Surrender to Terrorism
in Sri Lanka
An ACSLU Statement on the Memorandum
of Understanding between the Government
of Sri Lanka and the LTTE
The UNP Government of Ranil Wickremesinghe, which was returned to power in the elections of December 2001, has lost no time in signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the LTTE, the separatist group who have been fighting a terrorist war with the Sri Lankan Government since 1983. This MOU is generally referred to as a “cease-fire agreement”. It is to be followed by negotiations with the LTTE, under Norwegian mediation, to arrive at a final settlement of the military conflict.
In Sri Lanka the signing of the MOU was greeted with great jubilation and the lighting of crackers by many who thought that peace can be glimpsed at last. There were also those sceptics, perhaps fewer in number, who remember the fate of the two previous ceasefire arrangements and consider that the proposed settlement, even if it comes about, will amount to a surrender to the basic LTTE demands for the creation of an independent racist State for a section of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. The question for expatriates is which of these two opposing scenarios is likely to eventuate. Like those in Sri Lanka expatriates are also divided as to whether the naive confidence placed in the MOU is justified.
The previous Peoples Alliance regime of President Kumaratunga had also sought negotiations with the LTTE, although not unconditionally as is the present case. They had set out an outline of their proposed solution to the problem in the form of the Devolution package. In spite of the great deal of detail in the proposed plan to devolve power to regions, the proposal made no headway because of the total opposition to it by the LTTE. Other groups, including ACLU, had pointed out the defects of the devolution proposal, but it was not so much their criticism that led to its demise but the refusal of the LTTE to consider it as the basis for negotiations. I contrast to this the Ranil Wickeremesinghe administration has given no idea of the bottom line as to what it is going to concede. This could thus go even as far as conceding all the demands of the LTTE.
Past experience of ceasefires does not give much hope. The last one ended suddenly when the LTTE captured hundreds of police officers who had downed weapons as the cease-fire was in force. They were then cruelly executed in cold blood. Their memory has been forgotten, as indeed of the thousands of service personnel who perished in places like Mullattivu, Killinochchi, Pooneryn, etc. Then there is the even greater number of civilians belonging to all communities who suffered a similar fate through terrorist outrages.
There are a few differences this time.
(1) There is now a “mediator” in the form of he Government of Norway even though the past role of this country in the Sri Lankan dispute does not inspire much confidence. More will be said on this subject later in this Memorandum
(2) We are now at the commencement of an international War on Terrorism which has barely begun. While this war is orchestrated principally by the United States of America the declared objective of the war is to end international terrorism everywhere. So are only those terrorists operating against the US have been the targets, but it is possible to extend it to other terrorist groups. If this were to happen the LTTE, as a leading international terrorist group, will be brought into the frontline of action. Perhaps it is this very fear that may have promoted the LTTE to enter into a MOU. They may feel that with a ceasefire in force they may be able to ride out the storm. However they will resume their ususal methods once the threat subsides, unless the Ranil Wickeremesinghe government capitulates completely to its core demands.
(3) The MOU has been signed with a banned group. Sri Lanka took a long time to ban the LTTE. Many foreign governments like India and even the USA had listed the LTTE as a terrorist group, but curiously the Sri Lankan Government, the one most affected, did not do so. However after the bombing of the Dalada Maligawa the Government was forced to act.
(4) The leader or the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran, is now wanted as a criminal terrorist by the Indian government. So Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinge is seeking to negotiate with a person who should be extradited to India, a country of great significance to Sri Lanka as its neighbour and one with whom Sri Lanka has had close relations virtually from the establishment of the Sri Lankan nation.
How these factors, particularly the last three, impact on the current developments in Sri Lanka has not been much appreciated. This aspect will be emphasised in this Memorandum.
However it is with the MOU that we must start. The retired Supreme Court judge, Mr Kulatunga, has called it a comedy of errors. While it certainly has plenty of “errors”, it is more a tragedy than a comedy.
2. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
The MOU consists of a preamble and four articles. A few brief comments on each of these sections of the MOU may be necesary.
In the very preamble the MOU perpetuates the mistake that the SL problem is an “ethnic conflict” when it is in fact a separatist conflict. The LTTE does not speak for the all the Tamils; in fact there are many Tamil groups wh o are actively fighting the LTTE, and many Tamil leaders have been assassinated by the LTTE. Just as the Tamils are not solidly behind the LTTE, the Sinhalese are not solidly opposing the LTTE. Many Sinhalese, some of them even claiming to be “full-blooded Sinhalese support the terrorist terrorists; this latter fact is painfully clear to SL expatriates in Western counties like Australia for a long time. Thus the conflict straddles both sides of the ethnic divide. In these circumstances representing the Sri Lankan conflict as an “ethnic conflict” between Sinhalese and Tamils is starting from a false premiss. It is in fact a conflict between those who resort to terrorism as a political weapon to establish a separate racist state, and those who prefer to use the democratic process to settle problems.
