“At independence, in 1948, the new political elite, in its rush for power, cultivated ethnic support in a society whose real imperative should have been the eradication of poverty. Language became the spark,” journalist-documentary filmmaker John Pilger recently wrote.(1)
The Tamil people in Sri Lanka had expectations that they would achieve equal rights and power with the Sinhalese once independence was won from the British colonialists. As the independence movement was winning over colonialization there was no talk of any Tamil separatism.
Even before the defeat of the Axis powers, Britain prepared to decolonize Ceylon. In 1943, the colonial secretary of state stated that a constitution would be drafted will all parties involved. A condition would be that “The Parliament of Ceylon shall not make any law rendering persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities are not made liable …”(2)
Britain established the Soulbury Commission in 1944. The leading Sinhalese politician was D.S. Senanayake—a conservative, who founded, in 1946, the rightist pro-independence and pro-capitalist United National Party (UNP). Senanayake became known as the “Father of Sri Lanka.” He convinced a leading Tamil politician, G.G. Ponnamblam—who founded the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), in 1944—to partake in independence negotiations.
Another provision of the Soulbury Commission (Constitution) was that any bill which evoked “serious opposition by any racial or religious community and which, in the opinion of the Governor-General is likely to involve oppression or serious injustice to any community must be reserved by the Governor-General.”
The vote on the third reading of the “Free Lanka” bill was supported by all the Muslim members and by most Tamil and Sinhalese groups. “Some of the other minority members who did not want to openly support the bill took care to be absent or abstain. Finally, the debate and the vote of acceptance on the eighth and ninth of September 1945 was the most significant indication of general reconciliation among the ethnic and regional groups. Far exceeding the 3/4 majority required by the Soulbury Commission, Senanayake had 51 votes in favor, and only three votes against the adoption of the constitution. The vote was ‘in many ways a vote of confidence by all communities…and the minorities were as anxious as the majority for self-government.’”
Senanayake’s speech in proposing the motion of acceptance made reference to the minorities and said … “throughout this period the Ministers had in view one objective only, the attainment of maximum freedom. Accusations of Sinhalese domination have been bandied about. We can afford to ignore them for it must be plain to every one that what we sought was not Sinhalese domination, but Ceylonese domination. We devised a scheme that gave heavy weightage to the minorities; we deliberately protected them against discriminatory legislation. We vested important powers in the Governor-General… We decided upon an Independent Public Service Commission so as to give assurance that there should be no communalism in the Public Service. I do not normally speak as a Sinhalese, and I do not think that the Leader of this Council ought to think of himself as a Sinhalese representative, but for once I should like to speak as a Sinhalese and assert with all the force at my command that the interests of one community are the interests of all. We are one of another, what ever race or creed.”
The first national election was held August 23-September 30, 1947. 1,887, 364 people voted for 95 MP (members of parliament). There were six parties and many independents. The results were:
UNP with 39.8% (42 MPs)
LSSP 10.8% (10)
BLPI 6% (5)
ACTC 4.4% (7)
CIC 3.8% (6)
CPC 3.7% (3)
Labor 1.4% (1)
Independents 29% (16) (3)
“We are one of another, whatever race or creed,” swore the “Father” of the new independent State. It looked good for all ethnic and religious groups, but then the deceit became evident with the new citizenship act.
On February 4, 1948, the new government introduced the Ceylon Citizenship Bill before Parliament. The outward purpose of the bill was to provide a means of obtaining citizenship, but I think its real purpose was to discriminate against the Indian Tamils by denying them citizenship. The Ceylon Citizenship Act no. 18, August 20, 1948 denied citizenship to 11% of the population.
Although the All Ceylon Tamil Congress opposed the bill, it had joined with the UNP. This provoked half of its members to form the Federal Party, led by SJV Chelvanayakam. Next year, the Indian and Pakistani Residents Act, no.3, disenfranchised nearly all Tamils, who were originally from India. Their seven MPs were kicked out of parliament and there were no Indian Tamils in the 1952 parliament elections. It wasn’t until 1988 that the Sri Lanka government granted citizenship to stateless persons, who hadn’t applied for Indian citizenship. In 2003, 168,141 descendants of Indian Tamils were allowed citizenship.
