Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Rajapakse Cooking His Own Goose

by V Gunaratnam, November 16, 2006

It’s ironic that in Rajapakse’s celebrations to mark his first year in office, he has nothing to distinguish his presidency other than the blood of the Tamil civilians spilled in Sampur, Muthur, Puttvil, Sencholai, Muhamalai, and Killinochi (hospital), foreshadowing the A-9 closure, the Vaaharai bombing and the recent brutal assassination of MP Nadarajah Raviraj and his bodyguard and others, too many to be all listed here

There is a well known proverb that says, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” That’s how we’ll be regarded trying to hazard an opinion about where Sri Lanka is headed and a peace process that many pundits say is very dangerously close to grinding to a halt and igniting a full scale war.

What is there left to talk about a CFA that’s already in tatters, the mushrooming violence, the daily toll of Tamil lives, or the government-made humanitarian crisis gripping the north by the A-9 highway closure? And what can we say about a heartless president to whom 625,000 starving Tamils in the north, his citizens no less, q43 just a political ploy?

It may be madness to be trying to read the tea leaves in this volatile situation, but it is human nature to be venturing forward and meeting this challenge, because it has its values!

Peace Talks Crash         

Everything that was not supposed to have happened in Geneva happened, leaving the peace process in a shambles. Even the slim hopes Tamils had that the talks were going to lead to something tangible were dashed when Sri Lanka invented all sorts of spurious reasons to justify its closing of the A-9 highway, the arterial lifeline to the people of the north.

Sri Lanka deliberately undermined the talks by its action, creating a deadly humanitarian crisis, and fooling the world into thinking it was seeking a peaceful resolution to the crisis, knowing well that the humanitarian plight of the people would force the LTTE to demand the reopening of A-9 as a pre-condition for future talks.

Humanitarian crisis

Highway A-9 had always remained open, ever since the CFA was signed in 2002. The SLMM did not waste time in declaring the closing a violation of the CFA, but the closing's aftermath was also a breach of the Geneva Conventions. However, Sri Lanka proved once again that it cared little for the trapped, starving, and suffering Tamils, cut off from food, medicine, fuel, schools, hospitals, and a livelihood.

The distressed Tamils are only now getting trickles of the urgent supplies of food and medicines promised to them by the sea route. But the government is in no hurry to rush enough supplies to ease their plight by even temporarily opening the A-9 to relieve the crisis, while the logistics of sea transportation were being worked out.  

Merchant of death         

President Rajapakse took power with his 'Mahinda Chintanaya,' and has been beating the life out of Tamils ever since, with the SLA and paramilitaries seemingly given carte blanche to crackdown on Tamil civilians: kill, terrorize, starve, and drive them from the sanctuary of their homes.

Rajapakse came to power with the laudable goal of finding a way to end the conflict, however improbable it might have seemed under his 'Chintanaya,' which held nothing for the Tamils. But any hopes the people had for peace and a dialogue to find a way forward soon disappeared like a mirage.

What we have today is a merchant of death, in the form of a president who is presiding over a veritable death squad called the SLA that has accounted for so many disappearances, assassinations, and deaths under his watch, a president who has failed miserably to protect his Tamils citizens that he had sworn to care for and protect.

It’s ironic that in Rajapakse’s celebrations to mark his first year in office, he has nothing to distinguish his presidency other than the blood of the Tamil civilians spilledd in Sampur, Muthur, Puttvil, Sencholai, Muhamalai, and Killinochi (hospital), foreshadowing the A-9 closure, the Vaaharai bombing and the recent brutal assassination of MP Nadarajah Raviraj and his bodyguard and others, too many to be all listed here.

But there is more. An obliging judiciary is doing its part and playing politics with him. Rajapakse himself has assumed powers he does not have, like declaring that six agreements between the LTTE and the UNP are being jettisoned because “The President …has his own theory on this…,” as if everything was written on water. It’s frightening to think that Sri Lanka is being ruled by presidential fiat.

Our immediate concern is the violence being heaped on the Tamils, especially since Rajapakse became president. He probably sees violence as the only way to foist his 'Chintanaya' on the Tamils, by breaking their resistance, and bringing the LTTE to its knees. And to that end, he is trying to project all the blame for the violence on the LTTE to justify the government’s pre-emptive strikes as ‘defensive’ action, even if it means breaching the CFA. 

CFA violations          

For Sri Lanka to keep on harping that the LTTE is the cause of all the violence is just propaganda which has a gaping hole in it. It does not make sense, because the LTTE has no reason to violate the CFA. It already controls enough territory to want to expand by breaching the ceasefire, and hurting its own cause, in the face of calls from the Co-chairs to stop the violence and resume the peace talks.

