The Tamil In The Room At The War’s End

GV End of War Book

On May 19th 2009 the last shots in the nearly three decade long war between the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE were fired. The end came in the form of the virtual destruction of the LTTE including its leadership, after a gruelling campaign in the northern Vanni region leading to the deaths of thousands of soldiers, LTTE cadres and civilians. There were wild celebrations in the south; President Mahinda Rajapakse was hailed as a conquering hero, a grand monarch who had delivered his country from the bane of terrorism, while hopes were expressed for a prosperous future now that the main threat to progress has been eliminated. Riding the wave of euphoria, the government scored two telling electoral victories, promising what the people wanted – a bright future.

A year after the war the hopes still remain but reality is also beginning to set in. It seems there are immense hurdles still to be overcome on the road to prosperity. There is still corruption, nepotism, bad governance, and above all the unfinished business of ethnic reconciliation.

The last reality, more than anything else dominates the consciousness of Sri Lankans post-war, even many of those who claim that there is no ethnic problem to settle. Everybody knows, though not everybody readily admits it that though the war is over the problem has not gone away. It is evident where everyone looks, the rhetoric of national unity, the triumphant trips to Jaffna, the promises of re-settlement, the denial of war crimes and even in the very denial of the existence of an ethnic issue lie the tacit recognition that there is unfinished business that makes us want to assert ourselves as conquerors, reformers or deniers. We want to move forward but, the Diaspora, the displaced, the unrehabilitated, the disabled, the very ruins that we pass on our proud visits to Jaffna, and above all that little voice in our heart that says that although we have finished the Tigers, the Tamils still remain. Having witnessed the brutality with which we have dealt with their brethren he won’t let us move forward in peace. And we know we have to deal with them.

This reality, the need to deal with the Tamil left in the room after all the partying is over, is at the heart of The End of War in Sri Lanka: Reflections and Challenges, an impressive selection of contributions to Groundviews during the first post war year. The contributions cover a vast array of topics and include both verse and prose. But no matter what the focus of the essayist or the poet is, it cannot avoid the reality of the Tamil who is left behind, and is shaped, even trapped by it. It is clearly evident in the hopes for the future but is also present, sometimes lurking below the surface, in attempts to deal with the past and the present. Thus Lionel Bopage wonders if it will be more of the same, whether we are steadily moving towards another conflict, Dayan Jayatilleke argues that the war was Just, and advances a re-reading of the Dutugemunu story to understand the post-war strategic imperatives, the underdog struggles to come to terms with his/her conscience, Lalith Gunaratne reveals the touching journey of child soldiers from trauma to rehabilitation and Kalana Senaratne worries whether peace will arrive before death. These are all musings of troubled people (some more troubled than others) whose hearts and minds are not at peace, struggling to come to terms with the glaring reality of the Tamil in the room, defeated yet unbowed, standing there, in a corner, yes, but refusing to leave, defying, challenging, even mocking in his sorrow and bitterness. They are all efforts to come to terms with him, what we have done with him and what we are to do with him, because we all know that good governance, law and order, peace, justice, economic prosperity are all tied inextricably to how we decide to live with him after we have driven his brethren to Nanthikadal and crushed them, leaving him in grief and fear but not in submission. Even Vivimarie Vanderpooten’s poem gasps in shock and horror at the demons swirling around us, made restless by the elusiveness of peace after the end of the long cruel war, a peace made elusive by the failure to deal with those who are left to savour defeat.

To me, a frequent visitor to Groundviews, what is important is not simply the opinions and reflections of the writers but the recognition of this post-war reality that underlies their work. In a way it is disturbing. It shows we are still far from being at peace, above all with ourselves. But it also shows that we recognise, some of us more than others, that something positive needs to be done about the Tamil left standing because without doing something positive about him, economic prosperity, good governance and national pride will be things to be debated and disputed, never to be experienced.

