Archive for November 19th, 2007

How the death of Thamilchelvan will impact on the peace process
It was rather cynically said, that Suppiah Paramu Thamilchelvan, the political wing leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has nine lives. Thamilchelvan cheated death so many times, that even military planners lost count of the number of assassination attempts on his life.
As recently as May this year, he survived a claymore mine explosion which killed four of his body guards, in Kilinochchi. Thamilchelvan, as it transpired later, had got off the vehicle just five hundred meters before it was blown up. In 2000, he narrowly escaped death at the hands of a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) unit of Army Commando.
In another incident in mid last year, initial reports indicated that the Tiger political commissar had been killed in an explosion in Mallavi. Yet, Thamilchelvan escaped unscathed.
The state media reported his death on several occasions. But the ever- smiling Thamilchelvan, underneath whose warm exterior lurked a ruthless military strategist, would mock the whole establishment.

Run out of luck

However, he appeared to have run out of luck last Friday.
On Wednesday, Thamilchelvan was seen in Pooneryn, inspecting the LTTE defence line overlooking the Killali lagoon.Just before sunrise on that day, three MIG 27 and three Kfir fighter jets of the Sri Lanka Air Force took off from the Katunayake Air Force Base. The pilots were assigned to take on two targets. One was an identified Black Tiger camp in Iranamadu and the other was described as a meeting place of the Tiger leadership, hence classified as a VIP target.
The fighter jets returned to base at 6.30 a.m. upon the completion of the mission.
In their debriefing, the pilots said the targets were accurately hit and aerial observations had also confirmed that the targets were destroyed.

Air raid

At about 10.30 am, the official website of the government’s Media Centre for National Security announced the morning air raid.
“Sri Lanka Air Force Jet Fighters targeted with air strikes Thiruveiaru, in South of Kilinochchi, a venue where LTTE leaders gather at 6.00 a.m. today (02). Air Force fighter jet air craft also targeted a Black Tiger Camp located in East of Iranamadu area. Targets taken as per the intelligence sources. The Air Force confirms that both targets were destroyed in the air strikes,” it stated. But, it was an announcement by the LTTE’s Peace Secretariat website that took the military establishment by surprise.
“With deep sorrow we announce to the people of Tamil Eelam, the Tamil people living all over the world and the international community that at 6.00am today, Friday 2nd November 2007, Head of our organisation’s Political Division, Brig. S P Tamilselvan was killed by a Sri Lankan Air Force aerial bombing”
It also named five other Tiger cadres who perished in the air strike. They are Lt. Col. Anpumani (Alex), Major Mikuthan, Major Neathaaji, Lt. Aadchiveal and Lt. Maavaikkumaran. Alex was a member of the support delegation of LTTE’s peace negotiators. He was the official photographer of Prabhakaran and according to some informed sources, the head of the strategic communications of the LTTE. The air raid sent the rest of the Tiger leadership back to their bunkers. Intelligence sources said the Tiger transmissions have been switched off.
A search operation was launched in Kilinochchi as the Tigers were planning funeral arrangements. The LTTE conferred its highest military rank to Thamilchelvan and Tiger supremo Prabhakaran was photographed paying his last respects to the slain LTTE leader at his residence.
Tamils were requested to hoist black, red and yellow coloured flags – the official colours of the Tigers and a three- day mourning period has been announced in the Wanni.
At the time of his death, Thamilchelvan has been assigned to oversee LTTE defences in Pooneryn. His new assignment was due to his expertise on the ground situation in Pooneryn – Thamilchelvan commanded the LTTE attack on the Pooneryn camp in 1993, during which he sustained a shrapnel injury which left him with a permanent limp. LTTE cadres overran the Pooneryn camp killing over 400 military personnel. His expertise to evade air and naval attacks of the security forces on the Northern theatre was remarkable, according to an LTTE source. Thamilchelvan’s appointment to oversee the LTTE defences in Pooneryn was precipitated by the concerns of the LTTE that the military would conduct a major military drive across the Kilali lagoon to overrun the LTTE positions in Pooneryn, which is of strategic importance to the LTTE as a location for artillery launching pad. Born on August 24, 1967, Thamilchelvan joined the LTTE in 1984.
Initially, a personal bodyguard of Prabhakaran, he was appointed the military commander of the Thenmaarachchi division in 1987.
After the death of Kittu, the then Jaffna commander of the LTTE, who killed himself when the Indian Navy intercepted a Tiger arms smuggling vessel in 1999, he was appointed in Kittu’s place.


Thamilchelvan was assigned to political affairs after the battlefield injury left him handicapped for the rest of his life. But, it was Anton Balasingham, who persuaded Prabhakaran to appoint Thamilchelvan as the political leader in 1995. However, Prabhakaran’s choice had been Shankar, who later became the founding leader of the nascent Tigerair wing and he was killed by a land mine planted by a Long Range Reconnaissance patrol team of the SLA.
Ever smiling and media savvy , Thamilchelvan was the public face of the LTTE. I interviewed him once in Kilinochchi after the LTTE proposals for an Interim Self Governing Authority permanently stalled the peace negations. He was tricky and good at dodging critical questions, such as the allegations of child soldiers and the extreme nature of the ISGA. Though he could not speak English, he could well understand a conversation conducted in English. He took his beloved translator Pancharatnam alias George Master everywhere he went.
Not only was he the public face of the LTTE, he was also Prabhakaran’s mouthpiece.