If the LTTE has engaged in any fighting, it has been to defend ordinary Tamil being constantly targeted by the SLA and paramilitary death squads, or to stop SLA incursions into its territory. Dispassionate observers of the Sri Lanka scene, like the UN and the international media, are also seeing it the same way today. 

On the other hand, the hat fits Sri Lanka perfectly. It is the government that is exploiting the dearth of monitors to carry out incursions into LTTE territory under the guise of making ‘defensive’ pre-emptive strikes against the LTTE, trying to tilt the military balance in their favour and weaken the LTTE’s bargaining position, in the event peace talks become inevitable at a future date or it decides to bypasses the peace talks in an attempt to force a devolution package on the LTTE.

No going back

As far as the Tamils are concerned there is no going back in time now, because too much sacrifice has been made in blood and tears, a devastation so terrible it cannot be erased from their collective memory. The experience has become inextricably linked to what they are yearning and fighting for. The 1983 genocide was the defining moment, the shock that finally turned their quest into a forlorn hope in a Sri Lankan society that was getting virulently radicalized by Sinhala extremism.

Iniquity of asymmetry

What is shielding Sri Lanka is its status as a nation-state. They have exploited it for all it's worth, knowing that in a world full of nation-states they almost always enjoy their favour over non-state entities like the LTTE. It is the very reason why Sri Lanka is acting with such impunity against the LTTE and the Tamils, to kill and destroy in the name of sovereignty.

But there are limits to international tolerance and consequences to suffer when some imaginary lines are crossed as is happening in Sri Lanka today. Flagrant human rights abuses and violence against the Tamils in recent months have been exposed by the international media, and triggered widespread condemnation of the government by many countries.

It has reached the point when the Co-chairs have to demand a fundamental course change by Sri Lanka.

Politics of denial

But there is a problem, the 'Mahinda Chintanaya,' the albatross Rajapakse hung around his neck, anchoring him to Sri Lanka’s contentious unitary constitution. As everyone from the Tamils to the Co-chairs knows, there is virtually no chance of anything with the ‘unitary’ word in it ever going to lead to an accord.

Against this the Co-chairs have suggested a federal framework as the basis for a solution, but up to now Sri Lanka has not moved an inch in this direction. As a matter of fact, they have never put anything on the table for the Tamil and the world to consider, knowing well the one track unitary state solution would only invite international outrage, which could prove decisive and set the Tamils free to go their own way!

But the Sinhalese have continued to live in denial, refusing to recognize the Tamils as equals, or do anything meaningful to talk to them and find a way forward to a resolution. They only have this proclivity for violence as an answer to the Tamil question, unable or unwilling to make rational decisions to come to terms with them.

Rajapakse and all the other Sinhalese leaders before him have never accepted that Tamils have the same fundamental rights like them: to exist as a distinct people in their traditional homeland, managing their own affairs, and “entitled to respect for their life, their dignity, their personal rights and their political, religious and other convictions.”

It is not as if the Tamils were crying for something the Sinhalese didn’t already have. It’s the same basic right enjoyed by people everywhere in the democratic world.

Co-Chairs and India: a last resort

Despite the words of warning by Erik Solheim in Geneva, it is unlikely the Co-chairs would withdraw from the peace process after investing so many years of effort in it. Norway’s report to the Co-chairs and India on the abortive last Geneva talks would no doubt call for firmer action to rein in the violence and get the peace talks back on track.

But obviously more than strictures are needed to get Sri Lanka to honour its obligation to the peace process, because nothing seems sacrosanct to Rajapakse, not previous government pledges, agreements or any of the conclusion of meetings under international aegis in all the years leading up to the present. The immediate concern is the absolute need to put a firm stop to the violence, and the reopening of the A-9.

However, at the heart of everything is power devolution to the Tamils and their homeland. Nothing is going to come out of the all-party conference which is a sham, foreordained to fail as far as the Tamils are concerned, because no one expects it to stray outside the limits circumscribed by the 'Mahinda Chintanaya,' and deliver anything but an offer in the regalia of the unitary state or a thinly disguised version of it.

Some firm action is therefore urgently needed, which can only come from the Co-chairs and India. They have to do their damnedest to call Sri Lanka to account and get them to make honest endeavours to reach a settlement with the Tamils. There is no question that the present debacle is a direct consequence of the international players not doing enough to pressure Sri Lanka to come up with the goods.

Any discerning observer would know it is Sri Lanka that holds sway over what to concede to the LTTE in a power sharing arrangement, including territorial questions, which would finally decide how the conflict with the LTTE gets resolved.

But if it is going be another demonstration of Rajapakse’s madness to abandon the civilized route and opt for the irrationality of war, it would be very unfortunate, indeed tragic, and the choice for the Tamils would then have been made by him, setting off the inevitable chain of events for the Tamils to determine their own fate!

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