Colombo, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance


With an uncertain number of Tamil ‘civilians’ trapped within the beleaguered and shrinking LTTE territory, Sri Lankan Tamils in the island as well as across the globe are understandably concerned about the fate of their brethren. Even those who are hostile to the LTTE have responded emotionally to this situation. The issue I raise is whether emotion and humanitarian concern have eclipsed realism and factuality.

Humanitarian concern, tinged with some emotion too, has led non-partisan Western observers and statesmen to intervene as well with requests for a ceasefire and end of warring. Two questions develop from such requests: (A) would a delay in defeating the LTTE necessarily reduce civilian casualties if (and when) the war resumes in, say, a month’s time after some (imposed) ceasefire; (B) will the desired ceasefire give the LTTE a reprieve and enable it to be a party to any settlement thereafter? That is, will it provide a lifeline to the existing leaders of an organisation deemed “terrorist” by powerful world players and whose semi-juridical status in the recent past rested on (A) the support of many – but not all – Sri Lankan Tamils; (B) control over territory and (C) the possession of de facto state institutions, a status that is now no longer in place after the loss of powers B and C.

Given their relative distance from the emotions of context, one would have thought these Western personnel would ask some hard questions about the pragmatics of the situation and the realities of war, a war, one should note, that the LTTE has deemed to be not only necessary, but also their only pathway in the context of SL Tamil grievances.

The hard questions require a detour: namely, sensitizing reflections on the problems of war at its moment of “end-game,” that is, where it is nearing termination as conventional warfare. I move here to two comparative moments during World War Two, with my desultory knowledge being bolstered by information from a colleague, the military historian Professor Trevor Wilson.

World War II: Comparative Insights
The first occasion was in the year 1940 after Germany’s armed forces had swept across the plains and conquered the Low Countries as well as France. USA was still isolationist and neutral though leaning towards Britain and its allies. Operations on both sides of the divide were directed by the concept of total war, involving economic blockades vis a vis the enemy side. This meant that the people of German-occupied territory had to cope as best they could without succour from Britain or the Free French under de Gaulle (other than covert aid to the resistance forces). USA (with Edgar Hoover as one adamant spokesman) pressed Britain to permit basic medical and food goods to flow into occupied Europe. Britain did not relent throughout 1940 and 1941.

As a footnote to this issue one can note that once USA entered the war after the Pearl Harbour attack in December 1941 and then began to roll the Japanese forces back on the Asia-Pacific Front in 1944/45, there was no question of augmenting medical and other supplies to the Pacific and Asian peoples under the Japanese imperial regime – unless it was in coordination with specific military and/or resistance operations.

The more strictly comparative moment is when the Allied forces pushed the German armies back across the western parts of Europe and entered German territory in 1944/45. This process had involved carpet bombing of German cities for several years. Now, at this end-point, few concessions were granted to the German civilian population from the advancing Allied battalions even while the main targets were the military capacities of the Nazi forces.

Wilson informed me that the situation was complicated by the fanaticism of the Hitler Youth forces, units created in their besieged situation by the Nazi regime with the express purpose of bolstering unrelenting resistance. The Hitler Youth ‘brigades’ killed Germans who were disposed to surrender. Let me emphasise here that in 1945 at war’s end-game the Allies demanded an unconditional surrender from the German regime. This was formally accepted by representatives of the rump state at Rheims on 7/8 May 1945 after Hitler had committed suicide in his bunker on 30 April. There was never any question of a ceasefire in order to protect German citizens, though there may well have been sporadic instances of military restraint when it was clear that the war was won.

The present demands of Western spokespersons in the Sri Lankan context appear to have conveniently forgotten this past example from within their ‘space’. They will have an answer to this challenge of course. It can be argued that the world has moved on since 1945 and has ethical criteria dictating military operations that were not in place then. Napalm is no longer permissible for instance.

This is a convenient retort that will be directed by the emotive partisanship of an empathetic heart. Be that as it may, I am unaware of any rule that says that a participant in a war – whether civil war, or war betweens nation states – is bound to supply the civilians on the enemy side with medical supplies and essential food items. Yet Sri Lanka’s government has been doing this for years (maybe insufficiently, but yet as policy).

