Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Et Tu, EU: The Betrayal of Tamil Trust

by Sabesan from Melbourne, Australia

English Translation by Reuben Nanthakumar

For European diplomats assigned to Sri Lankan affairs, the environment in Brussels, Belgium, was becoming increasingly tense in the weeks leading up to the end of September.  Throughout the month, as reports would indicate, Sri Lankan diplomatic missions in both European and North American capitals, have been under intense pressure from Colombo to campaign hard against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).  Their task was to capitalize on the death of their late Foreign Minister and implicate the LTTE in the assassination. 

Diplomatic access

Maximum pressure was to be exerted on their host governments, to elicit a strong condemnation against the Tamil Tigers, regardless of Colombo’s investigations yet to reveal any genuine evidence of the assassins’ affiliation.  In fact, just hours after the assassination, the Sri Lankan Inspector General of Police Chandra Fernando, confidently reported to Reuters that "It was the Tigers." This was despite the fact that investigations had not even started by then.

The efforts of the Sri Lankan diplomats, as we soon found out, seem to have worked.  On the 26th of September 2005, the Council of the European Union (EU) released a harshly worded statement condemning the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), for what it called the "shocking murder of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar."  Needless to say, the Sri Lankan government and their Sinhala supremacist allies were jubilant.  They expressed their satisfaction to the EU and the media soon after the statement was released.  Open letters and thank you notes were sent by Sinhala extremist organizations to the EU at their offices in both Colombo and Brussels.  These organizations included the notoriously anti-Tamil Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).  The JVP is also known for its feverish anti-Tamil stand and entertain the same extremist school of thought as the JHU and between them, compete to out do each other in whipping up anti-Tamil hysteria in the south of the country.  For them, this was a notch on their racial swords as they had campaigned vigorously over the past years to break down peace efforts between the Tamils and the Sri Lankan government.

The Tamils, of course, were shocked.  In fact, their reactions could be better described as being dismayed and hurt.  This was not the first time a prohibition on the LTTE was imposed by a western country.  The Tigers are "proscribed" in the US, Britain and Australia.  But for the Tamils, these were prohibitions that were imposed by countries that were not exactly known or respected for their diplomatic character.  In fact, all of those countries have been known to sacrifice the moral imperatives of their foreign policy to either their economic interests or political ambitions.  The EU was considered more immune to such reproachable actions.

Tamil civil society groups around the world swiftly condemned the EU statement.  The International Federation of Tamils (IFT), a Geneva-based consortium of more than 150 global Tamil organizations, expressed its "shock and exasperation" at the "one-sided" nature of the EU commentary.  It also drew a deservedly sharp rebuttal from the LTTE itself.  The organization’s Political Head, S.P. Tamilchelvan, roughshoded the statement as "lopsided", and accused it of being "based on unsubstantiated charges by the Sri Lankan government."

Contribution to peace?

It is interesting to note that the EU, a key player among the four Co-Chairs of the International Donor Group underwriting the Sri Lankan peace effort, seems to think that by contributing to encouraging anti-Tamil sentiment, it was actually acting in the best interest of peace.  At a time when war-mongering organizations such as the JVP and the JHU engaged in raising racial hated against the Tamils, the EU reaction was ill conceived and unhelpful in an already tense ethnic atmosphere.  It sends the wrong signal to anti-peace organizations and even to the Sri Lankan government that such abuse of a minority would be backed by western powers.

The American entry into the peace process is another complicating factor.  The U.S. State Department's Bureau of South Asian Affairs manages the American representation in the Donor Group.  Assistant Secretary Christina B. Rocca currently heads the office.  Unfortunately for the Tamils, the United States’ misguided foreign policy on dealing with armed non-state actors disengages them from the Tamils.  The result of this is that the US view on Sri Lankan matters is almost always jaundiced towards the failed Sri Lankan state.  Christina Rocca’s statement to the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror after the EU travel ban reflects that view.  In it, the Assistant Secretary was quoted as saying that she "believed the ban would remain till the purpose of imposing it was achieved."  Her choice of words clearly imply that the US played a major role in twisting the EU’s arm to get the prohibition on travel passed.  From that perspective, Rocca's comment seems to be directed at the EU, pressuring them towards maintaining the ban in the event the EU came to realise the unfairness of it.

Compared to the LTTE, the contributions by the government of Chandrika Kumaratunga to the progress of the peace process have been nothing short of damaging.  If her forcing the collapse of the much-vaunted Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) proposal were not bad enough, she invited the extremist JVP to be a part of her government.  If those actions, by itself, were not telling about the character of her government and its psyche, one only has to look at its secret encouragement of the paramilitary attacks on LTTE combatants and un-armed supporters.  It does not end there.  The government has since proved incapable of resisting anti-Tamil pressure from the highly politicised southern Buddhist clergy and their extremist counterparts against the implementation the post-Tsunami P-TOMS aid-sharing agreement.  Instead of the EU reading the riot act to the Sri Lankan government for their consistent antagonism, their statement seemed to indicate those Sinhala racial views are now influencing it.  Instead of condemning the government over its lack of commitment to the peace process, the EU chose to highlight, out of context, what it called the LTTE's "continued use of violence."

