Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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The European Travel Embargo: Causes & Consequences

by Nakeeran

The decision by the European Union to ban the LTTE from visiting EU countries has been welcomed by the Sinhala polity with undisguised glee.

The ‘ban’ was announced after calls by the Sinhala polity that the LTTE be listed as a terrorist organisation.  It was clear that the Sinhala polity was alarmed by the growing legitimacy of the LTTE in the eyes of the international community.  The calls were prompted by the belief that, stripped of this ‘legitimacy,’ the LTTE could become more malleable.  Hence Dhanapala’s assertion that "The route of appeasement or the ‘carrot and more carrots’ approach, have (sic) not worked with the LTTE."

Many would, therefore, be inclined to view this action by the EU as caving into the Sinhala polity’s crude but persistent diplomacy.

Others are likely to speculate that this announcement, coming as it does in the wake of the announcements by the Co-Chairs to the Peace Process identifying the Sri Lankan Government’s role in the arming of the paramilitary and the UN Security Council’s call to ‘fully implement the Cease-Fire Agreement,’ as an attempt to balance the International Community’s position- viz a viz the parties to the conflict.

Neither of these points, however, serve to explain how the interests of the International Community’ are served. 

It is this writer’s assertion that the ban is meant to serve the international community’s goal of managing Colombo by bringing about a ‘national government’ in Sri Lanka.  One needs to note that this was the approach advocated by the likes of Liam Fox (the British Foreign Under- Secretary) in 1997.  Such an approach was meant to counter the inclination of the opposition Sinhala party to gain political mileage and office by appealing to ingrained chauvinism whenever the ruling party sought accommodation with the Tamils.  (Incidentally it is to this ingrained chauvinism to which Mahinda Rajapakse is now appealing.)

The ban has given the UNP and the SLFP grounds to claim that the LTTE has been checked.  Both parties are therefore free to persuade the Sinhala electorate to move away from the JVP and its allies.  It is further speculated that a deal of some sort has been stitched between the leaders of the parties with the ‘Co-Chairs to the Peace Process’ (or is it the EU?) to ensure that - whoever wins the elections (Presidential or Parliamentary) - both parties will be in Government. 

The UNP manifesto provides a hint to such an agreement.  In this manifesto Ranil Wickramasinghe states that he would "discuss and reach a consensus with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)." Such an arrangement would suit the International Community, which could then go about imposing its plan of containing the conflict through a negotiated ‘political’ solution.

Such actions presume that ‘Sinhala Extremism’ would be sidelined and mainstream Sinhala opinion would now be behind the ‘National’ Government.  It also presupposes that the LTTE has been sufficiently marginalised and made malleable.

It is this writer’s assessment that both presumptions are wrong.

The ‘National’ Government (if and when formed) will be opposed to equitable power-sharing.  Instead, one could expect its agenda to feature devolution and the de-merger of the NorthEast.  This is because the Sinhala polity, emboldened by the EU ban, will regard any ‘concession’ in the form of true federalism to be unnecessary.

The LTTE is unlikely to accept the ban as an end to its pursuit of a political arrangement based on self-determination.  Instead, it is more than likely to withdraw from the talks and, at a time and place of its choosing, resume the armed struggle.  It is futile to second-guess when this armed struggle would resume.

What can be said with some certainty is that the next phase will depend very much on the effectiveness of the LTTE’s armed response. 

Again, it is this writer’s assessment that the International Community and Sri Lanka are in for a surprise.