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Selected Writings by Dr.S.Sathananthan
Colombo's media insects crawl into Bangkok
Tamil Guardian, 31 December 1997
"We read with disquiet the news item "Tigers adopt new tool of terror. The (anonymous) correspondent made sweeping allegations of drug trafficking by the LTTE. It is for the LTTE to deny or confirm these allegations if it considers fit to do so, but AGOTIC notes that the so-called "hard evidence" of drug trafficking by the LTTE the correspondent refers to has yet to see the light of day. The correspondent cited not a single instance where an LTTE member was found guilty of drugs-trafficking by any court in any country during the organisation's 25-year history. Nor was any concrete information offered of so-called "links" between drug smugglers and the LTTE. "
Alarm bells rang when a peculiar news item appeared in The Bangkok Post a couple of months back linking the LTTE to drugs-trafficking. The piece lacked evidence, it lacked depth and it lacked style, yet the Post's editors mysteriously let it through. Had they unwittingly fallen victim to the "news-twisters" Colombo had just dispatched to Thailand's capital? Colombo's Action Group of Tamils (AGOTIC) smelt a rat.....
We read with disquiet the news item "Tigers adopt new tool of terror. The (anonymous) correspondent made sweeping allegations of drug trafficking by the LTTE. It is for the LTTE to deny or confirm these allegations if it considers fit to do so, but AGOTIC notes that the so-called "hard evidence" of drug trafficking by the LTTE the correspondent refers to has yet to see the light of day.
The correspondent cited not a single instance where an LTTE member was found guilty of drugs-trafficking by any court in any country during the organisation's 25-year history. Nor was any concrete information offered of so-called "links" between drug smugglers and the LTTE.
The mud-slinging bordered on lunacy when all law-abiding overseas Tamil communities were accused of having "contributed to the heroin smuggling".
AGOTIC contests the cluster of assertions the correspondent made about the LTTE's political character and it vigorously disputes the claim of an alleged decline in the LTTE's historic role in Sri Lankan Tamils' ongoing resistance against oppression by the Sri Lankan regime, controlled by the majority Sinhalese.
The news item in question is the most recent instance of a systematic campaign of misinformation which could seriously undermine the already slim prospects for politically resolving the Tamil Question in Sri Lanka.
It is tragically counter-productive to conjure the illusion that the LTTE is not a political force to contend with. That illusion only emboldens the already powerful Sinhalese "hawks" implacably opposed to conflict resolution through political reform and devolution of power.
It makes negotiations between the Sri Lankan regime and the LTTE appear redundant and encourages the regime to pursue a military option in the vain hope that a supposedly weak LTTE could be defeated on the battlefield.
Peace is the first casualty.
AGOTIC is a voluntary association formed more than three years ago seeking to give voice to the Sri Lankan Tamils. Our members include professionals, writers, human rights advocates, politicians and respected senior citizens of the Tamil community. As individuals we have directly and consistently been engaged in conflict resolution activities for over a decade, dating from the 1984 All Party Conference (APC).
We have worked closely with community organisations, community leaders and activists from all major ethnic groups -- Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims -- and with different social castes all over Sri Lanka. Those in AGOTIC who are members of political parties have interacted extensively with the ruling Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP) and the opposition United National Party (UNP) and with Colombo-based Tamil political parties.. We have followed political events closely, made numerous journalistic interventions and held many public meetings in search of a political solution to the Tamil Question.
We monitor the evolution of official policy on conflict resolution. We study both the actions of the LTTE as well as the intimate interaction between the LTTE and the Tamil people. The conclusions we have reached and which we hold about the LTTE sharply differ from the assertions made by the correspondent in the above news item.
The correspondent, for instance, claimed that "once" the LTTE was seen as "the voice of a repressed Sri Lankan minority".
But AGOTIC categorically states the LTTE is the cutting edge of organised resistance by the Sri Lankan Tamil people. It continues to be the most credible voice of the Tamils who are struggling for their fundamental rights. More to the point, the LTTE crystallises the political and cultural aspirations of Tamils.
The implicit claim of the correspondent, that the LTTE no longer plays the central role in Tamil resistance, is simply wrong.
The centrality of the LTTE is underlined by its nature and history. The LTTE did not fall from the sky. Its guerrillas are the sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, of Tamils. The organisation is about 25 years old. Given that one decade is a social generation, LTTE members are the third generation of Tamil activists.
It is no exaggeration to say that during the past two-and-half decades almost every extended Tamil family in the north-east province has had direct or indirect links with the LTTE.
We do not, of course, claim that every Tamil person supports the LTTE, which like all political groups has earned its share of enemies. But the fact is that the LTTE is part of Tamil history. In that crucial historical sense, Tamils as a people are indistinguishable from the LTTE today. The LTTE's roots run deep into Tamil society.