Media savvy

Thamilchelvan appeared to be one of the handful of men in the LTTE hierarchy who genuinely wanted to negotiate a solution. But, I doubt whether he could ever effect any significant shift in the Tiger policy. However, Thamilchelvan’s warm exterior and media savvy ability was in sharp contrast to the reclusive Prabhakaran. He has been of great advantage to the LTTE in dealing with the international community and the media. Hours after his death , the LTTE announced the appointment of LTTE police chief P.Nadeshan as the political wing leader. Nadeshan, a former constable of the Sri Lankan police will head both units of the LTTE.
Though fluent in Sinhala and married to a Sinhalese woman, Nadeshan is at a disadvantage over the lack of international exposure, whereas Thamilchelvan extensively traveled with the revival of the now doomed peace process under the Ranil Wickremasinghe administration. Before, they were taken off guard by the Friday morning raid, all eyes of the LTTE were on the Mannar- Vavuniya defence lines, where the troops stepped up attacks and captured a forward defence bunker line of the Tigers.
At 5 am on Wednesday, the troops of 10 Gajaba Regiment, 8 Singha Regiment and 8 Gamunu Watch advanced towards the LTTE controlled area from two directions. Advancing from the direction of Parappekandala, the Infantry troops of the Gajaba Regiment ( 581 Brigade) stormed a Tiger bunker line, while troops of the Singha Regiment advanced from the other direction capturing eight bunkers. Troops recovered eight bodies of LTTE cadres and the military said that information intercepting Tiger communicationwhich further revealed that 14 Tigers were killed. These figures of the LTTE casualties could not be verified independently.
The Military initially captured several bunker lines of the Tiger defence line in the Giant Tank in the Madhu area. The LTTE defence line in Mannar- Vavuniya lies parallel to the Mannar -Vavuniya Main Supply Route. However, the Tigers put up stiff resistance against advancing troops, who came undera heavy barrage of mortars. The 215 Brigade Headquarters came under Tiger artillery attack, which injured two senior non commissioned officers.
Tiger artillery bombardment ceased following the counter battery fire by the security forces. However, the troops consolidating the newly captured positions came under heavy artillery and mortar attack on Thursday night.
The locations of Tiger bunkers, which have now been captured, are well documented in the maps of the Tigers. This enables them to precisely target the bunkers now occupied by the soldiers.
The sustained mortar attack forced the troops to withdraw from several bunkers on Friday. Six soldiers were killed, mainly due to mortar and artillery fire and scores wounded. On the same day, hours before the troops stormed the LTTE defences in Giant Tank, infantry troops of the 7 Vijayaba Infantry Regiment attacked four forward bunkers of the LTTE defence line, killing eight cadres. Five soldiers were injured in the military operation Infantry troops continued with limited offensive operations ahead of their northern defence lines. The next day, the troops overran four other bunkers, killing 14 Tigers , the military said.
However, the casualty figures of the LTTE could not be verified independently. The loss of Thamilchelvan will further push Prabhakaran to the wall. With Thamilchelvan’s death the last hopes of the resumption of the peace talks have diminished. However, the worst frontal attacks of the LTTE was seen during the Ceasefie Agreement and were carried out while he was alive. One could argue that the peace process was long dead before Thamilchelvan was killed.

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Skirmishes flare up in the Wanni as the first rains fall

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) struck in the deep South, attacking a remote army detachment deep in side the Yala National Park. Though the attack was not that glamorous, compared to the previous deeds by the LTTE, its objective is easily understood. The attack intended to divert resources and troops as well as the attention of the military planners away from the Wanni Front, where the security forces have succeeded in stretching out the Tigers, through regular limited offensives.
Though the impact of the Monday’s attack is minimal on the military operations in the Wanni, the attack is a moral booster for the war weary Tiger cadres and Tamil Diaspora , which has been disillusioned by the poor showing of the Tigers on the battle ground.


