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Home > International Tamil Conferences on Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle > > International Conference on Tamil Nationhood, Canada 1999 > Current Political Dynamics of the Tamil National Conflict in Sri Lanka

Proceedings of International Conference On Tamil Nationhood
& Search for Peace in Sri Lanka, Ottawa, Canada 1999

The Current Political Dynamics
of the Tamil National Conflict in Sri Lanka

G.G.Ponnambalam (Jr.), General Secretary, All Ceylon Tamil Congress

Sri Lanka is in the throes of a crisis into which she descended, with her eyes wide open, almost two decades ago. It is a political crisis concerning the Tamil National Question - a conflict between the 76% Sinhala Nation, on the one hand, and the 12% Tamil Nation, on the other, both living together, at the moment, within the shores of an island.

The crisis commenced when the Tamil youth, tired both of the Sinhala political leadership and the Tamil political leadership, literally stormed a Convention at Pannakam, in the Jaffna Peninsula, called by a loose association of Tamils styled the Tamil United Front, in May 1976, and saw to it that a resolution for the setting up of the separate state of Tamil Eelam was passed which, therefore, also led to the word "liberation" being added to the association which became finally known as the Tamil United Liberation Front(TULF). The passing of the resolution to set up a separate state and the formation of the TULF was a watershed in the history of the Tamil Nation in the island.

The reason for the drastic step taken at Pannakam was due to the fact that the Sinhala and Tamil political leadership could not, together, find a solution to what was till then, the "Tamil Problem".

The passing of the Sinhala Only Bill in June 1956 by a Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led Government which made the Sinhala language the only official language of Ceylon, as it then was, was in itself a watershed in the history of the island and, in particular, in the relationship between the Sinhala and Tamil Peoples. After the Sinhala Only Bill, problems cropped up in Sinhala-Tamil relationship and the Tamils were quick to identify four areas of "grievances".

The four areas were, firstly, the fact that Sinhala was made the only official language. Secondly, that there was discrimination in the matter of admission of Tamil students for higher education and that such admission was not done on the basis of merit. Thirdly, that there was discrimination in the filling of employment opportunities in the Government sector. Fourthly, that there was an invidious and insidious scheme of state-aided colonisation of traditional Tamil areas with Sinhala People from other parts of the island in such a way that the whole idea was to change the demographic complexion of the Tamil areas and to make them, with time, Sinhala majority areas.

The Tamil leadership sought to solve this Tamil Problem by a bi-partisan approach. It was thought that if the largest Tamil party in Parliament could come to terms with the Government of the day, one could have a lasting solution to the Tamil Problem. On this basis, the largest Tamil party in Parliament in 1957, the Federal Party (FP), entered into a pact with the SLFP led Government. This Pact was called the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957, taking the names of the leaders of the two parties. This Pact sought to set up Regional Councils and tackled some aspects of language and colonisation.

Because this Pact was essentially one between two political parties, it did not take long for the other parties, both Sinhala and Tamil, to start casting stones at the Pact. The United National Party(UNP), which was the Alternate Government, on the side of the Sinhalese, and the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), the only other Tamil party, were particularly hostile to the Pact. Before long, Bandaranaike who could not resist the opposition to the Pact, caved in to extreme Sinhala chauvinism and unilaterally abrogated the Pact.

Tamil leadership should have realised by now that any agreement between two political parties was bound to run into hot water. But they persisted with this approach and also helped to form and stabilise Governments without a corresponding quid pro quo. This happened in 1960 when the FP helped to form a SLFP Government which did not, during it tenure, help in any way to solve the Tamil Problem.

In 1965, the FP entered into a Pact with the UNP called the Dudley-Chelvanayagam Pact, again taking the names of the leaders of the respective parties. This Pact made way for the setting up of District Councils which was to provide some leeway for the Tamils to look after their own affairs in the North and East. Again because this Pact was the result of an agreement between the UNP and FP, it attracted opposition from the SLFP, on the side of the Sinhalese and the ACTC, on the side of the Tamils and midway during the debate on the District Councils Bill in 1966, the UNP chose to abandon the Bill due to widespread opposition. The Tamil Problem stood unresolved in any way.

