Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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The Price of Peace in Sri Lanka

International Obligations vis-a-vis the LTTE Leader's Heroes' Day Speech

by Satheesan Kumaaran

The peaceful, Gandhian, non-violent methods of appeals, protests and demands were met with violence in the form of state-sponsored pogroms carried out by hooligans and thugs assisted by the state security forces. A culture of immunity allowed the armed forces to unleash terror with impunity. The Tamil leadership at that time was only demanding federalism within a united island...

Tamil militancy arose out of helplessness and desperation in the face of state terrorism. 

The current political, military, and economic crisis in Sri Lanka has pushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to resume armed struggle once again against Sinhala forces that are in occupation of Tamil Eelam, the traditional homeland of the Tamil people. The move is a last resort, designed to create an independent state of Tamil Eelam, in the mango-shaped island strategically located in the Indian Ocean. The conflict has caused the people of the island to pay a heavy price, in terms of protracted suffering and loss of lives, ever since 1956.

The LTTE has been waging a war since the early 1980s to liberate the Tamil homeland from the clutches of the occupying Sinhala armed forces. It has offered the Sri Lankan government to come up with an acceptable, alternative solution with respect to their demand for self-rule, under the principle of internal self-determination which falls short of a separate state of ‘Tamil Eelam’.

Unfortunately, the response has been unmitigated state violence aimed at crushing the Tamil freedom struggle.

After independence from the British in 1948, the democratically elected Tamil leadership, realizing the futility of Tamils sharing power with the Sinhala-dominated governments, fought for the rights of the Tamils through peaceful, democratic means. Soon it became evident that democratic struggles against the injustices and atrocities of Sinhala governments were proving to be a sterile exercise.  The peaceful, Gandhian, non-violent methods of appeals, protests and demands were met with violence in the form of state-sponsored pogroms carried out by hooligans and thugs assisted by the state security forces. A culture of immunity allowed the armed forces to unleash terror with impunity. The Tamil leadership at that time was only demanding federalism within a united island.

The defenseless Tamils had to survive countless acts of genocide, instigated and abetted by the Sri Lankan governments. It took time before the international community became aware of these genocides. The 1983 genocide, resulting in the deaths of over 3000 Tamils in the capital of Sri Lanka alone, opened the eyes of the international community.

After the 1983 genocide, Tamil youths became active and, in order to create an independent state, took up arms against the Sri Lankan government. Tamil militancy arose out of helplessness and desperation in the face of state terrorism.  Tamils, for obvious reasons, have overwhelmingly supported the LTTE in its demand for an independent Tamil state after getting disillusioned with the conventional kind of leadership which took them nowhere. The support of the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Diaspora is evidenced by the way the LTTE leader’s annual Heroes' Day speech, made on 27 November of every year, is received with much fanfare.

The ‘Great Heroes Day’ speech given by the LTTE leader on November 27, 2005 was especially significant when he gave the newly-elected Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapakse, a year's time to find a peaceful settlement.  It must be recalled that, after the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE entered into the cease-fire agreement in 2002, there was sporadic violence, but the CFA prevailed. 

Violence escalated after Mahinda Rajapakse took office. He appointed Major General Sarath Fonseka, a hardliner soldier sidelined by president Chandrika Kumaratunga, [Wickremesinghe?] as army chief. He also appointed his brother Gothabaya Rajapakse, another hardliner, as Defence Secretary. Not satisfied, he appointed his brother Basil Rajapakse and retired DIG H.M. G. Kotagadeniya as defence advisors.

Ranil Wickremesinghe's government, instead of pulling out the armed forces occupying homes, hospitals, schools and temples in the Northeast according to the terms of the CFA, strengthened the armed forces by creating High Security Zones (HSZs), which take up one third of Jaffna's territory. Chandrika Kumaratunga dismissed key Ministers and took over their portfolios, to preclude discussion of the Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) and accusing Prime Minister Wickremesinghe of going soft on the LTTE. Killings of Tamil parliamentarians, journalists, LTTE supporters, and Tamil civilians have become common day-to-day occurrences over the past year.

The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami was another example where Tamils living in LTTE-controlled areas in the Northeast were blatantly discriminated against, although more than 20,000 people perished and tens of thousands of people were rendered homeless. Former US Presidents George Bush, Bill Clinton and Secretary General of the UNO Kofi Annan, who visited Sri Lanka, were not allowed to visit these areas on the pretext of security concerns. The international community demanded that the Sri Lankan government set up a joint mechanism, to be called the Provisional Tsunami Operational Management Structure (PTOMS) agreement, whereby international assistance could be equitably distributed to the affected areas. However, PTOMS was scuttled by a politicized Supreme Court. The Kumaratunga government thereafter failed to cure the defects in the agreement to make it functional.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, who came to power with the support of chauvinist Sinhala Buddhist parties like the Jathika Hela Urumaya comprising Buddhist monks, and an extremist Sinhala nationalist party, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) professing to be Marxists, embracing a North Korean brand of Maoism. Rajapakse is now a prisoner of this political alliance. Rajapakse's escalation of violence includes the escalation of intense military operations against civilian targets from land, sea and air operations.

It is in this context that the international community and Tamils all over the world were eager to hear what the LTTE leader had to say in his annual ‘Heroes Day Speech’ on November 27, 2006. He stated that his people had lost faith in the Sri Lankan (Sinhala) leaders, since they would not offer the Tamils a peaceful solution.

