The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader in his annual Heroes’ Day statement on 27 November 2008 moderated his usual tenor, refraining from throwing strong words at the Sri Lankan armed forces as the Sri Lankan military claims to win victories in the LTTE strong-hold, Vanni. Rather than issue a spiteful statement, Pirapaharan focussed mostly on calling the international community and India to lift their ban on the LTTE and to help create an atmosphere of mutual friendship since the LTTE did not pose a threat to any other country in the world.
Pirapaharan spoke more about peace outlining the need for a peaceful settlement to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. He outlined circumstances leading to Tamil youths taking up arms against the Sri Lankan government subsequent to the Sri Lankan state failing to address the grievances of Tamils through peaceful means since the country gained independence from Britain in 1948 and heaping oppressive terrorist measures upon the Tamil people: “In the beginning, it was a peaceful and democratic struggle by our people for justice. The racist Sinhala state resorted to armed and animal-like violence to suppress the peaceful struggle of the Tamil people for their political rights. It was when state oppression breached all norms and our people faced naked terrorism that our movement for freedom was born as a natural outcome in history. We were compelled to take up arms in order to protect our people from the armed terrorism of the racist Sinhala state. The armed violent path was not our choice. It was forced upon us by history.”
With this emphasis on peace, it seems that the LTTE leader has changed his strategy towards winning the rights of Tamils through peaceful means in stark contrast to his previous statements in which he gave much importance to dealing with the Sri Lankan state through military means. Although the LTTE has the potential to win the war in the long run, Pirapaharan’s speech with emphasis on peace rather than war shows that the LTTE wants peace. He realizes the need for a political solution to end the three-decade-old ethnic conflict, to prevent more civilian casualties and to buy time to win global support especially that of India.
This statement shows that the LTTE leader is handling the issue seriously through political and diplomatic thinking. The question is whether Sri Lanka would fall into the trap of the LTTE military, will it suffer political and diplomatic blows in the international arena or both? An answer to these questions will come to light before early next year.
In this context, it is important at this juncture to look at the perceptions of the LTTE leader and that of his opponents, as well as those of the global forces who hold the key to making an historic move in the months to come to help solve the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict.
LTTE leader outlining historical facts
“From the day that British colonialism was replaced with Sinhala oppression,” Pirapaharan said, “we have been struggling for our just rights – peacefully at first and with weapons thereafter. The political struggle for our right to self-determination has extended over the last sixty years. During this period our struggle has gone through different shapes, phases developments before advancing to maturity.”
Although these facts have been stated in the past, the weight of his latest statement is in the indirect accusation of the western world for creating the post-colonial conflicts. He quite rightly indicated that Britain should be held responsible for what is happening in Sri Lanka since it was Britain that brought the Tamil and Sinhala kingdoms together for their own administrative convenience.
The LTTE leader further stated that the LTTE had never stood in the way of national, geopolitical, or economic welfare of any other country, and added that the profound aspirations of the Tamil people were not harmful to the welfare of any other country or their people. He wanted neighbouring India to realize that the LTTE wouldn’t be a threat to their territorial integrity and sovereignty. The central government in New Delhi believes that the Dravidian race from the southern part of India could gain momentum for secession if the Dravidian race in other parts of the world gained power, and it is this perception that has cast New Delhi in a critical role against attaining independent Tamil Eelam from time to time. Southern Indian politicians, especially Tamil Nadu politicians and even Tamil Eelam leaders, have re-emphasized that New Delhi would never have to worry about it, but India still holds on to the belief.
He appealed to the countries that have banned the LTTE to remove this ban. With its greed for the land of the Tamil people Sinhalam has engaged on a militaristic path of destruction. It has sought to build the support of the world to confront us. It is living in a dreamland of military victory. It is a dream from which it will awake. That is certain. He said, “We have never been against adopting peaceful means and we have never hesitated to take part in peace talks.”
LTTE leader embraces India
Pirapaharan reiterated the past relationship between India and LTTE: “Great changes are taking place in India. The voices of support for our struggle that were stifled are again being heard loudly.”
Obviously the LTTE leader wants greater support from Tamil Nadu in order to win his struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam. Tamil Nadu is home to nearly 70 million Tamils and nearly 10 million more Tamils are living all around the world including India. The LTTE does not want to isolate the Tamils based on their birth place. They want unity among the Tamils. These are the aspirations of Tamil Nadu leaders. Hence, the political change in Tamil Nadu will be a boost for Pirapaharan.
