Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Most Frequently Asked Questions

on the Sri Lanka national conflict

by M. Nadarajan

The Editor of the Illankai Tamil Sangam recently asked me to write an update of the piece I wrote almost ten years ago on the most frequently asked questions on the Sri Lanka national conflict and answers to those questions. The original piece was published in the Sangam website. The questions and answers remain, unfortunately, much the same.

Ten years ago the questions most frequently asked were:-

1. Sri Lanka is a small island, why should you divide it ?
In addition to the answer given at the time, which was based on relative size compared to other nations, I may add that the desire to divide has nothing to do with size. The urge for their own space has to do with how Tamils have not been treated as Equals or with Justice and Dignity ever since independence over 58 years ago. To the contrary, the Tamils were made second class citizens with discrimination in every sphere of life, subject to communal attacks of genocidal proportions, and repeated incidents of state terrorism. Many have been subject to ethnic cleansing, carpet bombing, indiscriminate arrests, torture, rape, and killings, had their property destroyed and been displaced multiple numbers of times. Hundreds of thousands continue to live as refugees.

  • A recent article by a priest quoting TCHR shows 54,188 killings,
    25,292 disappearances (presumed killed) , 12451 rapes, and 3,107,709 multiple displacements in the Tamil Homelands due to the war.
  • A report by the UNDP says 59,000 war widows are living with relatives or in refugee camps in the Northeast.
  • The government still talks about 60,000 deaths in the war and the media quotes anything between 60,000 to 65,000. Anyone with some sense, and who accepts the number of LTTE cadres dead as nearly 18,000, and the security forces of at least the same (if not more), and adds the number of children and youth killed by shelling and bombing, would arrive at a figure of over 100,000 deaths. The highest number I have seen quoted is 80,000 by Ranil, Ex-Prime Minister and Tamilselvan of the LTTE. Why are people shy to quote a figure of over 100,000 deaths?
  • Ex-President Chandrika said that the Tamils had suffered so much that 800,000 had left the country as external refugees and over a million had became displaced multiple number of times. All this out of a total indigenous Tamil population of about 3.5 million.
  • A recent survey by NEHRP found that nearly 300,000 hoses were destroyed by war in the Northeast.
  • Many Government Agents (Chief Administrators) in Tamil areas are Sinhalese and Police Stations are manned mostly by Sinhalese who do not understand Tamil, making it difficult for locals to communicate.
  • The demography of the traditional homelands of the Tamil-speaking people  has been changed by planned mass state-aided colonization by Sinhalese.

After such atrocities and disruption of their society at the hands of their 'own' government, the Tamils are not prepared to live under that government any longer.

At one time Tamils were prepared to live in one country. The Federal Party and those who requested separation were defeated at elections. Subsequently, the Tamils voted overwhelmingly for the Federal Party and the party which stood for separation was soundly defeated. It was after several decades of non-violent demonstrations, after democratic attempts at redress failed,  and agreements entered into unilaterally were abrogated by governments on both sides of the aisle that the Tamils sought separation. 

Tamils gave a mandate to their representatives to ask for separation in 1976. At the Thimpu talks in 1985 Tamil representatives of all parties and militants mentioned that they would give up the demands for separation if their aspirations were met. Those aspirations were codified as (1) recognition of Tamils as a separate Nation (which they are), (2) recognition of Tamil Homelands (which was recognized explicitly in the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord) and (3) the right to Self-determination. The Tamils have been steadfast in their demands since then.

After the war started, it was the LTTE and not the government that declared unilateral cease-fires. Even after the signing of the Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) in 2002, when the government failed to implement several of the clauses of that CFA, to the surprise of most Tamils, the LTTE agreed in Oslo to consider a Federal type of solution as an alternative to separation. Ignoramuses amongst the Sinhalese and chauvinists speak about the' preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country,' which will be lost under a federal system. What about the innumerable countries which have a federal systems of government? Have they all lost their sovereignty and territorial Integrity?