Picture 1 

Most people in Western countries are completely ignorant of the peculiar specifics of the Sri Lankan civil war. In this context of limited knowledge I enter some essential clarifications in this essay. But, in making this move, let me stress that the NGO representatives in Sri Lanka, whether, say, Westerners such as Gordon Weiss and Paul Castella or a Sri Lankan such as Jehan Perera, are fully aware of these circumstances. It says a great deal about their total commitment to humanitarian welfare that they ignore the peculiarities of the SL context and fail to insert significant caveats within their critical press releases. For the fact is that the degree of aid (whatever the shortfall) that has reached the ‘civilians’ within LTTE territory during the many, many years of war, has been extraordinary in circumstances of wartime hostility. What is more, the remarkable degree of aid flow across the battlefield has been so normalized that the concerned humanitarians take it for granted. In the process they unintentionally mislead those who are not-in-the-know.

To understand the ambiguities of this war one has to comprehend the character of the LTTE regime and the constitutional complexities of what is a civil war.

A Command State and Command Economy
When, in the early 1970s,  some youth in the north decided on a insurrectionary path as the only route available to them and castigated their Colombo-based Tamil leaders, they also insisted that “as far they were concerned the Tamils residing in Colombo could die” (information from Jane Russell, 1973). This was an extreme position expressed with determination.

That determined attitude was taken up by the LTTE and was institutionalised from the 1980s by the oath taken by all its trained fighters as they were about to receive a kuppi (cyanide vial) at the ceremony marking the completion of their training. The further development of the concept of māvÄ«rar (great heroes) and massive exercises of commemoration leading up to Heroes Day on 27 November each year at their several “resting places” (tuyilam illam) – sites that are regarded as “holy temples” – consolidated this inspirational determination from circa 1990-92 (Natali 2008; Roberts 2006 and 2008a).

These institutional developments reached their fullest fruition after the LTTE set up a de facto state from mid-1990 onwards. Though segments of the Tamil population still remained outside this realm in parts of the Jaffna Peninsula and in the Vavuniya locality and were ruled by what many Tamils regard as an “occupation army,” from 1990 to 2008 the LTTE controlled a substantial swathe of territory and governed a considerable population who were mostly loyal to its goals.

Though receiving considerable popular support, the LTTE regime was (is) a command state. It has always been a military outfit and the insurrectionary war situation hardly encouraged anything other than dictatorship, but Pirapāharan’s personal proclivities and the veneration he received as a demi-god would have accentuated this characteristic (O’Duffy 2006).

Command state meant (means) command economy. State enterprises in transport, restaurants, etc augmented the returns from taxation and import duties. A critical dimension of its local resources was the supply of monies from the SL government in Colombo, namely, salaries and pensions paid to a wide range of Tamil-speaking administrators, including health officials, who were employees of the central state. That is, one major pillar of the LTTE economy, salaried people, was sustained by Colombo (opinion conveyed by Rajesh Venugopal).

Indeed, the LTTE currency was the Sri Lankan rupee. Both government and private banks in Tigerland serviced the population and transmitted pensions and remittances to individuals therein. One can surmise that some pensions went to long-deceased pensioners because it was both in individual and LTTE interest to boost the flows into their region.

This bizarre situation has prevailed from mid-1990 to 2008/09; even the hawkish Rajapakse regime has not altered these ‘rules’. It has hardly rated a mention in Western media-circles and seems to be taken for granted by NGO personnel (of all nationalities) in Lanka. This peculiar political paradox arises, of course, from the Sri Lankan government’s insistence that the SL Tamils are citizens of one country, in effect denying the latter’s ‘nation-ness’ as “Eelam Tamils”. Thus, constitutional claims demand a modification of enmity and a denial of tactics associated with the normal pragmatics of war, which is to deny supplies to the enemy side if possible.

It is constitutional claim and thus a constitutional façade that has enabled the Tamils in Tigerland to have the ‘best’ of both worlds. Thus, today, a staunch LTTE supporter in Puthukuduyiruppu – who, as such, must be an Eelam Tamil who denies being a Sri Lankan citizen – can protest because s/he is not provided with medical and basic food supplies. S/he can also protest at being subject to artillery or aerial bombing.

Note, too, that the Eelam Tamils had been subject to all manner of privations in the last two decades. When the army advanced into Jaffna town in late 1995, the LTTE ordered all the people to leave and head for safe territory. A massive exodus was enforced (alienating some of the Tamil people according to some accounts). As a former EPRLF fighter told me, “the sharks took the sea with them.”

Among the privations, of course, has been the indiscriminate aerial bombing that the people of Tigerland have had to face, notably in the 1990s during what are known as Eelam Wars II and III.. That was from the enemy side, that of the SL government. But, they also had to put up with LTTE taxation and forced conscription of one able-bodied member from each family.

