional Reform. This sleight of hand dishonestly projected the misbegotten document as the PA Governments official proposal to negotiate an end to the armed conflict.
The following conclusions are inescapable. On the one hand, President Kumaratunga and Minister Peiris between them, and acting in their individual capacity, released three versions of a so-called "conflict resolution proposal". In each instance, at first glance the document appeared to be the Governments official position but was, on closer inspection, found to be the individual response of either politician. On the other hand, the PA Government has completed four years in office without reaching agreement on, and officially committing itself to, a framework for negotiating a political settlement to the armed conflict. It follows that the question of whether or not the UNP and LTTE would respond favourably is at best premature; at worst, it is a red herring.
Each version of the alleged "conflict resolution proposal" was exploited by the PA propagandists to achieve important propaganda aims. Firstly, they sought to mislead the Sri Lankan public and the Tamils in particular into believing that the Government has designed the constitutional basis for negotiations and that it is sincerely seeking a political solution.
Secondly, the propagandists sought political legitimacy for the PAs aggressive prosecution of the military response by timing the release of the documents to largely coincide with major military operations in the NEP. The 1995 Presidents Proposal was announced about three weeks after Operation Leap Forward was unleashed. The 1996 Draft Provisions were made public 48 hours before Operation Rivikirena was unleashed in the eastern regions of the Jaffna peninsula on 18 January. The 1997 Draft Constitution was released when Operation Jayasikurui, which the army expected to complete within three months, dragged on into the fifth month and was hopelessly mired in the Vanni. The propagandists dubbed each version as the so-called "peace package", as the PAs alleged political alternative, which in fact did not and still has not seen the light of day. Each one served as the political fig leaf to dignify the genocidal military campaign against Tamils in the NEP.
Thirdly, the propaganda portrayed the Government as the reluctant combatant compelled to do battle by the "intransigence" of the LTTE.
Most human rights and conflict resolution organisations enthusiastically disseminated this propaganda. Rather than expose the duplicity of Government, and perhaps to mask it, they on the one hand "welcomed" the non-existent political alternative and, on other hand, urged the LTTE to respond "positively" to that political mirage.
The propaganda provided a face-saving rationale for those forces in the international fora opposed to the LTTE-led Tamil National Movement to support the PAs "war for peace".
Thus the so-called "peace package" is an integral part of the PA Governments war strategy. Two days after President Kumaratunga released her 1995 proposals, Minister Peiris had ventured to outline its utility for the military response thus: "we do expect that the military effort will have the effect of diminishing the strength of the LTTE. But the political proposals will also have a role in that regard because they will go a long way towards convincing the Tamil people that the Government should be supported and that will alienate the Tamil people from the LTTE. So there is a connection between the two things" (Island, 6/Aug/95).
A week later Minister Peiris explained the "connection", that is, how the "peace package" would legitimise and strengthen the military response thus: "some want to know the necessity for a political solution when a war is raging. True, what we need to win the war is armaments not a political solution. But we have been able to procure military hardware because we have presented a political solution The Presidents leadership has gained international acceptance today. Therefore, we experience no difficulty to get our arms requirements The President and the Government have succeeded in convincing the world community that restoration of peace is possible through the political package. We cannot expect the co-operation of the international community [to execute the military campaign] without seeking a political solution" (Daily News, 15/Aug/95; emphasis added).
Three days after the Presidents proposals were announced, Mr Neville Jayaweera (a Sinhalese), a former Civil Servant and political activist, published a refreshingly forthright comment on the PAs war strategy. He argued as follows: "it is clear that there is now more than a ground swell of enthusiasm in the South for an all-out war in the North, finally to administer the coup de grace to the LTTE, take Jaffna and occupy the peninsula. Obviously, the popular hope is that thereafter the government can dictate terms to the vanquished foe on a take it or leave it basis and install in Jaffna our own version of a Vichy government, that is if we can find a Tamil leader who is ready to play Petain" (Sunday Observer, 6/Aug/95). Obviously Mr Jayaweera underestimated the prodigal capacity of the collaborationist Tamils parties to supply their Petains.
The explosion in Jaffna on 11 September 1998 signalled that the war strategy has collapsed into blood-soaked chaos. Brigadier Susantha Mendis and Mayor Mr Pon Sivapalan symbolised respectively the military and political components of the PAs military response. The following three points are sufficient to show that the military component has been all but crippled. Many senior officers of the security apparatus in Jaffna have been eliminated. The army was engaged in "heavy fighting" in Mankulam as far back as in November 1997 (Island, 19/Nov/97) and, if reports are to be believed, took control of the town after a delay of almost one year, in October 1998. And the Kilinochchi-Paranthan debacle between 27 and 30 September, when the LTTE overran army positions manned by about 3,500 men and killed about 1,800 of them, has effectively torpedoed Operation Jayasikurui.
The political component has been virtually neutralised with the death of Mr Pon Sivapalan. These events underline the impotence of the counter-revolutionary tactic of "re-establishing normalcy" by installing and sustaining a Vichy-type administration. Clearly it is extremely unlikely that the Deputy Minister for Defence General Anuruddha Ratwatta would be able to make good his juvenile boast to "shake hands" with the leader of a defeated LTTE, Mr Velupillai Prabhakaran (Sunday Times, 14/Feb/97).
The Tamil National Movement and UTHR(J)
During the Vietnam war, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) too employed similar reactionary propaganda. The Vietnamese National Liberation Movement attacked United States occupation forces not only in the battlefield but also in the cities and towns. Often the guerrillas would kill American servicemen by exploding bombs in discotheques and bars frequented by them. The CIA propaganda then highlighted the Vietnamese civilians who also died in the blasts to allege that the Movement had scant regard for its own people.
