Colombo, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

So close and yet so far: From Pooneryn to peace in Sri Lanka

The military have now taken the strategic western town of Pooneryn, thus opening up the A-32 highway that links Mantota and the former along the western flank of the Northern Province. This would enable the linking up (via the causeway that traverses the Jaffna lagoon) of the peninsula with the mainland for the first time since Eelam War II. Supplies, both economic and military could thus be transported to government-controlled Jaffna, providing relief to its people. Days after Pooneryn, the military claimed the town of Mankulam, also of high strategic value for being the crucial junction of the A-9 and A-34 highways, the latter that links Mullattivu to the former. This would be essential in a future push to capture Mullattivu, which has been home to one of two major bases of the LTTE (the other being Elephant Pass) and the headquarters for the Sea Tigers. But for the moment, the emphasis will be on gaining further ground along the A-9 in a push towards Kilinochchi. Efforts to take Kilonochchi have not been easy with the much discussed earthen bund, trenches and the heavy monsoonal rains slowing down progress. With indications of a retained hardcore of LTTE cadres currently defending its frontlines in the Vanni, the going would be tougher than Colombo would readily admit. That said, in considering recent gains, the taking of Kilinochchi seems imminent, if behind schedule. But military strategists would focus their sights beyond Kilinochchi, the capture of which would be little more than a morale booster for Sri Lankan troops – although according to at least one analyst, reaching Kilinochchi would bring guerilla targets in the Mullattivu district within artillery range. (Athas, Sunday Times, 16.11.2008). The real aim of the current northern push for the time being anyway would be Paranthan, the strategic junction that links the A-9 highway to Jaffna, the A-35 to Mullattivu and the road westwards to Pooneryn. The latter town now being under the Army’s control would mean that Paranthan, if captured, would pave the way to retake the sprawling military complex at Elephant Pass that was lost to the LTTE in 2000. The Army’s forward defence lines at Kilali, Muhamalai and Nagarkovil, all north of Elephant Pass, would facilitate an upward push from Paranthan south of the base. This would box the LTTE in and force them to defend the base. Retreating across the Jaffna lagoon is now a limited option due to a troop presence that could by then be expected along the Pooneryn-Paranthan axis. Thus, limited escape options would in all probability, entail retreat by sea towards Mullattivu. Hence, the reason for the Army’s Task Force III to effect a simultaneous assault on Mullattivu both along the A-34 from Mankulum and from south of the town, upward and outward to capture the littoral from the front lines at Kumalamunai, northwest of the Nayaru lagoon, where the Army’s 59 division is presently encamped. This would force the LTTE to fight a conventional battle on two fronts. Assuming Paranthan is taken, LTTE supplies to Mullattivu would be cut off, which would in turn facilitate a multi-directional push by the Army to reclaim the town (lost in 1996). From a military standpoint, this is important. It would in effect also be the last major base of the Sea Tigers to fall into the hands of government troops. By all indications, an impending battle at Mullattivu could be the last major conventional battle of Eelam War IV.

The LTTE’s conventional military defeat is imminent. But indications of a return to guerilla tactics for which they are renowned, is also certain. The Tigers can be expected to defend Paranthan, Elephant Pass and Mullattivu but expecting them to perish when the towns are taken would be unrealistic. Fighting to the last would be antithetical to the LTTE’s project and they could thus be expected to withdraw to the Vanni jungles retaining a much smaller hardcore. The modus operandi could then be expected to shift back to ‘classical guerilla’ mode ambush, hit and run tactics. The aim would be a low-intensity war of attrition, targeted to destabilize the political structures of a government-controlled northern province and to cannibalize at the social fabric of northern Tamil society through infiltration, threats and intimidation, in a bid to weaken any prospective Tamil support to a provincial government in the north.