Over the last two years, as the SL government began to besiege Tiger territory in the north, the Tiger screws of conscription have expanded and tightened. All young people seem to have been inducted as auxiliaries (see Pictures). As they lost territory, the LTTE also used heavy machinery and marshalled labour to build ditches and embankments of the sort associated with medieval warfare – a task that clearly involved massive logistical operations. In effect, over the last year or so many able-bodied people in the LTTE command state have been rendered into an integral part of their logistical support for war, being more or less part of the frontline. In such circumstances, of course, the category ‘civilian’ is an ambiguous category.

Picture 2

This characteristic, the nebulous border between Tiger war-personnel and ‘civilian’ has been sharpened yet further by the fact that the Tiger leadership seduced, persuaded or coerced most of its non-combatants, whether ‘civilian’ auxiliary, ordinary civilian, aged, infirm or child, to move into LTTE-held territory as it lost ground in 2008/09 and withdrew into areas that have continuously shrunk in size. It is probable that a significant proportion of these people are loyal-faithful, but one would need to have an army of flies on many walls to estimate how many were happy to do so and how many hostile to such demands. Given the history of the LTTE state one can note here that the Tigers did not need to create the equivalent of Hitler-youth to ensure that its diktat was adhered to.

Among the civilians are the Tamil-speaking administrators who receive pay (and some orders) from Colombo, but are mostly bound by the instructions of the LTTE. As I have noted in my review of Bill Clarance’s book, these Tamils are the unsung heroes of Sri Lanka’s ethnic war (Roberts 2008b). They are personnel sandwiched in the middle between two demanding forces, having to mediate conflicting demands. In the early years of conflict, in the 1980s, around 50-60 of these men were killed, mostly by the LTTE (Peiris 2000). Since then one can assume that those who accepted such jobs have been pro-Tiger or have learnt to abide by the commands of the command state.

Among the tasks enjoined upon these administrators were the provision of demographic statistics to Colombo and the distribution of basic food supplies and medical aid sent for the civilian people of Tigerland. Since such supplies reduced the burdens of the LTTE, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to assume that any intelligent organisation would ask the GA’s and other administrators to boost these figures.

Statistics, ah!! As the LTTE retreated and the remnant ‘civilian’ population of SL Tamils was increasingly in danger of being engulfed by troop fire-fights and artillery projectiles, aid agencies in Sri Lanka have trotted out figures to underline the potential disaster awaiting the Tamil people. During January 2009 figures of 250,000 trapped were quoted by both Lankans and foreigners situated in Colombo; while sometimes the figure rose to 400,000. These statistics have been duly parroted in global media circuits. They are still in the air (7 February 2009)!!

Impelled by genuine humanitarian concerns, those in Colombo who underlined these figures probably felt that their goals would be enhanced if the numbers were larger: so  in their reasoning presumably 250,000 could engender a better outcome than say, a figure of 130,000. But questions arise: don’t their emotional ethical concerns also warrant more careful considerations of veracity and fact? … and a closer examination of the category ‘civilian’? And thus the addition of significant caveats in the information conveyed to those outside the Sri Lankan realm? Emotional agitation does not excuse political naivety among those moderate and/or non-partisan.

The recent call for a ceasefire by some powerful states and institutions in order to avoid a humanitarian disaster has not specified a time-frame. Let me assume that it is for a month. But, more critically, let me ask: how will it help the Tamil ‘civilians’ who are within the LTTE territories?

The LTTE has hitherto denied these ‘civilians’ [some of whom, to repeat, are auxiliaries and part of their logistical operations] permission to leave — though maybe some 9,000 people have got away in driblets here and there during recent weeks. So, what will change over the next month of ceasefire?

One change is obvious: the LTTE will marshal its depleted forces and prepare to do or die in its typically vigorous fashion, while auxiliary ‘civilians’ and ordinary civilians will have to commit themselves to more privation. When war resumes after a month the Tamil ‘civilians’ would be in the same boat as before or worse off because the final tasks of the SL armed forces would be a few notches more difficult.

Whatever the heart behind such demands, then, the whole scene indicates a need for some reality checks among the do-gooders. Being cloistered in Colombo or New York does not seem conducive to a comprehension of the pragmatics of war. The reality check for Western do-gooders should, as I have indicated above, encompass a reflective review of the military operations pursued by the British, Free French and American armies as they advanced eastwards into Germany in 1944/45. References to the “rules of war” are being bandied about freely without careful evaluation of the pragmatics of this particular context and with striking naivety, indeed, appalling naivety.