Further, the LTTE wants India’s support which will in turn garner the support of the International Community. He expressed his gratitude to the people of India saying, “Not withstanding the dividing sea, Tamil Nadu, with its perfect understanding of our plight, has taken heart to rise on behalf of our people at this hour of need. This timely intervention has gratified the people of Tamil Eelam and our freedom movement and given us a sense of relief. I wish to express my love and gratitude at this juncture to the people and leaders of Tamil Nadu and the leaders of India for the voice of support and love they have extended.”
He also appealed to the Indian government to take constructive action to remove the ban which remains a stumbling block for the good relationship between India and the LTTE. It is obvious that the LTTE leader is a classic tactician with over three decades of military, political and diplomatic experience and manoeuvres. Once, India was his temporary home while his cadres fought in Eelam against Sri Lankan armed forces. He was the charismatic leader with the courage and the talents to force India to pull out the Indian armed forces from Eelam after three years of war between 1987 and 1990. All these show that Pirapaharan could do a lot in India on behalf of his homeland.
Slap on the face of International Community for helping Sri Lanka
Pirapaharan lambasted the International Community for helping the Sri Lankan state in the war against Tamils. He blamed the IC for playing a double game in the affairs of the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict saying that while they encouraged the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government in the peace process, they branded the LTTE a terrorist outfit giving the Sri Lankan government the upper hand in the peace talks.
He also posed the question of when the Sri Lankan state would grant autonomy for the Tamils. After cleansing the Tamils from Sri Lanka or after destroying the Tamils’ representatives, the LTTE? The IC has fallen into the political and diplomatic trap of the Sri Lankan government.
He said some countries identifying themselves as so-called “Peace Sponsors” rushed into activities which impaired negotiations. “They denigrated our freedom movement as a terrorist organisation. They put us on their black list and ostracized us as unwanted and untouchable. Our people living in many lands were intimidated into submission by oppressive limitations imposed on them to prevent their political activities supporting our freedom struggle.”
He further said: “Humanitarian activities pursued by our law-abiding people in many countries, well within the purview of the law of the land, have been belittled and curtailed. These activities were aimed at providing humanitarian aid to helpless victims of genocidal attacks by the Sinhala-run Sri Lanka state in Tamil areas. However, these humanitarian activities were branded as criminal activities in those countries. Representatives of the Tamil people, along with community leaders were arrested, jailed and insulted.
“The explicit bias shown by the activities of these countries affected the talks, in its balance and in its consideration of our status as an equal partner. This further aggravated the racist attitude of the Sinhala state. Sinhala chauvinism was encouraged to raise its head with impunity and inevitably push the Sinhala state further on its war path.”
The LTTE leader’s frustrations over the IC is reasonable because it was none other than the western world that wanted immediate peace talks in Sri Lanka because the LTTE was gaining the upper hand militarily. And, earlier in the last century, U.S.-led coalition forces intervened in Afghanistan and Iraq and wanted an immediate ceasefire in Sri Lanka allowing temporary peace in the Indian Ocean island nation. Even now these coalition partners want peace on the island for their own benefits with no heed to the grievances faced by the Tamils on the island.
Sri Lankan military continues its genocidal war
The LTTE leader described how the Tamils face military operations imposed upon them and how the LTTE has embarked on a historic journey, as hazardous and strenuous as never before as the Sri Lankan armed forces advance with the military aid of foreign governments with the aim to cleanse the Tamils from their traditional habitat.
“In this historic venture, we have encountered numerous turns, twists and confrontations. We have faced forces much mightier than ours. We have had direct confrontations even against superior powers, stronger than us. We have withstood wave after wave of our enemy attacks. Standing alone, we have blasted networks of innumerable intrigues, interwoven with betrayal and sabotage. We stood like a mountain and faced all dangers that loomed like storms. When compared to these happenings of the past, today’s challenges are neither novel nor huge. We will face these challenges with the united strength of our people.”
The LTTE leader rightly pointed out that the Tamils are not fighting to occupy Sinhalese areas. Rather they are fighting to save their own lands. Under the pretext of fighting terrorism or fighting to safeguard the sovereignty of Sri Lanka, it is indulging in violence causing heavy damages and casualties to the civilians.