While the government’s military project has effectively weakened the military strength of the LTTE, it has admittedly grossly neglected nurturing and developing parallel political structures. Indeed, despite the much vaunted provincial administration in the East, that project has been bereft with its own setbacks. At the outset itself, power brokers in Colombo ensured friction between the Tamils and the Muslims – Pillayan and Hizbullah were made to battle it out for the position of Chief Minister, with both claiming the post on the basis of a presidential intimation, at the least. This in turn, stoked inherent suspicions and simmering tensions. Violence in the majority Muslim towns of Kattankudy and Eravur in Tamil populous Batticoloa district were natural outcomes. The unrest cast a dark shadow over prospects of improved security in the aftermath of the May 10 polls. Karuna’s return from London stoked old tensions within the TMVP itself and has of late, spilled into bloodbaths on the streets of the East (and if Pillayan is to be believed, also onto those in Colombo’s suburbia). A weakened Tamil nationalist front in the East has made ideal proxies for Colombo’s incumbents, the former certainly being in no position to assert itself over the latter. Thus, serving the purpose of power-sharing stands defeated in round one itself.

Further factional feuding has also surfaced. The EPDP (a member of the government) was involved in clashes with the TMVP and internecine killings of those from both groups have been blamed on the other. The LTTE, who are known to operate pockets of cadres in the East have thus been provided with an ideal cover under which to continue their political assassinations in the province. All communities in the east remain deeply suspicious and afraid; indeed, even the Sinhala community has been affected, as the recent murder of a Sinhala student at the Eastern University has demonstrated. Tensions over land have also figured prominently in the east, and the dispute, with allegations of pork-barreling, over tsunami housing in Digavapiya (Ampara district) is just one example. Muslims in the east are reportedly too afraid to return to cultivate their lands for fear of violent reprisals at the hands of interested parties. The result has simply been limited political stability and a lack of legitimacy for the provincial government. Human security has suffered the most. For a people who have long suffered at the hands of the LTTE, the new masters in the ‘liberated’ province are far from saviors. A case of choosing the better devil may thus bring them little solace. So the success of the political structures in the East is clearly suspect.

This casts heavy doubt over the President’s intentions with regard to the APRC. Despite the many promises, including to New Delhi, involving the TMVP in deliberations as a Tamil partner in democratic politics is farcical at this stage, given the weakened, fractured nature of the party-cum-paramilitary group, which now has questionable legitimacy among the very Tamils it claims to represent. Its own survival has been closely linked with a patron-client like alliance with the central government, not least to ensure for itself the crucial aspects of personal protection and funding. This would in turn only forebode a similar fate for a future northern provincial government under the most likely Chief Ministerial candidate-in-waiting, the EPDP member for Jaffna and cabinet minister Douglas Devananda. Both the TMVP and the EPDP run the risk, like many Tamils before them, of being seen as turncoats or sellouts on the Tamil cause, thus loosing legitimacy among Tamils in the north and east. So the hype around the promises of devolution and a political – as opposed to a military – solution is regrettably misplaced; the rhetoric is clearly unfounded. What is required as a political alternative to the LTTE is not merely elevating Tamils to public office but also empowering them through decision-making autonomy and ensuring their accountability to the electors.

With regard to a political proposal, the distancing from and outright rejection of the ‘majority report’ of the panel of experts that recommended extensive devolution and constitutional reform that would include a second chamber of parliament, indicates with little doubt that any devolution offered would be minimalist. This was further reinforced with the APRC’s much watered down proposals to the President in January that recommended that the ‘relevant provisions’ of the 13th Amendment be introduced. If this offers the slightest indication, any political ‘solution’ offered by the government would in effect, be ‘13th Amendment minus,’ or otherwise stated, pre-1987!

Thus, hopes of fresh ideas and new, workable solutions to ensure a lasting peace remain, at this stage at least, alas, a distant dream.

  • Collective ethnic or racial pride contributes to spiritual and moral decay. And whenevever genocide occurs, rule of law is made inapplicable to the victims. This happens because of moral decay.

    During his presidential campaign, Obama described Guantanamo Bay prison as a “sad chapter in American history”. He was very keen in granting justice to the inmates. John Mc Cain had also pledged to close down Guantanamo.

    Last week, advisers of Obama were quietly working out a proposal whereby some detainees would be released and others would be prosecuted in Courts. This plan is being is being developed by legal scholars from both the political parties in the USA.

    This move would be in contrast to the practice from the Bush administration, which established military trribunals to prosecute detainees.

    This week, Barack Obama, in his first interview said that America would be dedicated to moral standards in the world.

    It is immoral to treat people like animals by denying their human rights. When any state does it to its citizens, it is punishable. It is contrary to human conscience to practice ethnic slavery, collective punishment and genocide.