Shadow war

The recognition that the LTTE is engaged in a shadow war to protect itself against attacks and murder by the paramilitaries of the Sri Lankan Army Intelligence is disgracefully absent from the statement.  Another point crucially missed is the fact that the Sri Lankan government has done nothing effective to disarm the paramilitaries operating inside its area of control, as clearly required in the ceasefire agreement.  This is a major violation of the ceasefire agreement, but was tolerated by the LTTE for the sake of maintaining peace.  The LTTE obviously would have to compensate for the security threat caused by that particular transgression and take pro-active measures to protect itself and its people.  This means engaging in a shadow war to confront the provocateurs and protect the security of its members and not, as the EU would put it, "continued use of violence." This reality was not been taken into consideration when the EU drafted the announcement.  If the Tamils are expected to take this statement in a positive light, the EU must be losing the plot.  It hardly seems to be a respectable opinion.

A clarification of perspective is needed here.  The EU and its allies still hold the power to impose bans and barriers, of varying nature, against the just freedom struggle of the Sri Lankan Tamils.  To do so would be morally reprehensible, but that would still be their prerogative.  If that were the path they chose to follow, it would totally defeat the noble intent for which they decided to participate in the peace process in the first place.

For the Tamils though, this is a war for freedom and the protection of their human rights.  This is non-negotiable.  What is negotiable is the framework in which these rights and freedoms are protected.  The Eelam war has been thrust upon the Tamils after all serious attempts, over the past decades, to conciliate with the Sinhala-controlled government failed.  This freedom is not as fickle as some might want it to be, to allow its’ abuse by unreasonable and misplaced western pressure.  If freedom from years of repression and persecution can be realistically negotiated with a genuine Sri Lankan state at the present time, then the peace process could progress towards benefiting all Sri Lankans.  If the Sri Lankan state is non-committal to such a process and pursues an antagonistic and uncooperative approach, then there may be a need to resume the war in the interest of bringing permanent peace to the island.  This would be to convince the state beyond any doubt, that the only way for peace is by a negotiated settlement, where the Tamils are equal and willing partners.  The current peace process, in its stagnated and deteriorating state for over 2 years, cannot be allowed to continue while the Tamils continue to suffer in a state of limbo.

An important point for the Tamils to realise is this - When 500,000 Tamils were displaced in one night and fled the slaughter of the Sri Lankan army behind them, they begged the international community for help.  Not one of the countries presently involved in the ceasefire raised a meek voice of reason then.  For around a decade since 1990, when the Tamil people were subjected to a barbaric embargo on food and medicines, the Tamils do not recall the Sri Lankan government being subject to any sanctions or travel bans.

Now, after the LTTE sent the Sri Lankan Army reeling in spectacular military offensives of the now-historic Operation Unceasing Waves and pulverised the "impregnable" Elephant Pass military complex, the Tamils of Eelam have at last, a voice that can be heard not only by the Sri Lankan government, but also the rest of the world.

Strong society

These military feats cannot and could not be executed by a weak society.  Behind them lie powerful military forces, perceptive planning and extraordinary men and women.  They have the capacity to wage and win high intensity battles and inflict heavy losses on an enemy with far greater firepower and resources.  It is this military strength and the huge hearts of resolve that underscore the Tamils' ability to survive and defend themselves against any violent attack on their lives, livelihood or homes.  It is this strength and the awareness of that strength that establishes respect for its freedom.  A respect that allows it to be treated with dignity and ensures that its freedom is welcomed and embraced - just as it would be for any western civilisation.

The statement by the EU underscores another fundamental point.  Weak societies can never be expected to easily establish their own free values and aspirations.  They would, in due course, be controlled, overwhelmed or ignored by stronger societies in preference of their interests.  History is a testament to this fact.  When a Tamil seeks peace with dignity, it should not be misunderstood as begging for concessions.  Our rights belong to no one except ourselves.  They are ours to claim, take and exercise when we wish to.  We have given peace and negotiation more than our fair share for over two decades and we continue to give it more than what we reasonably should.  This was repeatedly done to give the Sri Lankan government enough time to come to the negotiating table with an acceptable solution.  That does not seem to be happening and this pacifism of the Tamils, unfortunately, is being taken as a sign of weakness.

East Timor did not even register in the political parlance of western diplomats until it became impossible to ignore the brutal repression and scorched-earth campaigns of its Indonesian occupiers and their paramilitaries.  And even then, it was their close proximity to a "western" nation, Australia, which allowed East Timor to finally find freedom in 2002.  The availability of large East Timorese oil reserves, between its maritime borders with Australia, was possibly another motivating factor.

The Tamils enjoy no such significant natural resources, except the resilience and capability of their people.  It would be foolish to expect a powerful foreign country to back us just because it is the right thing to do.  There is, very rarely, such a thing in international politics.  They have to be given the right conditions to do so.  That means winning the war thrust against us by the Sri Lankan government.  With our acquired power over both territory and assets, friends will follow.  It should be apparent now, if it never was before, that the sole guarantee of survival and the security of the Tamil people is the military power of the LTTE.  This policy of military deterrence is our most effective tool in protecting our human rights and ensuring that we would never again have to endure the barbarism of July 1983.  No longer are we helpless as we were then.  Our ability to fight back with all available military power and expertise is the only realistic way to force the Sri Lankan government to arrive at a solution at the negotiating table. 

Nothing else, regrettably, seems likely to work.