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CHAPTER 1

AUGUST : A BLOODY STALEMATE

CHAPTER 1

AUGUST : A BLOODY STALEMATE

1.2 Army the Civilians and the Muslim Dilemma

1.3 The fate of the Political Solution

1.4 The Initiative from the Religious leaders

1.5 An LTTE leader speaks his mind

1. 1 The south : disillusionment with War and Violence

A Canadian academic told a Colombo audience about an experience he had earlier this month during the festival at the shrine at Kataragama in the deep south. After President Premadasa had worshipped at the devale (Hindu temple), a Buddhist monk proposed to have a session in support of the armed forces. The academic left after protesting to him and observed the proceedings from a distance. The monk held the national flag and spoke, while some helpers tried to drum up support. People moved about in numbers. But the crowd that gathered to hear him did not exceed three persons. The academic spoke to many ordinary persons, nearly all of whom had no enthusiasm for the war and many of whom were amenable to a federal solution _ in sharp contrast to the mood reflected in the press. The academic came to the strong conclusion that the opposition on the war from the poorer majority of the Sinhalese was so great, if passive, that the government will have serious difficulty in working up enthusiasm for it using the traditional appeal to race and religion. He emphatically, that in his long experience, ordinary people left to themselves had a genius for setting their differences. By and large it would be true to say that the notion of race or ethnicity figures very deals with the current national crisis. The view that the crisis is one about human rights, basic valued and basic justice; against which communal differences are being exacerbated and used, is one that is struggling to gain ground. It is also a sentiment that is being voiced by an increasing number of young Tamils and Sinhalese for whom English is not the first language. Nearly all of them have been through the deceptive charm of sectarian appeals to race and religion, and have come out of it with feelings of anger and disgust.

The evidence for the professor’s conclusions is not lacking. The allegedly spontaneous banners that came up in support of the armed forces in June are suffering the depredations of the elements with no significant additions to their number. In places in the deep South, these banners needed armed guards to ensure their existence. Contributions to the National Defence Fund, symbolizing the peoples’ support, in nearly all known cases required degrees of coercion ranging from the subtle to the blatant. The latter was quite in evidence. The University of Peradeniya which prides itself in being the only national university, gave its employees the dissenting option in contributing a day’s wages to the NDF. The option may appear to be cynical in view of the continuing prevalence of burning bodies in its environs. Students of several mission school in Colombo appeared to have no choice. At Manning Market, Wellawatte, an army Lieutenant was seen telling the vendors how much each should contribute. Furthermore uniformed men were behind almost every instance of recent attacks on Tamils in the South. The regular reports in the press of burning bodies in the South also suggest that the government still fears serious dissent in the South.

Any traveller into Singhalese areas would often come away with the strong impression that they are a people cowed by the terror of the state and the JVP, patiently bearing the humiliation and the corruption that stares them in the face. This makes the killings of some of the most alienated sections of the Singhalese by Tamil militants all the more tragic. There was prior to June a very good opportunity to break the mould of Sinhalese_Buddhist chauvinism in Sri Lankan politics. In this both the Sinhalese and Tamil leadership have failed.

1.2 Army the Civilians and the Muslim Dilemma

Following the massacre of Muslims at Kattankudy on 3rd August, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) voiced the feeling common to many Muslims, that the government should arm the Muslims to defend themselves. Taken in context, this incident was one in a chain of massacres, where all three communities were victims. By far the most numerous amongst the victims were the Tamils _ killed mainly by the most powerful armed group in the conflict, the Sri Lankan state. It was over this group of victims that there was a conspiratorial official silence. The silence only exacerbated Tamil feelings of anger and made them susceptible to deliberate attempts by the state to turn their anger against Muslims. [See UTHR (Jaffna), Report No.4]. The SLMC leader, Mr. Ashraff, evidently saw a trap being laid and was to adopt a complex position in the days to come. He later expressed his sorrow over the fate of Tamil victims and said that what he was asking for was that if the government could not protect the Muslims, it must provide them with arms to defend themselves.

