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India & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam

Sri Lanka: Marginalisation of India

Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi,
and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai
in International Terrorism Monitor, Paper 157
26 November 2006

Bolstered by Pakistan's continuing military support and encouraged by the US' diplomatic support to its military operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Sri Lankan Government of President Mahinda Rajapakse has been increasingly insensitive to India's concerns over the humanitarian catastrophe facing the Sri Lankan Tamil community. Even while describing India as Sri Lanka's "best friend"--- Mr. Rajapakse continues with his policy of targeted killings of innocent Tamil civilians through punitive air strikes and the use of heavy artillery and has been trying to bring them down to their knees through a policy of starving them.

2. His lack of concern for the humanitarian catastrophe and his indifference to India's anxieties in the matter became evident after the meeting of the representatives of the Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Donors' Conference of 2003 --- Japan, Norway, the European Union and the US---held in Washington on November 21, 2006.This meeting, while articulating proforma criticisms of the acts of violence and indiscriminate killing of civilians by the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE, came out strongly in support of the Sri Lankan Government and showed a calculated indifference to the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils.

3. The US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Mr. R. Nicholas Burns, was particularly forthcoming in support of the Sri Lankan Government during the joint press briefing by the participants at the meeting. The remarks of Mr. Burns and others at the press briefing have been interpreted by the hard-liners in the Sri Lankan Government as amounting to an indirect endorsement of the methods followed by the security forces in their operations against the LTTE and as indicating that the Co-Chairs are decreasingly averse to the Sri Lankan Government's efforts to solve the problem of the Tamils militarily. The hardliners have come to believe that the Co-Chairs are increasingly inclined to close their eyes to the brutal suppression of the Tamils.

4. There has been a revival of the pre-1983 interest of the US Navy in acquiring a presence in Trincomallee and hopes of achieving this with the support of the Government of Mr. Rajapakse should at least partly account for the growing open support of the US for Mr. Rajapakse and its disinclination to take a firm stand against the methods employed by the Sri Lankan security forces against the Tamil population. Trincomallee has acquired a new importance in the eyes of the US and the NATO forces presently fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan as an alternative naval base for logistic support to the NATO operations in Afghanistan should instability in Pakistan after the next year's general elections there make the continued use of Karachi untenable.

5. Mr. Burns has showered encomiums on what he described as India's responsible attitude on Sri Lanka---- which is nothing but an euphemism for its in-activism. Even while making from time to time proforma statements expressing themselves in favour of a more active role by India, the US and Sri Lanka seem happy with the present in-activism of New Delhi.

6. When Mr. Rajapakse talks of the need for Indian activism, what he has in mind is military activism in support of the operations of his security forces against the Sri Lankan Tamils and the LTTE----in the form of more training for the Sri Lankan Police and Security Forces, supply of military equipment, intelligence-sharing and joint patrolling by the Indian and Sri Lankan Navies to prevent arms smuggling by the LTTE.

7. He does not want Indian activism in the political and humanitarian fields. While India has never sought an activist role in the political field, the initiatives recently taken by our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, for humanitarian activism under pressure from the Chief Minister, Shri M. Karunanidhi, and other leaders of Tamil Nadu have been given short shrift by Mr. Rajapakse. While welcoming the Indian offer of humanitarian supplies, Mr. Rajapakse is reported to have turned down suggestions that these should be routed to the Tamils through the International Red Cross and insisted that these should be sent to the Sri Lankan Government, which would decide how they would be distributed.

8. The Indian predicament in the face of the strong line taken by Mr. Rajapakse after the endorsement which he received from the US was obvious during the press briefing held at Chennai on November 24, 2006, by Shri M. K. Narayanan, our Prime Minister's National Security Adviser, and Shri Shivshankar Menon, our Foreign Secretary, after a meeting with Shri Karunanidhi. Shri Menon was on his way back to New Delhi after meeting Mr. Rajapakse in Colombo and Shri Narayanan had specially flown from New Delhi for the meeting.

9. Shri Narayanan told the media as reported by "The Hindu" of November 25,2006: "We will decide if there is a necessity for it (sending humanitarian aid) at all. And, if so, we will decide what will be the modalities."

10. The "Deccan Chronicle" of November 25,2006, has reported that when our Foreign Secretary raised the possibility of the humanitarian assistance being sent through the Red Cross, Mr. Rajapakse "said a big 'no' arguing that such an action would mean damning his Government as untrustworthy, apart from interfering with the island's sovereignty." But, at the same time, he has issued an appeal to all local and international non-governmental organisations to get involved in the distribution of food.

11. How to address the humanitarian catastrophe which has been facing the Tamils without seeming to support the present leadership of the LTTE, which was involved in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi? That is question of immediate relevance to India. India should seriously consider organising a meeting of Sri Lanka, the US, EU, Norway, Japan, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross to discuss only the humanitarian aspects of the present situation in Sri Lanka and find out ways of assisting the Tamils. India should take over the leadership role in mobilising the international community on the humanitarian issue.

12. The strong support for the Sri Lankan Government from the Co-Chairs---particularly from the US--- has had two reactions in the Sri Lankan Tamil community----desperation and total disillusionment with the international community on the one side and a trend towards a greater radicalisation of Tamil opinion and a greater determination to keep up their armed struggle against the Government on the other. What impact it will have on the ground situation remains to be seen.



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