Western Mediation: How effective can it be?
23 November 2001
The visit of the British Foreign Minister raises again the
question of western mediation to end the conflict. How effective can
If one were to go by the anxieties which seemed to underpin the
earnest pronouncements of our Foreign Minister Mr.Lakshman
Kadirgamar in the past, particularly during the hullabaloo over the
prospect of the Tigers shifting their international headquarters to
South Africa, one would be impelled to come to the conclusion that
decisive action against the LTTE by western governments can bring
the organisations to its knees.
Now, western governments are mindful of the fact that Colombo is
urging them to crack down hard on the Tigers from a very unique
position. Sri Lanka is the only country in the world and most
probably the only one in modern times to fight an internal threat
with the backing of many nations across the global political
The range of countries that the PA has arrayed behind it to defeat
the LTTE is truly amazing and unparalleled - India and Pakistan,
America and Russia, China and Britain, the Czech Republic, Sweden,
South Korea, Japan, etc.
There isn’t a single country that has not rushed to lend moral and
material support for the PA’s war on the LTTE.
Lest there be any illusions on this score, it should be emphasised
here that persuading or coercing the LTTE into a dialogue is not the
primary role that Colombo expects the west to play in resolving the
The PA (the UNP and the JVP too), first of all, wants the western
governments to arrest and deport known LTTE activists in their
countries. Secondly, it wants them to ban the organisation as India
and the US have done. And thirdly it urges them to stop the Tigers
from collecting money.
The LTTE has learnt from its Indian sojourn that all foreign hosts
are invariably inclined, for very pragmatic reasons, to view its
assets on their soil including manpower as the means by which they
may eventually be able to exert diplomatic pressure on the
Let us assume that western governments reach a point where they may
really feel compelled to make the Tigers talk peace.
What would be the concrete means at their disposal to do so?
Let’s take the British first. They have Balasingham, Santhan and a
couple of other known LTTE activists plus the so-called
international secretariat of the organisation in UK.
There are senior foreign policy hands here who strongly believe that
arresting the Advisor and his cohorts and closing down the HQ at
least temporarily would send the right signal to the LTTE and compel
it to the negotiating table. Mr.Douglas Devananda reflected the same
belief when he said last week that the Tigers have agreed to talk
peace because of international (read western) pressure.
If we follow the logical course of this line of thinking we would
come upon a situation in which the British decide to apply a bit of
tangible pressure on the Tigers in UK. The raid on the charity
organisations believed to be raising funds for the Tigers has
certainly helped in some measure ‘restore’ Colombo’s confidence in
British bona fides and in a way prepared the ground for the Foreign
Minister Hain’s visit this week. But what more can the British do?
Let’s say they arrest Balasingham and Co and shut down the HQ on
Catharine’s Road. While it might pain the more ‘respectable
segments’ of the LTTE’s supporters, it will not in any way shatter
the organisation’s operational base in UK. That much is certain in
the event of such a crackdown. The British intelligence
establishment is probably well aware of this. The LTTE’s
international secretariat is not in London but in the Wanni jungles.
The person who is in charge of it is not Balasingham but Castro. The
concept of a command and control centre as a physical entity
vanished many years ago. The modern CEO’s operational HQ is where
his laptop hooked to a satellite phone is.
The Indian experience taught the LTTE a good lesson quite early on
in the war. One should always be prepared to face a host with
diplomatic designs by having a reserve force in the shadows, beyond
the ken of the host country’s intelligence establishment, made up of
citizens of that country engaged in impeccably legitimate pursuits.
During the complete overhaul of its foreign operations in 1997-1998,
the Tigers recruited and promoted Tamils who are law-abiding
citizens in the countries of their residence. There are a lot of
things these persons can do quite legitimately in their countries to
aid the LTTE’s cause.
In addition to this, the Tigers have learnt that it pays to
thoroughly understand the legal systems of the host countries and to
build a pool of legal experts from which the organisation could
profitably draw in crises.
Switzerland and Canada are two countries that have learnt this quite
unequivocally from their encounters with the Tigers since 1995.
The Canadian example would suffice to illustrate my point. The
Canadian Security Intelligence Service has traditionally utilised a
law that denies normal judicial review to a person detained under it
to smoothly rid Canada of ‘undesirable aliens’ (mostly of non
Applied selectively, this law and the actions of the Canadian
Security Intelligence Service in the context of the Canadian federal
judiciary’s approach to ‘terrorism’ and the historical construct of
the ‘undesirable alien’ have indirectly helped the state to rein in
some seemingly recalcitrant sections among new immigrants, argue
critics of White Canada’s policy on its “visible minorities”.
All this was fine until the Canadians decided to arrest Suresh
Manickavasagam and deport him to Colombo. This was clearly intended
to show the LTTE and its supporters where the line is drawn in
We all know what happened thereafter. The LTTE fought the system,
spending almost four hundred thousand dollars to make its point. Now
Suresh is no longer with the organisation but the Tigers have
rebuilt their operation in Canada on this experience.
Therefore, even if they were to crack down on the Tigers, most, if
not all, western governments would find it difficult to take action
under the normal law of the land against their own citizens who now
run the LTTE’s operations in their respective countries.
The bottom line here is that everyone as always seems to be
perennially missing the point that the LTTE will keep going as long
as the Tamils feel aggrieved – west or no west.