The manner in which the government responded to this understandable demand from the Muslims is revealing. The Minister for defence announced that Muslims would be recruited into the armed forces until the number reached their ethnic proportion of 7%. He announced the recruitment of 100 volunteers from Amparai. Most unbelievably, he also announced that the actions of the LTTE had precluded the recruitment of Tamils into the armed forces just now [Island 10th August]. Such a position obviously militated against the government’s claim that the war was not against Tamils.

Having accepted that Muslims must be taken into the armed forces to protect Muslims, the Tamil community which also suffered grievous loss was being left out in the cold. The government was effectively conceding that it was the business of the LTTE to protect Tamils. It was a move bound to inflame Tamil anger against Muslims. The government must have known this. This policy must have come under fire and over the next few days the government announced that it would recruit Tamil home guards nominated by Tamil parties opposed to the LTTE to protect Tamil villages. But the damage was already done.

Following the Eravur massacre of 12th August, the Muslims appeared to sense something odd.

The SLMC (Muslim Congress) in a statement issued on 12th August stated: “The massacre of defenceless Eravur Muslims is raising the doubt whether the LTTE is going ahead with its barbaric attacks on the Muslims with the connivance of the government. “The SLMS is constrained to make this allegation. If we do not do this we will be failing in our duty by our community and people.”

The next few days were to see harassment of the SLMS by the government. The government had evidently respect or concern

for the Eastern Muslims. Any independent expression of their views and interests was no more acceptable to the government than it was to the Tamil nationalists.

While it was right that the leaders of a community should seek the protection of its members, long experience speaks decisively against arming a community. During the last few week even the relatively more sober sections of the press such as ‘The Island’ have been editorially campaigning for the state to arm the Muslims and Sinhalese in the East. The call has also been taken up in parliament by the main opposition party, the SLFP. The racist bias inherent in this call is seen from the fact that when Tamils were victims of blatant state violence in 1983, it was not suggested from these quarters that the Tamils should be armed. The call to arm the Tamils was raised outside this country, and anyone can see what became of the Tamils who once had a promising future.

The government’s arming of communities through creating homeguard units is a patently cynical exercise which only serves to multiply hatred and misery. The following extract from the Sunday Time of 12th August describes the effect of this system in the area between Morawewa and Trincomalee where the LTTE moves freely. The extract is the concluding portion of the report on the massacre of 24 Sinhalese civilians by Manjula de Silva:

“Homeguards complained over the lack of ammunition and what they called ill-treatments. At present each homeguard is being provided with only five cartridges. On the other hand liason between army and homeguards seems to be at alarmingly low ebb.

“ Sinhalese settlers living under tragic conditions have become refugees among refugees, for most of them have now been forced to leave places where they have taken refuge. Any adverse move either by the government or the Tigers who only a few months ago mingled with these villagers freely, may well result in a situation where the Sri Lankan security forces will have to guard empty cottages and fields.”

Thus massacres quite often result when suspicion upsets the live and let live equilibrium. This happens when homeguard units are introduced or when the army moves into an area and tries to use the civilian population, in the total absence of political moves to find a solution. Like the TNA, homeguards have been easy targets which served to boost the LTTE’s image. Having been put into service with 48 hours of training, homeguards have often complained that their short guns did not fire. The Minister of Defence has responded by saying that the these guns had not been regularly oiled. The Minister had at first instinctively resisted arming civilians and has himself given some of the reasons.

For one thing automatic weapons and proper military training are expensive items which the government is hard put to provide for its own forces. Secondly, with so much political instability and a history of insurgencies, arming civilians is a dangerous option on the long run. During the entire history of homeguard units, they have hardly been of any use in preventing massacres. Their claim to fame rests on their use in reprisal killings under cover provided by the army. While detested by other communities, they were never regarded heroes in their own.

Today muslims homeguards are being deployed in Batticaloa and Trincomalee towns under police supervision. Tamil youngsters continue to disappear. Who gets the blame? Very convenient indeed! On the other hand it is easy to judge what of protection they can possibly provide. The Kattankudy massacre took place while a professional army was stationed in two camps 1Km away. The massacre in Eravur went on for several hours despite an army camp being 1 miles away.

