Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Shadow War in Sri Lanka

The Paramilitary Role

by R. Cholan

“The Tamil paramilitary groups shall be disarmed by the GOSL by D-day + 30 at the latest...

- Section 1.8 of the of the Ceasefire Agreement [22 Feb 2002]

In the tit-for-tat violence and killings of the last several months in the northeast Sri Lanka, the only blameless parties are the government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Sri Lankan armed forces (SLA). It is a clash between the LTTE and the ‘other’ Tamil groups, and the GOSL and the SLA have nothing to do with it.

At least, this is the message one gets reading the English language media in Sri Lanka. Reams of newspaper are wasted propagating this myth, and the English educated Sinhala elite are lapping it all up, with not a murmur of critical response. If this is what the Sinhala elite are doing, imagine what the Sinhala rural folks, reading their monolingual newspapers, must believe.

The ‘other’ Tamil groups

Who are these ‘other’ Tamil groups? Who finances them? Who arms them? Who provides them sanctuary?

“Oh, don’t you know? There is a large anti-LTTE Tamil constituency out there and they support these groups”, is the Sinhala response. Wishful thinking, with absolutely no grounds for this assertion, but that doesn’t dissuade them from making the claim.

Take for example the case of Karuna Amman, the discredited former LTTE cadre, who is being lionized by the Colombo press as the commander of the eastern ‘faction’ of the LTTE. As Sachi Sri Kantha has shown in a recent article, Karuna has no clout even in his own electorate of Kalkudah, let alone the entire east he claims to dominate. Sri Kantha showed, with statistics from the 2005-Election, that Karuna could neither get people in Kalkudah to reject the LTTE/TNA advice on the election, nor could he influence those who went to the polls to vote for the candidate he recommended. His influence in his own electorate is zip, zero. It is no wonder that he doesn’t even live there anymore.

Douglas Devananda’s connection to the people of Jaffna, the district he purportedly represents in the parliament, is even more dismal. Devananda is the leader of the paramilitary group EPDP. His hideout in Colombo was recently described by Philip Gourevitch (Tides of War-After the tsunami, the fighting continues; The New Yorker; August 8, 2005):

“… I had an appointment to visit the Minister of Hindu Religious Affairs, Douglas Devananda, at his home office, a fortified compound on a quiet residential byway in central Colombo. The entry to the street was guarded by soldiers, who tugged aside a metal barricade to let me pass through an elaborate roadblock… His home was hidden behind high walls posted with watchtowers and an iron gate piled high with sandbags and blockaded by oil drums filled with concrete. As I approached on foot, a narrow shutter slid open in the gate, and two eyes and a nose appeared in the window. “American?” a voice asked, and I was admitted...

…half dozen fidgety young men wearing submachine guns were huddled in the entryway. One led me through a labyrinth of short hallways that switched this way and that at ninety-degree angles. There were more men with guns at every corner. Outside, rain was threatening, and the air in Devananda’s den was heavy with dampness. As we progressed, the smell of mildew grew stronger, and mold stains claimed ever larger patches of wall. We passed a screened-off antechamber filled with parakeets, an atrium with a blue-tiled carp pond, and a dim room filled with tropical vegetation, where a chattering monkey sat on a rock clutching a gnawed orange. Finally, we reached a door studded with deadbolts, which clicked open by remote control from within, and there, at the back of a long, wide, windowless room, cluttered with furniture and stacked with papers, Devananda sat behind a desk…”

And yet, the Sinhala journalists and analysts want us to believe that these men-in-hiding are real ‘leaders’, who command the adoration of the Tamil people, and that their followers live freely among the Tamil people and fight the LTTE. My question to these journalist hacks is: “what are you smoking these days?”

For heaven’s sake please, let us all as Sri Lankans, not fool ourselves and at least agree on this. These men are no leaders and they don’t have a base or a following. What they have is a bunch of likeminded gangsters, who are in it together for personal profit and some cheap thrill.