The new government allowed Sinhalese to appropriate land on the Tamil traditional homeland in the north and east. Entire villages were driven out—ethnic cleansing—which the Sinhalese settled, aiming to break a geographic continuity of the Tamil homeland.(4) Within time, Sinhalese settlers had taken over 30% of Tamil lands and homes—a la Israel in Palestine.
In 1956, The Sinhala Only Act became law. It mandated Sinhala as “the sole official language”, which, at that time was spoken by 70% of the population.
Supporters of the law saw it as an attempt by a community that had just gained independence to distance themselves from their colonial masters, while its opponents viewed it as an attempt by the linguistic majority to oppress and assert dominance on minorities. The Act symbolizes the post independent majority Sinhalese to assert its Sri Lanka’s identity as a nation state, and for Tamils, it became a symbol of minority oppression and a justification for them to demand a separate nation state, which resulted in decades of civil war.
Tamils protested the discriminatory law by using Gandhian tactics of non-violent sit-ins. Although stated advocates of non-violence, Buddhist monks led Sinhalese mobs against Tamils.
The Gal Oya riots… were the first ethnic riots that targeted the minority Sri Lankan Tamils… The riots took place from June 11, 1956 and occurred over the next five days. Local majority Sinhalese colonists and employees of the Gal Oya settlement board commandeered government vehicles, dynamite and weapons and massacred minority Tamils… It is estimated that over 150 people lost their lives due in the violence. Although initially inactive, the Police and the Army were eventually able to re-take control of the situation and brought the riots under control.
Tamil political leader SJV Chelvanayagam began to organize a massive Satyagraha (non-violent resistance). In order to avoid even more bloodshed, Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranayaka signed an agreement with Chelvanayagam promising to restore Tamil as the (or one of two) official language(s) in its minority areas. This infuriated many Sinhalese, especially monks, and they assaulted and sometimes killed Tamils in many areas. Buddhist monks even besieged the official residence of Bandaranayaka demanding that he abandoned the agreement, which he did. But, in 1958, the Sinhalese-led parliament, pressed by the violence and the pro-Moscow and Trotskyist Sinhalese parties, passed an amendment to the Sinhala Only Act (called “Sinhala Only, Tamil Also”) restoring Tamil as a co-official language in their areas of the North and East. Frustrated at the compromise, Sinhalese mobs murdered 200-300 Tamils, including some Sinhalese who gave Tamils refuge. Many Tamil women were raped and some Tamil boys were stripped, bound, and burned alive. This violent hatred evokes the lynching and burning alive of black people by whites in the southern USA.
Some Buddhists were angry that the Sinhalese Prime Minister Bandaranayaka had tried to compromise with Tamils. In 1959, a Buddhist monk assassinated him.
The language law had its intended effect. In 1955, the civil service had been largely made of Tamils, who had benefited more than Sinhalese from western style education provided by missionaries. This fact was used by populist Sinhalese politicians to come to power—or retain power—on the promise of providing more civil service jobs to Sinhalese by demanding that their language be the only one used in public service. By 1970, the civil service was almost entirely Sinhalese. Thousands of Tamil civil servants were forced to resign due to lack of fluency in Sinhala. In the1960s, government forms and services were virtually unavailable to Tamils.
Confrontation became the modus operandi; Sinhalese were the Zionists and Tamils the Palestinians!
It is important to stress, especially with progressive-revolutionary governments, such as the ALBA alliance in Latin America, and their supporters throughout the world, that the Tamils’ history in Sri Lanka is one of constant and widespread discrimination. They are also subjects to a policy of genocide as defined by the United Nations.(5)
Sri Lanka made world headlines in 1960 when a woman, Sirimavo RD Bandaranaike, was elected prime minister—the world’s first female leader. Being the widow of the martyr and founder of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was an asset. She immediately brought Sri Lanka into the Non-Alignment Movement, founded in 1961. The originators—India’s Nehru, Egypt’s Nasser, Yugoslavia’s Tito and Ghana’s Nkrumah—sought support for each other’s sovereignty without aligning with either super-power bloc at that time.(6)
Nevertheless, Sri Lankan leaders of both predominantly Sinhala major parties continued to be dependent upon economic and military ties with India, the US, the UK, and Israel. Social welfare programs were carried out within a capitalist economic structure. This was a cause for radical opposition. In 1971, thousands of Sinhalese students, and Indian Tamil plantation workers, under the leadership of a new nationalistic and Marxist-oriented political party, Janatha Vimukthi Peramana (JVP), translated as Peoples Liberation Front, engaged in anti-government clashes. Fifteen thousand protestors were killed in the uprising.