The fact that the UTHR(J) have advanced the similar moribund claim is testimony to their intellectual vacuity and moral bankruptcy. In Vietnam the CIA foolishly hoped that publicising the deaths of civilians during attacks on Americans would turn the Vietnamese people against their own liberation movement. The UTHR(J) similarly believes with staggering naivete that by breast-beating over civilian deaths, the Tamil people could be turned against the LTTE.
Moreover, the UTHR(J) are incapable of making the moral distinction between the violence of the aggressor and the violence of the victim, between the violence of oppression and violence of resistance. Indeed, they have stood reality on its head: for them, the Sinhalese-dominated Government is the victim and the LTTE-led Tamil National Movement is the aggressor. The CIA also had attempted a similar, amoral propaganda when it released the infamous document Aggression From the North in the mid-1960s to convince the world that the then North Vietnam was the aggressor.
The central question is whether or not the Sinhalese armed forces are an occupation force. The answer will define the character of violence resorted to by the LTTE. The question cannot be avoided by advancing the absurd juridical assertion that the Sri Lankan armed forces cannot be an occupation force within the countrys border. Nor can the reality of military occupation be denied by propagating, as the UTHR(J) does, the hilarious claim that the armed forces "are trying to return authority to the people and helping them to manage their own affairs", rather like the US army encouraging democracy in the then South Vietnam!
Whether or not the army is an occupation force is primarily a political question: it is determined by the relations of power between the Government and the Tamil people it oppresses. Totalitarian rule, for instance, is always and everywhere characteristic of an army of occupation. Confronted with the same draconian reality in the occupied Jaffna peninsula, the UTHR(J) turned servile apologists for the Sinhalese army; they argued: "it is simply that the LTTEs terror had reduced the people to a position where nothing can move in Jaffna unless the army takes the initiative." In other words, in the UTHR(J)s sociology of mystification the Sinhalese armed forces are not an occupation force but merely reluctant totalitarianists!
Surely the victorious raising of the Sinhalese Lion Flag over the Tamil nation in Jaffna on 5 December 1995 had all the trappings of a foreign military conquest, the demeaning implications of which is not blunted by the TULFs abject collaboration in flying the Tamil Nandi flag too. On the following day a feudal ceremony was enacted in Colombo. The President pompously received from her Deputy Defence Minister a scroll embossed in gold and encased in a silver casket announcing that her "order to establish the writ of your Government in the historic city of Yapa Patuna" has been executed successfully. The President announced the "happy news" about establishing military superiority over most of the peninsula, which underscored the status of the Tamil nation as the internal colony of the Sinhalese-dominated Government, "with immense pride and humility" (Island, 7/Dec/95).
The UTHR(J) however strained every nerve to paper over the fact of Sinhalese internal colonialism. For example, they asserted that Brigadier Mendis was "responsive to public feelings he involved himself in sports meets, public functions, and played an active role in reviving the Nallur Temple festival". The UTHR(J) are no doubt convinced that only the unkind would suspect him of ruthlessly penetrating Tamil society to gather intelligence information under the guise of benign social interaction.
Indeed the UTHR(J) have an impressive reputation for consistently ferreting out a plethora of hard-to-get information regarding the violations of human rights in the NEP for almost a decade. However, between 1990 and 1997 about thirteen thousand Tamils are reported to have disappeared in the eastern regions of the province (Thinakkural, 31/Mar/98) whilst an estimated thousand five hundred disappeared from the Jaffna peninsula alone in 1996 and 1997. Obviously, most of them were buried in mass graves. But the UTHR(J) did not breathe a word about mass graves. Presumably they want Tamils to assume that they knew nothing of the graves, that the UTHR(J) came to know of the Chemmani graves in the peninsula only after a Sinhalese soldier convicted of the rape and murder of a Tamil school girl, Ms Krishanthy Kumaraswamy, and the murder of three others blurted out the news in July 1998 (Thinakkural, 4/Jul/98)! The Tamils are not so gullible.
Neither are the Tamil people crass opportunists. They clearly perceive the Sinhalese armed forces as an occupation force. The UTHR(J) would do well to reflect on just one well known fact: every time the LTTE mounts a military operation, most Tamils in the NEP, and many outside, fervently pray for its success in their temples, churches and homes. This is a measure of the depth and intensity of the widespread support the LTTE enjoys among Tamils in general. It is therefore arrant nonsense to assert that the LTTE is a "minority" force unrepresentative of the majority of the Tamil people.
It is the fact of Sinhalese internal colonialism that primarily defines as collaborators those Tamils who assist the Sinhalese-dominated Government. Moreover, every war throughout history unfailingly produced its heroes and collaborators; and the armed conflict in Sri Lanka cannot be and is not an exception to this universal rule. Consequently, glowing tributes UTHR(J) bestowed upon Tamils who willingly collaborate in the Vichy-type local "government" in the peninsula supposedly "out of a sense of duty" and determined "bravely to perform the onerous task of reviving civil life in the face of terror" are vacuous phrases. For Mr Vidkun Quisling too no doubt similarly believed that he was serving the Norwegian people during the Second World War by working closely with the occupying Nazi army in the face of threats from the patriotic Resistance. To borrow a phrase popularised by TULF politicians, Mr Quisling also may have defended his collaboration as indispensable "to keep open the lines of communication to the other side". The people of Norway, however, were not impressed. After the war Mr Quisling was executed for treason.
1 November 1998.
Dr S Sathananthan is the Founder-Secretary of The Action Group Of Tamils (TAGOT) in Sri Lanka