Article 1 - Modalities of a Ceasefire.
The first article of the MOU not only calls for a cease-fire but also gives the LTTE de facto control in the areas they have captured. This is what the term “Separation of Forces” in the MOU means. In addition they are also given access to other areas for political and other purposes under the head “Freedom of Movement”.
As against this SL forces are expected to “perform their legitimate task of safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka without engaging in offensive operations against the LTTE”. There is a fundamental contradiction in the tasks assigned to the SL forces. The only threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country has come from the LTTE. There has been no other external or internal threat. Yet the very perpetrators of this threat are given immunity. It would have been more to the point to state that the SL government has abdicated its fundamental duty of protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.
There is also the obligation on the Government to disarm “Tamil paramilitary groups” within 30 days. A naive observer might think that this is a requirement that the LTTE be disarmed. In fact what is meant is that those Tamil groups fighting the LTTE are to be disarmed. Thus the MOU actually enlists the SL forces on the side of the LTTE terrorists to realise their own aim of being the sole representative of the Tamils. The fact that some of these “Tamil paramilitary groups” have actually helped the SL forces to fight the terrorists is completely ignored.
Article 2. Measures to restore normalcy.
A variety of activities are considered as falling within the definition of “normalcy”. The question of how these could be policed is not at all clear. As will be shown the “mediator” is not an impartial person but a long-time supporter of the separatists. A peculiar meaning seems to be added to the term "normalcy". This seems to mean the absence of hostilities between the terrorists and the government, not the continued terrorisation of the people in the areas occupied by the LTTE.
The specific measures include ending of hostile acts against civilians, the opening of roads and railways closed due to military activity, the return of public places like schools, temples, etc. to their intended use, the free entry of previously banned goods to LTTE areas, etc. It has been shown in the documents cited that in most of these cases that it is only the separatist terrorists who will benefit.
Implementation of these measures requires giving the LTTE the powers of a government, e.g. in setting up checkpoints, etc. Normalcy simply sets up parity of power and status between a legitimate government and an illegitimate terrorist group who have not been brought to book for their manifold crimes.
Article 3. The Monitoring Mission (MM).
This article sets up the Norwegian government into a position of extra-ordinary power. It is given powers virtually reserved to a state government. It has sole power over the MM, which establishes a presence in the six distraction which form the core of the LTTE demand for Eelaam. We shall consider the role of Norway later in this document.
This concluding article deals with some procedural matters for implementing the MOU. The prime minister Ranil Wickremesinge is put on a par with Velupillai Prabhakaran (both identified by their own names). This gives enormous prestige to Prabhakaran, a self-appointed terrorist leader. The substance of this Article deals with matters like the coming into force and termination on the argument, and is not very relevant to the matters discussed here.
3. The International Context
An agreement like the present one cannot be isolated from the International context. The agreement was signed at a time of great international developments, extremely relevant to what has been going on in Sri Lanka for over 15 years.
On September 11, 2001 suicide terrorists made concerted attacks on New York and Washington, bringing down the symbols of American power and prestige. This thrust international terrorism into the attention of the world. The result of September 11 was that the US was able to harness a broad coalition to prosecute what it called was a “War on Terrorism”. The Al Queda network of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime of Afghanistan became the first casualties of this War on Terrorism, but it was made clear the international terrorism is the real target.
As will be shown presently the LTTE is one of the leading agencies of international terrorism. This means that the policy of the Sri Lankan government runs counter to the thrust of world opinion. It has been made abundantly clear that it is not only the terrorists themselves but also countries harbouring terrorists and facilitating the activity of terrorists who are held culpable in international law. It is quite clear that the MOU with the terrorists, and any settlement based on the MOU, will amount to the harbouring of terrorists, and facilitating their activity. Thus the MOU may will be in breach of this evolving section of international law. It can be argued that it is in fact an illegal arrangement through which terrorism is rewarded.
The sanctions against countries harbouring terrorists can range for embargos, suspension of aid, and even trial in the international court against miscreants. Sri Lanka will have to consider carefully whether its consorting with international terrorists may bring reprisals against the country.
