"What has to be borne in mind is that
the defence and military hierarchy in Colombo are said to have
informed the president they need a couple of months of
preparation to be in a position to take on the LTTE militarily,
either to begin an offensive or to defend themselves if
attacked. In which case the LTTE would also be cognisant of the
fact the proposed talks are a time buying exercise. If it is so
one cannot expect the LTTE to put by military considerations for
political ones and be a sitting duck to any military manoeuvres
planned by the government. ..All these point to very bleak
prospects ahead unless the government is sincere. To believe
that international legitimacy is all the Tigers are after and
would sacrifice everything for that is a complete
misunderstanding of the LTTE’s mindset and intentions. Such
logic could only be pursued to one’s detriment..."
Articles appearing in the popular media during the past couple of
months have made reference to the LTTE being preoccupied in seeking
for itself international legitimacy as a group that had transcended
the narrow confines of being a military outfit and become an
organisation having the requisite sophis tication and wherewithal to
run a state (or at least a semi-state).
These articles cite the importance placed by the Tigers on meeting
multilateral and foreign government delegations, the work done by
international NGOs in partnership with the Tiger administration in
the LTTE-controlled areas, the activity of the Tamil diaspora in
lobbying the international community etc., as evidence of this.
Based on this premise they have also concluded that the most
effective restraint on the LTTE has been the international safety
net that threatens to impose severe penalties on the Tigers if they
violate the ceasefire and resume outright hostilities.
The school that propagates this opinion believes that the LTTE’s
agreement to go to Geneva rather than stick rigidly by its first
choice, Oslo, vindicates this point of view. It has to be said
however that this view is not correct. It might be correct to say
that finding legitimacy in the eyes of the international community
is indeed a political goal, perhaps an important political goal, but
certainly not the most important one.
The Tigers realised that relying entirely on international support
for their cause would be suicidal, ever since India began
undermining the Tamil struggle by cooperating with the Sri Lankan
state, which culminated with the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord of
1987. The LTTE might use the realities of international politics to
push its own interests but does not depend entirely either on the
international community, or on forces in the South Asian region, to
pull the chestnuts out of the fire for it. Hence the LTTE is
sceptical about placing the quest for international legitimacy above
that of acquiring political and military capability to withstand its
primary enemy – the Sri Lankan state.
The most recent example of this was the travel ban imposed on the
Tigers by the EU with the threat there would be total proscription
if the rebels continued to use violence. This came soon after the
killing of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar (in which the LTTE
denies complicity). Despite the EU threat however, there were a
number of violent incidents where scores of service personnel died,
which were attributed to the Tigers (though they did not acknowledge
them either). These killings stopped only after the government
agreed to rein in the pro-state forces that were attacking the LTTE,
thereby achieving the military objective the Tigers wanted.
As obstacles are cleared before talks in Geneva, it is important
that the government and southern opinion-makers are not carried away
by the idea that the Tigers’ quest for international legitimacy will
relegate to second place all other issues and factors that are of
vital concern to the LTTE and the Tamil people. It will be naïve to
The LTTE is expected to press two interrelated demands at the Geneva
meeting: 1) that the Karuna faction be disarmed and 2) the military
cadre now actively deployed in the northeast be at least partially
withdrawn so that it facilitates the return to normalcy – an
important section of the CFA. The question however is whether the
government can accomplish these.
In the case of Karuna, though disarming him is unthinkable to the
Sri Lankan state since his defection is, arguably, the biggest
military prize it has won in the past 20-year war, there could at
least be the appearance of placing restraints on him by deactivating
There is fear however that the government does not have sufficient
control, exercised through the military, to contain Karuna. As this
article is being written, five NGO personnel working for the Tamil
Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) are reported abducted, near
Welikanda. Though nobody is certain who the perpetrators are, the
Karuna faction is active in the area.
Karuna’s statement meanwhile, issued on 30 January is designed to
make more than one ‘statement.’ Not only does it define him as a
leader independent of the Sri Lankan government and military and who
has the autonomy to make war and peace as he wishes, but his
assertion to act in self-defence if attacked implies he will defy
attempts to being disarmed even if the Tigers insist he should be.
The second factor is however much more complicated. This is the
stipulation under the CFA that the security forces must withdraw
from various physical spaces in accordance to different timeframes
for the restoration of normalcy.