Once in power, Bandaranaike’s widow did not alter the Sinhalese policy of genocide: “…an ingenious device was resorted to deprive the Tamils of the constitutional safeguards and the characteristics of the conditional polity. A coalition of three Sinhalese political parties, led by Mrs. Sirimavo R.D.Bandaranaike, called upon the people to give a mandate [in the 1970 General Elections, during her second term] for a new Constituent Assembly to scrap the 1948 dominion polity and create a new Republic of Sri Lanka. Whilst the voters in the seven Sinhalese provinces gave Mrs.Bandaranaike the mandate that she had requested, the Tamil voters in the Northern and Eastern Provinces summarily rejected her call. In the North and East, a mere 14% of the votes polled supported the call for a new constituent Assembly.”
Laws protecting rights of racial and religious minorities were abandoned and Buddhism was made the constitutional religion of Sri Lanka.
Sinhalese claimed 5000 acres in the Tamil farmland “Nochikulam” as theirs, renaming it “Nochiyagama.” Next year, 10,738 Sinhalese families settled in Trincomalee illegally.
“The sovereignty of the Tamil people (who were ethnically, geographically and linguistically separately identifiable and distinct) revived.”
With this setback, a reinvigorated ACTC joined with the Federal Party, in 1972, to form the Tamil United Front (TUF). Separatism or autonomy now became the cry for nearly all Tamils, who sought an Eelam part of Sri Lanka. Thirty Tamil militant groups emerged.
“The operative part is Thamil Eelam and it means the Tamil part of Eelam. The term Eelam is a synonym for Sri Lanka and has been in use in Tamil literature right from the Cankam Period dating as far back as 200 B.C. to circa 250 A.D.”
The second government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike enacted a discriminatory double standard law for admission grades to universities, requiring Tamil students to achieve higher grades than Sinhalese.
Throughout the 1970s, Sinhalese mobs clashed—with impunity—not only with Tamils but also Muslim Moors. In 1976, Sinhalese burned 271 houses and 44 shops, murdering a score of Muslims.
In 1976, the Tamil United Front Party changed its name to the Tamil United Liberation Front (TUFP) at the Vattukottai Conference, and adopted a demand for an independent sovereign state in traditional Tamil homeland in the north and east to be known as the “secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam.”(7)
By 1975, Tamil militancy increased with the birth of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, who considered himself a Marxist and follower of Che Guevara. The LTTE engaged in small armed clashes with the military.
The conservative UNP won a landslide victory in the July 1977 elections. But the pro-independence TULF won 6.4% of the popular vote, winning all 14 seats in the Tamil homeland area, and four more seats of the 168-member parliament. In response to Tamil’s peaceful struggle and its parliamentary victory, Sinhalese mobs, led by Buddhist monks, again destroyed many Tamil homes and shops and murdered up to 300 Tamils.
In July 1978, the UNP, led by Prime Minister Junius Richard Jayewardene, changed the constitution and renamed the country the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. An executive presidency was established, allowing the president greater powers than the prime minister, whom the president now appoints. The president is also the commander-in-chief and head of the cabinet. He can dissolve parliament and has judicial impunity.
Jayewardene became the first president and appointed Ramasinghe Premadosa (UNP) prime minister. Despite the new name, “democratic socialist republic,” the capitalist government began deregulating much of what had been government run enterprises. Private enterprise was priority.
On May 31, 1981, the TULF held a rally in Jaffna in the north. Police clashed with Tamils and two policemen were killed. For three days, Sinhalese mobs, policemen, and soldiers went on a rampage. Several Tamils were taken from their homes and killed. The TULF headquarters, a newspaper office, presses, and shops were destroyed. Worst of all was the total destruction of the Jaffna library and its 97,000 volumes of books and irreplaceable historical manuscripts, some made of palm leaves. It is now well known that the fire that destroyed this unique institution of the Tamils in their homeland was masterminded by a handful of ministers of the Sinhala Government in Colombo, who were present in Jaffna the night of the fire.