The Tigers had been at pains to stress that the capture of the former LTTE strongholds in the East would not deter them from operating in the East. Monday’s attack on a remote military detachment housed by only nine soldiers is obviously an effort to reinforce that argument.
The attack also underscores the future form of Tiger activity in the East and also to a certain degree in the south most areas of the Southern Province.
Though the conventional capabilities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has been demolished in the East, it, still, reserves the ability to operate as a guerrilla force in the East.
Indeed, the guerrilla attacks, which the Tigers would embark in the East and its adjacent southern jungles require only a minimum deployment of cadres.
Monday’s attack is believed to have been carried out by about 15 Tiger cadres trained in special operations. The attackers mined the entry points used to send reinforcement of troops. A tractor which was proceeding to pick the slain soldiers was caught in a pressure mine explosion. A soldier was killed and several others were injured in the explosion. The execution of the attack is indicative of a higher degree of expertise, which suggest the involvement of a special operation team of the Tigers.
As far as Tiger activities in the East is concerned, the LTTE is likely to rely on specialized cadres.
Indeed, the induction of a large number of cadres in to the eastern jungles would create an administrative burden for the Tiger leadership in Kilinochchi.
However, a 8-12 man team of Tiger cadres trained in special operations are in a position to carry out the required mission. Indeed, earlier, intelligence reports revealed that a team of 12- 15 guerrillas trained of special operations were active in the East.
On one occasion, the Tigers shelled the newly resettled Rarkuli village, killing one civilian, last month. In another incident, a group of guerrillas confronted an army patrol, killing one soldier.
The LTTE had repeatedly tried to conduct a sea landing to evacuate the Tiger cadres marooned in the Peraru jungle. However, after the clash between the sea Tigers and Navy in the seas off Pulmudai on September 27, some military sources suggested that the objective of the abortive mission was not simply the evacuation of the cadres, but also the induction of a group of Tiger cadres trained in special operations to the East.
Several hundreds of Tiger cadres are believed to be still locked in the jungles of Peraru and Kanchikudichchi Aru. The Special Task Force confronted groups of Tiger cadres in the jungles of Kanchikudichcharu on several occasions during the past few weeks. The underlying Tiger strategy of the attack on the military detachment in Yala as well as several other hit and run attacks and claymore explosions in the East is to compel the military to divert more troops to the East.
Take the situation in Jaffna for example: A small group of approximately 20-30 under cover guerrillas are believed to be operating in the peninsula. They are assigned to conduct claymore mine explosions and hit and run attacks on the military targets.
Their numbers may be limited, yet , their purported presence has forced the security forces to deploy several brigades on route clearing and piquet duties. These troops could otherwise have ,been deployed in military operations.
That is exactly the LTTE strategy in the East, where the Tigers are desperately trying to make a comeback.
Their presence would be in small numbers, yet that would be highly counter productive to the future military operations in the Wanni as well as the on – going reconstruction activities in the East.
Meanwhile, The security forces operating ahead of their forward defence localities in the Wanni have succeeded stretching out the Tiger forces by taking the LTTE on several fronts.
The LTTE is forced to fight a largely defensive battle on four fronts: the Northern Forward Defence Lines in Muhamalai, Mannar, West of Omanthai and Weli Oya. The Tigers seem to be trying the same strategy on the security forces.
On the Wanni front, the troops continued with limited offensive operations as the first rains of the North Eastern monsoon were reported last week.
On Thursday, two companies of Special Force Commandos advanced ahead of their positions in Periya Thampanai to capture what was described as a ‘strong point’ of the Tigers, from where the guerrillas had virtually halted the advance of infantry troops of the 10 Ceylon Light Infantry. (10 CLI) The F and G companies of SF commandos, operating in small teams sneaked through the Tiger defences and attacked the enemy positions from the behind.
A heavy fire fight broke up as the Tiger cadres fought back from their well entrenched bunkers situated on a bund, a military official said.

Stiff resistance

Faced with stiff resistance and a heavy barrage of mortar fire, commandos fought back forcing the Tiger cadres to retreat.
After a fierce close quarter battle, they had undone enemy resistance and dislodged the Tigers from this strategically important location. Thirteen soldiers, including an officer – Captain Kapila Kumara- were wounded in action — Most of them were of P2 and P3 injuries, a military official said. Four soldiers suffered injuries from anti personnel mines.
Ground troops have revealed at least 13 Tiger cadres were killed and a further ten wounded. Troops found seven bodies of LTTE cadres, along with five T 56 assault rifles and one Multi Purpose Machine Gun. However, the casualty figures of the LTTE cannot be independently verified
On the same day, east of Yoda Wewa (Giant Tank), the troops attacked a groups of Tiger cadres. The Army said quoting intercepted Tiger communications that one Tiger cadre was killed and four were injured in the attack. No casualties were reported to the troops. Skirmishes continued on the Wanni front as the troops tried to push deep into the Tiger stronghold of the Wanni
On Wednesday, infantry troops attacked a group of Tigers, killing a female guerilla in Navatkulama, East of Omanthai.
In another incident, on the same day afternoon, army shelled LTTE artillery and mortar launching positions in Periyapandisurichchan, West of Omanthai. Earlier in the day, the LTTE had shelled security forces’ positions using 122 mm artillery and 120 mm, 81 mm and 60 mm mortar fire. At least 15 Tiger cadres were killed during the counter battery fire, army said. Independent verification of these figures was not available.
One soldier was wounded and admitted to the Vavuniya Hospital.
Earlier in the week, on Monday, troops belonging to thr 9 Gajaba Regiment , confronted a group of Tiger cadres in Mullikulam, an area which has been the theatre for fierce battle since the troops launched their Wanni push. Military sources said at least 20 cadres were killed and 15 others were injured in the incident. Troops recovered seven bodies of female cadres and six T-56 machine guns and one Multi Purpose Machine Gun.
One soldier was killed and seven others were injured in the confrontation, many fell victims to the heavy barrage of mortar and artillery fire directed by the Tigers.

