Tamils vs LTTE: Prabakaran vs Wijeweera
By Shivanthi Ranasinghe
Recently TNA spokesmen and Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran stated that while the JVP were allowed to commemorate Rohana Wijeweera’s death, the Tamils are forbidden to remember their dead. Very mischievously, Sumanthiran was not referring to the Tamil civilians who were taken hostage by the LTTE (of which the TNA was the then political proxy). By ‘Tamils’, he was actually talking about the hardcore LTTE terrorists who died during the last battles in 2009.
This distinction is very important and should never be allowed to be blurred. During the last months of the war, according to the computations of local and international bodies, almost eight thousand Tamils died. Three quarters of this number were Tamil civilians. Though principles of proportionality would not fault with this number, it must be noted that this number could have been further reduced had civilians been allowed to move out of the war zone.
Combat and civilian distinction
Instead over 300,000 Tamil civilians were forced by the LTTE into a human shield against the advancing military. The No Fire Zones (NFZ) declared by the Military were promptly infiltrated by the LTTE. They set up their military hardware in these zones. Even when international observers asked the LTTE to remove their hardware from its location in the NFZ, they immediately complied, but only to relocate it to an equally unacceptable location. Furthermore, discarding their uniforms they engaged in the offensive from among the civilians in the NFZ. This attempt to blur distinction between combat and civilian is a serious war crime.
The LTTE were deliberately attempting to make the NFZ areas also legitimate targets for the Military. The LTTE was fast losing ground to the military and were rapidly getting confined to a progressively decreasing square kilometer area.
As a terrorist organisation, the LTTE was not party to any law, treaty or obligation. Hence their despicable strategy was to create the gravest humanitarian crisis possible. Then allow international furor over the increasing civilian casualties to pressurise the Sri Lankan Government to halt its military progress.
In late March 2009, then President Mahinda Rajapaksa invited the TNA for another round of talks to end the conflict. Even though the LTTE’s defeat was imminent, the TNA refused. The TNA demanded that the Government resolved the humanitarian crisis faced by civilians trapped in the fighting.
On 22 April 2009, LTTE media co-ordinator Velayuthan Thayanithi, alias Daya Master along with Kumar Pancharathnam, alias George - a top interpreter for the LTTE surrendered to the military. They revealed that the LTTE were forcibly keeping the civilians from escaping and were indiscriminately shooting at those who were attempting to flee. They also disclosed the LTTE was forcing underaged young teenagers to be in active combat.
The message was very clear. The LTTE would not negotiate nor lay down arms. They would continue to forcibly hold on to the civilians and then highlight the civilians’ plight. They, as throughout its macabre past, would continue to hold the civilians to blackmail the Government to withdraw. This was an armed conflict that had deteriorated over the decades into a fully-fledged war. Since its first assassination of the Jaffna Mayor Alfred Dururaippah in 1975 as he emerged from a Kovil, the LTTE had used civilians as its bargaining chip. If the Sri Lankan Military withdrew - yet again, the LTTE would simply continue to harass and harm all civilians of all ethnicities across the Island.
Even if the LTTE was allowed their goal to form an exclusive homeland for Tamils in the North and East, the situation would not have normalised. The civilians would have continued to be under grave threat. The simple truth, many that frown over the North Korean situation, but sympathetic to the LTTE cause, have not realised is that Prabakaran openly denounced democracy, and was an unapologetic fascist.
He was a law unto himself and did not tolerate political space, difference of opinion or challenge to his position. He used people for his benefit and did not hesitate to eliminate them afterwards. Outstanding examples would be the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination whilst at an election rally in 1991, President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993 during a May Day rally and his own long term friend, comrade and LTTE’s second in command Mahaththaya in 1994 on the suspicion that he was collaborating with RAW.
