Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Violence Begets Violence

The unheard cries

by Victor Ragunathan

"The United States cannot simply write off murder and systematic discrimination as an 'internal matter' when the country happens to be non aligned and is willing to say nice things about our country. We should be putting pressure on President Jayawardene to move to resolve the terrible, terrible divisions within his country...We must let the Sri Lanka government know that we will not tolerate a government that is in any way complicit in the killing of its own citizens." -- NYC Councilman Noach Dear, 1984

The recent cycle of violence in Sri Lanka has brought back some vivid memories of events in the mid-eighties. Ever since the Sri Lankan armed forces shot and blew up 75 Tamil civilians after herding into a building on May 9, 1985 in the Jaffna coastal town of Valvettiturai in an apparent retaliation for the killing of a [Sri Lankan] Army Major, unarmed civilians have become the pawns of this game.   A lull in actions against civilians was created by the signing of the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) with the help of the Royal Norwegian government in 2002. The last remaining hope of any negotiated settlement, however, has been shattered with the recent chain of events in which civilian deaths figure prominently.

In my posting titled "Ten Questions For Sinhala Nationalists," I asked them to check the dates of massacres, with the quotation in my concluding paragraph as “There is no justification for violence of any kind, but history tells me that state-sponsored massacres created the vicious cycle of massacres, as you may check the dates.”

Following the massacre in Valvettiturai on May 9, 1985, one or another of the Tamil militant groups decided to avenge those killed in the same cruel manner the military has taught them. They went to Anurathapura and killed nearly 120 unarmed worshipers. A new cycle of violence was created and no one will hold responsibility as  every man and woman, both young and old, are vulnerable targets; whether they live in the North or South, it does not matter.

Post-Geneva Climate

Following the talks in Geneva in February, 2006, both protagonists pledged to uphold the CFA and the government agreed to disarm the paramilitaries or alternative armed groups. The LTTE had submitted a detailed description of each of these armed groups, their handlers, phone numbers and names to the government delegation in Geneva.

The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), after signing the agreement, succumbed to pressure by the extremist elements back in its home turf. In contrast to this, the LTTE showed some patience and refrained from retaliating to any provocations for a long period, despite the facts that their members, sympathizers and Tamil civilians were killed in many unprovoked incidents.

First Turning Point

The local council election in the Trincomalae district was a rude awakening for both extremist Sinhala elements and some Tamil parties. Mr. Vigneswaran, who worked for the victory of Tamil National Alliance (TNA), was assassinated by paramilitaries in Trinco's high security zone.

Since the assassination of Mr. Vigneswaran, Trincomalae has been an inferno and India had to interfere at a diplomatic level, which somehow brought an uneasy peace locally.

Second Turning Point

After the Geneva talks in February, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) was assigned to give a field report of cease fire violations starting from the period between Geneva one and April 19, the date set for Geneva 2 talks. In the meantime, the SLMM interviewed and investigated many allegations of CFA violations and collected ample evidence to support that there are armed groups operating in the GoSL-controlled area. In addition, the out-going SLMM chief said that it is the government’s duty to maintain law and order in its area of control and for the LTTE to do the same in its area.

Mr. Aaron Lewis of Australia’s Special Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) aired a documentary featured the Karuna group paramilitaries in the East in the government-controlled area. After intentionally giving the interview to SBC, the paramilitary cadre called Pradeep denied that the Karuna group had ever shown their camps. A few days later, the LTTE ambushed and killed over ten members of the Karuna group. The wounded were admitted to the local hospital and the SLMM was denied entry to interview them.

The SLMM compiled a report for the Geneva 2 talks by April 2006 which are apparently cancelled. This report was released after the failed Oslo meeting. The report accused the government of being complicit with armed groups and gave details about their operations and interactions in the GoSL-controlled area. The government, which had some advance knowledge about this report abd knowing this will certainly discredit them in the international arena, sabotaged the LTTE from attending the Geneva 2 meeting. Geneva 2 never materialized. To give due credit, the LTTE also played into the government's hands by insisting on transport arrangements.