So if the LTTE is to be crushed militarily it is necessary first to destroy the Tamils as a people.
This is one reason for the war of genocidal proportions being unleashed against Tamils in the north-east province by the Sri Lankan armed forces, drawn almost exclusively from the Sinhalese.
They continue their ruthless artillery shelling and aerial bombing, often blindly and indiscriminately at night, raining death and destruction upon Tamil homes.
They have launched repeated military campaigns which have displaced an estimated half a million Tamils.
The [imposed] economic embargo is a counter-insurgency measure of collective punishment meted out to Tamil civilians in the north-east province. It has ensured near famine conditions for Tamils, and children have paid often with their lives for the shortages in food and essential medicines.
Disappearances, human rights violations (including torture and rape) are legion; the documented cases of disappearances in one year (1996) in Tamils' cultural heartland (the northern Jaffna peninsula) numbered 676.
An obvious aim of counter-insurgency is to discourage popular Tamil support for the LTTE.
But the result has been the exact opposite, as in almost every historical instance where counter-insurgency tactics have been applied to civilian populations in other countries.
The war which targets primarily the Tamil people has only reinforced their support for the LTTE.
Those who allege the irrelevance of the LTTE invariably look to Colombo-based Tamil political parties as representatives of Sri Lankan Tamils. But with the important exception of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), these parties have effectively supported the military campaign against the Tamil people. They have colluded with the Sinhalese-controlled regime's futile attempt to undermine the LTTE's political base among the Tamils in order to re-float their own tattered collaborative politics.
In the process they have been comprehensively discredited in the eyes of Tamils. Today they represent no one but themselves. The LTTE is the only Tamil political organisation committed to and engaged in the defence of Tamil rights.
We in AGOTIC say with authority that the LTTE enjoys widespread and unprecedented support among Tamils. The correspondent's claim that LTTE guerrillas "no longer are a major part of the Sri Lankan (sic) resistance" has no basis in fact. On the contrary, the LTTE is the backbone of Tamil resistance. The armed forces battling the LTTE will endorse our view.
A recent tactic used in the counter-insurgency strategy pursued by the armed forces in Jaffna confirms our assessment. The Tamil population there has been herded between two 10-feet high walls, or "bunds". These are the Sri Lankan version of the draconian Strategic Hamlets constructed by the US army in Vietnam. The "bunds" are built roughly parallel, and they run north to south, enclosing the city of Jaffna at their southern end. The aim is to deny contact between Tamil people (forced to live within these "bunds") and the LTTE (outside).
To reinforce this strategy, thousands of young Tamil men and women are being held indefinitely in "administrative detention" (read: concentration camps) to prevent them from joining the LTTE. By adopting this Strategic Hamlet tactic, the Sri Lankan regime is massively violating the fundamental rights of Tamils.
It has also, in effect, admitted the deep-rooted and almost universal support for the LTTE among Tamils. AGOTIC has no hesitation saying LTTE guerrillas are the proverbial fish swimming in friendly (Tamil) waters.
In this context, the decision of the US government to include the LTTE in its list of "terrorist organisations" is of little relevance. History is replete with wars in which one person's "terrorist" was another person's "freedom fighter".
Perhaps US policy makers have forgotten that George Washington was treated as a "terrorist" by the British. In South Asia, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were incarcerated as "terrorists" by the colonial regime in British India. The Father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was vilified as a "separatist", condemned as a "terrorist" and imprisoned by the (West) Pakistani regime.
We could add Mao Tse Tung, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela to the long list of erstwhile "terrorists". If Velupillai Prabhakaran is classified as a "terrorist", he is in excellent company.
Lastly, the correspondent's assertion that the LTTE is "falling off its principles", that it has virtually abandoned the struggle for Tamil rights, is as grossly uninformed as dangerously misleading.
Such misinformation has been disseminated on numerous occasions before. It is dangerous because it leads Sinhalese "hawks" in the regime to erroneously conclude that the LTTE is losing political ground, and so to indulge in the delusion of grandeur that a military solution to the Tamil Question is feasible.
The "hawks" are consequently encouraged to pursue the military option against the Tamil people with even greater vigour.
We emphasise LTTE strength because the ground reality is that the LTTE is the force to contend with. If Sri Lankan policy makers entrusted with conflict resolution succumb to misinformation, choose to bury their heads in the sand and pretend the LTTE is irrelevant or can be wished away, they will do so at their peril.
If the ground reality is misconstrued, the prospects of a negotiated settlement between the Sri Lankan regime and the LTTE will inevitably be undermined and all communities in Sri Lanka will be cruelly denied peace.