There are different categories of places that have to be vacated for
this to be accomplished. The most important perhaps are the 100s of
private buildings occupied by the military in various parts of the
northeast. Though the security forces pay rent for some of them, a
large number are held gratis. Whatever it might be, the owners of
such dwellings would much prefer to have them back. Public
institutions too such as the Webber Stadium in Batticaloa, Hartley
College, Jaffna etc. continue to be occupied by the military
inconveniencing the people. There are also places of worship,
sacrosanct to believers, where the security forces are present.
Finally, there is the question of the high security zone. Its
presence in various parts of the northeast, but most famously in
Vadamaradtchi, has transformed not only the physical landscape, but
displaced people by the 1000s. What the Tigers will demand on
resettlement in the HSZs is unclear at present, but if human
security is to be ensured in the northeast such zones cannot be
allowed to go on as they are now.
It has to be noted that the LTTE and the Tamils are not demanding
these measures be taken because the CFA says so. Everybody knows the
horrendous privations the Tamil public had to undergo in the hands
of the security forces in the past few months. Indeed it could be
said hostilities follow a familiar pattern: the Tigers attack the
military and the military retaliates by targeting the civilians.
Therefore, it is important that the security forces not only vacate
the various places they are now occupying, but are withdrawn from
where they come into contact with the civilian population.
The question is whether the political forces now in government will
allow even a degree of restraint to be imposed on the military. The
JVP and JHU would oppose this tooth and nail and construe such
restraints as a symbol of compromising Sri Lankan sovereignty. It
will be remembered that withdrawing the armed forces to barracks was
a sticking point even when the LTTE was holding talks with the UNP
government of President R. Premadasa in 1989-1990.
When the withdrawal of the army from the Jaffna HSZ was being
actively considered in the latter part of 2002, Lieutenant General
Sarath Fonseka, the present army commander and the then Jaffna
security forces commander, drove a hard bargain. He was reported by
TamilNet saying, “We are only worried about the security of the
soldiers in the Jaffna peninsula. We are not in a position to think
about the resettlement of IDPs in the HSZ at this juncture.”
Fonseka in a report submitted to the Tigers through the SLMM said
the army would consider a phased vacation of the HSZ only if LTTE
cadres in the area were disarmed and the rebels agreed to
decommission their long range weapons. An Indian expert Major
General Satish Nambiar, hired by the Sri Lanka government, also
wanted the LTTE’s long-range weapons decommissioned before the
military began withdrawing from the HSZ
Interestingly, the reciprocal concessions desired by Fonseka and
Nambiar from the two sides have parallels with what the Sinn Fein
and the British government tried to negotiate and failed. In this
instance the IRA, expected to decommission weapons under the Good
Friday Accords said they would do so only if the British Government
agreed to demilitarisation – removing troops and bases from Northern
Ireland. The British government rejected the proposal. However,
decommissioning of weapons in the conflict between the IRA and the
British government was no more than symbolic – it is much more
fundamental in the conflict in Sri Lanka.
It is fairly obvious the LTTE does not place much confidence in the
talks on the CFA rendering any positive fallout to stabilise the
ceasefire. The politico-military gains the Tigers achieved such as
forcing the closure of the University of Jaffna have not been
reversed, nor have the people who were encouraged to immigrate to
the Wanni to escape military brutality in Jaffna asked to retrace
their steps back to the peninsula.
What has to be also borne in
mind is that the defence and military hierarchy in Colombo are said
to have informed the president they need a couple of months of
preparation to be in a position to take on the LTTE militarily,
either to begin an offensive or to defend themselves if attacked. In
which case the LTTE would also be cognisant of the fact the proposed
talks are a time buying exercise.
If it is so one cannot expect
the LTTE to put by military considerations for political ones and be
a sitting duck to any military manoeuvres planned by the government.
The only guarantee against such a move by the government is the
international community. And the LTTE is well aware the ‘guarantees’
that were given by the Norwegian facilitators in the past who had
already engaged in the peace process in Sri Lanka (they did so in
November 2000 when the Tigers declared a unilateral ceasefire) but
turned a blind eye when the government launched Operation Agni
Kheela in 2001.
All these point to very bleak prospects ahead unless the government
is sincere. To believe that international legitimacy is all the
Tigers are after and would sacrifice everything for that is a
complete misunderstanding of the LTTE’s mindset and intentions. Such
logic could only be pursued to one’s detriment.