2. Why do Tamils want to fight a democratically elected government? Cannot this problem be solved democratically? This was fully dealt with earlier in my earlier piece.

What is democracy? The Sinhalese government was elected by the Sinhalese, and the Tamil representatives by the Tamils.

3. Why not accept the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord?
Many sections of this Accord have not yet been implemented. In particular,
on the question of language, where it enshrined in the current constitution that 'Sinhalese shall be the official language and Tamil will also be an official language.' Why this difference in wording? In any case, the recognition of Tamil as an official language is only enforced in its breach.

4. Isn't the LTTE a terrorist organization?
This has been answered in full earlier. The LTTE is fighting a war of liberation. In all such wars the liberation fighters have been called terrorists - to be called saviors and fathers of the Nation after liberation. George Washington, Kenyatta, Ben Gurion are prime examples. One man's liberation fighter is another's  terrorist!

5. Has'nt the LTTE has killed civilians?
The government has killed many times more Tamil civilians. According to the Sangam's calculations, based on the government's own figures, 95% of civilian deaths have been caused by the Sri Lankan armed forces.

6. Has'nt the LTTE has indulged in ethnic cleansing?
Very little of this was done, and only in times of war due to fear of spying and a fifth column in their midst. Those who left have now been welcomed back, and many have returned. Some of those who have returned have even decided to contest local elections on the Tamil National Alliance ticket in this most recent election.

7. Does the LTTE have the support of the people?
This is what is asked by people who wish that the LTTE had little support. All kinds of lies are cooked up and spread through the media. Who then have the support of the people if not the lTTE? Is it the TNA who are supposed to be surrogates of the LTTE, or Douglas Devananda's EPDP, seven of whose nine elected members of Parliament polled less than 10 votes each in the 1995 Parliamentary election?

8. Will the LTTE ever give up fighting?
Of course they will. As pointed out earlier, it was they who declared unilateral Cease-fires. They have repeatedly said that they will give up fighting if the aspirations of the Tamils are met, not just because someone wants them to give up. They are concerned with bringing normalcy to the life of their Tamil people.

Much water has passed under the bridge during the ten years since the above questions were the most frequently asked.

The most frequently asked questions today are:-

  1. Why did the LTTE not let the Tamils vote for Ranil Wickramasinghe?
  2. Do you think that the LTTE should continue negotiations for peace?
  3. Are the LTTE recruiting child soldiers?
  4. Are the LTTE extorting money from expatiate Tamils? Are they extorting  money from Tamils in areas under their control?
  5. What kind of Federalism would the LTTE accept?
  6. Do you think that LTTE would accept the de-merger of the North and East?
  7. Do you think there will be a second round of talks in Geneva? Would it be successful?
  8. What do you think of the Muslim problem?


The answers to these questions, with my limited knowledge (since I do not know the thinking of the LTTE), are as follows:-

1. Why did the LTTE not let the Tamils vote for Ranil Wickramasinghe?
The LTTE did not ask Tamils not to vote for Ranil. They indicated that one
was not preferable to the other. They said that the voting is for a
Sinhalese president for Sinhalese. As far as the Tamils are concerned, it did
not matter whether "Raman ruled or Ravanan ruled." The LTTE were concerned only in solving the problem of the Tamils.

Ranil had been given enough time to solve the problem. He seemed to be concerned more in keeping the problem in suspense in a 'no war-no peace' situation. Many of the clauses of the CFA remained unimplemented. The lack was pointed out and Ranil either did not want to, or could not implement the required clauses. Even a suspension of talks after 2003 did not get any action. Ranil kept on telling his friends what he wanted to do, but did nothing. The questions of occupation of private houses rent-free by the army, occupation of High Security Zones which had some of the most fertile agricultural lands of Jaffna, continued cordon and search operations, the harassment of fishermen and the navy imposing rules at will as to when and where they can fish and the pass system, harassment of civilians at checkpoints, building of additional trenches, continued increased expenditure on defence did not give the confidence to the LTTE that Ranil was serious in solving the problem.