After numerous attempts of failed negotiations with many international mediators, Sri Lanka was forced to factor that Prabakaran was not reasonable. He was the LTTE’s sole authority. He owned the TNA, who could not function as any other but as LTTE’s mouthpiece. While Prabakaran was allowed to continue along his chosen path, he would be a grave danger to all.
Prabakaran’s destructiveness was not confined only to Sri Lanka. The LTTE terrorist cells that spanned from south India to beyond Malaysia and Indonesia challenged the entire region’s security. The logistics and technology the LTTE provided other terrorist groups, especially the Islamic terrorist groups threatened the whole world. The LTTE enabled these terrorist groups to connect with their far flung targets with greater ease and agility. Even the West was not spared as the LTTE money-making machinery pumped the streets with narcotics, illegal immigrants and smuggled contraband.
A military operation was the only way forward to return to peace. Yet, the matter was made complicated by the presence of the civilians, deliberately placed by the LTTE before the advancing Military with the cruel intention of creating a humanitarian catastrophe.
Ambassador Williamson’s communiqué
At this juncture, the exchange then between Geneva-based US Ambassador, Clint Williamson and ICRC head of operations for South Asia, Jacque de Maio on 9 July 2009 is noteworthy. As per the communiqué sent by Ambassador Williamson to the US State Department in 15 July 2009, the leaked cable noted that, “The army was determined not to let the LTTE escape from its shrinking territory, even though this meant the civilians being kept hostage by the LTTE were at an increasing risk. So, de Maio said, while one could safely say that there were ‘serious, widespread violations of international humanitarian law,’ by the Sri Lankan forces, it didn’t amount to genocide. He (Maio) could cite examples of where the army had stopped shelling when the ICRC informed them it was killing civilians. In fact, the army actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths.”
On the fateful last days increasingly desperate civilians made daring attempts to escape to safety. Many used nighttime as a shield to cross the lagoon, but still had to dodge the LTTE bullets. In the process, toddlers fell to the lagoon or drowned even whilst been held by the parents. By the time Prabakaran was eliminated many children’s and young adults’s lives had been sacrificed to save his own skin. Some died in LTTE uniforms and some in their parents arms.
Families have the right to remember
Their surviving families have the right to remember their loved ones who did not survive. Therefore, Sumanthiran’s statement the Tamils are not allowed to remember their dead is erroneous and deliberately misleading. It is the celebration of the LTTE along with its paraphernalia that is banned.
Despite the LTTE’s demise, its ideology still continues. It is most unfortunate that many agents support this ideology in numerous ways for very different agendas. This makes the banning of any LTTE-related celebration significant and a threat to the country’s peace.
Wijeweera should not be celebrated
However, Sumanthiran’s observation on Rohana Wijeweera cannot be faulted. Wijeweera too created absolute havoc in this country and caused many senseless deaths. He too terrorised civilians through extremely depraved acts and disrupted the education of many. If one computes less atrocities from the JVP than from the LTTE, it is because of the lack of opportunities the JVP had than principle.
JVP might have now renounced violence. Yet they continue to be a dark energy that continues to drag Sri Lanka’s potential. JVP’s inability to support the incumbent Administration’s efforts to revive rural economy or at least applaud the Government’s structure with line ministries specifically designed to uplift traditional economies is a case in point. The Government’s focus on job creation for the poorest of the poor and capacity building to increase tertiary education opportunities is looked upon with derision by the JVP.
They claim to be fighting for the oppressed. Yet their disinterest in supporting the Administration to meet its challenging goals but instead delighting over every hiccough exposes their insincerity to their stated ideology.
Sri Lanka regained its peace at bitter costs. Both Wijeweera and Prabakaran had to be eliminated to end terrorism in the Island. Yet, their ideologies continue to provide the space to create instability within the country. Therefore, even Wijeweera’s life, just like Prabakaran’s and their respective minions’ lives should not be celebrated by any Sri Lankan.
For the benefit of Dr Dayan Jayatilleka:
These are the views of the writer alone and do not reflect on any organisation that the writer may be attached to [email protected]