    We do have a “Guantanamo Bay prison” in Sri Lanka(SL). It is in Boosa. Citizen Tamil detainees, after severe torture, are spending more years together there, compared to the detainees in Guantanamo. President Bush probably established Guantanamo Bay Prison after learning about the notorious horror chamber in Boosa.

    Arbitrary arrest of Tamil youth, extreme torture, keeping them in continuous detention without trial, and deliberately denying justice with the intent to destroy youthful life and human dignity, are genocidal halmarks proving moral disintegration of the Sinhala society.

    If the major political parties in the South; the UNP and SLFP were really and seriously concerned about granting life and justice to Tamil detainees, they would have openly and aggressively expressed serious concern at the events in Boosa, having identified the destruction of youth life of the detainees. Sinhalese are collective participants of this crime.

    Dr Martin Luther King was kept in prison for his political belief. He was a prisoner of conscience. Obama knows the intensity of the abuse of a people and their agony when thrown into prisons.

    Non violent Tamil political leader SJV Chelvanayakam was thrown into Welikada prison in SL in 1958. Along with men of his political party he was kept in prison for several years, much longer than Dr Martin Luther King. For the past 50 years since then, the Tamils have faced and grown with the pain of horror from such inhuman acts in prisons. And the Sinhalese have grown adversely to perpetuate such cruelty on Tamils, without any shame whatsoever.

    Freedom is usually costly. But the struggle for Tamil freedom is proving to be extremely costly in SL. Yes, we are far from peace.

  • Nuwan

    What is this ridiculous notion of the LTTE ‘reverting to guerrilla tactics’, hiding in the jungles etc. LTTE are already a guerrilla force and they are already fighting in the jungle, and getting a severe beating while at it. All you ‘analysts’ are never ready to say anything straight. After the East was cleared, the ‘defence analysts’ said the North would not be cleared with the same ease. After the Mannar rice bowl was cleared the analysts said the Army would never get LTTE strongholds like Mallavi and Pooneryn. Now they say the hardcore fighters are defending Killinocchi. You guys will just say the ‘hardcore fighters’ decided Mullathivu is a better place to defend when Kilinocchi falls. After that the ‘hardcore fighters’ will just have to jump into the sea.

  • kichchi

    Mr. Sam Thambipillai has come out with the existing situation. But he is not correct in saying “Sinhalese are collective participants of this crime”. There are many Sinhalese, individuals and small political parties decrying the situation. He is right in blaming the major political parties for the situation. He could have included the media with the political parties. The media together with the political parties and other vested interested parties are misleading the ordinary Sinhalese people with false information together with the suppression of the plain truth. If you do not know the truth you are liable to make a mistake and that is what the ordinary Sinhalese people are making. It is not their fault. They should be made aware of the truth. The only constraint being that the proper channels are not available. Let us create the channels however costly it may be.

    The world is in turmoil because there is no true democracy in any country including USA, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

    If there is true democracy there would not be bribery, corruption, injustice and discrimination and these would not be tolerated to any extent. These four pillars of evil society – bribery, corruption, injustice and discrimination – must be demolished or eradicated if real and true democracy is to prevail and a just society to be established.

    To establish a just society with real and true democracy, the present system of governance practiced in the so-called democratic countries with bogus parliaments must be changed. In these democratic countries full power ultimately rests in the hands of a single person – Prime Minister/President. All the others who are supposed to be having any power are the stooges and hangers-on of that one person. It is on the decision of that one person, the others become powerful or powerless. That is equivalent to dictatorship but indirectly with ‘rubber stamps’.

    So the system of governance has to be changed. The system proposed is that the powers of Parliament must be split and separated and these separated powers must be administered by different sets of people’s representatives elected by different groups of people. The functions of one group must not overlap the functions of another group. All groups are directly elected by the people and as such all of them are equal and so one is neither above/below another nor important/unimportant, like the different organs of our body. In this proposed system power is not concentrated at any given point or to any one person. Power is distributed by the people and shared by the elected representatives. So bribery, corruption, injustice and discrimination would not have a place in the ‘just society’.
    The above is the basic concept. Further details of the system are available and would be forwarded on request to

    In my humble opinion this is the ONLY way of ending the turmoil in this country as well as in all the countries in the world.