The articles and poems present a range of thought provoking reflections and opinions revealing hopes, fears and expectations of Sri Lankans that need to be given serious consideration in plotting the road map for a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka. But it is arguable whether they will provoke much thinking in the circles where the road map is being drawn, where thinking has long given way to instinct, and where power, preserved and extended, is the only reality that matters. Some may argue, with a great deal of reason, that Groundviews represent only a miniscule portion of public opinion on Sri Lanka and even that the opinions of those who can write reasonably well in English. Those who do not think like the Kalana Senratnes and Lionle Bopages are vastly outnumbered by those who are still savouring the victory over the ‘terrorists” and believe there is no need to deal with the Tamil in the room. The most cursory glance at some of the websites that showcases opinions from those whose first language is truly Sinhalese will show that it is still the Wimal Weerawansa’s rather than Kalana Senaratne’s who make opinions of Sri Lankans, even in cyberspace. They are still dancing the victory dance, expecting the Tamil in the room to join in singing Sinhala bailas or to leave the room altogether. This is scary, and sad too, but it is no reason to undervalue the efforts of Groundviews. And Groundviews, I am sure, has no pretensions to having the power to shift heaven and earth which is what, it appears at times, is required to change the direction the country is heading in. Yet, despite that seeming impotence, the collection of articles also presents a pleasing prospect. It shows that there are still at least a few of us who recognise that the end of the war has not ended the conflict as long as we do not deal with the Tamil in the room, fairly and justly. It may make a few other decent people stop and think, even feel. That would be a modest victory but a victory nevertheless.

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The author is a military historian and novelist based in Melbourne Australia. His works on history include, ‘Best Black Troops in the World’: British Perceptions and the making of the Sepoy 1746-1805, and Kandy at War: Indigenous Military Resistance to European Expansion in Sri Lanka 1594-1818. Currently working on a book (history) on Ealam War I, the author already has three novels to his credit, Walls (2001), Distant Warriors (2005) and In the same boat (2010).

  • Emil van der Poorten

    A review of quality and dignity which reflects that of Groundviews. So few have acknowledged the “Tamil in the room.” Now you have. Thank you for that and the intelligence of your piece.

  • Punitham

    Channa
    ”that something positive needs to be done about the Tamil left standing” gives a great deal of hope.

  • eeurekaa

    When NGOs are brought under MoD over from Social Services, aid agents(including UN and ICRC) are fast phased out of the Northeast, when lawlessness reigns there, when elected representatives are vetoed by provincial governor(elected by the government!), when HSZ are expanded, when the army uses HSZ for production of vegetables and pigs, when pigs are a *terror for the (war-ravaged) neighbours, when food and water are scarce, the government plans to send orphaned elephants to the Northeast:
    http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=33364
    Orphaned elephants to be sent to Mullaiththeevu, 10 January 2011:
    ”Sri Lanka’s Wild Life Department has proposed to release several orphaned elephants now kept in the Uda Walawe Elephant Transit Camp to the new wild life sanctuary located in Mullaiththeevu jungle, according to a news report by the Daily News, a state-run English daily newspaper….”

    The government doesn’t want to recognise the Tamil in the room at all. But they want the Tamils to have ”elephants in the room”.

    Add this to the list of post-war atrocities listed by Chandra Jayaratne in this website five months ago. Leave alone the pre-war 61 years. The last twenty months have features only fitting ”slow genocide/ethnocide”:

    http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/publication-type/commentary/never-again-what-the-holocaust-cant-teach-us-about-modern-day-genocide.aspx
    “Never Again? What the Holocaust can’t teach us about modern-day genocide”,
    Andrew Stroehlein(Media Director, International Crisis Group), 2 December 2009:
    “Genocide” is too limiting a term in any case. In recent years, governments have not necessarily been exterminating entire subgroups en masse with crystal-clear intent…. To get hung up on definitions of “genocide” — or “war crimes,” “crimes against humanity,” or “ethnic cleansing” for that matter — is to miss the point entirely, and the possibility of prevention, almost certainly. Arguing over the fulfillment of categories wastes valuable time better spent saving lives. … Definition is held to be paramount, when the real issue is political will. …’’

  • Davidson

    GV brings together those who recognise ”the Tamil in the room” and multiplies the effect. Thank you.