Peiris, Gerald H. in 2000 Pursuit of Peace in Sri Lanka. Past Failures and Future Prospects, ed. by K. M. De Silva & Gerald Peiris, Kandy: ICES.

Natali, Christiana 2008 “Building Cemeteries, Constructing Identities: Funerary Practices and

Nationalist Discourse among the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka,” Contemporary South Asia, 16: 287-301.

O’Duffy, Brendan 2007 “LTTE: Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Majoritarianism, Self-Determination and Military-to-Political Transition in Sri Lanka,” in Marianne Heiberg, Brendan

O’Leary, and John Tirman (eds.) Terror, Insurgency, and the State. Ending Protracted Conflicts,

Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 257-87.

Roberts, Michael 2006 “Pragmatic Action and Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite of Commemoration,” Social Analysis 50: 73-102.

Roberts, Michael 2008a “Tamil Tigers: Sacrificial Symbolism and ‘Dead Body Politics’,” Anthropology Today, June 2008, 24/3: 22-23.

Roberts, Michael 2008b review of William Clarance, Ethnic Warfare in Sri Lanka and the UN Crisis, in South Asia, 31/2: 394-96.

  • Thank you Michael – I am much richer in thoughts and questions for having read and explored yours.

  • Dev

    Wow Michael, You do have a great understanding of whats happening in Sri Lanka. Thank you for showing the real situation to the world. Great work.

  • " am unaware of any rule that says that a participant in a war – whether civil war, or war betweens nation states – is bound to supply the civilians on the enemy side with medical supplies and essential food items."

    First of all, I think you're incorrect in classifying the Tamils in LTTE areas as the 'enemy'. They are not. They remain SL citizens, regardless of their leanings. Some undoubtedly support the LTTE, many do not. They are comparable to the citizens of occupied France (not Vichy France), and South Vietnam, but not to those of Germany or North Vietnam.

    Given this ambiguity, the GoSL is obliged to care for them to the best of its ability. Even during the Vietnam War (a badly conducted one from any point of view) the US undertook humanitarian missions alongside their military ops. "Bomb 'em and feed 'em" as it was called.

    • Well to be clear I don't think the author meant to classify the Tamils in enemy areas as the 'enemy' but rather the 'enemy side'. He meant it in a geographical sense. With respect to comparison with other historical cases, I believe the author does clarify that in a way when he said 'whether civil war or war between nation states'. Your French example is one where the war was between nation states. Therefore in the case of occupied France, there was no French government to supply their people. It would have had to come from the Allies. The same would have been the case with the Nazis. There was no other German government to save the Hitler youth from being brainwashed and recruited. Again that task was also left to the Allies. Vietnam? well that is a whole different game. Was it really a civil war or was a it thinly disguised war between the US and China / Soviet? Whatever.
      Nevertheless, I agree with the author that rarely in history has the government in civil or national conflict has taken too much direct interest in the welfare of the civilians residing on the side.

      • "Well to be clear I don't think the author meant to classify the Tamils in enemy areas as the 'enemy' but rather the 'enemy side'."

        Forgive me if I can't see the distinction between the "enemy" and the "enemy side". Given the context, there isn't a distinction in the author's mind.

        The German population was regarded as the enemy and treated as such. The French population in Vichy-governed France was treated the same, while those in German-occupied France were treated as Allied civilians. In fact there were TWO French governments at the time — the Vichy government allied to the Axis powers, and De Gaulle's Free French government in exile.

        Whether the Vietnam war was a proxy war between the US and China or one between North and South Vietnam is irrelevant (in fact it was both), as civilians of both varieties existed no matter how you looked at the war. The North Vietnamese population was treated as the enemy by the South and its western allies. The South Vietnamese population was considered to be variously friendly and hostile by all parties, according to region and affiliation. For example, the Montagnard tribes fought for the US, Vietcong, and NVA.

        In SL, the Tamil population IS broadly considered to be "occupied". For this reason, the GoSL has continued to feed and pay the NE.

  • Who are the Nazis? Is it not the state in Sri Lanka? The state has been like the Nazis in their thinking- Sinhala Buddhist supremacy like Aryan supremacy of the Nazis. The thinking is even institutionalised.