Section 1.8 of the CFA

The one and only reason for the existence and the survival of these armed groups is the refusal of the GOSL to honor one key clause of the ceasefire agreement (CFA) of 22 February 2002.

Section 1.8 of the CFA reads:

The Tamil paramilitary groups shall be disarmed by the GOSL by D-day + 30 at the latest. The GOSL shall offer to integrate individuals in these units under the command and disciplinary structure of the GOSL armed forces for service away from the Northern and Eastern Province. [Emphasis added]

This should have happened by the 24th March 2002. But to this day, nearly four years later, GOSL not only refuses to comply, but actually recruits, funds, arms and protects these gangsters. If not for this prop, these men would have neither the motivation, nor the means and resources, to operate inside the northeast. These groups are nothing but mercenaries who work for the money Sri Lanka government doles out, and for the power and thrill of holding a gun or a grenade in their youthful, misguided, hands.

Anyone who doubts the SLA involvement should look at the case of the two paramilitaries, Puhalventhan and Gnanatheepan, who surrendered to the LTTE on December 6, 2005. The two have said that the Karuna Group to which they belonged was attached to a Sri Lankan Special Task Force (STF) camp in the area, from which the group conducted raids on Muslim and Tamil villages. If this is a Tiger invented story as Sinhalese are wont to believe, why were two sisters of Puhalventhan, Yogeswary and Vathany, gunned down just a day after his defection.


The existence of wannabe collaborators in any community is nothing new in human history. During WW-II, the reputedly united England had its own citizens spying for the Nazis. The Hindu newspaper group collaborated with the British against the Indian freedom movement. All nations have had their fair share of turncoats. It is, in fact, in human nature for some individuals to act against their own communities for selfish reasons in times of turmoil and stress, and especially when there is a profit to be made.

John Stuart Mill, on ‘resistance’ against governments in his treatise on Representative Government (1861), wrote:

“Even if all are aggrieved, none feel that they can rely on the others for fidelity in a joint resistance; the strength of none is sufficient to resist alone, and each may reasonably think that it consults its own advantage most by bidding for the favour of the government against the rest.”

The poverty stricken and ill-educated youth of the northeast, who were reduced to this state in the first place by decades of discriminatory policies of the GOSL, are an easy prey.

But for the GOSL to exploit them at this juncture, when there is a peace initiative in progress, is immoral. It goes against the spirit of the peace process, unless of course, wrecking the peace process is their ultimate aim. Actually, Sinhala behavior so far, since the CFA was signed, makes one think that this may in fact be their goal.

Sinhala Political Action

While vocalizing support for the peace process (for international consumption), Sinhala leaders have done little to actually advance it.

After the CFA was signed (for which Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe was amply criticized), nothing was done to promote the peace. There was no public education on the benefits of a peaceful resolution. After agreeing to a Sub-Committee on Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs (SIHRN) nothing was done to implement it. After agreeing to explore federalism as a possible solution, nothing was done to promote this concept among the Sinhala masses.

In fact, what was done is the exact opposite. Massive demonstrations against the Norwegian mediators, vigorous propaganda against federalism, take-over of key ministries in the peace process by the President on the pretext of ‘national security’, and so on and so forth.

It is in this milieu that the existence of the so called paramilitaries, or the ‘other groups’ must be viewed and understood. If anyone believes that these paramilitaries are functioning without the support of the Sri Lanka government and the Sri Lanka armed forces, they are indeed hallucinating.

The sophomoric thinking in the Sinhala ruling circles seems to be – use the Tamil paramilitaries to conduct a ‘shadow-war’ and hope like hell that the LTTE resumes fighting. Like the ignoramus padre Bandaranaike who un-bottled the racist genie in 1956, for which all Sri Lankans are still paying, these folks don’t have any idea what they can unleash this time.

If the Sinhala people sincerely desire peace with the Tamils they need to demonstrate their sincerity. First order of business: tell their government to call off the paramilitary cur.