Reality of 30-Year Humanitarian Operation in Sri Lanka
B. Kavindu M.H. Peiris
For more than three decades, the war environment has had a very long history of destroying the desperate desire to achieve a narrow goal of establishing a separate Eelam State in Sri Lanka. In fact, it was the era that brought death to some of the most powerful leaders of the country and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. These memories still haunt us today and bring pain to some.
There is much that we as a Nation have lost in the 30-year war. The LTTE massacre near Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura, massacre of innocent civilians in Gonagala village in Ampara, massacre of Aranthalawa monks, killing of Police Officers, terrorist attack on Central Bank, LTTE airstrike on the Inland Revenue Building, suicide bombing on then Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka near Army Headquarters, attack on Lakshman Kadirgamar, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, attack on Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was the Defence Secretary at that time, are well illustrated by the aforementioned casualties.
Considering all these factors, the following inquiry will shed light on the reality of 30 years of humanitarian war and the cruelty of terrorism.
The brutal terrorism that began in the mid-70s has haunted Sri Lankans, with the assassination of Jaffna Mayor Duraiappah. Initially, Democratic Tamil political leaders nurtured LTTE cadres lead by Velupillai Prabhakaran, however, later they were unfortunate enough to be assassinated by him and the cruelty of terrorism is pointed out.
The gradually growing LTTE terrorists, launched plans to achieve their narrow goals, with support from foreign powers. The result was the bombing of ordinary passenger trains and the killing of innocent civilians. The devastation wrought on the Fort Railway Station by targeting commuters, the Sri Maha Bodhi as well as the Temple of the Tooth also were attacked as mentioned above. The United States of America once stated that the LTTE were the powerful terrorists in the world who have a huge organisational strength to fight face-to-face with the former government.
They were at the forefront of organising the building of bombs, submarines, aircraft as well as large underground bunkers. In this way, the war waged by the terrorists for many years, killing civilians, was globalised with more regimes until the Rajapaksa regime came to power in 2005. As usual, the terrorists reached peace agreements with the Rajapaksa regime. However, the peace agreements failed to quench their bloodthirst and as a result the terrorists closed the Mavil Aru sluice gates and resumed endangering the lives of the people by blocking access to water, which was the basic need of the civilian population. The Sri Lankan Government requested the LTTE terrorists to reopen the sluice gates, but they refused. The demands of the people without water increased and their impulse increased similarly.
In the face of LTTE rejection, the Government had to use the necessary military force to capture Mavil Aru. It was, in fact, a war aimed to protect civilians from dying of thirst, and it is extremely justifiable to say that it is a humanitarian operation by Sri Lankan Security Forces. Thus, with the liberation of the Thoppigala area from LTTE control, the entire Eastern Province came under the control of our Armed Forces.
However, the LTTE terrorists did not retreat and discontinue their brutal activities. They killed not only ordinary civilians, but also the peace-loving, anti-terrorist Tamil leaders. The Government of Sri Lanka was determined to continue the long-lasting war until capturing Nandikadal Lagoon, to fulfil the promise made to the people of the country. Once again, the terrorists had proven their brutality by using civilians as their last defensive ring.
In the face of the prevailing situation, the Sri Lankan Government wanted to end the war as soon as possible. However, since the Government and Armed Forces had the responsibility of safeguarding the lives of all civilians, they had to proceed with caution. Accordingly, the civilians were able to escape from the LTTE and returned to the Security Forces in the face of the onslaught of the Security Forces. Then the Government and Security Forces were ready to provide them with all the medical treatment and other essentials.
The war, that lasted for many years, ended on 18 May 2009, with the assassination of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran by the Sri Lankan Security Forces.
As the war drew to a close, there were war crime allegations levelled at the Sri Lankan Government and Armed Forces by some local as well as international leaders. An examination of this makes it clear that the war was in fact a humanitarian war.
Seeing the end of the 30-year war, some parties described the war as a massacre that simply violated the rights of the Tamil people. These allegations continue to be made by some parties, including the international community, for their own profit motive. But the following inquiry will show how unfair those allegations are.
Sri Lanka is a Unitary State. The country is home to over 21 million people of various ethnicities. As mentioned earlier, the LTTE wanted to establish a separate State of Eelam in Sri Lanka. However, LTTE terrorism emerged in Sri Lanka in the late 1970s when the functioning governments opposed the decision. It is clear from the above examples that the terrorists have clearly carried out a massacre with the intention of achieving a narrow goal. Are those murders invisible to the international community or some of the accusing parties? Innocent civilians, not only Tamils, but also Muslims, Sinhalese, and individuals from all communities, paid with their lives during the attacks. Don’t those people have the human rights that the international community or some locals ask for? Don’t they deserve justice?
In addition, at an informal meeting held in conjunction with the UN Human Rights Council session, a member of the Tamil Diaspora accused Sri Lanka of massacring Tamils during the war and killing around 300,000 of them. He also said Balachandran and others who were arrested after the war deserve justice. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Security Forces were accused of shooting and killing them. Also, they have accused Sri Lanka through international Media outlets such as Channel 4 and Al Jazeera. Where were they when the Tamil people were resettled and rehabilitated after clearing 450,000 mines? Even a UN special envoy said not more than 700 Tamils had lost their lives in the war. Hence, it is extremely futile to make such allegations, and it must be acknowledged that these allegations are being made to serve the narrow ends of some quarters.
When the terrorists closed the Mavil Aru sluice gates, the Sri Lankan Government demanded that they be reopened, to get water for the innocent Tamils, to prevent them from dying, but when the terrorists refused, they were attacked by the Security Forces and the Mavil Aru sluice gates were recaptured. No one cares about those moments, because there is no argument to break.
Civilians used as human shields
During the last days of the war, the terrorists used civilians as their defensive shield. As mentioned earlier, the end of the war was to be expedited, but the Security Forces were more vigilant, as the terrorists were still holding innocent civilians hostage. Can these charges then justify the use of the Tamil people as a shield by the terrorists? If the Security Forces were not tactical, they would have destroyed the lives of innocent civilians.
Another example can be considered as follows. According to Major General Chagi Gallage, a frontline leader at that time, “In the first week of April, we were able to encircle the remaining LTTE armed leaders in the area known as Anandapuram, Iranapalai. But the victory of the war was postponed until 18 and 19 May for one reason; that is the LTTE kept ordinary people as a wall for their protection. If we attacked, ordinary people would have died. But it took us a long time to save the common people and carry out these attacks. If not for the civilians, we would have been able to end this battle by mid-April.
In this way, the above evidence proves that what the former government did with the Sri Lankan Security Forces was in fact a humanitarian war, and it is clear that all international allegations of war crimes against Sri Lanka are baseless.
(The writer is reading for a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) degree; Undergraduate of the Law School at Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology, Sri Lanka (APIIT), in collaboration with Staffordshier University, United Kingdom, and holds a Diploma in Forensic Medicine and Toxicology in the Department of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka.)