In 1970, the SLFP, with its allies the Leftists, came into power with a steam roller majority and was, therefore, not interested in the Tamils nor in the Tamil Problem and absolutely nothing was done. In fact, the SLFP dominated Government went for a new Constitution where, not only did it ruthlessly reject all amendments the Tamils moved but also removed what little safeguard there was in the 1946 Soulbury Constitution in the form of Section 29 and gave the Sinhala language and the Buddhist religion the foremost place constitutionally.

This state of affairs went on and was made worse by a system of standardisation that was introduced in late 1972 which stipulated that Tamil students had to obtain a higher aggregate of marks in order to vie with the Sinhala student for the same place in the University. This did away with merit being the only criterion for higher education and almost made life intolerable for the Tamils and more so for the Tamil youth.

Because of the complete impotence of the Tamil leadership to stem the tide through the Parliamentary system, the Tamil youth effectively sidelined the Tamil Parliamentary leadership, took over reins themselves and chose the militant path in 1972. It is this militancy that was instrumental in projecting the Tamil Eelam Resolution at Pannakam and worked with single-minded devotion at the 1977 General Elections one year after the Pannakam Convention - to see that the Tamil People accepted the decision to separate and give a mandate to the TULF to set up a Constituent Assembly in the Tamil areas to draw up a constitution for the separate state of Tamil Eelam and declare Tamil Eelam.

But no sooner the Elections were over, the TULF not only went to the Parliament in Colombo, which they decried so vociferously during election time, but also accepted the post of the Leader of the Opposition in what they described during the hustings as the "Sinhala Sri Lankan Parliament". As if this was not bad enough, the Tamil political leadership, once again made the mistake of tagging along with the UNP Government in power in order to find a solution to the Tamil Problem.

This they did by going into a Commission set up to find a solution. This Commission came up with the recommendation to set up District Development Councils. There was no participation of the other Sinhala opposition parties in the Commission and the proposed system was again opposed by a vast section of the Sinhala and Tamil masses. Though the District Development Councils system became a legal reality and elections were held for these bodies, the system came to a grinding halt even before it could effectively get off the ground. This was due to the tremendous opposition to this system from the majority Sinhala Nation which the UNP Government in power could not effectively resist and allowed the system to be non-workable by withholding finances.

Having learnt bitter lessons at finding a solution to the Tamil Problem through a bi-partisan approach, the UNP Government came up with the idea of calling an All Party Conference in 1984 to settle the Tamil Question.

Soon after the Sri Lankan Government engineered disgraceful pogrom of 1983 directed against the Tamils, G. Parthasarathy authored a document called Annexure C for the Indian Government which President J. R. Jayawardena was to place before the contending parties as a solution to the Tamil National conflict. It was for this purpose that the UNP summoned an All Parties Conference in January 1984 and whilst Jayawardena placed Annexure C before the Conference, he did not commend it and from that moment every body at the Conference started speaking for the record and this process went on till December 1984.

At this Conference the chauvinist Sinhala opposition parties started playing politics and left the Conference, for one reason or another, leaving behind only the UNP, the Tamil Parties, the Muslims and the Buddhist Clergy! The Conference ended with the Tamils rejecting all that took place at the Conference with Jayawardene making the startling announcement that "The Tamils want Regional Councils and nothing less and the Sinhalese agree to District Councils and nothing more" or words to that effect.

A year later, the UNP came along with another attempt to get all parties to the table by calling it the Political Parties Conference which again failed after the first sitting.

This process, then, of either the UNP or the SLFP shooting down what the other proposes to do has been going on for far too long and far too often. It all stems from the urgent requirement of the two principal Sinhala parties, the UNP and the SLFP, not wanting to loose the vast Sinhala vote base in an endeavour to solve the Tamil National conflict regarding which no Sinhala party has the political will, even today, to do the correct thing.

In the context of this scenario, it becomes imperative today that if ever there is to be a solution to the Tamil National conflict, then all the parties representing the Sinhala Nation, if one were to spell out their names, the SLFP, UNP, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the Communist Party (CP), the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP) and the Democratic United National Lalith Front (DUNLF) must all come together themselves, in the first instance, and decide amongst themselves what their common position is on the Tamil National Question. Without this stage being put into motion, one could not expect a movement forward in finding a solution.

