all towns are one, all men our kin.
|Home||Whats New||Trans State Nation||One World||Unfolding Consciousness||Comments||Search|
Envisioning New Trajectories for Peace in Sri Lanka
Organized by the Centre for Just Peace and Democracy (CJPD)
in collaboration with the Berghof Foundation, Sri Lanka
Zurich, Switzerland 7 - 9 April 2006
Session 1: Causes of the Conflict & Factors leading to Ceasefire
Sri Lanka: State of the country before the
The four-year period since the CFA (22 February 2002) has been the longest stretch without war in the 23-year armed conflict. The benefits accrued to all Sri Lankans by this respite cannot be overstated. The saving of an estimated 5,000-20,000 lives that would have perished if the war had continued, a pause in the destruction, an improvement in the daily lives of civilians, a reduction in fear with its psychological benefits, and the uptick in economic activity, all because the guns went silent, are valuable gains. Both sides benefited, albeit to different degrees. The longer the ceasefire lasts the greater this accrual would be.
Regrettably, the ceasefire is yet to result in permanent peace. The prolongation of the ‘no-war-no-peace’ state has several drawbacks, the most important of which is the complacence that is settling in. The state the country was in before the CFA is slowly but surely being erased from memory, and as a result the prospect of war is becoming less repulsive in the minds of many. If this situation is allowed to continue a return to war is very likely. It is for this reason that I wish to review the pre-CFA state of the country.
The state the country was in prior to the CFA was a condition of prolonged war. The so called Eelam war III began on 19 April 1995. In the preceding six months, there was a lull in the fighting, accompanied by an amateurish attempt to negotiate peace. When the war resumed, the only reaction was an angry determination by the government to pursue the military option. Alternatives such as, a breather to consider the mistakes made during the negotiations that led to its collapse, to learn from such mistakes, or to simply attempt to somehow salvage the peace process, were not even considered. For the next seven years the military option was pursued with a single-minded resolve.
The cost of this seven-year military adventure was staggering, and regrettably, most Sri Lankans are still unaware of the full extent of the damage. Most people in the south have not even seen pictures of the physical destruction in the northeast, let alone seeing the actual injury or in fact knowing anything about the human suffering inflicted. A surprising detail considering the fact that for most southerners the battlefields were less than a hundred miles away.
Social Factors – the human cost
The war, euphemistically labeled ‘war for peace’, took place mainly in the northeast, and it was fought with ferocity and with scant regard for the welfare of the civilians there. Often, civilians were targeted directly. The aerial bombings and the shelling resulted in Tamil civilian casualties of such magnitude that even the ICRC[i] and the MSF[ii] felt obliged to break protocol and report them. They also prompted public condemnations by two Secretary Generals of the UN[iii] and a Director General of the UNESCO[iv] for the actions of a UN member state. The bombing of the refugees huddled in a church[v] and children playing in a schoolyard[vi] were particularly gruesome. The operation to capture Jaffna resulted in an exodus of nearly half a million people out of the peninsula. The statement of the US Deputy Secretary of State, Mr. Richard Armitage, on what he saw after the CFA, sums up the effects of the daily air-raids and shelling in the northeast.
The south also experienced a few attacks in the form bombings[viii], attributed to the LTTE. It is important to recognize that the attacks in the south were sporadic acts carried out from the ground; the bombings in the northeast were from the air (and as long-range shelling) on an almost daily basis. SLA actions on the ground in the northeast also included other forms of large-scale violence against civilians. These explain the disparity in the number killed – more than 90% of civilian deaths in this war were Tamil.
The social disruption caused by the war was not limited to deaths and injuries. It tore families apart, created widows and orphans in the tens of thousands and rendered hundreds of thousands homeless. One third of the Tamil population in the island was displaced, some repeatedly during this period. The precipitous decline in social indicators in the northeast, such as health and education, from being one of the highest in south Asia to the current near lowest level is noteworthy. More than half a million Tamils have fled the island due to the war. Thousands of families are still internally displaced four years after the CFA.
There was no public outcry over these effects of the war, because of a prolonged media censorship (self and externally imposed), and a ban on travel to the northeast.
The economic cost has also been large. Let us briefly consider the country’s military expenditure. There are no external aggressors in Sri Lanka (not even a threat) and therefore the entire military spending was to fight its own rebellious citizens.
In 1977, when the Tamil uprising began to brew, the military budget of Sri Lanka was Rs. 750 million. Each year thereafter it grew exponentially, and in the 2001 budget the defense allocation stood at a staggering Rs. 63.39 billion. There is more. For several years, the actual expenditure exceeded the budget allocations by huge amounts. In 2000, for example, the defense allocation of Rs. 52.43 billion was exceeded by almost two thirds of the budgeted amount[ix].
Concurrent to this massive spending, the war also affected the economy adversely at the productivity end. In large parts of the northeast the economic activity came to a complete halt, while the rest of the northeast merely limped along. The south fared better but couldn’t reach anywhere near full potential. The loss in foreign investment and tourism were also significant.
Despite this massive economic loss, the military adventure neither brought the war closer to an end nor peace any more likely. It was entirely fruitless. In the final tally, it was the LTTE that gained in terms of recruitment, equipment and territory. The LTTE was able to boost its recruitment base, while the SLA got depleted by desertions. With the loss of SLA camps, the LTTE was able to amass large quantities of weapons. The nine major SLA operations[x] of this period not only failed, but also resulted in the loss of four major SLA bases[xi].
Although the decision to conduct the prolonged war was that of the leadership in power, its continuance was enabled by the absence of a countervailing anti-war movement. For this, the media, the opposition political parties and the civil society must bear equal blame.
The absence of a credible peace movement also enabled the government to conduct the war with a degree of self-assurance and bravado[xii]. The media and the civil society merely cheered on. The media also assisted the government with the deceptions[xiii] and the cover-ups[xiv] of the period. Repeated ceasefire offers by the LTTE were rejected[xv], the offers being interpreted (wrongfully, as we now know) as a sign of weakness. Numerous offers by international groups to facilitate peace talks were similarly rejected[xvi]. It took more than five-years after the Eelam War III began, for President Kumaratunga agree to consider Norway as a facilitator. There was a further 16-month delay before the CFA was signed.
The prolonged human suffering inflicted by the war was kept out of sight of the south (and the rest of the world) and hence did not create public/international outrage or pressure. The heavy cost of the war did not hurt the economy enough, until of course, the strike on the SLAF/Airport facility in the south on 24th July 2001.
The claim that the LTTE acceded to the CFA because of the post 9/11 international climate lacks merit. Both, the LTTE’s ceasefire offer of November 1999 and the unilateral declaration of ceasefire of December 2000, took place before 11-Sep-2001. The fact is, the CFA became a reality due to a confluence of factors – multiple defeats suffered by the SLA, the attack on Katunayake SLAF/Airport and its consequences, and the election of a new Prime Minister.
The state the country was in prior to the CFA was a condition of prolonged war. The war was an unproductive and a wasted effort. It was also responsible for the creation of an acrimonious political climate not conducive to peace making.