THE WAR - ONE YEAR ON : 11TH JUNE 1990-AUGUST 1991
THE WAR - ONE YEAR ON
1.2 A Confrontation in Batticaloa
-The State's Nelsonian Eye
1.3 The Political Establishment
and the Media
1.4 The Glamour of Militarism, Liberal
Sentiments and People's Aspirations
1.5 The Government Forces
1.6 Whither Sri Lanka?
When the war began a year ago the state appeared to be in a strong position. Many thought that the state had learnt from a decade of blundering, while the LTTE had made many enemies among its own people. The LTTE's triumphal entry into Batticaloa in December 1989 resulted in 200-300 TNA conscripts being massacred under the gloating eye of the Sri Lankan government. So little did the LTTE care for the dignity and security of Tamils, that the remains of these hapless victims were towed away in municipal rubbish trucks for disposal. It was the same wherever the LTTE went. Only, unlike for the Easterner, the LTTE had a little tactical concern for the squeamishness of the Jaffna man and his expatriate contacts. He was thus spared such a public exhibition as in May 1986 when TELO cadre were massacred where the public display was less in extent. In the North the deeds were done in secret places - in lone cemeteries and in the Palk Straits. The Sri Lankan forces gleefully obliged with aerial and naval support, until 7 months later, on 11th June 1990, the government seemingly woke up to discover that the "law of the land" was in need of restoration. It nevertheless set about the task turning the law into utter shambles.
To the Sri Lankan state's misfortune, it was drunk with the heady wine of success against the JVP, and its hands were dripping with the blood of slain southern youth. President Premadasa's promise of June 1990, to do to the LTTE what was done to the JVP, was a bad omen. The specificities of an ethnic struggle were not appreciated. While those disenchanted with the government and the JVP in the South had other functioning opposition parties to fall back on, once the government by its actions cornered the Tamils collectively, the only functioning alternative the Tamils had was the LTTE. For those who rejected both, the course was thorny, untried and uncertain, often hunted by both the warring parties.
When the war commenced, it looked as if the LTTE had miscalculated. Its initial weakness was evident in the precipitate abandonment of well bunkered defensive positions in the Batticaloa District. But venality combined with obtuseness on the part of the state, linked to the LTTE's readiness to prosecute the war without any obligation of responsibility and no concern for lives, worked to the latter's advantage. Needless to say that the Tamil people lost irrevocably. [Top]
1.2 A Confrontation in Batticaloa - the State's Nelsonian Eye:
The scene was the Town Hall in Batticaloa, about a week before
the tragedy in Kokkadichcholai of 12th June 1991. Addressing the people of Batticaloa,
the Prime Minister asked them to forget the past and informed them that normality
had been restored. With the PM on the platform were service chiefs serving in
the region, with some clergy and others sent up to improve the decor. Some of
the leading citizens who had been assured that the occasion would be more than
a monologue were dismayed when the PM proceeded to walk off the platform on
finishing his piece. In a gesture of apology, the DIG of Police who accompanied
the PM stopped him next to a Jesuit Priest who was introduced.
The elderly Jesuit, a member of the Batticaloa Peace Committee, told the PM firmly, "You must not believe what is in the papers. There is a lot of fear in Batticaloa. As long as there is fear and uncertainty there can be no normality. About 12 persons have disappeared in the last week." He then proceeded to name persons, some of whom had been picked off in public view. One of them, Mariyadas, a mechanic, had only the previous evening repaired the Police Superintendent's type- writer. There followed an exchange where the PM attempted to push the line that now there was nothing to fear, things are looking brighter and that disappearances would taper off. A few feet behind in the PM's entourage was a general who, listening to this exchange, had been getting worked up. As the PM moved off to his next audience, the general came towards the priest, his forefinger wagging. "Father, you must know there is a war going on", he blurted, "In a war people die. People disappear. Look what happened in Japan!". One wonders who calls the shots here, the General or the PM?
Next week the Kokkadichcholai massacre happened and others less known followed. The PM too returned. The manner in which he was prevented from meeting the victims, even in Batticaloa town, made it obvious that he was not calling the shots. In the meantime the list of missing persons with the Batticaloa Peace Committee, mostly from an area within a 10 mile radius of Batticaloa, climbed to about 2500.