It would seem that this stage is imperative in view of the fact that none of these Sinhala parties, except, of course, the NSSP, have a policy of their own on the Tamil issue. Whilst the NSSP, one of the smaller parties, has over the years been forthright in its policy towards the Tamils, the bigger and more well known of the Sinhala parties have not put so much as a line in their manifestos, even at election time, regarding the Tamil Problem. The Sinhala party forming the Government tries to salve its conscience by distributing its largesse to a handful of Tamils in the way of positions in the Establishment and think they have done their bit with regard to the Tamil issue.

Till about the mid 1970s, the Tamil National conflict was very much a low key affair and confined within the shores of the island. With the passing of the Tamil Eelam Resolution at Pannakam in 1976 and the Tamil Eelam mandate given to the TULF by the Tamils of the North and East in 1977 and the official break between the traditional Tamil leadership and the Tamil youth at the TULF`s Convention in Vavuniya in August 1980 and the disgraceful pogrom against the Tamils in 1983, the conflict had become sufficiently "internationalised" to warrant on attempt at conflict resolution being made in Bhutan, a neutral ground chosen by the Government of India. This was at the Thimpu Talks of July 1985 where the Government of Sri Lanka and the "Delegation of the Tamil People" comprising of six Tamil parties sat down to talk at a meeting under the aegis of the Government of India.

By this time, the Tamil Nation had graduated to wanting the recognition and acceptance of their "aspirations" as opposed to "concessions", "rights", etc. and had abandoned worrying not only about "grievances", "discrimination", but also about looking at itself as a "community" or "minority", etc. It was to be henceforth aspirations and nationhood.

It was this radical change in concept of the Tamil Nation that found expression in the four "Thimpu Principles" which articulated the "aspirations" of the Tamil Nation. The four "Thimpu Principles" were: (1) that the Tamil people are a distinct and separate identity, and therefore must be accepted as a Nation; (2) that the Tamils have a traditional homeland and its territory must be inviolate; (3) that, on the basis of the two norms above, the Tamils are possessed of the inalienable right to self-determination, and (4) the principle of equality.

"The Delegation of the Tamil People" comprising of, a group of six Tamil recognised Political Parties - the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Peoples Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and the Eelam Research Organisation of Students (EROS) - further emphasised that any political solution, in the future, to the Tamil National conflict could only be after the acceptance and recognition, in toto, of the Thimpu Principles, in the first instance.

The Sri Lankan Government would not hear of this and the Talks broke even before it could start. But however unpalatable the Thimpu Principles may be to the Sinhala Nation, only the total acceptance of these Principles, today, can bring the Tamils to the table to discuss a political solution to the Tamil National conflict.

Till about the mid 1980s, the Tamils were either largely taken for granted by the Sinhalese or were subjected to physical violence till an organisation called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) comprising of a band of dedicated and disciplined boys, shedding blood and sacrificing their young lives for a "cause" - the cause of liberation and of freedom for their oppressed People and the dawn, once again, of their cherished homeland of Tamil Eelam came along and gave the battered Tamil Nation dignity and self-respect that has made them the darling of the Tamils and the Pride of the Tamil Nation. After 1985 the Tamil National conflict and indeed the history of Sri Lanka is largely the story of the LTTE.

The UNP, when it was in power for seventeen years, from 1977 till 1994, did not have the political will to solve the Tamil National Problem. This is shown by the fact that President Jayawardena very indifferently placed Annexure C before the All Parties Conference in 1984. Even as regards the Indo-Lanka Agreement of 1987, prepared again by India and given to President Jayawardene, he went out of his way to placate the Sinhalese by saying that he will campaign against the merger of the North and East at any Referendum that may be held on the question of the merger. If this was his position, he should have been honest not to put his signature to the Agreement.

Even though the UNP Manifesto for the 1977 General Elections promised an All Parties Conference to solve the Tamil Problem, it took President Jayawardene six and a half years to summon such a conference. But the one thing President Jayawardene succeeded in doing was to make all the Tamil militant groups, recognised political parties and get all of them, except the LTTE, to dance to his tune. This phenomenon of the Tamil militant groups, now turned recognised political parties, dancing to the tune of successive Sri Lankan Governments is continuing unabated to this day.

