Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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The Shadow War and the Culture of Killing

by V Gunaratnam

The killing must stop. That is the silent cry of Tamils and Sinhalese everywhere. Fear must not rule people’s lives. It is the emotion flooding people’s minds after the recent killing of two principals of eminent institutions of learning in Jaffna. These killings have sent shivers down the backs of the people in the NorthEast. From a young age as children we learn that killing is against our religion, beliefs, values, and indeed the law, yet in Sri Lanka we wake up to news of violence and death everyday.

But the day the government lives up to its responsibilities to render justice to its Tamil citizens that will be the day the culture of violence will come to an end, freeing the nation of this scourge.

What makes this news so hard to take for the Tamils is because education, teachers and administrators who dedicate their lives to our young ones, are so near to our hearts. Education is in a sense like our lifeblood that has contributed so much to our rise and eminence in this world. But hard as it is, we must address the problem.

Understanding the Political Context

A sensible way forward is to try and understand the realities of the political context in which we find ourselves, and its other dimensions, to give us a grasp of what is going on.

The peace process is in limbo. Not everything is under our control in the NorthEast because of the immensely difficult situation in which the Sri Lanka armed forces and so many other hostile forces are operating. This situation is intensified by the shadow war the government is conducting under cover of the ceasefire, using disaffected Tamil groups, paramilitary units, and mercenaries, like the Karuna faction, EPDP, PLOTE and others, armed, funded and protected by the government.

The armed men operate everywhere to do their dirty work of influence peddling, bribing, sabotaging, bombing and killing, with safe passage to sanctuaries in government-controlled areas. This is a serious violation of the ceasefire agreement that requires the government to neutralize all paramilitary and other groups, but which it is not doing for obvious reasons.

Damaging Shadow War

It is an ugly war, political maneuvering in another form, to disrupt the peace process, destabilize the NorthEast, turn the clock back, and return the country to the status quo before the Ceasefire Agreement. Having failed to subdue the LTTE in war, the government is trying to destroy them with lies, misinformation and propaganda, by painting them as unrepentant terrorists, human rights violators, and linking them to ceasefire and other violations.

Since Karuna’s defection and disclosure of vital information about the LTTE’s military and political disposition to the Sri Lanka armed forces, the shadow war has intensified and spread to the north, and even Colombo.

This shadow war is damaging to the LTTE, because like Hitler’s propaganda minister Goebbles said, "If you tell a lie enough times, it becomes accepted as truth, …" The EU’s travel restrictions on the LTTE is an example. Sri Lanka’s “asymmetrical relationship” with the LTTE also favours the government in a world of sovereign states, a ‘club’ mentality that is not easily altered.

The LTTE is already addressing this growing threat, by inviting human rights organizations to see what is going on in their regions. By giving human rights a place in the ISGA, the LTTE has also demonstrated their evolving character and integrity in dealing with the political process they are pursuing.

Fallout from Subversive Acts

Trouble starts when people allow themselves to be enticed into doing subversive work for the government or its mercenary elements for a bundle of cash, a supposedly altruistic purpose, a political end, or fulfilling a personal agenda.

Damage is done when these acts undermine our security, undo valuable work previously done, or result in a political setback for the Tamils, with very serious consequences for the many, because of a few individuals meddling with very complex and charged political circumstances.

By their very nature, these acts or crimes cannot be effectively prevented, policed, or detected. Even the ceasefire monitors are helpless to do anything because these crimes fall outside their mandate. It is the Sri Lankan government’s responsibility to disarm these subversive elements under the ceasefire agreement, but it fails to do so.

Quite often the fallout from subversive activities can be tragic and, on a personal level, an intensely sorrowful experience, when it results in people getting killed. The public never gets to know what lies behind these violent happenings, though we are never short of rumors or rumour-mongers to point fingers. But we need to understand not just what meets the eye, or allow painful emotions to cloud our perception. We must ask why any of this is happening at all.

The Sri Lankan government uses Tamils to infiltrate our ranks, imperil our security, and set Tamil against Tamil, and, when this happens, those who allow themselves to be used cannot hope to escape falling victims to their designs when things go wrong, whatever their motive.

These are the imperatives of war. Can we allow our gains to be destroyed, piece by piece, by forces inimical to our interests and who undermine the common good?

Role of Tamils in the NorthEast

We have placed our faith in the LTTE, and given them the task of negotiating a political solution as our sole representatives, and no one else. If we are to stick to this resolve we have to implicitly stand by them.

Let us not forget their indomitable spirit, dedication, discipline, tenacity, guts, loyalty, shrewdness, fighting ability and, above all, the sacrifice in lives they have made in our cause. They continue to stand like a rock against the might of the Sinhala state, as they have done for the last twenty years. We cannot tolerate another Karuna interfering with the political process.

No one who does not by his own actions, betray, compromise, or harm the Tamils, need fear anything. They should not be fooled by promises of political salvation, reward, cash, aid, position, protection, or even veiled threats, when we already have everything going with the LTTE. Just staying away is enough to keep one out of trouble.

Sinhala Intransigence

The Sri Lankan government has kept the Tamils in limbo for nearly sixty years and defied every attempt at reaching a just settlement. They never kept their word, or their pledges, and their agreements were worthless pieces of paper.

Why talk about child soldiers, killings, human rights, religion, the economy or anything else, to obfuscate matters, when everything could be made to disappear with one stroke of the pen, with one just accord with the Tamils? Even today we see the clock being turned back again by feeble-minded presidential candidates caught in the mess left behind by Kumaratunga.

Wickremesinghe is stuck with his 2002 position. Rajapakse seems to have suffered total amnesia, unable to recall his own words as prime minister, endorsing the ceasefire, peace talks and the federal basis for a solution. Kumaratunga, the political prima donna, is like a punctured balloon now, fluttering about helplessly before the air goes out her system completely.

A Moral Dilemma

Having considered everything, we are still left with residual questions about the conflict, tsunami, suffering, death, and destruction of our homeland. How do we come to terms with them? How do we deal with our doubts? How do we know which way to go? How do we test our faith? This is the moral dilemma we are facing.

The culture of killings is one troubling aspect of the life we are enduring in the NorthEast, but one burning thought surpasses everything else - our survival. So many nightmarish years have gone by without even the barest signs of a real solution. The government has had nearly sixty years to arrive at one, but has squandered every minute of it, and allowed the Tamil problem to become the monstrous beast it is today.

Sri Lanka as the sovereign state holds the power in its hands to make the critical difference. Not one more drop of blood needs to be spilled if this wisdom finally starts permeating their thinking. But we must not despair.

We have each to resolve our moral dilemma by ourselves, giving thought to the awareness created here, and knowing our present crisis is exceptional, without precedent, an intensely difficult one, yet we must go forward.