    As SL could be identified as Nazis, there arises a need for invasion, similar to that done in Germany by the Allied forces. If this is 1940's today, we would have already faced it !

    The world is different now. An invasion need not be done instantly. There is a better cordination of the countries in the world, as the UN, for concrete action. This was not the case during Nazi wars.This is the reason why the western countries are seeking humanitarian help for the civilian victims. They do this respecting UN covenants and international laws.

    If SL fails to comply, and shows clenched fist to the UN, which is created to protect humanity, the world through the UN can act with military force on SL.

    Strangely, in this article, an oudated argument is being levelled to support a genocidal state and win cheers from the War mongers. There is no genuine attempt to address the humanitarian crisis at hand.

    • wijayapala

      Dear Justin- and let me guess, the LTTE is a democratic force fighting for human rights, correct?

      There was an intervention/invasion in 1987 to stop the SL's offensive against the LTTE. The LTTE being terrorists then attacked the intervention force and later murdered that government's prime minister. Since then, nobody has considered risking their lives to save a bunch of LTTE terrorists and they laugh when they read your sort of delusional suggestions.

  • One

    Michael, your examples of World War II are relevant in so far as to point out that it was world war II that gave rise to Nuremburg trails which eventually lead to the formulation and consolidation of humanitarian law (IHL) – commonly known as Law of War. And IHL, you will find, have significant number of specific clauses that are incorporate ensuring safety of non combatants in a war remains the responsibility of State.

    Whilst the Nuremberg trials will always be tinged with "Victor's Justice" as only the "losers" of the WWII were put on trial and war crimes committed by UK/US as you've pointed out, was not seen as a crime at the time (It will be now under IHL).

  • Kumar David

    The bottom line is the overall political import and impact of the article.
    Michael Roberts, to his shame, has become another apologist for a chauvinist regime.

    • wijayapala

      Why is it that the people who complain about being tarred as LTTE apologists for criticizing Mahinda, are the same people who label others as Mahinda apologists for pointing out Western shortcomings and hypocrisy?

  • R.M.B Senanayake

    I am afraid some Christians ahve misrepresented the Christian teachings. What Jesus said was that all are sinners and not one is justified before God because nobody has lived a life free from sin for his entire life. So every human being needs God's mercy to go to heaven or the Kingdom of God. But God's forgiveness and mercy is only available through faith in Jesus Christ according to Jesus for no one can come to the Father except through him. This is why he wanted his word to be preached through out the world for people must hear about him before they can have faith in him. God wants Christians to spread his teachings but this doesn't mean they are to be converted. But God does not want any forcible conversions. As for the so-called

    • wijayapala

      I think you have the wrong thread, RMB- we're talking about Western ignorance/double standards with regard to the LTTE here. In any case, God and Jesus seem to have been ok with Christian brutalities over the centuries against both non-Christians and each other as they didn't see fit to stop them.

  • wijayapala

    I agree with you, but what has been the overall track record of governments fighting a civil war in feeding their citizens who are on the "other side" (wittingly or otherwise)?

    • Fair question wijeyapala. However, let me ask you another. Leaving historical precedent aside for a moment, what do you think is our moral obligation here? What do you think conscionable human beings should do in situation?

  • Kumar David

    Wijepala's comment is well taken. Yes pointing out the things Michael has, is reasonable. But overall the article to me seems to seriously lack balance; this is intelectually troubling in an intensely politicalised time like the present.

  • Kumar, the ground reality itself lacks the balance you and I seek because it “lacks” equality of all citizens and therefore at least a uniformity of justice for all (if absolute justice is too much to ask for).
    You need to do better than calling people "appologists" and vaguely commenting about a lack of "balance".
    Every individual has his or her own personal biases and blind spots, and little can be achieved by calling them biased without being able to challenge the facts they have presented or answer more accurately or insightfully the questions they have posed in the process of substantiating their (allegedly bias) views.
    I personally feel that Michael’s attempt is a satisfactory attempt at calling it as he sees it and asking questions that need to be asked. You have every right to disagree. However, if you can provide an equally if not more insightful opinion, we are all willing to take that on board.

  • Spikey

    Keep me up to date with comments.

  • Willie Senanayake

    We must hold governments to higher standards, not excuse their misconduct because it conforms to conventions used by Allied forces during the WW11. Furthermore, the differences between intra- and inter state wars render this comparison inadequete. Civilians in intra-state wars are all citizens of the same country- and thus the government is bound to provide all civilians with medical supplies and essential food items- it is their core responsiblity and function!