President Jayawardene`s successor, President Premadasa, too, was not really interested in solving the Tamil National conflict. He had his own agenda. He was against the Indo-Lanka Agreement of 1987 to such an extent that when the time came for the signing of the Agreement in Colombo, President Premadasa, whilst being the Prime Minister, removed himself to Japan. So when he came into power, with the obsession to see the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) out of the country, he found common ground with the LTTE to see that the IPKF left the shores of the island. This he was able to achieve.

If one is to consider the current position of the Tamil National conflict in Sri Lanka, an appropriate date would be August or November 1994. In August 1994, the Peoples Alliance (PA) was voted into power in the Parliament. In November 1994, Kumaratunga became President.

President Kumaratunga came to power with 62% of the popular vote on a mandate of Peace and a mandate to have talks with the LTTE. We are into the fifth year of her six year regime and Sri Lanka is far far away from any prospect of peace. In fact, her reign so far has been the bloodiest in the history of Sri Lanka. Besides she did not have so much as a line regarding the Tamil National conflict either in the 1994 General Elections manifesto of the PA or in her own manifesto for the 1994 Presidential Elections. She started talks with the LTTE on 8th January 1995 through some of her non-political friends and with no idea of what she was going to offer by way of a political solution.

The talks dragged on laboriously till 15th April 1995 with the actual meetings being only on four occasions, but 43 momentous letters were exchanged between Kumaratunga and the Leader of the LTTE, which letters referred to the plight of the Tamils then, and discussed the imperatives of alleviating the distress of the Tamil People before anything else. The talks broke because the Government did not meet certain requests made by the LTTE, or the deadlines indicated by the LTTE to make life easy for the Tamil People. Cessation of hostilities ended by 15th April 1995.

So, it is in the backdrop of such a sad scenario that the present regime went through the motions of finding a so - called political solution to the Tamil National conflict, whilst crying from roof - tops that Sri Lanka was embroiled in a "War for Peace", which clearly showed that the Kumaratunga Regime was going for a military solution rather than a political solution.

Its attempts at finding a solution was only to put out three documents, strangely calling each of them the "Peace Package". If nothing else, these three documents have compounded the conflict and have been a far cry to bringing about peace or a political solution to the Tamil National conflict.

The first document styled the "1995 Peace Package" was put out on 3rd August 1995. It was devoured by the Tamil Parliamentarians from the North-East. The document was put out to distract the Tamil Nation from the war Kumaratunga had started on 15th July 1995 against the Tamils, which war she started in order to distract the Sinhala Nation, in turn, from the solemn promise Kumaratunga gave them at the time of the 1994 Presidential Election, and which promise finds a place in her manifesto for the Presidential Elections, namely, that before 15th July 1995 she would see that the Executive Presidential system is abolished.

Never was the "1995 Peace Package" put before the LTTE during the talks between January and April 1995. In other words, was the so - called "1995 Peace Package", on such a momentous subject as the Tamil National conflict, only a rushed job which commenced after 15th April 1995 and ended by July 1995? If it was so, it must be an insincere document. And so it was, when we come to consider the subsequent events.

The "1995 Peace Package" may have been a hurried reaction to the break-up of the Government - LTTE Talks. But at the very first public meeting after the "1995 Peace Package" was put out, Prof. G. L. Pieris, the Minister in charge of this subject, at a meeting under the aegis of the Sudu Nelum Movement, at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium, in August 1995, said that as a result of putting out the "1995 Peace Package", the Government was able, not only to rally round the international community to the side of the Government, but was also able, as a result of the international community coming round, to get military hardware cheaply in order to fight the war against the Tamils!

The euphoria with which the misguided section of the Tamils was seized as a result of the "1995 Peace Package" was short lived, because on 16th January 1996 the present regime put out another Peace Package - the "1996 Peace Package" - that earned the bitter criticism of that section of the Tamils that hailed the "1995 Peace Package". What necessity there was to put out another document so soon after the "1995 Peace Package" - in fact, only five months later - has not been adequately explained. This seemed to accept the fact that the earlier document was only an ill - conceived and hurried bit of trash.