Arming the civilians is thus a poor answer to a real problem requiring a major and courageous political initiative. The political leaders in the East can still do something to improve the situation. At present the parties representing different communities meet the Sri Lankan president separately and pour out the woes of their own community. They come away with solemn assurances and nothing changes on the ground. Their statements too do not reflect adequately a sensitivity to the problems of other communities, and challenge the poverty of the overall politics. Politicians from the minorities have accepted a role where they seek patronage and are seemingly not big enough to speak for all the people of this country. Indeed the fact that no major politician from the minorities has spoken up for the tens of thousands of Sinhalese killed by government forces, can only enhance prejudices that sustain this political culture. The LTTE, despite its pretensions to being a liberation, movement, played this same reactionary game when it allowed itself to be used at the UN human rights commission in aid of the government.

For a start, it will bring a qualitative change for the better, if the Tamil and Muslim leaders in the East get together and speak up for both communities and avoid making separate statements and representations. They must leave no room to be played against each other.Internal killings have left the Tamil community facing a political vacuum. Perhaps it falls to the SLMS leader Mr.Ashraff to try and be big enough in giving the lead for the two communities to together. While he should politically challenge any denial of the rights of muslims, he must also campaign against the use of Muslims, he must also campaign against the use of Muslims in a manner harmful to the Tamils. Such a principled position, would place the Muslims in a strong position, and that would be their best defence. The influence and prosperity of Muslims in this country was not gained by strength of arms. They should guard against reliving the tragedy of the Tamil community.

1.3 The fate of the Political Solution

Massacres in the East, burning bodies in the South, disappearances in Trincomalee and the aerial bombing of Jaffna are all belied by one fact - that there is no political initiative that addresses issues of basic justice for the whole country. Since the passing of the sixth amendment, the government has itself connived in the destruction of a Tamil leadership it could talk to. The LTTE has been very unhelpful in not stating what practical objective it would settle for. The government’s own failure to do the obvious continues to intrigue the populace. It is obvious that the ordinary people do not want this war and are willing to be quite flexible. Why does a government that has so much power on paper, being in control of both executive presidency and parliament, not take up a clear position on pressing issue such as devolution, questions relating to land and land settlement, the North-East merger and the sixth amendment?

The government’s dithering only makes inextricably worse. It bombs civilians in Jaffna because it has no idea on what to do about Jaffna. To over- run Jaffna militarily would be costly in terms of military casualties and uncertainly over Indian reaction to civilian casualties. Furthermore, holding Jaffna militarily would require tying down at least 10,000 men going by the IPKF’s experience. This would be ill-affordable in the event of a resumption of the insurgency in the South. The alternative option is to challenge the LTTE politically by offering a solution which addresses Tamil insecurity and establishing the government’s sincerity in its day to day actions. The bombing and heli-straffing is a sign that it is prepared to do neither,while wanting to be seen doing something.

Like wise in the East, while not having a clear mind on anything, it simply follows its chauvinistic instincts when transient military gains enable it to do so. In Trincomalee the old game of encouraging Sinhalese to take over Tamil property under military cover has resumed and so has the game of tinkering with district boundaries. The provincial council settlement is being broken up under cover of military occupation. The Tamil Deputy Inspector General of police of the North-East who was forced to sit in Trincomalee watching Tamil youth disappearing by the courtesy of brigadier Lucky Wijeratne’s troops, has now been sent packing, his post having become non-existent.

The only thing the government did in compliance with the LTTE’s wishes was to dissolve the North-East provincial council, while not taking a position on the sixth amendment. Ironically the dissolution of the council was accomplished by parliament nearly 4 weeks after the commencement of the war with the LTTE, when the objective seemed to be lost. The scrapping of the sixth amendment, more than being a demand of the LTTE is one from the Tamil people, and indeed of any self respecting minority. It in effect enjoins a minority not to promote separation from Sri Lanka, without imposing on the majority any reciprocal obligation to treat the minorities justly. It’s insulting character is evident from the fact that it was passed by parliament in 1983 when Tamils were being murdered and were being driven in terror to refugee camps.