More attacks

On the evening of the same day Special Infatry Operation (SIO) troops confronted a group of Tiger cadres in Vilathikulam. Ground troops have confirmed at least eight Tiger cadres were killed in the two clashes. A soldier was also wounded. Again, these figures of LTTE casualties could not be independently verified.
In another incident, on Wedneday, troops confronted a group of Tiger cadres in Uyliankulam. Army shelled the Tigers using heavy artillery, forcing them to retreat towards Adampan.
On the northern front, small teams of Special Infantry Operation troops continued to conduct limited offensive operations ahead of their forward defence line.
The Army said six Tiger cadres were killed in two separate confrontation on the Forward Defence Line in Muhamalai on Tuesday.
Early in the week, troops attacked a group of Tiger cadres, attempting to sneak into government controlled areas in Muhamalai and seized a cache of weapons including two T 56 assault Rifles, suppressed firearm and seven T 56 magazines.
As the security forces try to push deep into Tiger territory. Monsoonal rains could hinder military operations. It would be difficult for heavy vehicles and tanks to operate on the rain drenched Wanni soil, while rainy weather would limit air operations. Indirect fire could be made ineffective by the climatic conditions. Those on both sides of the Forward Defence Lines are at a disadvantage due to the climatic conditions. But, understandably, it is the security forces who are the most affected.
Yet, the military should not underestimate the possibility of the LTTE trying to exploit these limitations. A lesson from history is that most Tiger offensives have been launched during the rainy season.



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Two years of Rajapaksa rule shows a shift in the nation’s contextual and conceptual approach, not only in handling the war with the LTTE, but also on issues relating to political morality, governance (including accountability and rule of law), ethnic amity (not co-existence as his vision says), and fundamental rights of citizens. Instead of using the CFA the peace process as means to end the war, the President has used their aberrations as an excuse to use the military as the means to ‘end’ the conflict.  

Mahinda’s vision for the country: CHANGE Sri Lanka to be a Modern State whilst Fostering the National Heritage and Culture with Peaceful Co-existence among the Communities of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others, instilling Economic Growth and Prosperity; and Maintaining Friendly Relationship with all Nations.

Clever, grim and sad. These three words sum up Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s two years in office this month. These three words also present a cameo of the present, the immediate future and the long term future of Sri Lanka and its people. If Mahinda’s vision quoted above was being implemented, his actions during the two years of presidency did not show it, despite some paradigm changes he has effected in the island. It is clear that he sees ‘the path to peace’ through a military prism rather than a negotiated peace process.

On the other hand, the results of his actions during the last two years show a well-planned and executed effort to achieve a few other macro goals. These include: make himself the unquestionable leader and saviour of Sinhalas, take Sri Lanka out of the morass of peace negotiations, restore military morale by giving freedom of action, take advantage of Karuna’s breakaway from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to gain control of the east, contextualise the war against the LTTE to the global war on terror, and make the opposition parties including the United National Party (UNP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) irrelevant to his strength in the long term.

In this scheme of things, two aspects of global concern (particularly India) that would have long term effect on Sri Lanka as a nation did not figure. These are: creating conditions for lasting peace, and erasing the dismal human rights record of Sri Lanka. Despite their shortcomings, his predecessor Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga and the leader of the UNP, Ranil Wickremesinghe, while in office tried to address these two important issues.

Two years of Rajapaksa rule shows a shift in the nation’s contextual and conceptual approach, not only in handling the war with the LTTE, but also on issues relating to political morality, governance (including accountability and rule of law), ethnic amity (not co-existence as his vision says), and fundamental rights of citizens. Instead of using the CFA the peace process as means to end the war, the President has used their aberrations as an excuse to use the military as the means to ‘end’ the conflict.

Qualitatively, three clear paradigms emerge from this shift. These are: political interests over riding national interests, military initiatives overtaking other considerations, and trading off human rights for political or military priorities.

As a result, the feeling of insecurity among the minorities, particularly Tamils, increased for the first time after the ceasefire came into force in 2002. The clock has been put back on the so- called ‘federal formula’ which held so much hope for peace mongers and the people weary of war. The peace vision has faded under the bright glare of an emerging military vision. It is a tragic development for the people of Sri Lanka because peace and military visions never travel together.

Political Gamesmanship

The President, a politician more than a peacemaker, had cleverly used the existing negative leverages in politics and the peace process to establish himself and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) firmly in the saddle. He has put the opposition and its leader and presidential aspirant Ranil Wickremesinghe in disarray. The UNP is now locked in a struggle to survive as a credible alternative to the ruling party.

Rajapaksa has probably halted the run on the SLFP vote banks engineered by the JVP, which has set its eyes on grabbing power. While people sniggered at Rajapaksa’s omnibus expansion of his cabinet strength to 100 plus, the President had the last laugh as the political trade offs paid. The UNP lost key members in parliament who crossed over to the President’s ranks. Smaller minority parties, stranded and listless, have joined the presidential bandwagon. To ensure everyone acted upon his script, the control was passed on to the Rajapaksa family. He appointed his brothers ? Basil and Gotabaya in key appointments. This triumvirate of Rajapaksa brothers guide government policy, administration, and security operations regardless of ministerial domains.