4. The SL conflict as a Terrorist War
The fact that the LTTE is a terrorist organisation has been clear to many except perhaps to the Ranil Wickremesinghe government.
Terrorism differs from “legitimate” insurgencies in that it primarily relies on killing of innocents to terrorise its opponents into submission. This has been an essential ingredient of the LTTE strategy from the earliest days. Numerous bombs have been exploded in public places, especially in the capital Colombo, in which very large numbers of people have perished. Ethnic cleansing is another hallmark of terrorism. Indeed since the Balkan conflict, and the events in parts of Africa like Rwanda, ethnic cleansing has been brought into world attention. In this area, long before Bosnia and the Rwandan genocide, the LTTE had been at work enforcing ethnic cleansing. We have the instances of the early days when the Sinhalese population in the Jaffna peninsula and the Northern parts of Sri Lanka were ethnically cleansed. Many “border villages” have been beset by LTTE killers, often in the dead of night, and the total population of men, women and children butchered. Thus the principal hallmarks of terrorism are in plain evidence in the Sri Lankan insurgency.
Another feature of modern terrorism is the use of suicide commandos. The September 11 acts of terror were carried out by suicide terrorists. Suicide terrorism was first introduced into the world, on a mass scale, by the LTTE. Their contingent of Black Tigers has become the prototype of many other suicide terrorist groups. The cyanide capsule which is given to every LTTE operative clearly shows their suicide orientation. The LTTE “Heroes Day” is an open celebration of suicide terrorism. Suicide terrorists are specially trained and in the evening before their deadly mission they are entertained to dinner with Prabhakaran. Thus the LTTE leader is involved in every act of terrorism to a degree not seen in other places. In this area we are not dealing with followers of terrorism but with its pioneers who have masterminded its dreaded tactics of terror.
The LTTE was also a pioneer in the use of children for its deadly purposes. These children are often abducted or press-ganged and then indoctrinated in their doctrine of racial hate. Children of both sexes, some as young as 10, have been captured or killed in action in the engagements against the terrorists.
The last feature that has to be mentioned is that LTTE terrorism is international terrorism. This is most clearly revealed in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the prime minister of India. Their other international criminal activities include the traffic of drugs and people, countefiting, the large scale smuggling of arms, etc. In fact the LTTE leader is treated as a criminal wanted for murder in India. Yet this person along with Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka has initialled and important document under Norwegian supervision.
Thus the credentials of the LTTE as a terrorist group are impeccable.
5. Norway as a Mediator
The choice of Norway as the mediator is curious. This country has had no association with Sri Lanka. It is neither a world power nor one with any credible record of mediation in disputes.
The indigenous people of Norway, the Laplanders, have been enslaved, robbed of their land, denied their cultural rights. Noway has made the Lutheran church the established church of the country. Its government instrumentalities even collect tithes on behalf of this church. This religious bigotry added to its treatment of its native people make Norway unsuitable to meddle in the so-called “ethnic” dispute in a country like Sri Lanka where minorities have far more rights than in Norway. Norway’s whale harvest makes it an ecological vandal and a pariah defying world opinion.
In fact its only qualification is that it has been a consistent supporter of Tamil separatist groups. At a time when the rest of the world has turned against these terrorists Norway (and now Sri Lanka) have embraced them.
6. Consequences for the Future
If the above analysis is correct the answer to the question we posed at the beginning, viz. peace at last or a surrender to terrorism, must sadly be the latter.
If so the consequences for Sri Lanka, for the region, and for the world at large would be horrendous. Terrorism would have scored a significant victory, the War on Terrorism betrayed, and the stage set for the dismemberment of Sri Lanka.
The root cause of this debacle is the failure of political will in Sri Lanka. After the end of the Senanayake and the Bandaranaike dynasties the country was ruled by leaders like Jaywardene, Premadasa, Kumaratunga and now Wickremesinge. They have put their own, and their Party’s interest over that of the nation. It has been a progressive downhill movement while the country slid into corruption and disintegration. From the dragon’s teeth thus sowed the nation is now reaping the whirlwind.
As there is absolutely no clue as to what final settlement the Ranil Wickremesinghe government will settle for we cannot even analyse the consequences of this. All that can be said is that it will involve even more concessions than those envisaged in the Devolution proposal of the previous government. That proposal went far beyond any reasonable measure of devolution. It is not impossible that in the haste to have "peace" there will be a total capitulation to the terrorists. Such a move far from creating a peaceful country will entrench permanent war in Sri Lanka similar to what has happened between India and Pakistan or between Israel and the Palestinians.