  • renu

    GV and authors
    Thank you for the tremendous work.

  • Vino Gamage

    Groundviews
    Thank you for bringing together the people genuinely interested in peace and prosperity for ALL in the island.

  • Ram

    The present situation in Srilanka,is the outcome of the policy adopted by the rulers for the last 62 years after independance. The Presidents and Prime Ministers can come and go. There is something behind working, un-noticed by anybody, which is directing, and advising the rulers according to the pre-determined long term well planned master plan against the Tamils and the Tamil Nation in the Srilankan Island. This is their Intelligence body. This is the body which planned the war and excecuted in the front lines of the war front, and behind the battle lines. This is their long term plan, it is not easy to change their direction, unless Sinhala people openly announce their support for the Tamils, and demand a basic change of policy to-wards the Tamil people and the Tamil Nation, in Srilanka. Any amount of articles in Ground views will not help against this strongest and powerful hidden establishment in Srilanka.

    • yapa

      Same old unjustified record that has been playing by many and can be played anybody. Now that “record’ is rusty and the tune has become a headache after playing and listened to conterminously.

      Please think of creating another “record”.

      Thanks!

      • yapa

        correction…

        playing and listened to conterminously….

        should read as playing and listened to continuously

        Thanks!

  • TT

    Why only Tamils? There are Sinhalese, Muslims, Malays, Veddas, Colombo Chetties, Bharats, Burgurs, etc. in Sri Lanka. All their interests should be looked at and protected. The only way to do that is by not entertaining racial aspirations, racial homelands, racial grievences, racial power devolution, etc. Not only the winners, but losers too have to compromise. Triumphalism is only part of the problem. Defeatism is an equal part of the problem. Defeatism is associated with the urge to take revenge (for the defeat). As long as this continues nothing good will happen in the reconciliation front.
    Groundviews has been very good in analysing triumphalism but has almost neglected defeatism and it’s effects. In my view effects of defeatism is far worse than effects of triumphalism.

  • wijayapala

    Channa, I would like to join everyone’s praise of your article. I particularly liked your illustration how we (Sinhalese) follow the Wimal Weerawansas and not the Kalana Senaratnes. Sadly, you are preaching to the converted. We have to find a way to bridge this gap within our own (Sinhala) society and show that empathy does not equate to being anti-Sri Lanka. Until we do that, the Tamil will be standing ignored and alone in the corner of the room.

    I am a fan of your book “Kandy at War.” Why are you writing a book on Eelam War I? Plenty has been written on that topic by both Indians and Sri Lankans, though I admit that most fall short of the mark (except for Broken Palmyra). The problem is that there isn’t a single non-Tamil out there with a decent knowledge of the history of Tamil militancy, and even most Tamils do not have this knowledge.

    As you are interested in military affairs, Eelam War II & III may be more interesting. Virtually nothing is available on Eelam War II, and most of the literature on Eelam War III is journalist articles. The LTTE even produced a little literature on this period.

  • Hela

    Tamil was always part of Sri Lankan community from the perspective of ordinary people and the govt (except for so called intellectuals). However, Tamil was not accepted as a distinct nation with a distinct traditional homeland where no one else are permitted.

    It was Tamils who declared war on the rest of the country.

    It was Tamils who cleansed the entire North of the country of all other communities except Tamil.

    The issue for these pundits is not how to deal with the Tamil in the room (because the country is willing to support them and willing to pay for their re-development), but how to break the back of the majority community and force them to give up part of the country.

    As long as Tamils are prepared to live as part of one Sri Lankan community, they will have room.

    • yapa

      Dear Hela;

      Exact summary of the issue, as I too understand it.

      Thanks!

