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Archive for June 11th, 2008

Some people argue that the string of bomb attacks by the LTTE against civilians for the past several weeks was the retaliation to the claymore mine attacks and air attacks that allegedly killed civilians in Vanni recently. .

The pro-LTTE media blamed the Army’s Deep Penetration Team, as they call it, for the claymore mine attacks inside Vanni. Army has repeatedly denied the existence of such a team in their ranks, but there are reasons to believe that there is some mechanism for the Army or other security forces to launch surprise attacks in LTTE held areas.

The argument that the LTTE attacks civilians only in retaliation of the attacks against the Tamil civilians in the areas under their control is being floated by the people for quite a long time without being challenged.  In a country where both belligerent parties wittingly and unwittingly target ordinary people for reasons clear only to them, you can relate any attack of one party to some other attack by the other party, irrespective of the fact as to whether there is really a relation between the two or not.

However, if one is to claim that the LTTE does not harm people without provocation, what is he going to attribute to , for instance the killing of twelve irrigation workers in Welikanda in May 2006 and the claymore mine attack on a passenger bus at Yakawewa in Kebithigollawa in June in the same year ? Both incidents occurred during the ceasefire agreement between the Government and the LTTE and before the war in its real sense  broke out.

The most important point in this regard is that the LTTE has not succeeded in driving home to the south or to the rulers of the country that they engage only in reprisal attacks.

As a matter of fact the LTTE has massacred innocent civilians both after incidents where civilians in the North and East were killed by the security forces and without such provocations.

Once replying to a Sinhalese journalist who posed a question as to why the LTTE kill innocent people in the south by planting bombs in public places, former LTTE political commissar Subbu Paramu Thamilchelvan who was killed in an air raid last year stated that it is natural for the ethnic violence to spill over into the areas outside the battlefront. It was by implication an admission and justification of killing of civilians.

The idea instilled by the LTTE leadership into their low rank cadres who directly involve in the macabre massacres may be that they must avenge the deaths which occurred during shelling and air raids by the security forces. But the idea floated by the pro-LTTE forces since the early eighties when this horrendous barbarity was started was that the Government would be pressurized to bring about a political solution by this kind of action.

Therefore some people in the south also argued that the killing of hundreds of devotees near the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura by a group of LTTE men led by a man called Victor on May 14 in 1985 was a political action. Even today it seems that there are people who follow that line of thinking.

However the first civilian massacre in the history of the present armed strife between the Government forces and the armed Tamil groups was not carried out by any of the Tamil groups though they had been killing individuals then for standing on their way or defying their wishes or collaborating with the security forces.

The incident where 15 Tamil civilians were cold-bloodedly shot dead after the Jaffna bound bus that they were travelling in from Colombo was waylaid at Rambawa and was taken to Poovarasankulam in Vavuniya on September 11, 1984 was the first massacre in the present civil war.

It followed by two more rounds of heinous crimes committed against innocent Sinhalese civilians in Vavuniya and Mullaitivu districts. Sixty two  people in Dollar Farm and Kent Farm, two Sinhalese settlements in Vavuniya district were hacked and shot to death in the night of November 30, 1984 and 11 more Sinhalese villagers were killed in the same way in the fishing villages of Kokkilai and Nayaru in Mullaitivu district on the following night.

Tamil political parties and armed groups as well as those in the south who treated the Tamil armed groups then as freedom fighters- even the JVP then had a soft stance towards the Tamil separatist armed struggle- argued that the two settlements were encroachments into the traditional Tamil areas under the Government’s scheme of Sinhalese colonization in the North and the East and therefore they have been attacked. Sinhalese colonization had then been cited as one of the root causes of the Tamil secessionist campaign.

Unlike in the present military operations Tamil civilians were indiscriminately targeted during military activities, especially in the military retaliations after the hit and run attacks by the Tamil armed groups in the early days of Eelam war. But the attacks on these Sinhalese settlements and villages were not attributed to any  such military activities or the attack on the bus passengers that took place seven weeks ago.

Soon after these incidents there was a time when Sinhalese and Tamil villages in Vavuniya and Mullaitivu districts were alternately targeted by both belligerent parties while denying  responsibility. Then after 1985 the LTTE started targeting civilians in the south, particularly placing bombs in crowded places in and around the capital Colombo resulting in killing  of several thousands of people so far.

Up to 1995 civilians were killed regularly during military operations and in what the Tamil politicians called “carpet bombings” in the North and the East. But since the Operation “Leap Forward” in October 1995 launched from Palali into the Jaffna peninsula which was then entirely under the LTTE control, security forces used to launch artillery fire towards the targeted area at the beginning of the each military thrust prompting the non-combatant ordinary people to flee.

Although this created a new problem of internally displaced People (IDP) the number of civilian casualties during military operations plummeted to a minimal level. And deliberate revenge attack on civilians by the security forces following hit and run attacks by the rebels too became rare since the late eighties.