He also kept postponing the decision on the question of an interim administration.Even when the IPKF was in the country, then President Jayawardena agreed to an interim administration with 12 persons, of which 7 were to be LTTE nominees. Negotiating a problem, which had taken over five decades to solve permanently, would obviously take a very long time, and an interim administration is essential. Chandrika and Ranil had agreed on an interim administration. The LTTE had submitted an ISGA proposal. No decision was taken on it.

Mahinda, on the other hand, was an unknown quantity , thought to be more
pragmatic, though he had signed agreements with the extremist JVP and JHU, the LTTE probably thought they should give him a chance. They did not ask Tamils to vote for Mahinda either.

The last straw on the camel's back was when two senior ex-ministers in
Ranil's UNP cabinet, Messrs. Melinda Moragoda and Nalin Dissanayake
announced a few days before the general elections that it was the UNP that had engineered the spilt of Karuna from the LTTE and had helped him effect the split. There was earlier evidence that a Muslim UNP MP from the East had helped Karuna to get to Colombo in the former's personal vehicle. This person admitted it, and resigned from the UNP. The confirmation of assistance to Karuna by senior Ministers incensed Tamils. The LTTE did not have to tell them what to do or not to do.

2. Do you think that the LTTE should continue negotiations for peace?
Frankly, I personally think it is a waste of time unless Mahinda openly announces his change of views on the peace process. There is considerable pressure by the international community to go for peace talks. What can you negotiate with someone who says that he does not recognize a Tamil Homeland, does not recognize the right to Self-determination, and will not agree even to a Federal-type of solution? Mahinda also said in his election manifesto that he would abrogate the P-TOMS agreement to rehabilitate and reconstruct tsunami-affected areas in the Northeast which was signed between the government and the LTTE under pressure from the International Community. Mahinda cancelled the agreement -immediately on becoming President.

Mahinda had agreed with then President Kumaratunge before his nomination for election as president to:-
1. To continue with the Peace process.
2. To agree to the implement the P-TOMS Agreement
3. To agree to a Federal-type of government.
4. To continue with Norway as the facilitator.
After Mahinda was nominated, he signed agreements with the Marxist and chauvinistic JVP and JHU, the extremist and chauvinistic party of Buddhist monks. This was to win the election as president and he unashamedly said so, and naively said that what he would do after election is left to him. How does one believe such a person? He is now continuing with the Peace process and with Norway as facilitator.

Mahinda has annoyed his coalition partners who sit on the side of the opposition but vote with the government. They are going to contest the local elections as individual parties. They have indicated that they were going to give him trouble. In the meantime, he has fallen out with the previous President Mrs.Kumaratunga and had decided to sack some of his Ministers. He has somehow or other got CWC's Thondaman and UPA's Chandrasekaran, plus some members of the UNP and SLMC to his side by bribing them with offices. Political analysts are writing that after the elections to local bodies, he intends forming a national government with the UNP and ditching the current coalition partners. If he fails to do so he may think of calling for general elections.

3. Are the LTTE recruiting child soldiers?
Anti- LTTE Tamil groups and the government are intent on finding something
wrong with what the LTTE are doing. They have got some information and built up stories which cannot be proved , exaggerating, and, with the help of journalists and SL embassies abroad have gone on a massive propaganda action.

The LTTE have never denied that they had 'Child soldiers" in earlier times. Some of the LTTE cadres now in high positions in the organizations were once child soldiers. International covenants designate those less than 15 years of age as Child Soldiers. The UK and the USA admit that they visit schools and recruit children over 15 into their armed forces. The problem amongst Tamil children born after 1983, i.e. after Eelam War 1 started (those under 22 years of age), is that  most of them have no birth certificates.Their growth is stunted due to malnutrition. It is thus difficult to definitively determine their age.