The Tamils who support this regime said that the "1996 Peace Package" took away much of what was given in the "1995 Peace Package". But the Tamil political parties are so beholden to this regime, that they could only sulk in corners and not put up a fight.

Then, a third document of sorts - the "1997 Peace Package" - was put out in October 1997. This, the Tamils supporting Kumaratunga charged, was even less than what was offered by the "1996 Peace Package". Perhaps their disgust has been so great that they have not pushed for what this document or the others offered and we see that there has been absolutely no movement about the "Peace Packages" for almost twenty one months. Of course, it has been said that the principal opposition party and the Alternate Government, the UNP, is stalling the process by not giving the Government the two - thirds majority it needs in Parliament to effect the necessary changes.

But this cannot be any excuse at all because this matter was considered at the very outset and the Government pundits pompously stated that they knew how to bring about the necessary constitutional changes even without the support of the UNP. With all these assurances to assuage Tamil sentiments, the Tamil supporters of this regime and its "Peace Packages" are keeping quiet because they are decidedly unhappy about what is on paper.

If there is one matter on which there is some unanimity or consensus in Sri Lanka at this moment, it is that the LTTE is a sine qua non for any peaceful political solution to the Tamil National conflict. This is a fact that seems to pervade and dominate the Sri Lankan political scene since 1984.

This fact has become such a truism, that even the international community are falling over each other in offering their good offices in helping to bring the LTTE and the other side to the table. The role that is being offered by the international community ranges from being mere observers, through facilitators, to being mediators. But some or most of the countries who have offered their good offices in bringing together both adversaries, have been found to be totally unacceptable, certainly from the point of view of the Tamils, because they have either been vociferous in denouncing the LTTE, or have been guilty of supplying hi-tec hardware or technical know - how to the Sri Lankan Government.

Anyway, the Sri Lankan Government does not seem to fancy any role by the international community on the grounds that the Tamil National conflict is only an internal affair. And, as if to forestall any such offers in the future by the international community, the Sri Lankan Government sent a group of members of the Buddhist and Christian clergy into the jungles of the Vanni to meet the political High Command of the LTTE, on a date in early February 1999, to discuss political matters.

The LTTE seems to favour a third party at this moment and has been saying so lately. The LTTE wants a third party to ensure primarily a conducive atmosphere for talks, which is that the army of occupation must be removed from the Tamil areas so that the Tamils could meet the Sinhalese on an equal footing. There after, the Tamil aspirations as embodied in the Thimpu principles must be accepted, after which, talks could commence towards a political solution to the Tamil National conflict.

So, whilst the LTTE is clearly one side of the equation, who comprises the other side? There is a crazy belief all around that any Sri Lankan Government alone can bring about a solution to the Tamil National conflict. Nothing can be further from the truth. This is a conflict between two Nations - the Sinhala and Tamil. Not between a Government and a couple of Tamil Political Parties in Parliament or outside. The Sinhala Nation must be represented by the Sinhala political parties - the SLFP, UNP, MEP, JVP, CP, NSSP, LSSP, DUNLF.

The Tamil Nation must be represented, in today's context, by the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil Nation. I count the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil Nation for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it is only the LTTE that is in situ and with the Tamil People in the North and East. Secondly, it is only the LTTE that is consistently towing the line agreed to by all Tamil parties at Thimpu whilst the other Tamil political parties have abandoned the Thimpu Principles and are part and parcel of the Government and the Establishment and therefore cannot be taken to have the interests of the Tamil Nation at heart. Thirdly, it is the LTTE, to the total exclusion of all other Tamil Political Parties, that is carrying on the struggle and shedding blood and sacrificing lives in the North and East for so long.

What then is the basis on which a lasting and peaceful political solution could be had to the Tamil National conflict in Sri Lanka? This state can be reached only through the acceptance and recognition of the Thimpu Principles by the Sinhala Nation, in the first instance, and have them spelt out finally in a politico - legal instrument. The Thimpu Principles clearly lays down the "aspirations" of the Tamils.