“The national newspapers did not carry information about the incident and in subsequent parliamentary debates some majority Sinhalese members reminded minority Tamil politicians that if Tamils were unhappy in Sri Lanka, they should leave for their homeland in India. This is a direct quotation from United National Party member MP WJM Lokubandara:
“If there is discrimination in this land which is not their (Tamil) homeland, then why try to stay here? Why not go back home (India) where there would be no discrimination?”
“Twenty years later, the mayor of Jaffna, Nadarajah Raviraj, still grieved at the recollection of the flames he saw as a University student. He was later killed by unknown gunmen in the capital Colombo, in 2006.”
Civil War and LTTE
By summer 1983, the then small guerrilla army of LTTE was well settled in most northern and eastern areas. Their first major assault against the state’s military took place at Jaffna peninsula, July 24. LTTE ambushed a convoy of soldiers passing through land mines and killed 15.
This could have been in response to many random attacks upon Tamils in various areas. One example is in Trincomalee where, on 10 April 1983, a young Tamil died in police custody after having been held without charge for two weeks. At the judicial inquest into his death, on May 31, the Jaffna Magistrate returned a verdict of homicide. Three days later, the government changed the rules permitting the police to bury or cremate bodies without a post mortem or an inquest.
Amnesty International cabled President Jayawardene expressing concern that such a regulation could give rise to grave human rights violations and appealed to him to rescind it. But he did not. On the contrary, on June 3, 1983, the day that the new Emergency Regulation was brought into effect, the attacks on the Tamils in Trincomalee commenced in earnest.
R. Sampanthan, M.P. for Trincomalee, described that mobs of Sinhalese went from village to village setting fire to Tamil houses and shops. A particular modus operandi was observed. Heavily armed service personnel would enter a Tamil area and carry out a search alleging that explosions and dangerous weapons were hidden in that area. Invariably nothing would be recovered other than implements that would normally be available in any house. Sometimes Tamil youths would be arrested on “suspicion” and taken for questioning. After a month of many pogrom raids, the LTTE struck the army convoy.
That night and for weeks Sinhalese rampaged against Tamils, especially in the Colombo area where some Tamils youths were stripped naked and burned alive in petrol. Black July ended with between 2000 and 3000 dead Tamils, among them 53 prisoners, including key political leaders, who were murdered by Sinhalese prisoners at Welikadai. One political prisoner, Kuttimani, had his eyes gouged out and stomped upon under a soldier’s boots.
One hundred thousand Tamils were rendered homeless and that many and more fled to India.
Even non-violent advocates of separatism or independence, such as the TULF, were pushed out of the democratic process. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in August 1983, classified all separatist movements as unconstitutional. That meant that all its members of parliament—16 then—lost their seats. Thousands of Tamil youth joined militant armed groups, especially the LTTE, which became the most disciplined and well organized.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the LTTE established a de facto state, called Tamil Eelam, and managed a government, which provided a judicial court system, a police force, and social assistance in health and education and for the poorest. LTTE ran a bank, a radio station (Voice of Tigers), even a television station. Guerrilla leaders helped organize small cooperative farming units based on traditional methods. The LTTE dismantled the caste system and officially stopped discrimination against women. The LTTE organized a civilian administration under its command. There was order and peace in these areas, as long as everyone obeyed and when the Sri Lanka army did not bomb.
In the 1980s, there was much discontent in other parts of Sri Lanka. Radical Sinhalese youths, such as the JVP, demanded going further towards socialism. In 1987, JVP engaged in another armed uprising. But after 1989, it entered into parliamentary politics. It participated in the 1994 parliamentary general election and joined conservative and liberal party coalitions in opposing equal rights with Tamils.
Ranasinghe Premadasa was prime minister from February 1978 to January 1, 1989, under President Jayewardene, and then he became president until his assassination on Mayday 1993. Many Sinhalese elitists thought he was too common to be their leader and too compromising with Tamils. Controversial policies under his terms included the matter of language, ethnic cleansing, and the role of India in internal affairs. The first controversy was the constitutional amendment allowing “equality” of languages in the Tamil areas: “National languages shall be Sinhala and Tamil,” although, “The official language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala. Tamil shall also be an official language. English shall be a link language.”
This compromise spoke in double tongues. Why not just make Sinhala and Tamil equally official, as India has done with a score of languages?