Some of the names of children produced by UNICEF are those of married persons or those who have gone overseas. The UNICEF finally admitted that their figures were inaccurate. After this matter became an issue, the LTTE returned several thousands of children to their parents through UNICEF and NESOHR.

It has been admitted that in the east under ex-Col.Karuna, there was an excessive amount of underage recruitment. Over 1,600 of those children were returned. Even lately, after the Geneva talks, 20 such children were returned. It is not unusual for children who were returned to try to return to service.

I do not buy the idea that these were forcibly recruited.. There could be propaganda, some amount of coercion on the parents "to give at least one child for liberation," and there may have been some eager cadres who had gone about recruiting even after LTTE gave an undertaking, to get some"brownie points" from their seniors, but after the undertaking given by the LTTE any recruitment was against the wishes of the high command.

Can you imagine a child who was forcibly abducted going for training without
trying to run away at the earliest opportunity, or when armed, would turn around killing fellow fighters? Of course, psychologists may say that those children were brain-washed.

I will tell you a true story with which I am familiar. One of my nephews volunteered to join the LTTE early in the struggle. When the LTTE found out his background, that he was the only son in the family along with four daughters, they told him it would not be the right thing for them to recruit him. The parents were informed and his parents took him home.

Mr. Tamilselvan in Geneva mentioned various reasons why children volunteer. It could be due to poverty, inability to attend school, broken homes, those who became orphans due to the war, those who saw their family members killed, tortured, or raped in front of them, and, obviously, a few who are looking for the thrill and the adventure.

The Sinhalese crying out for the Tamil children is like the wolf crying that the goat  was getting wet. Could they for one moment think as to who created these situations for Tamil Children? Obviously, it is the armed forces that are almost exclusively Sinhalese.

What about the Sinhalese children? Why not worry about them first, like they do in most circumstances? Why not remove the mote from thy eye before you try to remove the mite from someone else's?

An article in a recent issue of the Daily Mirror mentioned that a National survey of children in 1999 (possibly no such survey has been done since) showed that 926,037 children were in some sort of economic activity. 234,618 of these did not attend schools at all, and 52% of all working children were under 15 years of age! The number in domestic service was estimated at 19,111, the majority of them girls. In many instances they were subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Children were  also used as prostitutes and the trafficking in male children is high, with estimates up to 30,000.

The National Children Protection Authority Act of set the minimum age for employment at 14, except for those employed in agricultural work by their parents or guardians. Despite legislation, child labor still exists mainly due to rural poverty. Web sites are purportedly advertising the availability of young children, both boys and girls, for sex. Another way of encouraging tourism I suppose! Physician heal thyself!

Before I leave this subject, you must wonder if it is these children in the LTTE  brigades that inflicted heavy losses on the armies of the Sri Lankan and Indian governments. Then Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne said, "When my army attacks them, the Boys Brigades would pee in their pants." The Indian High Commissioner, who set out to disarm the LTTE said, "Before I finish smoking this pipe, my forces would disarm them."

4. Are the LTTE extorting money from expatriate Tamils? Are they extorting money from Tamils in areas under their control?
I have lots of friends and relatives in different countries. These are the USA, Canada, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. I have been traveling to these countries to visit. Some of them are supporters of the LTTE., while others are not. To date, I have not heard from anyone that money was extorted from them under threat to them or their relatives in Eelam. Obviously, like any other political jurisdiction the LTTE needs money to run their administration and social services. They encourage people to give money and many do give, but they do not extract through threats. It is well known that Tamils are very careful with their money and in past years would only give to members of their families. This is no longer true.

As far as those who live in the Tamil Homelands, the LTTE need money to run the place. They levy custom duties and an exit tax. Beyond that, there is no such thing as income tax. The businesses make a lot of money , but pay no tax to the Sri Lankan government. They do ask people to pay something akin to income tax.

