Solution to Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Conflict More Than Words

The Sri Lankan Government has done nothing but throw hurdles and challenges at Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict. As the country continues to face great political and economical setbacks in light of the war between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), the GoSL refuses to acknowledge these facts. Instead of spending its time actually addressing the grievances of the Tamils in the North and East it throws empty promises at and engages in military actions.

Peaceful words uttered by Colombo politicians are only meant ensure that their respective governments remain in power. There is no desire or intent to implement any means of establishing peaceful relations with Tamils. But, Tamil-speaking people are not the only population affected by the war. The majority Sinhalese are also paying a high price.

President demands LTTE to lay arms down

Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is patriotic towards his birth place Hambantota as evidenced by his attention towards developing his home district at the expense of fulfilling the role of a responsible leader working towards the development and betterment of the whole country – particularly when thousands of Sri Lanka’s citizens are suffering. Clearly, politicians are intent on ignoring the deaths of innocent Tamils and Sinhalese to avoid taking responsibility for their role in not finding a solution to the country’s national problem. Developing a village or a district, or providing funds to certain interest or religious groups won’t lead the country into prosperity. Previous leaders like J.R. Jeyawardene, Srimavo Bandaranaike, Ranasinghe Premadasa, Chandrika Kumaratunga or Ranil Wickremesinghe held talks with the LTTE directly or indirectly to demonstrate to the world that they were taking action to solve the Tamil national question. All their attempts failed.

Despite these lessons from the past, even though he was a leading MP and Prime Minister led by former President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa doesn’t seem to be paying attention. Soon after he came to power, he brought his brothers and relatives into his administration. He made history by creating a jumbo Cabinet with over 50 cabinet ministers and providing those ministers with cars, houses and security while the majority of the country lives well below poverty line.

Although the President’s brothers lived in the U.S and he, himself, has paid many visits to the U.S., he never saw fit to work towards converting his warring, fractious country into a modern prosperous country, matching the standards of neighbouring Maldives and India. The Sinhalese have no choice but to live according to what their leaders have to say. If neutral or anti-government media outlets highlight the sufferings of the common people at the hands of their Government, the Government threatens the media with harsh punishment.

On June 24th, President Rajapaksa met religious dignitaries at his house who told him that certain groups were engaging in propaganda against the Government and bringing disgrace to the country. The President’s Office described the meeting as cordial saying that the dignitaries came together as an inter-religious body to challenge these forces and depict the true picture of the country. The President told them that it was not his intention to go to war with the country’s people and that he would not hesitate to work with the LTTE if they laid down their arms, emphasising that he would not let parts of his country fall into the hands of a terrorist organization. He did not specify to whom he was referring as the terrorist organization on the island.

During the meeting, Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thero, a Buddhist monk, said religious leaders of all faiths were keen to work closely with the President while ensuring the religious freedom of every community. President Rajapaksa reiterated that the Government would only negotiate a political solution to the crisis if LTTE terrorists laid down their weapons.

Is it possible for the LTTE to lay down their arms?

Twenty years ago, the LTTE leader was escorted on an Indian plane to New Delhi and held at the Ashoka Hotel on the direction of former Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and was coerced into signing a paper agreeing that the LTTE would lay down their arms in exchange for the presence and support of the Indian armed forces in Tamil areas. The Indian armed forces arrived in Sri Lanka, but they fought against the Tamils, leaving the LTTE no option but to take up arms again, this time against the people who’d sworn to protect and defend them.

The results of the conflict were bitter for both Tamils and India. India lost over 1500 soldiers in addition to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, and over 15,000 Tamils were killed while tens of thousands more were tortured and/or raped, or fled their homes as refugees. Even after all this, Sri Lanka’s President still thinks the LTTE will agree to put down their weapons.

Arguments abound in Tamil circles about how reasonable it is for the Government to demand the LTTE lay down arms while the LTTE still controls parts of the Tamil areas with its own judicial, police, customs and revenue administrations. The LTTE continues to hold some members of the Sri Lankan armed forces in custody for trespassing into Tamil areas. Further, the LTTE will not lay down their weapons so long as the Government allows the Pillayan group, EPDP, PLOTE of Siddarthan group, EPRLF of Varatharaja Perumal and other paramilitaries to patrol the streets fully armed. These groups only received voter support in the last election because the voters were threatened at gunpoint. The Tamils refused to accept these groups as their sole representative, instead, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) went out with the mandate in the 2004 elections that if the Tamil people recognized the LTTE as their sole representative they should vote for TNA. Tamils voted overwhelmingly for the TNA. The President knows about all these but, like a true politician, his only interest is to remain in power. It seems a political leader can only survive if it promises to fight against and not negotiate with the LTTE.

Past Sinhala leaderships, including the UNP and SLFP, demanded the LTTE to lay down their arms as a pre-condition, but the LTTE never accepted because the leadership-governed forces continued to fight using guerrilla warfare tactics. The most recent demand comes in the wake of the LTTE’s favourable position as a military victor using conventional armed forces and diplomacy, with the support of many global governments.

Unless the GoSL embraces the LTTE and engages in effective and meaningful peace talks, the LTTE will continue to defend the rights of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The LTTE leader has shown that he is a better leader than the common politician, and has the experience of dealing with the country’s many leaders and military commanders who have continually threatened to kill or capture him. The LTTE leader leads his movement much more aggressively than before using modern weapons, and has the confidence and gratification that all those who have threatened him with his life have faded into Sri Lankan history.

Satheesan Kumaaran writes on Sri Lanka and be reached at: Read other articles by Satheesan.

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  1. Thomas said on July 28th, 2008 at 11:47pm #

    This is just an article from a Tamil Tiger supporter pretending to take an unbiased view.

    The key issue is that the Tamil Tigers want to secede and are willing to kill until their demand is met. No country is going to allow a province to secede. Hence the conflict.