    SPLIT AND SEPARATE THE POWERS OF THESE DEMOCRATIC PARLIAMENTS WITHOUT DIVIDING THE COUNTRIES. You will have sustainable peace with everyone living with dignity and in prosperity and leading a pleasant life with serenity which is what you and I are yearning.

  • Ajith

    Sam here’s video evidence of the real Gunatanamobay like prisons (even worse) in Sri Lanka run by the LTTE –
    The government is fighting to shut these down aren’t they? Can you see any humanitarian reason why the government shouldn’t destroy these sites? They are not even fit for holding animals.

    As for the real Obama’s plan of shutting down Gunatanamobay all he is doing is just taking off the tainted wrappings off and re wrapping it.

    “Upon closer investigation, however, the proposals suggest that celebrations are premature. Under the Obama camp’s plan, a third group of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay would be placed in front of a new court system designed to handle so-called “national security” cases. According to Michael Ratner this more negative side to these proposals represents the continuation of a preventive detention scheme, “when you are put into a prison without being charged with a crime and without having a trial on that charge.” This amounts to a re-wrapping of Guantanamo in legal paper to make it more palatable.”

  • Ajith

    Sam just for you ––there-is-no-sympathy-for-the-ltte-in-tn.htm

    A little bit of a reality check into your la la land. Kind of addresses the real motives of heart broken politicians in TN. It is coming from someone authoritative and knows what he is talking about. Also kinda highlights how moderate Tamils agree that there is no genocide while you repeat otherwise like a broken record player with no authoritative backing.

  • Sam and like minded people need to get a reality check. It will be a great help if people try to understand the true meaning of genocide, a term that is being continuously misconstrued these days, the biggest culprits today being the nonsensical Tamil Nadu people. In reality we cannot blame such ignorant groups when we have people like Sam who continuously remain blind to the atrocities of the LTTE and fuel the guilt-ridden, messed up long-distance nationalism of the Tamil Diaspora.

  • Sam,
    I agree with Chelvanayakam and Martin Luther King Story , we all are in the sam page.

    Ifyou ever attend a school, can you compare this with suicide bombers dresslike mothers?
    Would you win a freedom fight?
    Is that What ML king did or Mahathma Ghandi did?

    You may be one of those who has a direct debit from an offshore account , to LTTE .

    I respect all tamil rights and thier right to control thier Native areas, with out Sinhalese impact.
    After all they are all same Srilankans who carry the same NID card, and same certificates and logoes
    I doubt you are…..

    Obama, well ge has spoken out who he is and what he is, can the leaders so said representing tamils come out of the jungle and work for thier people as decent human beings, rather than destroying valueble tamil youths for his survival ?

  • Bhagya

    [Edited out – Sam please engage with the issue and kindly do not launch into personal attacks that go against the spirit and tone of debate encouraged on this site. Thank you]


    your thinking is good and so is your intention but do not expect it to happen under the present hegemonistic anti Tamil Sinhala society.


    I know that you search for broken and frustrated politicians and Sinhala mass media for your logic of "no genocide exists for Tamils". As I wrote earller you must change your glasses! Unless you learn to eeek the truth you will wall in deception and decieve others also..

    Saha Samvada,

    The reality is that Tamil Eelam should be granted as an independent sovereign state to stop gross human rights violations, collective punishment and genocide. Unless you come to this truth you are far from reality. You are dreaming !

  • P-G Barebones

    I am not sure whether the remark "the LTTE's conventional military defeat is imminement" is a reliable assessment. It looks to me that the military failed to take Kilinochchi despite strenoous efforts for 3 months. Pooneryn perhaps is a consolation prize to contain public disappointment.

    Anyway, though Kilinochchci may or may not fall by say year's end, my key disagreement with the author is that the LTTE will be forced to give up conventional warfare and revert to guerrilla tactics soon. To be able to fight a large army on about 5 fronts and hold on for so long suggests some depth in conventional military capability, logistics, command & control etc.

    While I am not attempting to predict the eventual outcome, my considered view is that conventional warfare (prior to, if ever, a return to guerrilla attrition) will go on for quite a while more – maybe even an year or two. Then what next? Nobody can tell.