Tamils, as I mentioned earlier, find it hard to part with money and will find all sorts of excuses not to do so. They will obviously complain. There are, I am sure, no objections to their  moving  their businesses outside Tamil areas.

It must be remembered that the LTTE at one time obtained loans from people either in money or jewelry. They promised to repay the money and interest. They have done so regularly by choosing payees by lotteries.

5. What kind of Federalism would the LTTE accept ?
I am not in touch with the LTTE to indicate the type of Federalism they would accept. Obviously, there are various types of Federalism including that practiced in the USA and Australia, the Quasi -federalism of India, the Con-Federalism as in Switzerland, and the unwritten Constitution as in the U.K. While watching the Commonwealth games I found Scotland, England, and Wales contesting as different countries with different flags and National Anthems. They do so in other games as well. They have boundaries, while Scotland and Wales even have their own Parliaments. Scotland has a Reserve Bank which prints currency notes. The Canadian type of Federalism, where there are two equal languages, can also be looked at.

The LTTE has agreed to explore a Federal type of government with internal self- determination. Obviously, after all the recrimination that has gone on for so long, the loss of life, and destruction that has taken place, coupled with the lack of trust between the two parties, I would be surprised if they would accept anything short of Con-federalism.

There have been discussion about the JVP and the JHU supporting the Indian type of Federalism. Later the JVP said that they did not make that suggestion. The Indian type of Federalism is on a linguistic basis. However, the Governor of a State is appointed by the Central government and, under Section 356 of the Constitution, the central government can dismiss the Chief Ministers elected by the people of a State. Even to consider the Indian type of quasi-federalism,  those two provisions should be removed.

6. Do you think that the LTTE would accept the de-merger of the North and East?
There are already mumblings about de-merging of the North and East with a referendum to be held only in the East on whether they want to join the North. If a referendum is to be held, why not have one in the entire merged Northeast Province whether they want to remain merged. The National Patriotic Movement, made up of the extreme chauvinistic Marxist Party, JVP and the Buddhist monks' Party (JHU), along with some minor, opportunistic parties have met and made this proposal.

I would like to refer you to an article I wrote several years ago titled "Fait Accompli," also posted on the Tamil Sangam website, in which I pointed out that the Sinhalese governments had targeted changing the demography of the Eastern province by constant and repeated settlements of Sinhalese in the traditional Eastern  homelands of the Tamil-speaking people, called explicitly as such  in the Indo -Sri Lankan Accord of 1987.

Thereby the governments increased the Sinhalese population in the Eastern Province, according to the Department of Census and Statistics, from 4.2% in 1924, to 9.4% in 1947 (the year before independence), to a current figure estimated at 30%. Tamil leaders were naïve not to do anything about it except protest in Parliament.

There is a place called Manal Aaru (Sandy River in Tamil) which is the area where the erstwhile Northern and Eastern Provinces joined each other, providing the contiguity between the two provinces. During an early period of the war the government seized Manal Aaru and settled nearly 30,000 island reconvicted Sinhalese criminals and their families and taking over some big farms of the Tamils, thus deliberately breaking up the contiguity of the NorthEast. They renamed the area Weli Oya (also Sandy River in Sinhalese!). Additionally, they have tried their divide and rule policy by creating problems between Tamil-speaking Muslims and Tamil-speaking Hindus. They created and armed Muslim 'Home Guards' in the Muslim areas and encouraged them to attack Tamils. At one time the Muslims and Tamils, both Tamil speaking, had been living in amity for centuries in common areas or Muslim and Tamil areas located next to each other much like railway carriages. They were quite united and the majority of the Muslims took part in the 1961 Satyagraha ( non-violent demonstrations) against the Sinhalese government's policies. Muslims even contested Parliamentary elections on the Federal Party ticket and won. As a result of Sinhalese manipulation, the Muslims formed a party called the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress which joined whichever Sinhalese party was in power in exchange for ministerial positions. The Tamil-speaking Muslims in the erstwhile Eastern province are currently around 32% of the total population. Together with the current percentage of Sinhalese who expect the Muslims to vote with them, the Sinhalese feel they will outvote the Tamils on whether the Northeast Province should remain one or be split into two.