Even a U.S. Library of Congress study characterized Tamils as alienated. In 1988, it published, SriLanka: a Country Study. In the chapter entitled, “Tamil Alienation,” the authors wrote:
Moderate as well as militant Sri Lankan Tamils have regarded the policies of successive Sinhalese governments in Colombo with suspicion and resentment since at least the mid-1950s, when the “Sinhala Only” language policy was adopted…
Several issues provided the focus for Sri Lankan Tamil alienation and widespread support, particularly within the younger generation, for extremist movements…Sinhalese still remained the higher-status “official language,” and inductees into the civil service were expected to acquire proficiency in it. Other areas of disagreement concerned preference given to Sinhalese applicants for university admissions and public employment, and allegations of government encouragement of Sinhalese settlement in Tamil-majority areas.
“Government-sponsored settlement of Sinhalese in the northern or eastern parts of the island, traditionally considered to be Tamil regions, has been perhaps the most immediate cause of inter-communal violence. There was, for example, an official plan in the mid-1980s to settle 30,000 Sinhalese in the dry zone of Northern Province, giving each settler land and funds to build a house and each community armed protection in the form of rifles and machine guns. Tamil spokesmen accused the government of promoting a new form of ‘colonialism’,” but the Jayewardene government asserted that no part of the island could legitimately be considered an ethnic homeland and thus closed to settlement from outside. Settlement schemes were popular with the poorer and less fortunate classes of Sinhalese.”
Che Guevara made no bones about the significance of alienation: “…the ultimate and most important revolutionary aspiration (is) to see man liberated from his alienation.”(8)
India’s Vacillating Role
The role of India in Sri Lanka’s civil war was a major problem. India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, son of assassinated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, first supported the LTTE. His air force even dropped 25 tons of aid in their territory in Jaffna (Operation Poomalai). A month following this, the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord was signed between Gandhi and the reluctant Prime Minister Ranasinghe Presmadasa, under pressure from his president, JR Jayewardene. The July 29, 1987 accord was expected to resolve the ongoing civil war. Colombo agreed to devolution of power to the Tamil provinces, and its military was to withdraw in exchange for the Tamil rebels’ disarmament. The LTTE had not been made party to the talks but reluctantly agreed to surrender arms to the Indian Peace Keeping Force. Within a few months, however, both sides flared into an active confrontation. Indian soldiers died in far greater numbers than Tamil rebels: 1,500 killed and 4,500 wounded.
In January 1989, Premadasa was elected President on a popular platform promising that the Indian Peace Keeping Force would leave within three months. The police action was unpopular in India as well, especially with some 50 million Tamil Nadu people. Gandhi refused to withdraw India’s troops, however, believing that the only way to end the civil war was to politically force Premadasa and to militarily force the LTTE to accept the accord. But, in December 1989, Vishwanath Pratap Singh was elected India’s Prime Minister and completed the pullout.
On May 21, 1991, in an act of revenge over India’s militarist actions, a female LTTE member blew up Rajiv Gandhi in a suicide bomb attack. In 1992, India became the first government, even before Sri Lanka, to declare the LTTE a terrorist group.
President Premadasa resumed the civil war, which became stalemated. Many forces were angry with him, including a rival Sinhalese leader Lalith Athulathmudali, who sought an impeachment motion against Premadasa, in 1991. Lalith was an adamant supporter of Zionism.
When Athulathmudali, a pro-Israeli power broker, challenged Premadasa two years ago with an impeachment motion in the parliament, Premadasa openly accused Mossad, the intelligence agency of Israel, of trying to topple him. In his address to the Sri Lankan parliament, Premadasa said,
“…I had Israeli interests section removed. In such a context there is nothing to be surprised about the Mossad rising up against me. Please remember that there are among us traitors who have gone to Israeli universities and lectured there and earned dirty money…”
cited Sachi Sri Kantha, quoting the prime minister in “The Puzzles in President Premadasa’s Assassination Revisited.”
In April 1993, Athulathmudali was murdered. Eight days later, on Mayday, Premadasa was murdered. The LTTE did not claim responsibility for these assassinations but were so blamed by Sinhalese and the mass media.
“When Athulathmudali was assassinated last April, the members of his party immediately accused Premadasa for ordering the killing. The murder of Premadasa could have been a return hit planned and executed by the Mossad which had lost its major card in Sri Lankan politics.”
