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Sri Lankan civil war enters last phase

By Lt Gen Kamal Davar (retd)

(February 27, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is indeed no surprise that the painfully repetitive lessons of history have never ever been imbibed by the ilk of dictators, terror chieftains and megalomaniacs. The ruthless pursuit of power to satisfy their grandiose ambitions have invariably brought to their people, followers and all those who do their bidding, voluntarily or under coercion, nothing but ruin and destruction.

An addition to this evil band of those who have brought total misery to their people in the name of illusory freedom for the Tamils in the island nation of Sri Lanka is the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) supremo, Vellupillai Prabhakaran.

Waging an insurrection since the mid-70s, characterised by matchless violence, Prabhakaran’s struggle have now entered its final hours before its now assured wipeout by the Sri Lankan forces, who have mounted a successful military campaign since July 2006 against the LTTE.

From controlling nearly one-third of territory in Sri Lanka’s north and east, the Tamil Tigers (another name for the LTTE) have been pushed into a 300 sq km area along the coast with the Sri Lankan Navy also deploying itself along the sea-lanes dominating the coastlines to prevent Prabhakaran from fleeing the battlefield.

Nearly 75,000 civilians have died since the fratricidal conflict commenced and over two lakh Tamil civilians have been displaced from their homes. A major humanitarian crisis has thus resulted with countries the world over, including India and the European Union, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, international agencies like the Red Cross and the International Human Rights Commission voicing their concerns over the ongoing violence and consequently the misery heaped on innocent civilians by both the LTTE and the government forces.

The Tamil Tigers must hang their heads in utter shame that they are resorting to their trademark tactics of suicide bombers now against their own poor Tamils in relief camps who were fleeing from the LTTE’s clutches, as the LTTE killed 30 on February 9 using a poor Tamil girl as the suicide member.

The LTTE had been, for the record, declared a terrorist organisation by 32 countries, including the UN, India, the US, the UK and the European Union. India, of course, can never pardon Prabhakaran for masterminding the gruesome assassination of India’s ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi while he was on an election campaign in Tamil Nadu in 1991.

Prabhakaran feared that if elected again, Rajiv might send in the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka once again and his ambitions to establish an independent state named Tamil Elam in the north and east of the island might get thwarted.

The Sri Lankan civil war has been, since 1983, an on-and-off civil war between the predominantly Sinhalese government and the Tamil Tigers. After over two decades of consistent fighting, marred by gross human rights violations by both the LTTE and the government troops and three failed attempts at peace talks including the not-so-successful deployment of the IPKF from 1987 to 1990, a ceasefire agreement came into force in early 2002 with international mediation.

However, as there were allegations of violations of the ceasefire and human rights by both sides, the fragile ceasefire broke down in late 2005.In July 2006, the Sri Lankan forces mounted a well-planned major offensive against the LTTE and drove them out of the entire Eastern province of the island. The Sri Lankans then shifted their offensive towards the northern part of the Tamilian strongholds, destroyed a major portion of the Sea Tigers naval vessels and ensured, with international assistance, a crackdown on overseas funding for the LTTE.

Thus over 98 per cent territory, previously controlled by the LTTE, including their administrative capital Kilinochchi, the LTTE’s main military base at Mullaithivu and the entire A9 highway (Kandy-Jaffna), has fallen to the government forces with Prabhakaran’s whereabouts not clearly known.

Though both Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and his Army Chief, Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka, have expressed that 2009 will be the “year of heroic victory” and “ the end of terrorism is near” respectively, the beleaguered Tamil Tigers have been issuing press statements that they will continue to fight on.

However, some experts feel that the LTTE may change its tactics and while they may have been defeated as a conventional force, may resort to an underground guerrilla campaign, which is essentially their expertise honed over long years of insurgency in Sri Lanka.

On February 3 the US, Japan, Norway and the European Union issued a joint statement urging the LTTE to lay down the arms and end all hostilities and prevent further bloodshed especially to the thousands of innocent Tamil civilians, who have been caught in the crossfire and with some being used as human shields by the LTTE.

India has much in stake in neighbouring Sri Lanka owing to both geo-strategic aspects of the region and importantly, the ethnic kinship between our Tamils and those who reside in Sri Lanka. The last two decades have, however, seen some ups and downs in Indo-Sri Lankan relations.

The wily Sri Lankan President J Jayawardene in the late 80s cleverly used the IPKF and the India-Sri Lanka Accord 1987 to essentially promote his country’s interests whilst the IPKF did his dirty work of fighting the LTTE, losing over 1,100 soldiers in the bargain apart from Rajiv Gandhi’s unfortunate and untimely death at the hands of the LTTE.

Subsequently, the next Sri Lankan President Premadasa was hardly cordial towards to India and consistently flirted with the Chinese and Pakistanis at Indian expense, while being a Sinhalese chauvinist in his approach to matters concerning its own Tamilian population.

In case they had implemented with some sincerity the 1987 accord which recommended powers to the Tamils and merging of the eastern and northern provinces for a Tamil state on the lines of states in India, perhaps there would have been some peace in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, the Government of India has been active in the past few months in urging the currently very friendly Rajapakse Sri Lankan dispensation to call off all operations so that further casualties of innocent Tamil civilians do not take place.

Be that as it may, the Sri Lankan government has a window of opportunity which it has not had for decades. As it completes successfully its military campaign against the LTTE, it must find an amicable political solution to the ethnic conflict, which takes into consideration genuine aspirations of its Tamil population.

The suggestions made to the Sri Lankan government by Mr Pranab Mukherjee during his flying visit to the island on January 27 urging for devolution of powers as the major solution to this ethnic conflict could provide the healing touch to this beautiful, albeit terrorism-ravaged, island.

The Sri Lankan government must work for a genuine federal state and curb Sinhalese extremist tendencies. As it has done in the past, India must continue to be generous in its humanitarian aid to their hapless people.

The writer was the first Chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency of Govt. of India. These are his personal views.

-Sri Lanka Guardian

1 comment

Ranjit said...

Civil War??? In a civil war the people rise up against the goivernment! There is no civil war in Sri Lanka. It is a war against the separatist terrorists. That's all and we are happy that it is coming to an end.

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