    • Dayan Jayatilleka

      er…you mean, as Abraham Lincoln, General Ulysses Grant ( later President Grant), General Sherman and the Unionists did while fighting the intra-state war against the secessionist Confederacy, and the Russian federation did while fighting the intra-state war against the Chechen terrorist-separatist army?

  • Wijayapala,

    Seeing what India is doing now and what it did to Tamils during 1987, do you really believe that India came to liberate the people of NE into an indpendent Tamil Eelam ? The answer is an unequivocal No.

    So, India was a scapegoat used by Sri Lankan state to oppress a liberation struggle. Therefore, LTTE had to fight IPKF. And India waged war instead of bringing peace. They did not have mandate to do that but the UN could not help Tamils from the Indian war. IPKF killed more than 3000 innocent civilian Tamils and not a single Sinhalese. So, India was not a genuine peacekeeping force. Rajiv was the commander in Chief of that ruthless IPKF.

    The scandanavian monitors were present. Were any of them killed by the LTTE? No. It was the GOSL who chased them away because they were neutral unlike India. That neutrality did not satisfy the GOSL.

    What is needed is a genuine, neutral and imparital peace keeping force.
    Those who do not seek a peace keeping force under some excuse or the other are directly or indirectly for Tamil genocide in SL.

  • CCC

    Oh Justin how you forget!!

    Do you not recall how the "neutral" Scandinavian monitoring team was culled by the LTTE when all monitors from EU countries were asked to leave and only Norwegians were left? This was after the EU banned the LTTE.

    Then do you recall that the monitoring team in the time in Lanka recorded 3000+ violations of the ceasefire by the LTTE compared to the 173 by the SLA?

    Nothing is more satisfying than selective amnesia!

  • S V Kasynathan

    “You have all done worse things than us” is already a favourite line. Michel probably does no great harm by lending his considerable credentials to that never very conclusive argument. Is never implies ought. Nor does, was.

    But what is more disturbing is that he seems to question the morality of the request for a cease fire and humanitarian intervention on other grounds also. For, even if he does not intend it, in suggesting that people in the Vanni are not quite civilians and deciding to refer to them as civilians in inverted commas; in arguing that they have somehow had it good though they are people on the enemy side; in calling them Tamils in Tigerland; that there are probably not that many of them; and also in speculating that they may be mixed up with getting more rations and pensions than their due by neglecting to register their numerous dead and departed, Michel seems to imply that they are really not worth sparing or merit the attention of the “do-gooders”, not to mention his curious idea that perhaps that they, and probably everyone else, will benefit if finished off now rather than later.

  • S V Kasynathan

    This is disturbing because Michael is very aware of the suffering of the people in LTTE controlled territory and of the inability to identify the willing from the coerced. Surely Michael knows that among those screwed into conscription as he says and others, there are a number of totally confused and clueless poverty stricken peasants, their wives and grandchildren who have never even heard the word citizenship let alone deny it as he says they do or claim it.

    Many believe it a great advance for humanity to have arrived at a judicial system that goes to great lengths to ensure that the innocent are not punished even at the risk of letting some guilty ones escape. Apart from pointing out that those who win wars do not have such scruples, Michel seems to want us to believe that they need not in this particular case.

  • S V Kasynathan

    To many, it seems exceedingly clear that in a ceasefire now, the main beneficiary would only be the LTTE. I think it is possible to be over impressed by this. The war has been and is a large and monstrous part of our reality but it is not the only thing we need to think about. Especially from the advantageous point from which we are able to reflect about the “end game” as well as on the protracted middle and the not too clear opening.

    Academics are taught to be ever conscious of the possibility that what they say may be wrong. That awareness is what usually keeps them from jumping into current hotspots where possibly wrong pronouncements may lead to consequences that cannot be taken back – such as for example the undeserved killing of even a single person. Unless of course the academic decides to sign up, as all too commonly they do.

  • S V Kasynathan

    The exhortation "… Turn the other cheek" is an action and therefore unacceptable, useless or if you like even immoral but not false, groundless or naive as beliefs may be. It is for this reason, that despite even the entire horrible history of human beings, Jesus cannot be said to have been appallingly naïve or unrealistic, without misunderstanding what he was doing with his words.

