The fine line between LTTE terrorism and state terrorism

How the West rocked the cradle and pinched the baby

What distinct elements were there between state terror and rebel militancy? This war was not without witnesses as is publicly pronounced. This war had more witnesses than the media and NGOs put together.
by Pearl Thevanayagam

(May 31, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Public servants functioning in the North and East during the most turbulent times in the last two years deserve plaudits and recognition. Ms Imelda Sukumar is one such figure whose courage and strength and above all her duty consciousness amidst threats from some members of the LTTE and of course amidst a spiralling war scenario saved hundreds of civilians.

Many criticisms were levelled at her by the Tamils abroad and others in the country. Following her evidence at LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) I could not help pondering that hers was but what she saw and not exactly what happened to others. While it is easy to dismiss her as a stooge of the government or government politicians and putty in the hands of the security forces I empathise with her situation where she was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Were she to carry out her functions as a civil servant it was inevitable that she maintained a working relationship with the security forces. The excesses of the security forces or the militant tactics of the LTTE did not hinder a public servant from co-ordinating with them for the greater security and well being of the civilians particularly in times of armed conflict.

During my time in the country visiting LTTE controlled areas in the ‘90s as a reporter I had the co-operation of army chiefs such as Shantha Kottegoda and Nanda Mallawarachchi who went beyond their call of duty amidst increasing media censorship to allow me access past security points.

Hence I understood the need to convince heads of the security forces to carry out my function as a journalist through co-operating with them to proceed to the LTTE controlled areas in the North and East although my sojourns into LTTE territory were only a few whereas Ms Sukumar lived through an entire period of armed conflict to serve the people of the North and East.

Apart from the public servants the unsung heroes in the war period are the doctors and nurses, volunteers both international and local including the UNHCR and ICRC, SL Red Cross and several more NGOs such as International Crisis Group, Medicines sans Frontieres, Save the Children and Redd Barna and of course the clergy who defied aerial bombardment and rocket launchers to save the fleeing civilians.

This war was the mother of all wars and unprecedented in Sri Lanka’s history so far. The media was totally kept out and even NGOs were asked to pack their bags and leave or else they were warned their safety would not be guaranteed.

Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka is purported to have warned Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the defense Secretary and brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, that civilian casualties should be kept to a minimum and therefore to proceed with caution and take things gradually. But caution was thrown to the wind by the Defense Secretary who in his fervour and with international support of intelligence, surveillance and arms support from Pakistan, India, US, UK, Russia and China chose the time was ripe to wipe out the LTTE with scant regard to civilian lives.

What distinct elements were there between state terror and rebel militancy? This war was not without witnesses as is publicly pronounced. This war had more witnesses than the media and NGOs put together.

The survivors of this abominable and horrendous war gave evidence at the LLRC along with public servants. If these are not available in the public domain the UN or any international body only need to skim through media reports and not await a government response in making public a finalised report. The LLRC report is being delayed citing various excuses and when the time comes for the final verdict the public and the media would have been side-tracked with other issues affecting the country.

Ms Sukumar is just one of the witnesses and her evidence should not be taken as the total picture of the last throes of the war. Channel 4 videos of surrendering LTTE cadres blindfolded and shot at close range by government soldiers, women in detention denuded and raped by the same and the aerial bombardment of safe zones such as hospitals and schools are enough evidence to bring the government to account for its war crimes.

The UNSG Ban Ki Moon is prevaricating and biding his time despite hard evidence gleaned by his very own investigators. The government is despatching envoys after envoys justifying its stance in conducting the war and patting itself on its back for ending `terrorism’ which is balm to the western ego.

Its gung ho attitude is playing on the US’s recent victory over killing Osama Bin Laden branded a terrorist by the West but mourned all over by Muslim adherents as the upholder of their religious convictions and rights over western dominance. That petrodollars are at the heart and soul of the West is not lost on the discerning public. Otherwise why would Sri Lanka, Diego Garcia and Phillipines would be left out of the list of countries deserving assistance to combat state terror in subjugating its minorities?

That Tamils have suffered enough and international protests by Tamils abroad have still not awaken the conscience of those who assisted the government in annihilating a sizeable proportion of the minority Tamils is not lost on the wider community all because they were active participants in the war for whatever reasons should not detract public prosecution of the government by the war tribunal.

The reasons touted out by the supporting countries of the government that terrorism must be wiped out does not hold water with the actual reason that they are suppliers of arms, weapons, intelligence and in the final analysis it is the kudos that counted. These countries profited hugely from this war. Their atonement and overt sympathising is secondary to the cost of lives lost.

Would Mannar’s potential oil reserve change the scenario for the West to intervene in the manner they did in the Middle East?

Only time will tell.

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