It was evident that the army was in no mood to reflect on its collosal failure. It was operating in the same frame of mind as when confronting the JVP in the South. This is also reflected in a recent interview the Army Chief, General Hamilton Wanasinghe, gave `The Observer'. He said that unlike the Sinhalese public which supplied information that helped to crush the JVP, the Tamil public is not doing so because of a fear of the LTTE. The corollary to this, as the late Defence Minister, Gen.Ranjan Wijeratne, said almost explicitly during the anti-JVP campaign, is that the state must become a greater source of terror to the ordinary people than its adversary.
A senior member of the Batticaloa Peace Committee said that they did not raise issues when the LTTE was in charge, nor did they do any documentation on human rights violations by the group, because it pretended to be everything and was not interested in talking to or tolerating anyone else. That some officers of the state now appeared to be responsive was appreciated, although little that was tangible had happened. If the state was creative, it should have built on this by conferring dignity and accountability to the people, thus rebuilding its legitimacy in the nation building process, rather than contemptuously reiterating how the people were silent under the LTTE's regime. [Top]
1.3 The Political Establishment and the Media
What is even worse is that the political establishment has not found
the capacity to tell the people the truth that great blunders have been made,
not just by past governments, but by this government as well, and that this
history will have to be re-evaluated and its direction changed. Instead it has
allowed the army and ordinary people to take the punishment for its absence
of direction, while it plays its desultory games. The current one is an attempt
to prove that Mrs.Bandaranaike through her electoral ally Chandrasekaran of
the UPF, supplied arms to the LTTE - a charge very remote from known facts.
Such are only seen as ploys to divert attention from shameful dealings
of the governments.
In the current drift, what the Sinhalese public is told is extremely unhelpful. While the press is taken to task for the slightest adverse comment about leading politicians, the Sinhalese press in particular, is full off chauvinist crap that can only be described as rabble rousing. Attempts to send food to starving Jaffna folk were decried as feeding the Tigers and individuals involved in such attempts are ascribed sinister connections without a shred of factual support.
Armed forces personnel fed on such crap can only be more undisciplined and alienating in their actions. Such reporting is obviously a contributory factory to the shelling of the civilian population in Jaffna and the indignity to which ordinary Tamils are subject even in Colombo, through sheer ignorance and prejudice.
In keeping with a politics that denies the people dignity and intelligence, the state of hysterical insularity among the Sinhalese people, combined with indiscipline among the forces, is dangerously reminiscent of the state of mind resulting in the tragedy of July 1983. Chauvinism - whether of the Sinhalese variety or the Tamil - makes a people small, foolish, and then violent. [Top]
1.4 The Glamour of Militarism, Liberal Sentiments and Apirations of the people:
During July 1991 the LTTE launched its largest operation to dislodge the army from the Elephant Pass camp. Preparations had been going on for a few months by welding girders and improvised armour plating onto tractors which were used to make suicidal thrusts to breach defences. It also showed that with the community cornered by ruthlessly crushing any political alternative, rendered fools, and the young brainwashed into thinking that they had only alternative forms of death to choose between, the LTTE could wage a war without any concern for lives. Victory or martyrdom - both abounded to the greater glory of the leadership.
By now the LTTE was being credited with being a conventional army carrying the Tamil struggle to a new glorious peak. For those whose eyes have been largely on the military aspect of the struggle, the LTTE'S performance at Elephant Pass was symbolic of a strong liberation movement, enjoying massive support from the people. These were also sentiments of the very people who have ignored ordinary Tamils their tragedy, their helplessness caught between the callousness of two forces, and the resignation with which they watch their young being cajoled, spirited away and then cornered into an abject fate. Despite their stated repugnance for violence, without depth of understanding, many socalled liberals become admirers of violent success and contemptuous of ordinary people and their less romantic aspirations. Their shallowness is such that they forget the lessons of history where the sudden collapse of societies after astounding military successes, has shown them to have been hollow within. What is of greater significance is the corrosive influences that are legitimised within a society ever trapped into opting for pure militarisation, spurning every sane alternative and pretending that such do not exist.
Thus those, including editors in the South, who have been obsessed with the military scene and have persistently ignored the Tamil people, suddenly plunge into awe for the LTTE, silence their war drums and speak of finding a political solution. Elephant Pass suddenly wakes the government and the opposition into mooting a parliamentary select committee to seek a political solution after years of head smashing and foot dragging. Thus the inertia of the Sinhala chauvinism of the southern polity in the end only leads naturally to admiration and legitimisation of the destructiveness of the LTTE.
