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The Snares of Violence

The recent spate of human rights violations cannot be understood without c some knowledge of the motivations and mutual relations of the various factions that bear arms. India’s sponsorship of Tamil militant groups in 1983 and the manner in which the latter were militarised at the expense of political vision has been written about elsewhere. Help given t6 Tamil militant groups received widespread approval. In consequence of the 1983 racial violence and the subsequent military action by the Sri Lankan state, the Tamil minority was seen as defenseless. This militarisation reflected itself in the ruthless manner in which internal dissent within militant groups was dealt with. In early 1985 the Indian press came out with sensational revelations about how the PLOTE had killed several of its own cadres on Indian soil. Dissident sources have given figures varying from several tens upwards. Less well known, but well authenticated, are several internal killings within other militant groups.

By the middle of 1986, the LTTE had eliminated the TELO from the militant scene and its bid for sole dominance became evident. The number of TELO cadres killed by the LTTE is put at 90 upwards. Leading EPRLF men in Jaffna told a senior Citizens’ Committee figure that its leadership in Madras had asked the LTTE leadership for its terms of cooperation. But no answer had been forthcoming.

It was generally assumed that the LTTE would take on the EPRLF at an opportune moment. In November 1986 the EPRLF confronted the LTTE politically by backing the outcry over the disappeared student Vijithiran. Knowing that the LTTE would respond militarily, the EPRLF was singularly unprepared. By 14th December 1986, the LTTE had taken on the EPRLF. In Jaffna, the EPRLF vacated its camps leaving behind large quantities of weapons. Outside Jaffna, particularly in the Eastern province, fighting between the LTTE and the EPRLF continued sporadically. Perhaps out of deference to a feeling of public horror at events during the LTTE-TELO clash of Nay, scenes of public outrage were not repeated. But several EPRLF cadres were killed. A number were tortured, particularly for information on hidden weapons.

It is notable that a large number of members of the public, particularly from the lower classes, took great risks in providing shelter and succour for TELO and EPRLF cadres on the run. Many of them are the very same persons who did likewise for LTTE supporters, when they felt hunted after October 1988. The EPRLF, which was then not known for notoriety in dealing with dissent, failed to settle the costly breach between its leader Padmanabha, and the leader of its military wing, Douglas Devananda. This provided the LTTE its opportunity.

It was widely felt that the LTTE’s actions had seriously weakened the militants. This received confirmation when the Sri Lankan armed forces made rapid gains in early 1987. The EPRLF had been becoming increasingly effective in the East in the few months before its disbandment.

At the end of March 1987 the LTTE’s Jaffna leader, Kittu, lost a leg in a bomb attack. The attackers were not identified. Widespread speculation remains that the attack was prompted by internal differences. On the following evening, 18 EPRLF prisoners held at the Brown Road LTTE camp were killed. The LTTE described the incident as an escape attempt. The

 ‘Saturday Review’ quoting LTTE sources, said that in the few days following Kittu’s incident, about 50 prisoners held in LTTE camps were killed. The BBC reported a higher figure.

From March 1987 the fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE became increasingly vicious. A large number of Tamil civilians fell victim to aerial bombing and shelling by Sri Lankan forces. Over 200 Sinhalese civilians fell victim to two attacks during the course of the week commencing with the Sinhala/Tamil New Year of April 1987. One was a massacre in Kituluttuwa,near Trincomalee. The other was the car-bomb attack in Colombo.

The feeling of relief with which the IPKF was welcomed by Tamil civilians in July 1987 and the subsequent events have been described elsewhere.

In the face of an increasingly unfavourable balance of forces, the LTTE chose to shore up its position by making rhetorical claims of exclusiveness. Other militants were branded as traitors, who had in addition become agents of India. The last must be viewed in the light of the LTTE itself having received arms and training from India. Its leader  was resident in India until early 1987. Also, facilities in India were crucial for the war against the Sri Lankan state. However, while the LTTE opposed the physical presence of Indian forces, in part because of the threat to its claims of exclusiveness, it kept asking for additional (and more sophisticated) arms from India.

At another level, the LTTE quite successfully carved out an image for itself through extraordinary displays of military prowess and some sensational acts of violence. This was underlined by the suicidal valour of the Black Tigers; the attack on Kankesanturai harbour (22nd April 1987); Miller’s suicide attack on Nelliady camp (5th July 1987) and the surprise assault of 12th September 1987 in the Eastern province, which left a reported 70 militants from other groups dead. The last took place in the relatively relaxed atmosphere soon after the Accord. Man of the dead were unprepared and unarmed. While the LTTE acquired an image, its political objectives in the face of ground realities became more nebulous. Nevertheless, it also exposed the political weakness of other forces, particularly the Indian and Sri Lankan states. The LTTE could keep up its reputation only at great cost to the civilian population. It too lost the ability to deal diplomatically, particularly with other  militant groups.