  • Observer

    Articles like these voices the view of rational observers. LTTE one way or another is representing Tamils (although people tend to claim allegiance with their representation at their convenience). They have declared war on a Nation that is responding. So if the Tamils want peace they need to rise up against the forces that are (mis)representing them. So all the humanitarians need to have the courage to rise up and campaign against the LTTE, deploring them at all instances. There are no grounds for a cease-fire as SL Army has already had grace periods for civilian evacuations and safety zones. This is the wrath of war! It is an inevitable repercussion of poorly conceived armed efforts. This is the war that LTTE asked for, so face it or rise up against the LTTE!

  • Clearly, from a purely militaristic viewpoint Roberts' arguments sound solid. Also, his observations about Tiger politics [the 'command rule' & the 'command economy' etc.] seem closer to the truth. But, amazingly, the history scholar has conveniently avoided saying a word about the SL Govt's fundamental 'crime': i.e. its failure to come up with an unambiguously attractive political solution that suits "the hard realities" of the Sri Lankan society. Mahinda Rajapaksa's first step should have been to launch an island-wide media campaign to enlighten all communities of the principles of an explicitly equality-based constitution to be negotiated with the LTTE. That should have been the first step before going to war, as I've been telling the president at the time he came to power. This, he could have done unilaterally. But, unfortunately, he chose to put the cart before the horse. Perhaps, the supremacist mindsets within his administration are responsible for this.

    Had he got the priorities right, things would have gone in a totally different way. For instance, if the hard-headed separatists tried to sabotage an unequivocally anti-supremacist solution, the Tamil people – within and outside "Tigerland", including the powerful Tamil Diaspora – would have parted company with ideological separatism. The civilians within "Tigerland" – who now provide the logistical support for the Tigers – would have sabotaged Tigers from within as the partisan movements did during the Second World War. The international community, including the Tamil Nadu establishment would have openly backed the government against the LTTE.
    Now that the Rajapaksa regime has done everything in the wrong order the repercussions would be disastrous: Tigers – with or without Prabhakaran – will bounce back as a guerrilla force much faster than the way the JVP did it. Almost the entirety of the SL army would be bogged down in the north and the east for the foreseeable future, posing a logistical and economic nightmare for the government. The military euphoria will elevate Sinhala supremacy to new heights and an equity-based solution would become a virtual impossibility. Civilian atrocities will reach genocidal proportions with the full approval from the likes of Roberts. Rising dissent and probable economic catastrophes in the south could push the Rajapaksa-regime towards a naked dictatorship, and the fate of Sri Lanka would be doomed for years to come.

    It is this aspect of the hard realities that is missing from Roberts' appraisal.

    • wijayapala

      If anything, it seems that it is Vasantha Raja who is quite unaware of the "hard realities." Mahinda knew very well that the LTTE derived its strength not through popular support or desire for the eternally vague/elusive "political solution," but rather from the force of arms backed with child soldiers. Offering a "political solution" would not have changed this hard reality and would have instead demonstrated Mahinda's lack of resolve. Mahinda also understood the hard reality that the int'l community would never help him to defeat the LTTE no matter how much he would offer in a "political solution."

      Contrary to what Vasantha imagines, the LTTE will not bounce back as a guerrilla force because its strongest supporters are in Toronto and London, not Sri Lanka. The LTTE ultimately gave nothing to the Tamils after 25 years of war and destruction, and the Tamils will not support another fruitless 25-year war.

  • Wijayapala,…. the real "hard reality" is that there is no such thing called "offering political solution" within the frame work of democracy. Majority rules the country. It is simple as that. There shouldn't be any one to give and any one to take. If we are really interested in finding a solution, we must come out of the square which is the current political frame work. There is no way around it.

    It is not correct to perceive the LTTE as an entity or a group. It can't stand alone and it is an illusive force. We may not see the LTTE today as it is in 25 years time. Because the world is evolving and changing, therefore, the nature of the conflict will also change with it. The only way to get rid of the LTTE is to get rid of the reason for the existence of LTTE.

  • We must put the "Victory and defeat” in a proper context. Other wise, it doesn’t make sense. Winning the hearts and minds of the people trapped in the war is the real victory. I don't think that these people need a victory over their hearts and minds at this moment. Leave these people alone.

    Some of the people caught in the wanny jungle at the moment are from the villages near Trincomalee district boarder, Madawachi district boarder, Mannar, and Jaffna boarders of wanny. These peolple have been displaced and became refugees many times. The people in the kokilai, and wali oya region has been made refugees for more than 20 years.

    This will give some idea about the state of these people.

