11 September 2008 Edition
INTERNATIONAL : Tamil Eelam fighting resumes
Decisive moment in Sri Lanka’s war on Tamils
BY EMMA CLANCY
FIERCE fighting has resumed between the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in recent weeks, with the SLA making steady advances into Tamil areas. According to aid agencies, an estimated 145,000 Tamil civilians have been displaced in the latest clashes, fleeing deeper into LTTE-held territory so as to avoid falling under army occupation.
The mainly Hindu Tamil people, led by the LTTE, have fought an armed struggle for independence from the Sinhalese-Buddhist Sri Lankan regime in Colombo since 1983, aiming to establish an independent state in the predominantly Tamil north-east of the island, which Tamils refer to as Tamil Eelam.
In January this year the Government unilaterally pulled out of a 2002 ceasefire agreement and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa vowed to crush the Tigers by the end of the year. The LTTE has lost several key towns and supply routes over the past couple of months and the SLA is advancing on multiple fronts towards Kilinochi, the LTTE’s political and administrative centre, backed by heavy air power.
The SLA boasts that it has killed more than 6,300 Tamil rebels since January, saying it has lost more than 600 troops in the same period.
The LTTE is putting up fierce resistance in its remaining two districts, Kilinochi and Mullaitivu. The Tigers have also launched effective attacks outside the regions they control: on 26 August, two LTTE aircraft entered the airspace over a key naval base at Trincomalee and bombed it. The Tigers shocked the Government in March last year when they launched their first of several air assaults, bombing an air base near the capital.
Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported an escalation in mass abductions, mass disappearances and mass murder of Tamil civilians, activists and combatants by the SLA and their proxy paramilitary groups since fighting resumed over the past two years.
OPPRESSION OF TAMILS
The rise of militant Tamil nationalism has long been fuelled by racist laws and practices enforced by successive Sinhalese chauvinist governments since Sri Lanka achieved independence from the British in 1948. These include stripping Tamil plantation workers of their citizenship, making Sinhala the only official language of the island and passing discriminatory laws in education.
State-sponsored colonisation schemes in the eastern province, similar to the Israeli settlement of the West Bank, have displaced the Tamils in favour of Sinhalese and aimed to prevent the development of a viable united Tamil homeland.
For decades Tamils resisted their second-class citizenship through civil action. But this was met with police and army repression, as well as vicious pogroms against Tamils by Sinhalese chauvinist mobs, incited to violence by the Government. These pogroms culminated in the Black July riots of 1983, in which 3,000 Tamils were murdered and 150,000 left homeless.
The LTTE was formed in 1972 and carried out its first armed action in 1978, but after Black July support for the Tigers - and their demand for full independence - grew dramatically and it was able to launch its armed struggle against Colombo in earnest.
It is estimated that more than 200,000 Tamils have been killed and 800,000 displaced during the civil war.
Throughout the war the LTTE has pushed for a negotiated settlement and demonstrated its willingness to engage in talks. In March 2001, before launching a major offensive that over-ran the strategic Government Elephant Pass military complex, the Tigers said that the war could be “de-escalated by confining combatants to barracks with an internationally monitored ceasefire ahead of negotiations”.
Major military gains by the Tigers and the dire state of the Sri Lankan economy as a result of the ongoing war were the key factors that forced the Sri Lankan Government to respond positively to unilateral LTTE ceasefires declared in 2000 and 2001. The February 2002 Norwegian-mediated ceasefire agreement has been the longest-lasting attempt to bring peace.
In negotiations the LTTE has sought the establishment of an interim self-governing authority in the north-east which can facilitate human rights protection as well as “resettlement, rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development in the north-east, while the process of reaching a final settlement remains ongoing”.
But far from offering the Tamil people anything in negotiations that could lead to a lasting peace, the United National Party (UNP) Government failed even to implement the provisions of the ceasefire agreement. It failed to allow Tamils to return to their homes in the ‘high security zones’ occupied by the SLA, or have the SLA vacate public buildings in Tamil towns. It also failed to disarm the pro-Government paramilitary death squads.
As a result, the LTTE suspended its participation in negotiations in 2003. The UNP was replaced in 2004 elections, which were boycotted almost totally by the Tamil population, by the even more chauvinist Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Over the past two years, full-scale war has erupted once again.
In 2007 there was a series of massacres carried out by the SLA, the cruellest of these happening on 14 August, when the Sencholai children’s home in Mullaitivu, which housed orphans from the 2004 tsunami, was bombed; 61 Tamil schoolgirls were killed.
While the Tigers have gained the ability to attack from the sky, the Government has been carefully preparing for a new war, rebuilding the SLA since 2002.
Missing an historic opportunity for peace when the Tigers entered into negotiations in good faith, the international community has actively fortified the SLA and tried to deprive the LTTE of supplies. Instead of putting pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to abide by the terms of the ceasefire and negotiate a settlement, the United States and India have provided unconditional military aid and training to the regime, while the EU in May 2006 joined the US in adding the LTTE to its list of proscribed ‘terrorist’ organisations.
LTTE international fund-raising efforts have suffered from ‘anti-terror’ harassment, putting the organisation under serious financial as well as military strain.
FUTURE OF TAMIL STRUGGLE
The results of this offensive will be a serious weakening of the Tamil people’s bargaining position and their ability to achieve self-government and human rights protection in the north-east.
While the LTTE have no choice but to throw everything they have into this current battle for their remaining territory, they may be defeated as a standing army or conventional fighting force.
But even if this happens, the nationalist aspirations of the Tamil people will be inflamed rather than extinguished by an entrenched SLA occupation of Tamil Eelam. The Tigers are likely to retreat to the jungles, from where they can fight a protracted guerrilla war against the SLA. On 30 August, the LTTE detonated a bomb in the commercial heart of the ‘tightly secured’ capital, Colombo, injuring 50 people; it is likely that this tactic will be expanded as it becomes one of their few remaining options.
The Sri Lankan Government, with international backing, has opted for annihilation rather than negotiation and says it is waging a “war for peace”. Backing the LTTE up against the wall will change the nature of the struggle for Tamil liberation and prolong it but it certainly won’t finish it.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.