Rajapaksa has sent clear signals that he would not forgive or forget those who break away from his ranks or present his rule in poor light. Smear campaigns against them have become part of the political game. No one can accuse him of partiality in this respect. It did not matter whether they enjoyed a cosy relationship with him like Tiran Alles or Mangala Samaraweera. He made it costly for them to defy or embarrass him. Tiran Alles’s business is now shattered and his future looks bleak. Attempt of Mangala Samaraweera, former foreign minister, to create a viable opposition party out of Rajapaksa’s detractors has not succeeded despite all the fanfare on its arrival. Media criticism was handled with equal vehemence, regardless of international cries over curbs on media freedom.

His action have shown little concern or urgency in responding to human rights grievances. The bureaucratic handling of cases of abductions and ‘disappearances,’ mostly among Tamils and Muslims, are examples of this. NGOs, particularly of the international kind, who were critical of the government were branded as anti-national or accused as fellow travellers of the LTTE. They were probably considered inconvenient obstacles to the military ends of the President.

Some achievements

It would be incorrect to say there were no achievements in this period. The armed forces regained their morale, earlier shattered by lack of direction in the past. The LTTE’s self acquired freedom to behave as it pleased in the first three years of ceasefire has been curbed as the military was given a free hand not only to retaliate but also act proactively. This has put the LTTE on the defensive. As a result LTTE’s ability to launch suicide operations at sea and on land was largely reduced. The security forces have “won” the east. It is a moot point whether they would have planned this operation in the same fashion if Karuna had defected from the LTTE with his followers and helped them.

The President also paid special attention to build bridges with countries where the LTTE networks had been operating with impunity. Their fund collection and weapons procurement operations had been a source of strength to the LTTE to further the war effort. Sri Lanka’s sustained efforts were instrumental in getting the LTTE banned in the EU and Canada, particularly after they were annoyed with the LTTE for its suspected hand in the killing of Lakshman Kadirgamar, the foreign minister, under Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga. That had set off a series of actions in India, Canada, the US and the EU which are now making the LTTE’s overseas operations more and more difficult and risky. Intelligence cooperation between Sri Lanka and these powers has played a powerful role in crippling the LTTE’s ocean fleet of supply ships.

For the first time a Sinhala consensus of sorts, though with negative connotations, is emerging. More Sinhala masses are perhaps now veering round to the belief that military action could become the magic wand in the hands of Mahinda to end the ‘Tamil Kottiya’ regime. The peace lobby has been muted and at times muzzled. War has become a better buzz word than peace now. It is a tragic reality that is dragging the country into an endless abyss of war.

It would be incorrect to attribute the President’s achievements were due to his charisma or excellence in governance. The results have been reached through a strong-Mahinda centred orientation to goals rather than the means adopted. His cold blooded non-military strategies included political manipulations, arm twisting of media, ignoring aberrations of corruption and human rights, and offering political trade offs for support. If morality was never the strong suite of Sri Lanka politics, amorality has become the order of the day in the last two years.

Handling of international opinion

Surprisingly Rajapaksa has shown a Machiavellian understanding in handling foreign powers, which have interests in his country and the Indian Ocean region. These include the international do-gooders club of Tokyo Donors Conference (EU, Japan, Norway and the US), and more importantly India. As a result he has been able to internationally run with the hares, while hunting them at home on issues of governance – rule of law, human rights and humanitarian concerns, and lack of accountability. These intangible issues are difficult to quantify. Their audit to pinpoint areas of weakness is time consuming. And their progression in the UN is equally slow. The President understands these nuances and has managed to prevent concerted international action against Sri Lanka. While he professes to be sympathetic to the cause of human rights and cites his own record, his priorities are different. At the moment, he knows what is good internationally does not garner populist votes at home.

His actions have not brought any comfort to the Four Co-chairs and India who have been supporting him all along. They have influential human rights watchdogs which have been arm twisting their governments into action on this question. These nations have objected periodically to the lack of response from the government in Sri Lanka. However, by and large, things have continued the same way in Colombo despite some cosmetic response and commissions of enquiry. The ongoing confrontation in Sri Lanka with the LTTE who has ceased to be the darling of international community, has restricted their options. Most of their actions have been limited to discussion and complaints about human rights violations and misconduct of security forces and their paramilitary supporters and threat to cut off aid. No major actions beyond that have been taken. The President appears to have worked out a response style to exploit this attitude of external powers. He always addresses their concerns and takes some tentative action. Though this band-aid methodology is unlikely to yield lasting results, it buys him time.

While Rajapaksa has shown a calibrated readiness to discuss international concerns at the UN, he has firmly objected to the presence of a structured UN mechanism at home. He seems to have understood the way the UN and its creaking bureaucratic structure works. Amidst the cackle of rival powers, the UN takes a long, long time to translate ideas into action. On the other hand, unwittingly the UN has helped the Sri Lanka government by marginalising the need for the Four Co-chairs to raise issues already discussed at the UN. This suits the President.
International mediation

The President’s decision to carry out systematic military operations without denouncing either the ceasefire agreement (CFA) or the peace process, appears to have made the roles of Norway and the SLMM largely irrelevant in impacting the situation. As a result, the chances of reviving either the CFA enforcement or the peace process have become minimal. In any case they were rendered out of date when the security forces redrew the map of the east after grabbing areas of LTTE control. These developments appear to have divided the cohesion within the Four Co-chairs that had existed in the early years of CFA

On a five-point scale of approval for the President’s current ‘war-in-peace strategy’, Japan with five points appears to be wholly, though silently, supporting the President. On the other hand Norway as a one-pointer is at the other end, disapproving their progressive marginalisation. The EU does not appear to be clear on how far it should go on either side of the scale as its member-countries have their own national priorities at work. But the EU has a clear international counter terrorism strategy; so it precludes putting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a recognised terrorist body in many EU member countries, on par with a flawed but elected Government of Sri Lanka.