When the Sri Lankan state realizes that the Tamils are living in their historical lands, the conflict on the island will end. The belief that entire areas of the island belong to Buddhist Sinhalese is fraught with danger and cannot hold water in empirical analysis. It could be argued that the Tamils were living in Sri Lanka for millennia well before the Sinhalese moved into Sri Lanka through Tamil Nadu from Orissa or via the Bay of Bengal. The Tamils have a solid claim for an independent Tamil Eelam as the Tamils have a great history, language, culture and religion. The claim for wiping out the Tamils or wiping out the LTTE is meant to weed out the Tamil race from their inhabited lands whose ancestors have lived on those lands for millennia.
Sri Lanka and India reject LTTE’s claims
Immediately after LTTE leader’s statement came out, the Sri Lankan high-portfolio ministers and military officials issued separate statements describing the LTTE leader’s speech as nothing but an acknowledgement that the LTTE could not continue war with the Sri Lankan state as before.
Sri Lanka’s defence spokesman, Keheliya Rambukkwella, said that the Sri Lankan government viewed the LTTE’s speech not as a hero’s speech, but as a plea to the International Community in the face of the Tigers loosing control of areas hitherto held by them.
He further said: “The LTTE leader has proved in his speech that he is a criminal and that through his speech he is just making a plea for pardon.” Pirapaharan was begging the International Community to grant him a pardon for the earlier actions of the LTTE. He said: “Now the world has realized that terrorism cannot be tolerated anymore.” Further he said Pirapaharan had not mentioned even a single word about the government requiring the Tigers to lay down arms as a prerequisite for talks. “By remaining silent about laying down arms he has proved that he is not ready for talks,” Minister Rambukkwella said.
Never in the course of his speech did Pirapaharan ask for pardon nor did he in any anyway suggest that the LTTE was losing its military prowess, and for Rambukwella to rush make such a pathetic and desperate conclusion is absurd. Pirapaharan says that he wants justice from the International Community because the rights of Tamils are being rejected by Sri Lanka and the Tamils want International Community recognition for their right to self-determination. He also wants India to lift the ban on the LTTE as a terrorist outfit since they are fighting for Tamil liberation who have sacrificed enough lives for their freedom.
Another hardcore Sinhalese, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, said Pirapaharan’s overtures to India will not find accommodation. He has called upon Pirapaharan to heed President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s call to lay down arms, renounce terrorism and enter the democratic path, in order to be part of the political process that is already underway, to evolve a sustainable solution that will bring lasting peace and stability to Sri Lanka. Bogollagama is now desperately trying to link or equate LTTE militancy to the most recent Islamic terrorist attack in Mumbai. Fortunately for the Tamils it is becoming increasingly evident that Pakistan a sovereign state and a close ally of Sri Lanka, closer than to India, and has links to this international terrorist attack. We hope the only surviving assailant, a godsend to the Tamils, will be allowed to live long enough to tell the whole story. In fact the Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK in a BBC interview on 29 November 2008 stated that photographs of the assailants show them as being dark skinned so they were LTTE Tamils — as if there were no dark skinned people in Pakistan. A preposterous way of taking the red herring across its trail. And the question is, why?
Bogollagama does not know the ground reality in India. He should know that over 20,000 students throughout India’s states took part in a rally in New Delhi recently urging the Indian government to put pressure upon Sri Lanka to declare a ceasefire and to grant autonomy for Eelam Tamils. The Indian central government would lose millions of dollars worth of tax money in a day if the Tamil Nadu state launched a state-wide strike. Tamil Nadu has already conducted such a protest. Sri Lanka’s conflict is boiling over externally and it will no doubt have a greater impact in the lives of Indian citizens on its soil, prompting India to take a leading role in solving Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict and single-mindedly deal with the terrorism of Pakistan.
Sri Lankan officials claim, quoting Indian officials, that India would not lift the ban on the LTTE. Indian officials in New Delhi also confirmed this. They said the question of acceding to the request did not arise since the ban, first imposed in 1992, had been extended for another two years.
In any event, the LTTE leader’s speech was meant to draw the attention of India and the International Community to the conflict and the Eelam Tamils’ right to self-determination. This will only happen when the LTTE is internationally recognized as the freedom fighters of the Tamils and the terrorist brand is lifted. The claim that the LTTE leader is on his death bed and the LTTE is withdrawing from its controlled areas as a tactic to put the enemy in military and political defeat is groundless.