Thus when the President of Sri Lanka calls for international mediation and says that the door to negotiation is still open, quite apart from the LTTE, any Tamil would be at a loss. The problem has been talked about and extensively studies for more than ten years. All negotiations have been broadly within the frame-work of the Bandaranayike-Chelvanayakam pact of 1958. Even on the question of land settlement, the dispute mainly around settlements in large schemes, such as the Mahaveli scheme, where huge investments are involved. The kind of thing that the government is attempting to do in Trincomalee today was completely ruled out. Hence from a Tamil viewpoint there is nothing new to talk about. Instead of showing sincerity and good will the government has reneged on everything over which agreement was reached.

where the Sinhalese opposition is concerned, the government’s position is curious. It’s officials have admitted privately that they are afraid of the opposition turning down any proposal put forward by the government. It has instead egged on the Tamil groups tending the All Party Conference (APC) to put forward proposals and get them accepted by other southern parties, in particular the SLFP. The SLFP which feels that it was cheated of the reigns of power during the last elections and is challenging President Premadasa’s marginal victory in December 1988, does not attend the APC. The APC is an advisory body summoned by the President and has no teeth. The Sinhalese opposition rightly feels that when Premadasa took the supposedly revolutionary step of coming to secret deals with the LTTE, far from consulting them, they were completely left in the dark. The Tamil groups and the Muslim Congress who are now being consulted at the APC were then treated with contempt. They thus tend to view the APC as a gimmick and are in no mood to make life easy for Premadasa. This brings us to an important feature of constitutional changes introduced by J.R.Jayawardene in 1978. While denying a string opposition its due role in the formal power structure, the government has felt a need to seek their consensus in ad hoc bodies like the APC. The result is a weak and indecisive government rather than a strong one.

1.4 The Initiative from the Religious leaders

On 15th July a memorandum, signed by several religious leaders in Jaffna was sent to President Premadasa calling for a political solution to the present crisis. It’s main import was that for the first time a body of Tamil citizens including such important figures as Bishop Deogupillai, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Jaffna, the incumbent of the Nallur Kandasamy temple and Bishop Ambalavanar, JDCSI, had accepted that all parties were to blame for the current impasse. They also categorically stated that a Federal solution rather than separation, would meet the aspirations of the Tamils. A positive and sympathetic response from the government would have placed the on these leaders to challenge the destructive trend of the dominant Tamil politics. Furthermore, these leaders had stuck their necks out to offer leadership when there was a political vacuum with hardly anyone or the government to talk to.

On 18th and 20th July, three days after the appeal was made, several containers containing smelly substance, believed to be excreta, were dropped in Bishop Deogupillai’s area from the air. The ordinary people construed this to be the president’s reply and several of them blamed the religious leaders for the stink. By the close of the fist week of August, several churches and religious institutions that functioned as refugee camp had been bombed, and the Bishop himself barely escaped with his life to become a refugee. While these leaders were humiliated and deprived of their role in speaking for the community, the LTTE was able to call forth a massive procession to mourn those who died during its attack to storm the fort. The crowd marched inspite of the aerial intruders. This episode is illustrative of the tragic being pursued by the government, cornering people into supporting destructive extremism.

1.5 An LTTE leader speaks his mind

Addressing a meeting at the University of Jaffna last July, Mr.Yogi, the leader of the LTTE’s political wing told the audience:

“Negotiations and ceasefires may come and go, but the fight will go on. We will get Eelam soon.....We will not talk to other groups.....We have sometimes lost ten fighters to obtain a gun. Hence a gun is worth ten lives. Therefore,we will worship the gun.....Intellectuals do not support us. The educational system must be reformed because it has not taught people to think independently.....You may have ideas, but it is the fighters who can enforce them. Therefore you are subservient to the fighters.”

This is a frank testimony to the poverty of leadership that has cost the Tamils so much in lives, territory, material destruction and social breakdown. Having induced hundreds of young men and women to lay down their lives, it cannot even speak of steady cause. While maintaining Eelam as its formal slogan, it can make astounding turns when the leadership is threatened. Its inability to put forward publicly, a reasonable objective is a liability that springs from its own history and rhetoric.


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