Turning Point Three

Ever since the Sri Lankan Army Chief, Sarath Fonseka, openly accepted that his tactics to take on LTTE sympathizers made the LTTE attend the Geneva 1 talks, he became a prime target of the LTTE. Prior to Geneva 1, countless civilians were killed and this was openly acknowledged by the Army commander that it was his tactics against civilians that brought the LTTE to the negotiating table for Geneva 1. The suicide bomber who targeted Gen. Fonseka had every hallmark of the LTTE, but what is puzzling the security establishments is who is she and how did she gain access to one of the highest security areas in the country. After the bomb blast in the army headquarters, to satisfy the hard-line Sinhala elite, the GoSL undertook an open war on the LTTE. Lacking precision weapons, coupled with lack of intelligence on the ground, the Sri Lankan Air force retaliation was on civilian targets, although their rhetoric asserted that the targets were 'LTTE posts.' They even missed targets and bombed the Government-controlled area and killed some Muslims.

Turning Point Four

When the sea-going rights of the LTTE’s naval unit were challenged, the LTTE decided to show the world they have every right and sufficient strength to use the sea adjacent to the Tamil Homeland. They staged their show of strength by attacking a Sri Lankan naval convoy. Contrary assertions in the Sri Lankan media, the LTTE’s prime target was not the 'Pearl' cruiser, but the fleet of other naval craft. This incident brought the new question “safety of the monitors.” A meeting was called between the GoSL and the LTTE to discuss the safety of the monitors along with the new developments in the European Union.

Civilian Massacres

While the peace process itself is 'resting' and the agreement to implement the CFA (signed in Geneva) has been shattered, the ground situation has turned from bad to worse. There have been countless civilians massacred in many places.

  • Puthur, April 18, 2006. 5 men were executed after being stopped at an SLA checkpoint.
  • Periyakulam, Vavuniya. May 03, 2006. 50 passengers barely escaped from a Claymore mine blast in LTTE-controlled area by SLA deep penetration unit.
  • Nelliaddy May 04, 2006. 7 youths were killed by RPG fire on their auto rickshaw they were traveling in.
  • Manthuvil Temple, May 07, 2006. 8 civilians went to the temple were missing and trail of blood was found.
  • Allaipidy May 13, 2006. 13 people including 4 month old infant and 4 year old boy with their parents while asleep.
  • Nedunkal, Vadamunai in Batticaloa district. June 07, 2006. 10 people including a 3 month and 8 month old infants were killed by SL army pressure mine.
  • Vankallai, Mannar. June 08, 2006. A family of 4 was tortured and killed and the mother of two was gang raped, tortured and killed in a gruesome manner.

With the exception of some human rights groups such as Amnesty International, the international community, including the European Union, USA and Japan - the co-chairs of the peace process - have remained tight-lipped about these atrocities.

The cries of the innocent and unarmed civilians have been unheard and buried with their souls. The Tamil community sees the other side of the so-called 'pragmatic' leader of the country, who happens to also be the commander of the armed services.

Warning of Retaliation

The People's Resurgence Force, suspected to be an arm of the LTTE-trained people's militia, issued a warning that retaliatory attacks on military targets will be intensified. It is a well known tactic practiced by the Israeli government to “hit where it hurts maximum” to retaliate for every act of violence. Unfortunately, such retaliation has only created a cycle of violence rather than peace. Use of this tactic raises the important question, WHO PULLED THE INITIAL STRING?   

As Trevor Fishlock of the London Times stated in December 1984, with emotions running high, the conflict has a strong element of propaganda and disinformation.   The government's case is that it is acting firmly against a terrorist threat to the country's integrity. But the Tamils, who form a fifth of the population, believe that the army is being used to subjugate them and to settle historic scores.

A similar sentiment was reflected by Councilman Noach Dear of the City of New York in 1984 when he said, "The United States cannot simply write off murder and systematic discrimination as an 'internal matter' when the country happens to be non aligned and is willing to say nice things about our country. We should be putting pressure on President Jayawardene to move to resolve the terrible, terrible divisions within his country...We must let the Sri Lanka government know that we will not tolerate a government that is in any way complicit in the killing of its own citizens."

Had the international community listened to the cries of the innocent civilians, and taken concrete measures to arrest the violence in the beginning, there would have many lives of innocent civilians, including children, saved. Instead, they elect to side with the government who is committing a shadow war on the LTTE and the Tamils. Inevitably, civilians on both sides became pawns in the game. Sadly, yet another vicious cycle has been started.

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