For the other militant groups, given their past political and military failures, an Indian presence provided an expeditious means of re­establishing themselves. People generally acknowledged the crucial role played by other militant groups in keeping back the Sri Lankan forces. After the arrival of the IPKF, the other militant groups began to be redeployed, often in close proximity to IPKF camps. Within a month internecine killings had started. Instead of making a political approach to win over the people, the message people usually got in dealings with other militant groups was that the people were being blamed for the fate they suffered at the hands of the LTTE. The hatred and thirst for revenge they felt towards the LTTE thus seemed to extend to the people who were classed with the LTTE. This view came to be reflected in the attitudes of the IPKF after the October offensive. All this went towards reinforcing the LTTE’s propaganda claim, that the other militants were traitors and anti-social elements, once rejected by the people and now making their appearance under IPKF patronage.

Such a view of the civilians persisted even after the EPRLF became the major party representing the Tamils in the North-East provincial government in November 1988. In day-to-day dealings with EPRLF cadres, ordinary people were accused of being pro-LTTE, or of having stood by idly while the LTTE decimated them in the past. The killing of a large number of LTTE supporters and sympathisers left the feeling that a very crude military approach was being tried, with the complicity of the IPKF.

Perhaps far more serious than blunders of other parties have been the blunders of India, earlier seen as lacking in principle and now seen to be —lacking in objective as well. The readiness by India to descend to forms of expediency with apparently no political or moral scruples has left the IPKF with an unenviable task. One must remember that the IPKF was welcomed in July 1987 with almost universal approbation. When Indian officials say that several hundred Indian soldiers died for the Tamils of Ceylon, it undoubtedly makes sense to Indian ears. But given the enormity of civilian suffering in the face of Indian military action, this would —sound an insult to the average Tamil, adding salt to the wound.

True, a number of Indian soldiers died trying to maintain services. The —life of an Indian soldier here is as tense, unpleasant and hazardous as it is for many ordinary civilians. But seen from here, the reverses suffered by the Indian army were largely a consequence of a lack of moral and political vision. One does know that many Indian soldiers and officers are often courteous, obliging and do not relish the reputation of their organisation. But faced with a situation, gut instincts seem to take over.

India has consistently and indignantly denied allegations of torture and inhumane practices by its forces from international organisations, within and outside the country. The existence of such practices are so well known here, that privately many Indian officials would defend them on the grounds of expediency. That is at least a sure sign that they are aware that what they are doing is wrong - something for which India has rightly taken the Sri Lankan government to task in international fora earlier. India would never dare to argue before the world the need for inhumane practices, nor would it defend its use of such practices. Perhaps the fundamental error is that of trying to accomplish a political task without respect for people. Screams and groans from victimsheard by residents near IPKF camps, remain part of our day-to-day reality.

Even if one grants that the IPKF is faced with an incorrigible adversary, the question remains: Could a country such as India, with enormous intellectual, material and spiritual resources, make a plea to be judged at the same level as that of youngsters, whose experience from their early teens has taught them to rely on little else besides their gun? Would India defend the practices of some of the worst regimes of the world?

A poignant comment on the current situation comes in a leaflet bearing the title “We ask forgiveness from the people”, signed “Those who left the EPRLF”. It is addressed to their former comrades. Such crudely stenciled leaflets from the underground remain the only form of free expression. Some excerpts are quoted below in translation:

“…..Because conflicts within our organisation could not be settled in a regular manner, many responsible comrades like Davidson, Chelian, Devananda and Das left with broken hearts. It is because of the resulting weak state of our organisation that the Tigres attacked us, and not because the People instigated the Tigers”.

“But today you are using your armed might to take revenge on the people who only want peace and democracy. This will only push them once again to the state of accepting that the politics of the Tigers was right. It is not just the former supporters of the Tigers, but even thousands who supported us will be driven by your present conduct to the side of the Tigers”.

“Instead of trying to show that you are more democratic than the Tigers, you are trying to articulate your politics by showing that you. Are more brutish than the Tigers. We are greatly distressed by this”.

“Dear leader Comrade Padmanabha. In your thirst for a rational form of politics and in your desire to build up the EPRLF as an organisation to articulate it, you used to roam Tamil Nadu, suitcase in hand, sleeping on the streets. What are you doing when the very people for whose benefit you built up this organisation, spit upon it? Have you accepted this line, or is it that you have no authority to speak?”

“Comrades. Posters with beautiful slogans, red flags and sporting of beards cannot alone run a liberation movement. On the contrary, ever:

comrade who bears arms must possess the discipline of loving the people”.

“Your confounding ‘red flag and revenge politics’ with ‘liberation politics’ has belittled and devalued the noble sentiments you uttered in bygone days”.

“We appeal to you comrades within the EPRLF’ who love the people, think even at this eleventh hour. The arms of the foreigner which you bear in your hands will one day be taken away. What then will be your state?”[Top]




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