The India card

India, the reluctant big brother, has been studiously avoiding any open or close involvement in Rajapaksa style of running the country. It is still focusing on strategic aspects of peace process rather than contentious issues of tactical governance, because they are the least controversial. Currently getting involved too closely in Sri Lanka does not suit the Manmohan Singh regime because of its survival preoccupations. His desire to hold on to the continued support of Tamil Nadu political parties has precluded the Indian prime minister from acting on Sri Lanka’s request for supply of arms or overtly supporting the President’s military actions. Thus India, perhaps wittingly, has opened a convenient door for Sri Lanka to import arms from other countries including China and Pakistan.

President Rajapaksa also perhaps assesses that in the long term, if Tamil refugee outflow to India is kept in check, and India’s counsel is listened to India’s ruling leadership will continue the present policy on Sri Lanka. That includes silent defence and intelligent cooperation with Sri Lanka without publicity. India has political constraints in entering into any defence pact at present with Sri Lanka. Except for some spares and ammunition for Russian generic weapons, and the so called non-lethal defence supplies, India is not going to help Sri Lanka’s appetite for weapons. The President understands this. He also seem to know that lack of any political urgency in Tamil Nadu and the mess over building strategic ties with the US are other disincentives for any loud Indian intervention in the island at present. President Rajapaksa who initially wanted India to join the Tokyo Donors Conference has probably dropped the idea having understood India’s reluctance.

India has built strong business partnership with Sri Lanka and the trade between the two countries has been growing fast. So it will be futile to expect India to intervene in Sri Lanka in the same fashion as it did two decades ago even if the circumstances in Sri Lanka change. The Tamil leadership in Sri Lanka should understand this and contextualise their expectations.

V Prabhakaran’s ego appears to be preventing him from taking any initiative to reconstruct his relationship with the ruling Indian leadership. The LTTE continues to be banned in India. Indian security has been put on the alert against LTTE activity on Indian soil. This suits Rajapaksa as his India policy seems to be working, at least for him. He has used it to further his military agenda, at the cost of the peace process, without overtly courting adverse reaction from India.

Widening ethnic cleavages

Perhaps the biggest disservice the Rajapaksa regime has done is to fritter away the fund of good will and understanding between Sinhala and Tamil communities that had existed in the first two years of peace process. The Chandrika-Ranil combine despite their dithering over methodology, had faith in the pursuit of peace. Most of them time their public utterances were translated into action towards this objective. This was responsible for the glimmer of hope that Tamils had nourished that at last their lives would return to the peace mode.

As opposed to this, the President’s often repeated statement that while his government “remains determined to fight terrorism, we are equally committed to seeking a negotiated and sustainable solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka,” has been belied by his actions on ground. There had been a lot of foot dragging in handling the subject itself. Little has been done to revive the peace process. The war lobbies are in the forefront.
Right from the time Rajapaksa issued his manifesto, it was clear that his overwhelming desire to win over the Sinhala vote banks and emerge as the sole leader of Sinhalas overrode other priorities. His subsequent passive response to Tamil sensitivities only re-emphasised the importance of being a member of the majority community in Sri Lanka. The endless security checks, mysterious white van disappearances, and sudden appearance dead bodies in what appeared so much like Mafia killings have heightened the latent sense of insecurity among Tamils.

Undoubtedly, the callous disregard of the LTTE to observe the CFA in both letter and spirit had provided sufficient provocation for the government to act. However, on a number of issues affecting Tamils the government had shown equal callousness. The abandoning of the P-TOMS, the plan for aiding tsunami victims in north and east, is a typical example.

With the Eelam war heating up once again it is going to take a long time to regain the faith of Tamils in getting what they expect as ‘fair play’ – autonomy for the areas where they live in majority. The President’s much heralded All Party Committee (APC) to work out southern consensus on the Tamil question, like many other committee and commissions is tied in knots. It has probably been put on the backburner because of other urgent military and political priorities of the President. It is no wonder that Tamils are now feeling that their concerns are no more a national priority.

Future portends

When Rajapaksa came to power there were a lot of political loose ends: the national leadership was at a dead end and military objectives goalless and merely reactive. The government was on the defensive in dealing with the Norwegians and Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). The LTTE was dictating both political and military terms. Karuna’s break up with the LTTE had created a new paradigm in the east. All these issues required policy directions and deft handling by the government to turn them to its advantage.

President Rajapaksa has used them cleverly to his military ends in freeing the Tamil areas from the LTTE control and build up his case for ‘liberating the north’ from the LTTE.