However though not deliberate air raids still claim civilian lives and there have been complaints on revenge attacks- though relatively few- by the security forces in recent times.

On the other hand deliberate civilian killings by the LTTE have been continuing despite the fact that they do not have any bearing on the mindset of the southern populace and the rulers of the country. The LTTE has so far raided more than hundred villages situated on  either side of the border between the embattled provinces and the other parts of the country killing around 4000 innocent Sinhalese and Muslims.

The contention that the killing of civilians by the LTTE would push the government to bend back to find a political solution bore limited results at the beginning.

Following the famous Pettah bomb blast on April 21, 1985 the pressure mounted locally and internationally, especially from India which drove the JR Jayawardene government into the state conference hall in Bhutanese capital Thimpu in June in the same year.

But lately, people, ironically champions of both war and peace tend to think that LTTE attack on civilians vindicate their respective theories. Following almost all attack on civilians we read statements issued by both peace lobbyists calling for negotiated political settlements and people advocate military solution calling for the annihilation of terrorists.

The interesting side of the story is that both sides following each killing claim that the incidents prove their stance and by implication they call on the other extreme to change their minds. They do not seem to be mindful of the fact that people in the other extreme also do the same.

For instance, after almost all bomb blasts in the south JVP, JHU and leaders of the Government claim that the incidents prove the fact that there cannot be a peaceful solution through negotiations with the terrorists and the situation calls for the crushing of terrorism.

Also we read with these incidents statements issued by the peace lobbying NGOs, diplomats of various countries and the Tamil parties which repeatedly stress that only a political solution would end the tragic situation.

Both sides want the other side to learn lessons from history while they do not want to do so.

Also there seems to be a section of the perpetrators on both sides who think that other side will learn a lesson when they indulge in tit-for-tat killings. The irony is that for about a quarter of a century they have been carrying on with this kind of attacks without anyone learning anything.

Another two theories in respect of the civilian killings by the LTTE are that they attempt to divert the attention of the troops who constantly tend to push into the rebel held areas and that they want to provoke the Sinhalese into a 1983 type pogrom which the LTTE would be able to capitalize on at the international level. All these have been tested for more than a quarter of a century with no avail.

It is true that the most cultured way of finding a solution for the ethnic problem is to talk to each other across the table. But no peace lobbyist knows how to bring the two sides together.

That was why the former Norwegian special envoy to the Sri Lankan peace process Eric Solheim once at the end of his tenure said that even Buddha or Jesus Christ does not know how to reactivate the peace process.

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The Government believes that military victories can provide the space for political and economic solutions to be found and without* military power the result can be more bloodshed, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said in London yesterday.

Delivering a lecture at the Carlton Club, Minister Bogollagama cited the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka as an example for this principle in action.

“Our Armed Forces carried out a military operation which cleared parts of the Eastern province which had been infiltrated by the LTTE. In these areas they had conscripted children, unfairly taxed the people and unleashed untold violence and misery.

Their objective was to subjugate the other communities with the barrel of the gun. Following targeted military action by our security forces, today the eastern province has been completely cleared of the LTTE. *As a result, between March & May this year we have been able to hold local government and provincial council elections in areas where there had been no elections for over 14 years when they were under de-facto LTTE control.”

He said: “One of the most significant aspects of this election was that a breakaway faction of the LTTE decided to renounce the path of violence, register as a political party called the TMVP and contest the elections in coalition with the UPFA, they secured the majority i.e 52.21% of the vote in the Eastern province (obtaining 20 seats in the provincial council).

The significant aspect of this was that due to the coalition arrangement, they campaigned for support among all the communities and received a mandate from a cross-section of the people in the province drawn from all communities.

There was a voter turnout of over 65.2%. These elections were monitored by local and foreign observers and their conclusion was that the election was by and large free and fair.

Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan who has now become the Chief Minister of the Eastern province of our country previously played an active role in the LTTE. He and his members have renounced violence and entered the democratic process. As leader of the party that secured the majority of the votes he was appointed as Chief Minister.

However he has agreed to work together peacefully with all the communities including opposition groups. This indeed is a huge victory for democracy over terrorism but it is a very hard won victory and it must be sustained for the betterment of the people.

Our patience and determination to rid our country of the scourge of terrorism and restore democracy must be correctly understood. It’s endorsement by the people at the elections is the best indicator. We have now launched a massive development drive in the Eastern province.

We are encouraging investors to go into the east because we have to ensure a peace dividend to the long suffering people in these parts. We are confident that the government’s ‘Re-awakening of the east’ programme will truly result in a transformation, for the betterment of the people who live in that province.

The government is equally determined to clear areas of the Northern Province still in the clutches of the LTTE and to restore democracy and bring about rapid economic development in these areas too.”

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