  • T.Douglas

    Genocide in Sri Lanka
    Sri Lankan government and its armed forces brutal, violent, and relentless military operations in the Vanni area forcing over 300,000 Tamil civilians to flee their normal homes. These people are displaced many times in the past few months living in subhuman, degraded and pathetic conditions in many makeshift camps, under the trees, schools, open air and uninhabitable area in the land of the suffering. These people have no access or very limited access to food, medicine, and other basic essentials. Drinking water is scarce, and sanitation is virtually non existent. The places where they eat and sleep are uninhabitable for any human being.

  • Sam and T Douglas. Since both of you loosely use the term genocide why not include the countless muslims and sinhalese murdered by the LTTE in your genoicde? LTTE's ethnic cleansing of the North? Raiding Sinhalese/Muslim border villages, raping and murdering innocent civilians so LTTE can claim eelam land? Eelam is made out of violation of human rights. Never ever humane people will let that eelam exist that is built upon the blood of innocent people.
    Btw, I don't search I read and these and are facts I come across. I am sorry I don't read pro LTTE propaganda where you get your facts from. For that I pity you. You never adequately counter argue my claims either. Just say "genocide" this and "genocide" that. Never you make a factually based argument nor present evidence. It's just the eelamist propaganda repeating a mantra over n over. I think for the intelligent readers here your motives are clear.

  • Sam, you people supposedly began the 'armed revolution' claiming that other peaceful methods had failed and fought and are still fighting a bloody war for an absolute utopia, 'Tamil Eelam'. After all these years and the endless numbers of lives lost and are still being lost you still believe that Eelam is the only solution in restoring the human rights and dignity of the Tamil people. …and you say that I am dreaming!

    You and your 'revolutionaries' have missed several opportunities to bring about a negotiated settlement, not even hesitating to kill your own brethren who chose to dissent. In the hypothetical situation of Tamil Eelam becoming a reality what is the guarantee that you will not start fighting internally based on caste, regional animosity and revenge?

  • "I hear that the Tigers are losing ground; is there a chance for peace in Sri Lanka?" was a question put to me by a German citizen. I said to him "the Tigers may be losing battles but as to who will win the war is yet to be seen because the Tigers are fighting a long drawn out guerella war"

    I further explained that the Sri Lankan state spends about Rs 50,000,000 or US 500,000 to kill every Tiger combatant. This money is, if not for the war, would have normally been used for creating jobs and development in the South and not in the North East.

    Therefore, the Tigers have successfully dragged the state into the trap of twin disaster, namely, economic disaster and no development for the South.



  • Well Mr. Douglas, UN human rights council is a 47 member council ( that gets elected from time to time as I understand – correct me if I am wrong I'm not an expert in this area. Out of the 47 seats 4 of the seats are held by Asian states. If I recall correctly Sri Lanka simply failed to get “re-elected” – not “kicked out”. Hardly surprising considering Sri Lanka at the time was on a war footing. Given the circumstances it makes sense to appoint states that are not in an awkward position to represent the objectives of the council. To carry out its agenda to the fullest extent. So they elected Japan, Bahrain, South Korea and Pakistan this time around. Note that India wasn't elected either!

    Anyway according to your logic any state not being in the council implies they are gross violators of human rights. Thus all nations other than 47 out of the 192 member states are gross violators of human rights. Given the fact that Asia only has 4 seats in this council, only 4 Asian countries are classified as “saint” nations at any given time. I am also quite certain media issues had nothing to do with it. It was simply because of some NGO's were shouting foul. We all know some NGOs actively engage in propaganda activities but that's there to be debated.

    It is easy to twist facts and make it sound so bad in a propaganda scenario. Also writing it in all caps doesn't make an impact either.



  • UJay

    Sam, Douglas,
    You are talking about genocide & racism from Sinhalese. Can you write why Sinhalese & Muslims living in Norther province were chased out ? What happened to other Tamil liberation groups in 80's ? Who killed more Tamils, last 30 years. Sinhalese, Muslims or LTTE ? What happened to Tamil political elite. Who killed gentle Sri Lankan called Lakshman Kadirgamar ? Who massacred meditaing monks in Arrantala ? Who attacked religious places like Sri Maha bodhi or Kandy temple ? Here you are taking about Sinhalese racism.
    MG Ramachandran also had a dream. " His dream was to create a great Tamil nation with Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

  • T. Douglas