At the end of two years of office with political parties tied in knots, and India sidelined in his policy horizons, the President is probably working out strategies to take him through his term with success. That would enable him to make it easy to extend it to a second term in office.

After all said and done, the President has come out a clearly goal oriented person, though some of the goals appeared parochial. He has managed to get hold of most of the Sinhala constituency at home, impressing them with the heavy handed military option instead of pursuing a slow and tedious peace process with a recalcitrant LTTE. To handle international opinion, the President has projected Sri Lanka as another front line country in the global war on terror. This has also quietened them down.

The nation is paying a huge human and economic cost in men and material in pursuing a war that holds the promise of victory to the war lobbyists. Counterinsurgency wars without political solutions are always diminishing economic propositions, tuning productive national efforts into ephemeral gain of territory with unclear end results. Sri Lanka is no exception to this rule. Already the cost of living is hitting the roof and tourism, the main source of employment and income, is suffering. World Bank’s caution notwithstanding, the President appears to be bent on his singular pursuit of war in preference to peace.

The LTTE’s record of CFA violations, arms procurement and trafficking, killings and human rights excesses when the peace process was alive, has left it internationally high and dry. Even in countries that had lent a sympathetic ear to Tamil grievances during the last two decades, the LTTE is being shunned. In fact, these countries are involved in the process of dismantling the LTTE support network. That probably makes the President and his military lobby think that after a bloody battle or two in the north, the Tamil issue would become a historical aberration rather than a struggle of minorities for their rights.

They cannot be more mistaken. The quest for democratic rights of Tamils has continued because successive governments have dithered on the issue during the last two decades. Even the first three years of comparative peace from 2002 has not qualitatively made a difference to the Tamil grievances. Military action alone is not going to make the ordinary Tamils participate in the democratic exercise in Sri Lanka. They will continue the fight in some form or other till they are satisfied, whether the LTTE exists or not. After all, the LTTE thrives only on Tamil grievances. That is the bottom line. The President has shown a great deal of political alacrity in handling issues at home and abroad. He has to handle the Tamil issue with the same alacrity if he has to emerge as the President who makes a difference.

In any case the President is far from routing the LTTE in its home turf in the north. If the second failed attempt of the security forces to make headway in Muhamalai last week is any indication, the LTTE continues to remain strong in the north despite its losses. The security forces and the nation will be required to sacrifice more men and material before military victory of sorts comes in the near future. And that is not going to be the end of the agony of the nation and its people.

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In the meeting with the Muslim community leaders, Tamilchelvan, admitted the mistakes of the LTTE and invited the Muslims to join hands with them. He said: “We made mistakes. No one can deny it. The Tsunami has shown us how the Sinhala government actually discriminates against us. Sinhala leaders will never treat us as equals. They achieved their aims in our homeland by dividing us. We cannot let them always divide and rule the Tamil speaking people. We should resolve to achieve our common goal together”

“The Evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones”
Julius Caesar (III.ii.77)

Tamilchelvan was not very much known to the majority of the Eastern Muslims until he had officially visited to Batticaloa in February 2005 , for the funeral of the slain LTTE Batticaloa leader, Kousalyan. Tamilchelvan was able visit with his retinue all over the Eastern Districts. It was a multi-purpose visit that involved in meeting with the Muslim Civil leaders and reinforcing the LTTE control in the East. Sheer expectation of normalcy was on the top of the agenda for the Muslims of the East as they had suffered in the hands of the LTTE militia for decades. On the other hand the Northern Muslims were losing hope of resettlement in the North when the SHIRAN committee became an impasse. In the backdrop of this development Tamil Chelvan visited Batticaloa and met the Muslim Religious leaders on the 14th of February 2005, some two and a half years ago before his demise. Mr. Abdul Jawath, brother of the late Mr. Ahamed Lebbe (Former chairman of Kattankudy Town Council) led the team of the prominent Muslims of the Eastern Province in their meeting with Tamil Chelvan and other LTTE leaders at Kokkaddicholai which is now under Army control. Mr. A. Jawath, attorney-at-law, the Vice President of the Federation of the mosques and Muslim institutions acclaimed this meeting as a means of restoration of Tamil-Muslim ancestral affinity and solidarity.

Until the victorious capture of the East, the perception that the LTTE were the sole representative of the Tamils was deep rooted in the hearts of the Muslim political and community leaders. This perception emanated from their long ingrained fear psychosis created by the advent of Tamil militia of different hues. Nevertheless, Mr.Ashroff was on record to condemn the LTTE without reservation whenever he had the opportunity. When Mr. Ashroff was interviewed by the South Indian Tamil magazine “Vidiyal Velli” ( The Morning Star) just about two weeks before his death he also praised Allah for the achievement of the fact that the LTTE had changed their stance and published on the Internet that the Tamil Eelam was not only for Tamils but also for the Muslims.