  • Raja

    Mr Roberts entire argument is based without regard to the crux of this long drawn out conflict: There are two nations on the island of Sri Lanka. Tamils are not trying to carve out a new state, they are trying to free a nation that has existed for millennia while the sinhalese are trying to subjugate and occupy that nation. This reality becomes glaringly obvious when you look at Jaffna where you have 600,000 tamils being occupied by 50,00 Sri Lankan troops. The end-game is really more of the same. More occupation: this time in Vanni, in Kilinochchi, in Muliathivu, in Batticaloa and everywhere in between.

    The position of the tamil people around the world regardless of their allegiance with the LTTE is clear: Let’s have a referendum. Let the people decide. It’s interesting that the GOSLs response to this argument is to completely deny the existence of the historic tamil nation. Just like the Iranians, who start out with a policy of not recognizing Israel deny the holoaust , the GOSL starts with the racist premise that Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalese, and therefore have no choice, but to deny the existence of the historic tamil homeland. Curiously, it’s the same extreme “nationalists” who are quick to annoint President Rajapakse as the modern day Dutugemunu. Dutugemunu is of course, was according to Sinhalese history, the last Sri Lankan king to take his army to the north and defeat the great tamil king Elara to unite the island. By doing so aren’t these so called “nationalists” admitting that even a thousang years ago there was a tamil kingdom with a king named Elara?

  • Calculator

    We can trot out ‘learned’ arguments for and against, depending mainly on our own sympathies. In the meantime a certain number of civilians (used as ‘Human Shields” ) die each day. Multiply the number of dead each day by the number of days the the fighting will continue if the government forces go on a “cautious assault”. How many dead will that be? On the other hand, what will be the total civilian deaths if maximum force is used and the LTTE fighters wiped out from Pudukudiirruppu area in a day or two?

  • Confused

    Can the humanity in the 21st century justify civilian casualiteis in a war? The imperialist British bombed unprotected civilains in Dresden killing over 35,000 civilians even after the war was over. Can a war itself be justified in solving political/economic/social problems of this magnitude? Sri Lankan then president JR wanted military help from India in 1987 as he had to fight another war with disaffected Sinhala youth in the South. IPKF did what Sri Lanka military was unable to do at that time because it had no logistical or manpower to fight a war in the south as well as the North. It is important and pertinent to ask what will be the next step when and if the war was over as Wasantha Raja did. The history shows us that there hes been a history of oppression of people in the South and North by the state over centuries, and so-called independence in 1948 did solve nothing. The Sri lankan army continued its military presence in the North under what was then called TAFFAI arrangement. I know fully well that it was an occupation and the Tamils have resisted that occupation ever since. I think the current war has seriously undermined the possibility of a unitory state in future Sri Lanka without a military presence in the South, North and East. I do not think the present Sri Lankan Government would be in a position to offer a solution based on equality to all people in the country? Possibly, the next generation of Sinhala/Tamil people will understand the reality and fight for a society which wiill ensure equality and justice to all.

  • Cofused

    I am sorry. TAFFAI should be TAFII (Task Force For Illicit Immigration)

  • Pragmatist

    Excellent article by Michael Roberts. I will certainly ask my kids to read it, as a lesson in Sri Lankan history.

    Let me say this to Raja and all others who back the argument for two nations in Sri Lanka. There are more tamils living outside than inside of the areas that you define as tamil homelands. None of these folks, including myself and my family, wish to relocate to a newly created ethnic tamil ghetto in Jaffna or Batticaloa. YOU TELL ME what we are supposed to do, if your goals is ever achieved? Of course, this is a moot point now that the crazy Sun God is dead. Was it your idea that we should all give up everything and move in an exodus to the promised land?? How do we establish our right to live in such a ghetto? I am a mixed Tamil-Sinhala person who speaks only sinhala and english, where do I belong? Can sinhala people live in your homeland too? Can they do business too like it used to be in Jaffna pre1970s?

    I challenge any PRO-TIGER members of the Tamil diapora living in Canada, UK, Sweden, Australia etc to provide me an answer to this question. By the way, please add to your answer what you intend to do too (i.e. your intent to move your entire clan back to this ghetto).

  • Pingback: Sri Lanka’s Complex Background: Correcting & Amplifying Sheridan and Got?bhaya | Thuppahi's Blog()

  • Pingback: Sri Lanka’s Complex Background: Correcting & Amplifying Sheridan And Got?bhaya | Colombo Telegraph()