The second Eelam war lasted from 1989 until November 1994 when the People’s Alliance (led by SLFP) candidate, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, won the presidency. But peace negotiations broke down and the war continued from 1995 until the end of 2001 when ceasefire negotiations made progress. But not before the LTTE proved to the Sri Lanka government and military, with 230,000 well armed troops, that it was its equal. With somewhere around 5000 guerrillas—along with a small Sea Tigers boat unit, which made some pirate hits for funding, and even a few light civilian aircraft, the Sky Tigers, which sometimes made damaging raids against the Air Force—the LTTE won many military victories.
The Sri Lankan military often bombed civilian Tamils in the LTTE-controlled zones. It claimed that they were legitimate “collateral damage” given that the guerrillas allegedly forced them to remain against their will. The civilian hostage charge was widely reported as truth by the west and its mass media, as was the allegation that the LTTE forces children into armed combat.
On January 31, 1996, the LTTE stunned the nation when it bombed the Central Bank in Colombo, which managed most financial business accounts. One suicide bomber with 200 kilos of explosions drove through the main gate and exploded, wiping out many bank floors and several other buildings. Behind him came a vehicle with two cadres firing rifles and launchers. They escaped but were later captured. Material damage was tremendous but more so was the loss of 53 lives and injuries to 1,400 people, most of them not military targets.
On July 24, 1996, LTTE forces bombed a commuter train killing 70 Sinhalese civilians. By the end of the 1990s, both sides had killed tens of thousands of people. Civilians were targeted by both sides. The Tigers claimed that civilians were targeted only when associated with military installations. But some attacks, such as the train, were unjustifiable. Furthermore, the LTTE has often murdered other Tamils who also seek autonomy but were not part of the LTTE or had made public critiques. It has, for example, killed several leaders of the TULF.
On April 22, 2000 LTTE forces surprisingly overran Sri Lanka’s Elephant Pass military base on Jaffna. Over 1,000 troops were killed and huge quantities of arms and ammunition were taken.
Around 3:30 am on July 24, 14 members of the LTTE Black Tiger suicide squad infiltrated Katunayake air base… After destroying electricity transformers to plunge the base in darkness they cut through the barbed wire surrounding the base to begin their assault. Using rocket propelled grenades, anti-tank weapons and assault rifles, the militants attacked the air force planes. They were not able to attack the aircraft in the hangars but did destroy eight military aircraft on the tarmac: three Nanchange K-8 trainer aircraft, one Mil Mi-17 helicopter, one Mil Mi-24 helicopter, two LAI Kfir fighter jets, and a Mig-27. Five K-8s and one MiG-27 were also damaged. A total of 26 aircraft were either damaged or destroyed in the attack.
Eight Tigers and three air force officers died in the battle at the air base. The six remaining LTTE members then crossed the runway to nearby Bandaranaike Airport. Using their weapons, they began blowing up any civilian aircraft they could find, which were all empty. One Airbus340 was destroyed by an explosive charge; an A330 was destroyed by a rocket fired from the control tower. In addition, an A320-200 and an A340-300 were damaged in the assault.”
All 14 guerrillas were killed, along with six Sri Lankan air force personnel and one soldier killed by friendly fire; 12 soldiers were injured, along with three Sri Lankan civilians and a Russian engineer… The cost of replacing the civilian aircraft was estimated at $350 million USD. The attack caused a slowdown in the economy of Sri Lanka, to about -1.4%. Tourism also plummeted, dropping 15.5% at the end of the year.
During two decades of civil war, the LTTE had several times offered a ceasefire on the condition of negotiations to establish peace and ethnic equality. With this military victory, the guerrilla army offered a unilateral ceasefire. Some national voices and many international ones were also pressing for a ceasefire. Norway took concrete steps, but it was this spectacular military victory and the loss to the economy that forced the government to the bargaining table.
The formal Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was signed on February 22, 2002. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and LTTE leader Velupillai Pirabakaran signed the agreement, alongside mediator Jan Petersen representing Norway’s foreign ministry.
Provisions provided for each side holding their ground positions. Neither side was to engage in any offensive military operation or move munitions into the area controlled by the other side.