Hakeem and the LTTE

Mr. Hakeem had developed a soft contact with Yogaratnam Yogi when he attended the All Party Conference in 1989 in Colombo on behalf of the SLMC during the honeymoon days between Prbakaran and Premadasa. As for Hakeem this was just a point of contact with the LTTE at some ineffective level. Nevertheless, when Segu Dawood Basheer, joined the SLMC he was considered to be useful for his experience with the EROS, a sister organisation of the LTTE. He had a very long relationship with V. Balakunaran and always followed him as his role model in politics. It is believed that he was instrumental in arranging Hakeem to meet Prabakaran, let alone Eric Solheim. Basheer always instilled in the minds of the Muslims that they would have to leave their habitations with shopping bags if they did not vote for the EROS when he was first contested as an EROS candidate in the 1989 General Elections in the Batticaloa District.

This fear psychosis is always evident when Hakeem speaks of the LTTE. Although he clandestinely alleged that it was the LTTE that killed his leader he publicly remained reticent and pursued his demand for an independent commission to investigate his leader’s death. He never forgets to use his name for the sake of reassuring his position as the lifetime leader of the SLMC, especially in the East. Since he met Prabakaran he became more attracted to his kind of “politics”. He also preferred to call himself as a national Muslim leader and call those who left him as “Traitors”.

Hakeem recently also made a comment in a meeting in Maruthamunai that there are people in and out of the parliament, who call him a broker of the LTTE and that he would give the LTTE a pat on the back when they do well and condemn them when they do wrong. I do not know whether Hakeem is aware of any good that the LTTE have done to the Muslims. If so he should openly say at least one of such good deeds. As for the Muslims the LTTE have never done any good and they will always be seen as the oppressors and aggressors.

Hakeem bragged in parliament that he had spoken to Tamil Chelvan on the phone several times but when there was a dispute about third party representation, and complaints about various breaches of Hakeem-Praba agreement, Tamil Chelvan categorically remarked that the pact was torn away and no longer existed. Hakeem seems complacent when it comes to scratching the back of the tigers but fails to pin them by the tail!

In the light of Hakeem’s condolence, I can see an analogy of the meeting that took place between Tamil Chelvan and the Muslims Civil Society in the East in 2005.This reminiscence of events points out that the Muslims were immature in their political approach, as a result, The Muslims tended to place the cart before the horse and demobilise the community. Due to lack of far sighted political strategy and an inconsistent stance the Muslims are always used as curry leaves or offering themselves being used as such. When Mr. M.I Abdullah President of the Federation Mosques in Kalkudah electorate, met Tamil Chelvan, he was certain about the establishment of Tamil Eelam. He said “There is no doubt that Thamil Eelam would be established one day. But it has to be won on the basis of Muslim Tamil unity”,

Muslims condolence to Tamilchelvan

It was quite interesting that a man from Kuwait joined by telephone in the Radio Condolence programme of IBC, a Pro LTTE radio based in London. He introduced himself as “ Risvi” from Amparai District and expressed his condolence to Tamil Chelvan. Although he claimed himself a Muslim from Amparai District,he could not pronounce the name “Risvy” properly like Muslims and pronounced his name as Ridjvi” He ended his condolance with the Tiger motto that “Tigers Thirst is Tameeala Home land “. This hypocrisy is very common among many faceless LTTE supporters.

Muslims’ magnanimity towards the LTTE

In the meeting with the Muslim community leaders, Tamil Chelvan, admitted the mistakes of the LTTE and invited the Muslims to join hands with them. He said: “We made mistakes. No one can deny it. The Tsunami has shown us how the Sinhala government actually discriminates against us. Sinhala leaders will never treat us as equals. They achieved their aims in our homeland by dividing us. We cannot let them always divide and rule the Tamil speaking people. We should resolve to achieve our common goal together”.

Although the delegates comprised of the community leaders from the prominent Muslim towns of the East and many of them had actively highlighted the LTTE killings and other human rights breaches on Muslims, no one among the delegates including the leader, Mr. A. Jawath who comes from Kattankudy where Muslims were killed dared to remark, “Thamby , after Angariga Dharmapala and his henchmen in 1915, no Sinhalese leaders expelled or killed or ordered the killing of Muslims like the leaders of the LTTE. They appear to have forgiven the perpetrators of the crime and showed a great deal of magnanimity.

In the meeting with the Muslim delegates Thamil Chelvan also said: “I assure you that there will be continuity in our policy towards Muslims even if we get killed. Our lives are uncertain. We should build our relationship on a strong foundation in order to overcome this problem”. Yes, just one year after his assurance Mutur was rounded up by the LTTE and some hundreds of Muslim youths were killed and the entire village was evacuated. If not for the Sri Lankan government forces and their allies the Muslims would have been sheltered in another “Puttalam”. He is no more but his worthless words.

All these political blunders of the Muslim politicians may be forgotten and forgiven or interpreted as a political gimmick but what about the remarks of the president of the Eastern Province, Jamiyathul Ulama, who went beyond his faith to praise Tamil Chelvan and his men by quoting from the Quran that Truth, Righteousness and Justice ultimately wins and therefore the Tamil Freedom struggle based on those three cardinal principles, would eventually win.

The Quran also enjoins the Muslims to wage war against those who expelled them from their lands and prevented them from worshipping God. The writer does not beat war drums against the tigers but does not wish to condone the hypocrisy. In the name of the SLMC, Does Hakeem play the role of a traitor when he condones and expresses condolence to the killers of the Muslims of the East? Let history not fail to record his hypocrisy.

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