At this time, when successive Presidents of Sri Lanka have thought it fit to describe the island as "Sinhala land" and as "Buddhist Country" and one of them describing the Tamils as "creepers and vine on the Sinhala tree", whilst another suggests that the "Tamils are not the original people of the country" and also saying that "Sri Lanka is One Nation with One People", it immediately becomes necessary to determine the status and standing of the Tamil Nation in the island, first. It is for this reason that it has become imperative, at least since 1993, to have the status, standing, identity and aspirations of the Tamil Nation first established once and for all. And this, only the Thimpu Principles can do.

So the time has come for the Sinhala Nation to get its act together. Let the Sinhala Nation, through its political leaders or representatives, disclose its hand on the Thimpu Principles. Only after their position is disclosed will it be possible for the Tamils to decide whether there could be talks to discuss a political solution. Only if there is a possibility for talks can one say, with any degree of correctness, that the "Peace Process" has commenced. Not till then. In other words, we are still far away from commencing any kind of a "Peace Process".

If the Thimpu Principles are accepted and recognised in a politico - legal document, one could think of giving flesh and blood to the Thimpu Principles. But never on the basis of the three documents that have been put out as "Peace Packages", for the simple reason that these documents go counter to the Thimpu Principles in some instances, and are silent about some of the Thimpu Principles, in other instances.

For example, the concept of the indissoluble Union of Regions goes counter to the principle of the right of self - determination and the provision to truncate the Eastern Province goes counter to the principle regarding the traditional homeland of the Tamils. Besides these, none of the documents have recognised that the Tamils are a distinct and separate entity or that it is a Nation. For these reasons, the "Peace Packages" are a non-est to the vast majority of Tamils.

Instead of what these lop-sided "Peace Packages" say, if any meaningful content is to be given to the Thimpu Principles, only a confederation, in the strictest sense of the word, can be a lasting political structure today, after all that has happened, which will not only give vent to the aspirations of the Tamils but also make it possible for the Tamils and Sinhalese to live together again like in the times before 1956.

It is now left for me to advert to certain specific matters lurking in the background that may be useful in analysing the current political dynamics of the Tamil National conflict.

What is the position of the Sinhala political parties on the Tamil National conflict? In considering this question, it is necessary to divide the so-called Sinhala parties into groups or categories.

The first group will be the SLFP and UNP. Each of these parties are likely to form a Government in the foreseeable future, either by itself or in coalition, and therefore will be very sensitive to the huge Sinhala vote base. Therefore, neither of these parties will be willing to antagonise the Sinhala voters and will keep its ears to the ground to asses the voters views on the Tamil National issue. For this reason, the SLFP or the UNP will be unlikely to break drastically with the past on this issue and will always only "play politics".

Kumaratunga who came to power with 62% of the popular vote and with a large support from the Tamils, is today beaten and broken, if the April 1999 Provincial Councils Elections is anything to go by. During the last four years or so, one or two Tamils sitting in Colombo went out of their way and saw to it that her every racist pronouncement against the Tamils was highlighted to such an extent that not only did she loose the support of every Tamil, barring some token Tamils who could be named on the fingers of a hand, but was also unable to get one Tamil to contest on her list for the Western Province where there are about 100,000 Tamil voters.

As if this is not bad enough, even her hill-country Tamil ally, contesting alone, was able to poll only a poor third of what support they had four years ago in the Western Province. In fact, they polled a very poor 12,000 votes only, which shows the state of antagonism the Tamils have towards this regime and anybody connected with it.

The second category are the leftist parties the CP, LSSP and NSSP who are sympathetic to the Tamils and can be counted upon to support the Thimpu Principles, in toto perhaps, or in a very positive way.

The third category are the hard-line Sinhala parties such as the MEP, JVP and DUNLF who say there is no Tamil Problem and that there is only a terrorist problem. So, one could count on them as being parties who will always disrupt any attempt at solving the Tamil National conflict.

There is also another factor the Buddhist Clergy. President Jayawardene gave them a place in the 1984 All Parties Conference. On what basis they were brought in, only God knows. But they have come to stay and they have become high profile political beings. With the role they play in politics today, it is unlikely there will ever be a political solution to the Tamil issue.