One need not go far to discover the ignorance of those who romanticise the LTTE. If the people of Jaffna are squarely and wholeheartedly behind the LTTE, why does everything in Jaffna have to be a lie - from senior academics who say, `one day we must all become great heroes', and are then not prepared to take up stands when students are taken away over false allegations, saying it is dangerous to talk about it, or send their own children to Colombo; to the Diocesan Council of a church that wants the government to appoint a commission to go into disappearances in the South as if it cared for the Sinhalese while actually being silent on the continuing massacres of Sinhalese and Muslims by the LTTE; to the leading Hindu religious personality who privately laments the politics which drives our youth along the path of suicide and then speaks on LTTE platforms?
Ordinary people who feel the tragedy in their bones, despite the burden imposed on them by the community's history and by external factors, through all the ambivalence and confusion long for the time they can live in truth.
Every life that is snuffed out, whether martyr, traitor or civilian, makes it more difficult for the LTTE to adopt a reformist course and face up to its responsibility for this tragedy. What has been evident is a rise in hysteria and sadism in the group which binds the Tamils in a fatal plunge.
This is nowhere more evident than in the movement's unspeakable attitude to Muslims. Some of the worst blunders made by the Sinhalese polity in respect of Tamils are being inflicted on the Muslims by a group styling itself a liberation movement of Tamils. Can any political force exercise benign power in the North-East through humiliating the Muslims and ruling by coercion alone? [Top]
1.5 The Government Forces
If these forces showed some confidence in March and some tendency to strike an enlightened course of not punishing the Tamil people, these signs have been overshadowed. The gains then made by stopping the aerial bombardment of Jaffna and easing the supply of food and medicine have been thrown away. The new bout of killing civilians through massacres in the East marks a disintegration of discipline in the ranks, and an incapacity for conceptual reassessment at the top. The fact that the appointment of a commission to go into the massacre at Kokkadichcholai has made little impact in the day to day behaviour of the army is indeed disturbing. The officers, even if they have the will, appear too frightened to probe deeply and impose discipline [see reports].
In village after village in the East it becomes very evident that the cause of the army's discomfiture is the license it received to breach the law and inflict pain without accountability. In many villages the young are missing. The army did not give them the option of staying at home. Many of the remaining adults have been beaten repeatedly, often to the point of disablement.
The only redeeming feature is that several of the intelligent officers have understood the problem at far greater depth than the political establishment or the press in the South. An STF officer told a citizen in the East, "The root of the problem is the inconsistency of the government. They have their talks and make their pacts and accords. When these break down we are sent in again. We lose our men and do the same horrible things to the Tamils. Whom can the Tamils then trust? They cannot trust the government and they cannot trust us. So they have to be with the LTTE." [Top]
1.6 Whither Sri Lanka?
We have stressed in previous reports that the most hopeful way forward is for the democratic forces in the South to rise to the occasion and force the government to take responsibility for the Tamil people. If the government takes the initiative to respect the human rights of its people and give them dignity as people of this country, the humiliation of having to bow to ambivalent strictures regarding human rights from other powers can be avoided. One of the first tasks is to defuse colonisation as a running sore. The Sinhalese settlement in Weli-Oya has been much vaunted as a scheme to sunder the contiguity of the Tamil region. High ranking STF men have admitted privately that there are `political reasons' why security is being witheld for Tamils to go back to Pottuvil, Veeramunai, Malwattai and Central Camp, from where Tamils were killed or driven away by the forces last year. [see Special Report No.3]. Such moves by the government are stupid besides being wicked, because they perversely legitimise any action in these areas from attacks on troops to massacring civilians. The LTTE gains in legitimacy when people come to believe that only the LTTE and its methods can teach the government a lesson and make it wilt. There must also be a credible inquiry, with a view to providing redress on account of those thousands brutally murdered by the forces.
A chauvinistic politics has taught Tamils to blame everyone but themselves. The motivating slogan of this politics is that the Sinhalese cannot be trusted. The consequent disintegration of trust among Tamils themselves is seldom acknowledged. To stubbornly insist that Sinhalese cannot be trusted is not just a slap in the face to those who attempt genuine reconciliation, but leaves the Tamils with just two destructive alternatives. For this politics to succeed, it must constantly work to close every new crack in the ideology of Sinhalese chauvinism in order to go on maintaining that Sinhalese cannot be trusted. This is part of the logic behind massacring Sinhalese and conniving at massacres of Tamils through provoking the worst instincts of the state and the people. On the other hand if the state shows greater restraint and sophistication, it could seriously embarrass the LTTE cause. [Top]
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