The LTTE proposed an Interim Self-Government Authority (ISGA) to administer the Tamil homeland, pending final agreement and elections. The ceasefire was monitored by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission. It was staffed by designees from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland. The US, UK and other EU countries had observers. Headquarters were established in Colombo, and there were 60 monitors in six district teams and two naval ones. The SLMM monitored violations and mediated between the two parties but could not enforce sanctions. Many Sinhalese considered the Monitoring Mission, especially Norway, of being partial to the Tigers.
During the ceasefire, progress was made in agricultural development and general infrastructure in the Tamil Homeland. Many foreigners were invited to observe and participate in building Tamil Eelam. Impressive first-hand accounts have been written about the progress in many areas: administrative, economic and a social welfare network. While voices friendly to this process praised the advances made, many also questioned the lack of civilian input in the decision-making process.
The LTTE did not emphasize an international political solidarity movement. It did appeal for economic donations, which poured to it, especially from Tamils in the Diaspora. The LTTE stopped speaking of Marxism or building a socialist independent state. It emphasized winning militarily—if Sri Lanka continued preventing an autonomous Tamil homeland—and constructing a social welfare state with cooperative and private enterprises. The Tigers became so respectable they could openly purchase weaponry from some countries not directly under the thumb of US-EU-Israel or their partial antagonists: China, Iran and Pakistan. A May 29, 2009 Times Online piece quotes the editor of Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, saying that the LTTE used 11 merchant ships to deliver weapons, many of which they got from Bulgaria, Ukraine, Cyprus, Thailand and Croatia. Even the World Bank recognized the LTTE as an unofficial State, according to its representative in Sri Lanka, Peter Harrold, in 2005.
The LTTE was even building a Tamil University where Tamils in the Diaspora would have taught. I spoke with one of them, a man who had earned a doctorate degree in environmental science and taught in European universities. He frequently visited the homeland he had left three decades previously. He hoped that he would return and teach once the university would be opened.
An activist in independence forces using peaceful methods, he wished to remain anonymous. His impressions were that the Tigers were the dominating factor in civilian administration but that as long as no one objected one felt safe in the Homeland areas whenever Colombo’s armed forces were not bombing. He was critical that the LTTE armed forces had resorted to terrorist methods in their history, such as assassinating political critics. The professor, however, did not think the LTTE forced children into combat or used civilians as human shields, generally.
“Tigers were good people, intelligent and sensitive to people and nature. But contradictions did exist. They were a strange animal.”
Cease Fire Ends
On December 26, 2004, the greatest earthquake-tsunami ever recorded (9.3) hit Southeast Asia. Eleven countries were deeply affected: 230,000 were killed or missing. Sri Lanka was one of the worst disasters. About 40,000 people were killed or missing; 1.5 million were displaced from their homes. International aid poured in but did not arrive in the North and East due to Sinhalese political party opposition. The LTTE organized all the aid it could muster for hundreds of thousands in the Tamil homeland. Foreign volunteers and emergency relief organizations praised the LTTE for its effective and caring work. There are many accounts of this.
Mahinda Rajapakse was appointed prime minister April 6, 2004, and then elected President on November 19, 2005 with just 50.3% of the vote. He was the pro-war candidate of a new coalition, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Tamil political parties and many foreign relief groups accused Rajapakse of diverting Tsunami relief funds designated for their homeland. In this complex reality, those parties most adamant about refusing aid to suffering Tamils and who demanded an end to the ceasefire with the objective of launching an all-out war were those claiming to be either hard-core Marxist-Communist-Trotskyists or self-proclaimed non-violent Buddhists.
“United People’s Freedom Alliance [is] undoubtedly the broadest coalition of progressive forces in the country. This coalition, which came into being in 2004 upon a platform of new liberal socio economic program and a resolve to defeat separatist terrorism, has since mobilized people around a social democratic agenda.”
This coalition is not just made up of alleged “progressives” but of “social” capitalists and self-styled “democratic socialists.” At the start, the coalition parties were: Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya, Muslim National Unity Alliance, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, Democratic United National Front, and Desha Vimukthi Janatha Party.
The Communist Party of Sri Lanka and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party signed a memorandum of understanding with the SLFP so their candidates would take part in parliamentary elections in the new coalition. They also joined the UPFA. On April 2, 2004, the alliance won 45.6% of the popular vote and took 105 out of 225 seats.