Instead, Prabakaran noted, the Sri Lankan government was waging a two-pronged war against the Tamils; one military and the other economic.  In fact, the economic embargo imposed on the Tamils by the Sri Lankan Sinhala leaders has left over 650,000 Tamils in Jaffna without adequate food and medicine. Attacks in the east, in violation of the CFA, have resulted in over 200,000 Tamils being displaced.

Prabakaran's message to the international community and the Tamils around the world was that, since the peaceful efforts of the LTTE during the recent past had borne only bitter fruit, he had no option but to continue the same path his movement and his people embarked in the early 1980s. This has been interpreted by the Sri Lankan government as a declaration of war.

Pirapaharan asked: “Six years have passed since we dedicated ourselves to find a solution to the ethnic conflict through peace talks. In this long time span, has a solution been found to the vexed Tamil national question?”  The Tamils have no faith that Sinhala polity can address the Tamil national question in a just manner.

In his second question he asks: Is there any visible change in the mindset of the Sinhala leadership that continues to inflict unrelenting cruelty on the Tamil people?  The psyche of the Sinhala politicians will never change.  These politicians are power-hungry individuals.  They have no genuine consideration for the people.  The funds allocated for the defense budget in the coming year (in the pursuit of subjugating the Tamils) is sufficient to economically empower all the peoples of the island and make it one of the richest countries in South Asia. Sinhala politicians are profoundly influenced by their intense desire to keep themselves in power by any means.

In posing his next question, Pirapaharan says: Have any of the justifiable aspirations of the Tamils been fulfilled? The international community is beginning to learn that the Sri Lankan governments that came to power could never fulfill the demands of the Tamils. The Sri Lankan government once again is showing the world that it is not willing to feed its own citizens by not allowing food and medicine through the A9 highway.  At least now the international community has begun to understand the reality.  People are beginning to learn about the motives of the Sri Lankan government. Truth will triumph in the end. What happened to other freedom movements that fought for independence?  After they became independent, all countries began to praise the leaders of these freedom movements and welcomed them with open arms!

The LTTE leader further asks: Were our people able to find relief from the daily harassment and misery at the hands of the occupying military? And the countries directly or indirectly involved in the peace process now realize that the Tamils cannot get relief from daily harassment and misery at the hands of the occupying military unless the Sri Lankan armed forces are driven out of the Tamil homeland.  This is possible only through successful military operations by the LTTE.  No-one has the right to use civilians as human shields.  The Sri Lankan armed forces are using the Tamils in government-controlled areas as human shields in order to prevent the LTTE from attacking their military installations.

While asking: "Were the daily, basic problems of our people resolved? " Pirapaharan states: "Not even 10 per cent of the basic problems of the Tamils have been met during the period of the ceasefire agreement.  The Sri Lankan occupying forces are the masters in the areas controlled by them.  Sri Lankan government has denied the basic needs of the Tamils in an inhuman manner.  How can one expect to have the basic problems of the people solved when Sri Lankan paramilitary forces kill Tamil parliamentarians right in front of security forces! The voice of the Tamils and the voice of the Tamil parliamentarians have been silenced at gunpoint."

Pirapaharan further questions how the peace talks could move forward when the peace delegation is made up of people who proclaim that they will wage war and hold peace talks at the same time? How can trust be built? How can peace be arrived at like this?  The international community must know the background of the people who take part in the peace talks with the LTTE.  These people have been saying that terrorism should be eliminated in order to free the Tamils.  These people do not recognize that the Tamils have genuine grievances and yet the successive Sinhala governments have not addressed those grievances.   The peace talks will never move forward unless the Sri Lankan government works wholeheartedly to end the sufferings of the Tamils.   However, this is difficult to expect, since all the participants in political parties in the south pour venom against Tamils.  The Sinhalese will probably realize the reasonableness of the demands made by the Tamils only after a few generations have passed and after the myths of the Mahavamsa have been obliterated   Tamils under the circumstances have no option but to declare independence from Sri Lanka.

As Pirapaharan observed, the dove of peace has merely migrated from one cage to another.  The dove has been suffering in the hands of the power-hungry political leaders of Sri Lanka.  The dove is now badly hurt and it cannot fly anymore.  Before dying, the dove must wake up to fight, in the hope that it can fly freely.

One of the salient features of Prabakaran's speech was that he was not critical of the international community and, for the first time, solicited the support of the Tamil Nadu leaders and its people.

The day after Pirapaharan’s speech, the Sri Lankan president, who was on a tour of India, told the media that he did not care about the statement of the LTTE leader because he always said the same thing.  Other Sri Lankan senior leaders, including the prime minister, said that the LTTE leader speaks nonsense from a hideout in the Vanni jungle and that the speech is designed to push the Sri Lankan government to accept the LTTE demands.

It must be said the international community and the Tamils around the world recognize that, since the LTTE leader rarely speaks and does not mince his words, Sri Lanka is facing its greatest challenge. Given the history and circumstances of the conflict, the international community should not and cannot, be surprised if military operations are met in kind and efforts are made to drive the Sri Lankan armed forces from the Tamil homeland.   It would be hypocritical on the part of the international community not to recognize the independence of Tamil Eelam.

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