There are other considerations in the erstwhile Eastern  province. The area is very fertile and is often referred to as the granary of the island. The world famous deep sea natural harbor in Trincomalee and the ilmenite sands in Pullimoddai, from which titanium is extracted, are both in the East. Both India and the US would like to have access to these. In fact, an attachment to the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord specifies that India should be consulted before access is given to the harbor to any other country. The US would be happy to have a base as an alternate to Diego Garcia. India has already leased some oil tanks in Trincomalee. As you can see, the interest in the East is not only by national actors, but by international ones as well.

My personal opinion is that the LTTE would never agree to a division of the "Traditional Homelands" of the Tamil-speaking people.

7. Do you think that there will be a second round of talks? Would it be

All the signs are that there will be no second round of talks. Despite what had been agreed at the Geneva talks, the government has not been keeping to the agreement. Not only that, but their delegates come back and say that the CFA was amended.  There is akin  to an old Tamil saying, attributed someone who lost a wrestling bout, who said, "I may have fallen, but there was no sand on my moustache." What was agreed was that the CFA should be properly imposed. The government has allowed paramilitary forces to act not only in the East, but in the North as well, as if nothing had been agreed at Geneva. The armed forces themselves have taken part in attacks in some parts of the East, continue their cordon and search operations and harassment of fisherman,, and continue to occupy High Security Zone land and houses. Just because the government or the armed forces issue denials, it is like writing on water. The LTTE has the right to refuse to take part in any more talks. However, I rather think that there will be unjust international pressure on the LTTE to attend no matter what.

As to whether any talks would be successful depends not on the LTTE , but on the government. The government has to change its expressed views, be more truthful, change some of its negotiators, and remove those small minded people who go out of their way to remind people of the other side as to how low in life they started when they themselves were in higher positions. So much the better if some LTTE started out life in lowly positions. Some people are late developers and have sufficient talent to overcome unequal odds. The discipline and the absolute non-corruption in the Tamil Eelam police force has been admired so much that the IGP should have asked if he could send some of his men for training!

8. What do you think of the Muslim problem?
This is an unfortunate problem orchestrated by all the successive Sinhalese governments. The Tamils and Muslims are both Tamil speaking and there were and are many eminent Tamil scholars, poets and short story writers amongst the Muslim Tamils. At one time they were considered part of the Tamil-speaking people. They have been living together in the same areas. In some areas there are Tamil villages, followed by Muslim villages, followed by Tamil villages and so on. So much so that the Tamils and Muslims have been described as like the bamboo pittu with rice flour followed by coconut, followed by rice flour.

Many Muslims are descendants of Tamil converts and mixed marriages. Their problems have been no less than those of the Tamils. Tamils in a Tamil State would give equal rights to all those who wish to remain in the State, whether they be Sinhalese, Tamils, or Muslims. There is no plan to do ethnic cleansing. Those who want to leave could leave.

Muslims have been asking for self determination. Tamils who have been at the receiving end of discrimination would understand that. I believe that the Tamils would, to the extent possible, give self determination, if that is what the Muslims want. My view ( I do not know if the LTTE would agree to it) is that, if they want to leave the Tamil State, we should agree. They could be on their own, or join one of the adjacent Sinhalese states.

This could be done in a civilized manner, unlike the partition of India when millions died and billions of dollars worth of property destroyed. Fortunately there are no big buildings involved. It would mostly involve transfer of land. A Commission including Sinhalese , Tamils and Muslims should be involved inthe valuing of land transferred from Tamils to Muslims and vice versa. The amounts should be paid to the sellers by the prospective buyers. Some money may be given to the Commission for distribution where necessary. There should be a time limit for the Commission to complete is work.

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