One has also to consider whether there is a political will on the part of the Sinhala masses to solve the Tamil conflict. Today, the feelings are hardened and positions are polarised. Whilst the Sinhala masses might want the war to stop because they are affected at their doorstep, they may not be prepared to concede that there is a Tamil Problem which needs to be addressed immediately.

What is the position of the Tamil political parties on the Tamil National conflict? It would seem that even they do not know what they want. Certainly this has been the situation since as far back as 1977 when they were given the mandate for Tamil Eelam. They have blissfully forgotten about that mandate, about the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution which makes it an offence to espouse separation and which they wanted repealed, about the very important Thimpu Principles, about the merger of the North and East concerning the traditional homeland of the Tamils and about the right to self-determination the corner-stone of Tamil politics.

The role of the Tamil political parties today is the darkest chapter in Tamil history. The least said about them the better, because they do not have the slightest perception of their political imperatives. But one thing stands out, vis-a-vis the Tamil parties, and that is the role they wish to play. The role they wish to play today, is to play second fiddle to the Government and sing hossanas in its name.

Meanwhile,the Government tacitly accepted failure in handling the Tamil issue, and sometime in 1998, handed over the matter to the private sector and thereby "privatised" the Tamil National issue. The high profile business community had a meeting with much fanfare which ended the moment it started. With the abduction, a month ago, of a very high profile chief executive of a very well known mercantile company, where a Rs. 20 million ransom was obtained, the business community has gone into its shell and into a huddle with the lament that the present Government is even impotent to ensure the safety of the business community which feeds the Government with so much undisclosed material benefits.

One of the most important questions asked in contemporary Sri Lankan politics is whether, or how far, the LTTE is serious in a political solution or in peace. It must be appreciated, forthwith, that the LTTE is primarily a political organisation. It took to arms to liberate its oppressed People - the Tamils. It has legal authority, under international law, as the Tamil National liberation movement, to take to arms when its People are under fire. The Tamils have been the victims of State terrorism and Sinhala terrorism from 1956 till 1983 a quarter century or more. Only fools will classify the LTTE as a terrorist organisation simplicitor.

The LTTE has been a joint signatory-together with five other Tamil political parties to the Thimpu Principles in July 1985, again decrying the misconception that it is a fascist organisation. That is the last political document to which it has subscribed and has consistently said during the last two years, at many fora, that if the Thimpu Principles are accepted by the Sinhala Nation and incorporated in a fitting politico legal document, that it will go to the Table to discuss a political solution to the Tamil National conflict. A more forthright and clearer statement cannot be had.

The Sinhala parties are unwilling to negotiate with the LTTE for a number of reasons. First, they say that the LTTE must lay down arms. The Tamils will not allow the LTTE to lay down arms. They say that the LTTE took to arms in order to protect and liberate the Tamils who are being oppressed by the Sinhalese and until this was achieved, the LTTE cannot eschew arms. Secondly, the Sinhalese want the LTTE to make a public statement that the LTTE does not stand for the separate state of Tamil Eelam. That, too, the LTTE will not be allowed to do, because, in the last free and fair elections held in the North and East which was in 1977, the Tamil People gave an overwhelming mandate to the TULF for the setting-up of the separate state of Tamil Eelam.

Another matter that has cropped up is the query in many quarters as to why successive Sri Lankan Governments have refused to accept third party mediation. One of the glaring reasons, if not the only reason given by the Governments, is that they do not want any foreign meddling in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka and that the two sides can sort out matters themselves, as they are capable of doing so, and have the resources to do so. This is taken by the Tamils as meaning that there is no political will on the side of the Sinhalese and that the Sinhalese are so intransigent that if there is third party mediation, there is a danger that the mediator will soon find that it is the Sinhalese who do not want a political solution and peace.

If nothing else, by putting out these three "Peace Packages", Kumaratunga has certainly created an image, though a false one to those who know who she really is, that she is a genuine "Peace Maker". This, together with her slogan that she is "Waging a War for Peace" has certainly bowled over a section of the gullible West to acclaim her as a "Peace Maker".