A Buddhist political party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), was founded in February 2004 and participated in the 2004 parliamentary elections, winning 6% of the vote for nine seats. In 2007, it formally joined the hodge-podge UPFA coalition government and was given a ministry post.
On April 3, 2008, JHU’s leader gave his reasons for warring against Tamils to the United States government financed Voice of America radio station.
Athurliye Rathana, a Buddhist monk who heads the Jathika Hela Urumaya party in Sri Lanka’s parliament, wants to end the suffering by putting a quick end to the war. Speaking with VOA at a seaside hotel in this former tourist haven, Rathana says he supports the government’s latest military offensive to quash the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
“Anytime a militant group is harmful to peaceful people, then government should have the right to exercise constitutional law and order,” Rathana said. “And, LTTE is unlawful and so, under our constitutional law, anyone cannot exercise militancy. But [with] the LTTE separatist movement, the government has some duty to control their military activities. I say only one thing, ‘Please do your duty.’”
For comments like that, the Sri Lankan media has branded Rathana the “war monk,”… his sentiments are common in Sri Lanka’s majority ethnic Sinhala community.
Rathana is a celebrated figure in this predominantly Buddhist nation, where monks are cherished for their spiritual guidance. The pro-war activism of Rathana and others has spurred as many as 30,000 Sinhalese young men to join the army in the past few months.
The UPFA alliance of apparently conflicting ideologies and economic policies is so strange that one can easily be confused about who is who and why their politics are such that they are. After a month’s research, having begun as a total novice to this region, I am unclear about why various political forces take the position they do not only about the Tigers but about the entire Tamil ethnic group. For many Sinhalese, an engrained racism is clearly a major motivation. But how can one explain that a Tamil group, Eelam People’s Democratic Party, also takes part in this coalition of Sinhalese racists? The EPDP is a paramilitary group fighting against the LTTE alongside the government. It even has one member in parliament. EPDP also assassinates civilians, including BBC reporter Nimalarajan Mylvaganam.
The Cease Fire Agreement was a thorn in the side of the new ruling coalition. Although the government claimed that the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission favored the Tiger guerrillas, its monitors had lodged 3006 violations committed by the LTTE and only 133 by the government, as of June 30, 2005. From May 2006 onward to its termination in January 2008, the Monitoring Mission was hampered by worsening hostilities, especially following a Sea Tiger boat attack on a navy convoy, May 11, 2006.
The European Union then placed the Tigers on its terrorist list, while appearing to be even-handed by calling upon the Sri Lankan government to end its “culture of impunity” and to “curb violence” in its areas of control.
Sweden, Finland and Denmark, as members of EU, also considered the Tigers to be terrorists, and the LTTE objected to their membership on the Monitoring Mission. They withdrew leaving only Norway and Iceland with 20 monitors. The reduced Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission disbanded in 2008. The path for a full war was clear.
(1) John Pilger, “Distant Voices, Desperate Lives,” New Statesman, May 13, 2009.
(2) See Article 29 of Soulbury Commission.
(3) LSSP=Ceylon Equal Society Party comprised of Sinhalese Trotskyists; BLPI=Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India also Trotskyists; CIC=Ceylon Indian Congress, which soon changed its name to Ceylon Workers Congress, represented the Indian Tamils of the Estates Workers Trade Union; CPC, the Communist Party of Ceylon, with a pro-Moscow line; Labour was fashioned after Clement Attlee-led British Labour party. The Marxist parties later colluded with capitalist Sinhalese parties in opposing equality with Tamils. The CPC is now the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, which is part of the United People’s Freedom Alliance that includes the Sri Lanka Freedom Party-led government of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
(4) “The Unspeakable Truth,” British Tamil Forum, 2008, p.8.
(5) See part 1, “Justice for Sri Lanka Tamils.”
(6) In 1976, Colombo was the summit site. In 1979, the Havana Declaration ensured “the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries” in their struggle against “imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism and racism.” In 2006, there were 118 member nations, representing 55% of the world’s population. Many of these nations have been at war with one another, and many have aligned with one or other of the previous super-powers.
(7) My reading of Tamil history shows many discrepancies in dates and events. Different writings on the LTTE contend it was created at different times, either in 1972, 1975 or 1976.
(8) Che Guevara, Socialism and man, Marcha, Uruguay, March 12, 1965.
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