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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > LTTE's Unilateral Ceasefires > War Against Terrorism Obscures Issues Affecting Tamils - J.S.Tissanayagam

Norwegian Peace Initiative

War Against Terrorism Obscures Issues Affecting Tamils 
By J. S. Tissainayagam
Courtesy: Sri Lanka Sunday Leader, 4 March 2001

"...It is obvious that political forces in Sri Lanka's south, including the PA, are being dragged to the negotiating table kicking and struggling by the international community. But if foremost forces within the international community itself try to undermine the peace process for explicitly selfish purposes, there might appear a contradiction that could wreck the whole enterprise..." 

Even as noises of optimism emanate from the government - especially from President Chandrika Kumaratunga - about the possibility of talks with the LTTE beginning within two months, the spectre of war and a military solution to the Sri Lankan ethnic problem, continue to haunt us. 

They take up different guises, but the variation does not conceal the macabre essence. Its sinister character is all the more because not only is the Sri Lanka government yet unconvinced that sheathing its sword and opting to parley is the only alternative left, but that the international community, which is backing peace negotiations is not speaking in one voice. There are discordant sounds, which if remain unchecked, could augur ill for the peace process. 

The government of the United States of America in its Country Report on Human Rights Practices that is compiled by the department of state says in its report for the year 2000 that "the government (of Sri Lanka) respected the human rights of its citizens in areas not affected by the insurgency, but there were serious problems in some areas, and the ongoing war with the LTTE continued to be accompanied by serious human rights abuses by both sides to the conflict." 

But while this report released at the end of last month made various candid statements regarding Sri Lanka's poor human rights record, another arm of the US government - sections of the military - seems to be openly promoting a military response to the aspirations of the Tamils by advocating new military tactics to suppress what it calls an 'insurgency.' 

An article titled 'Peacetime engagement - a role for military advisors' in the Joint Forces Quarterly of Spring 2000, authored by one Paul Marks, a student of the United States Army Command and General Staff College, attempts at bringing in a new aspect to the traditional military assistance given by the US Army to its Sri Lankan counterpart. The JFQ piece basically argues, "... the role of military advisors in providing host country militaries with means to combat such threats (drugs, terrorism, nuclear proliferation) commands little attention." 

Marks takes Sri Lanka and Cambodia as his sample and recommends the ways in which the role of military advisors could be enhanced. Cooperation in military matters between Sri Lanka and the US is not new. There are routine programmes where US military personnel who train their Sri Lankan officers and soldiers. The JFQ article gives a short shrift to such exercises.

 "Traditional engagement activities, including short-term training teams, unit exchanges and individual training in the United States have been insufficient against transnational threats. Full-time military advisors to help the armed forces of these countries to solve their problems would be more effective." 

The report goes on to say that the LTTE presents a threefold threat: a) spreading terrorism in the US and western Europe; b) continuing to engage in smuggling drugs and weapons abroad; c) destabilising India not only through insurgent conditions, but by transferring operations from Sri Lanka to Tamil Nadu. 

After making certain initial blunders that tries to stereotype the Tigers as "once avowedly Marxist, the LTTE, now downplays ideology. It seeks an independent socialist state," the article gets down to analysing the reasons for the Sri Lanka army's defeats in the battlefield. 

"The response to the LTTE is led by the Sri Lanka Armed Forces (SLAF), which are not equal to the task... SLAF has often lost the initiative, failed to exploit achievements, spread itself too thin, made potential blunders. It lacks the ability to formulate and execute joint and combined planning and operations." "Because of the rapid growth of the army, few officers have any experience in planning and coordinating large operations. There is no intelligence school."

Though agreeing that the Sri Lanka military has evolved to a more professional body it states, "but after 18 years its tactical and operational successes have come to naught because of a lack of an overarching strategic concept to bring conflict to a close." 
Marks' article envisages putting into operation a counter-insurgency strategy would deploy seven US military advisors in selected areas involving a minimal financial outlay. The operation will concentrate on: adopting a national security and military strategy within six months; developing a combined plan with India to prevent use of Tamil Nadu as a rebel base; reorganising the chain of command and theatre geometry within six months; establishing a training centre for infantry battalions and combined arms teams in a year; organising intelligence courses for all personnel serving in intelligence positions; improving operational level tasks (intelligence, logistics, fires) within 18 months; introducing combined operations with the Indian navy in two years; denying insurgents resupply by sea within one year. 

There are two important issues to be noted here. One is the substance of the proposals, the other is the time-frame. It seems possible that is happening on the ground in Sri Lanka reflects the need to put together not only this but other strategies, to defeat the LTTE militarily. On the one hand the government is reluctant to begin negotiations.

Is the prevarication on its part due to the hope that within a year or so, blueprints for military successes will see the light of day, enabling the government to launch operations to interdict the LTTE? Secondly, there is as substantial increase in the defence budget - Rs. 80 billion. Will this funding also support programmes to upgrade the military's efficiency? The Sri Lankan armed forces have, at different times, emphasised different strategies to overcome the enemy. 

First it was said that the smaller numbers of LTTE guerrillas were no match to Sri Lanka's comparatively larger conventional military. Then it was said that superior equipment and firepower - the latest catchword is MBRLs - would do the job. And now, will the third phase - military advisors upgrading the efficiency of the security forces - prolong this bloody war? 

There is always the room for the apologist to say that this is only an article in a defence magazine and can be written by anyone. But the fact is that it appeared on the official web-site of the US military and the author himself says that much of the background information is based from Sri Lanka specialists and others. The author says,

 "Diplomatic initiatives to obtain agreement and active participation must occur first, but it is unlikely that either country (Sri Lanka/Cambodia) would refuse American assistance to help themselves." 

Asked however whether there was a recent upgrade in the military assistance given to Sri Lanka, such as providing military advisors, Gary Robbins of USAID and acting Public Affairs Officer said, "A short answer to your question is, no." 

I am not attempting to go into the military and strategic implications of the role of US military advisors. I am trying to juxtapose the JFQ story with comments made in the State Department's account of human rights, which admits that violations have occurred from both combatants due to the conflict. If that is admitted, the next thing is that measures should be taken to de-escalate the conflict, not to enhance it. 

Upgrading military tactics, firepower and recruitment will only continue to keep the fighting going and for more reports on human rights violations, humanitarian disaster and breakdown in democracy and good governance - all 'serious concerns' of the US and the so called liberal. What 'law and order' approaches to civil wars do is to forget the human dimension of the conflict. 

Moves to resolve the war will be to address the real issues of the Tamil community. Concerns such as spreading terrorism in the US and using Tamil Nadu as a base is not going to resolve the fundamental issues facing the Tamils. 

The Tigers have been exercising maximum restraint by extending the cease-fire in the face of repeated provocation. If however international powers are trying to equip, arm and hone Sri Lanka military to fight a war purely for purposes that have to do with their national interests and not Sri Lanka's, the matter is serious. This is not the first time that such a thing has happened, but coming at a time when there appear prospects for the peace process to get moving, such moves could indeed be negative. 

It is obvious that political forces in Sri Lanka's south, including the PA, are being dragged to the negotiating table kicking and struggling by the international community. But if foremost forces within the international community itself try to undermine the peace process for explicitly selfish purposes, there might appear a contradiction that could wreck the whole enterprise. 


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