What is the current political dynamics? Firstly, there is no "political will" on the part of the Government or the Sinhalese to solve the Tamil National conflict. This is due to the fact that there is a sizeable section of the Sinhalese who say there is no Tamil Problem but only a terrorist problem. There is also a question of priorities and the Sinhalese do not care about the Tamils or their problems. Most of the Sinhalese are not in favour of any kind of mediation nor with having any talks with the LTTE. The Sinhalese want to place many conditions which will frighten the LTTE to go to the table. Then there is the completely divergent position with regard to the basis for a political solution.

There is a section of the Sinhala Nation who are quiet happy with the status quo. There is a section of the Sinhalese who are quite happy with what is mentioned in the various "Peace Packages": But, as far as the Tamils are concerned, their basis for any talks is entirely different. The LTTE, who are the Tamils who matter, have their own approach, which is based on positions concerning the army and the Thimpu Principles.

What is the Sinhalese perception about the Thimpu Principles? If I am permitted to strike a personal note, I have had separate discussions with the leaders of the DUNLF and the UNP who, in turn, were associated with some of their own members. Their position is that they will have no problems with the first and last principles but have strong reservations about the right to self-determination and the concept of the traditional homeland.

The NSSP does not seem to have any problem with either the right to self-determination or the traditional homeland theory besides accepting the first and fourth principles as well. But what position the other parties hold on the Thimpu Principles, is not known.

What can the international community do?

censor.gif (4159 bytes)First and foremost, the international community can see to it that the prohibition of the international and local media persons from visiting the war zone in the Tamil areas be lifted forthwith.

Because, as a result of this total prohibition, it is only the point of view of the Sri Lankan Government that is being dished out to the outside world in a very dishonest way so much so that the world is unreasonably against the Tamils at the moment. Thereafter, the international community can get the Sinhala Nation to accept the Thimpu Principles by reasoning things out with the political leaders of the Sinhala parties. As there are about 175,000 Tamils in Canada, it would be Canada's bounden duty to play a high-profile role and the Sinhalese will be duty bound to listen to Canada.

God helps those who help themselves. On this basis , there is an urgent and crying need for the Tamil Diaspora of about 500,000 persons from the North and East of Sri Lanka, spread over about 15 countries, to play an immediate, positive, political and high profile role, even at this very late stage, to complement the do or die battle that is going on in the war area which is the traditional homeland of the Tamils in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Since the North and East is a war zone, the political voice of the Tamils coming from there is drowned. Whilst the Tamils in the Colombo District could play their part in a significant way and voice the political aspirations of the Tamils, it would seem that their priorities leaves much room for regret. This leaves only the Tamil Diaspora to play its part.

The Tamil Diaspora counts, within its ranks, the intelligentsia, the professionals and those who have done well in their chosen vocations. They are equipped to play a part consistent with their standing. The Tamil Diaspora, in each of the 15 countries, counting in each country many Tamil associations could, for instance, adopt one resolution which sets out the aspirations of the Tamils, what they consider to be the political solution to solve the Tamil National conflict and give the mandate to achieve this goal to the "boys" who are keeping the pressure up within the traditional homeland.

By this resolution giving the mandate to the LTTE, the Tamil Diaspora will not only be keeping Tamil traitors out from plotting the destinies of the Tamil Nation to the utter detriment of the aspirations of the Tamils, but also giving legitimacy to the freedom fighters to do their job with greater vigour and resoluteness. If such a resolution is adopted by every Tamil association in each of the 15 or so countries, the matters contained in the resolution will become the voice of those Tamil associations, then the voice of the Tamils of that particular country and eventually the voice of the half a million or so Tamil Diaspora. This, I submit humbly, would bring about a startling and staggering qualitative change in the position of the Tamils and of their cause. This, I submit again with great humility, will have to be done with grave urgency.

So, where do we go from here? We cannot go on as we have done todate. There is a limit to everything in life. There are so many lives and so much blood being sacrificed and shed. Much is expected from us. It behoves us to rise to the occasion. If we cannot help the situation, let us, at least, have the strength of character to say so. If we fail, we must reconcile ourselves to allow events to overtake us.

Perhaps, these events will lead to the inevitable establishment of Tamil Eelam. Perhaps, this would be the most acceptable political solution to the Tamil National conflict, after all. Perhaps, this is God`s will.



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