    • sam

      “It was Tamils who declared war on the rest of the country.It was Tamils who cleansed the entire North of the country of all other communities except Tamil”

      RE above comment: You guys have selective amnesia!!! It was the sinhalese Government which declared war on the Tamils and tried to cleanse the entire southern parts of the country of the Tamils since 1956!!! Have you forgotten the several GOVERNMENT ORGANISED pogroms since 1956!!! Have you forgotten that the Government was UNABLE or UNWILLING to protect its own citizens ie. Tamils and sent them in ships to northern and Eastern provinces!!! That too at the mercy of the Indian Government!!! Indra Gandhi had to send Narasima Rao to Sri Lanka to threaten the sinhalese government to take action to stop the CARNAGE!!!Please do not start the history from a “convenient period”

      LTTE was the by product of the STATE TERRORISM!!!Tamils had no way of protecting themselves then and even now!!!

      Later the Government improved on their GENOCIDAL PLAN and started executing the “slow genocide” away from the worlds eyes. Burning of the Library, disruption of the International Tamil conference, bombing, shelling, murder, abduction, rape, creation of paramilitary are the master plans developed by the successive SINHALESE GOVERNMENTS whether it is blue, green or red. They are united in one thing ie. persecution of the Tamils!!!

      Please do not put out the arguement of 50% of the Tamils living in Colombo!! How did you come up with the percentage? anyway they are there, because it was impossible for them to stay in the North and East because of the bombing, shelling, Multi Barrel launchers and the rape and extra judicial killings of the security forces and the paramilitary!!! They thought atleast in Colombo, the government will be afraid to do thse atrocities, because of the “prying eyes” of the International communities. But even in Colombo, some of them, including few elected Tamil representatives and other prominent Tamils could not escape the white van and the death squads of the Government!!!

      Of course the Tamils who joined the genocidal governments and did untold harm to the Tamils should be ashamed of themselves!!! They are trapped in their own sins!! Even if they want to get out now, out of this sinful life, will be unable to do so, unless they commit suicide!!!

      Unless the common sinhalese admit the follies of their government and accept the true history of the conflict and not succumb to cheap “anti Tamil” policies of the politicians, there will not be progress in the country. Tamils may vanish from the map of Sri Lanka, but ultimately the the lawlessnes of the Sinhala society aided and abetted by the politicians who are only interested in prolonging their political power and short term gain will destroy the entire country.

  • Davidson

    Defeatism? Taking revenge?
    They are now begging for mercy:
    ‘’When Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao came visiting, the Tamil Parties Forum TPPF requested her to persuade the Rajapaksa administration to “engage the elected representatives of the Northern and Eastern Provinces in the resettlement and rehabilitation work” – Daily Mirror, 3 Sept 2010.

    The last twenty months have been the nastiest of post-independence era.
    Begging for mercy is interpreted as revenge – much more oppressive than oppression itself.

    What should the Tamils do now if they have to stop the ”defeatism”?

  • Davidson

    Hela and TT

    What do Dhanapala, Jyaratna and Jayatilleke mean by:

    http://transcurrents.com/tc/2010/08/outline_of_submission_made_to.html
    Jayantha Dhanapala’s written submission to Lessons Learnt Reconciliation Commission, 30 August 2010:
    ‘’ The lessons we have to learn go back to the past – certainly from the time that we had responsibility for our own governance on 4 February 1948. Each and every Government which held office from 1948 till the present bear culpability for the failure to achieve good governance, national unity and a framework of peace, stability and economic development in which all ethnic, religious and other groups could live in security and equality. Our inability to manage our own internal affairs has led to foreign intervention but more seriously has led to the taking of arms by a desperate group of our citizens. Our inability to manage our own internal affairs has led to foreign intervention but more seriously has led to the taking of arms by a desperate group of our citizens.’’ (Dhanapala was formerly UN Under-Secretary General for Disarmament).

    http://www.groundviews.org/2010/09/23/submissions-before-lessons-learnt-reconciliation-committee-llrc-by-chandra-jayaratne/
    Submission before Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission(LLRC) by Chandra Jayaratne, 23 September 2010:
    ‘’Inequitable allocation of national resources and consequential disparities in regional economic development, infrastructure development and public service delivery have sown the seeds of discontent and disillusionment leading to conflict, insurrections of the South and the North and even the armed struggle towards a separate administration’’ (Jayaratne is a former President of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce).

    http://www.groundviews.org/2010/10/17/an-allergy-to-analysis-and-historical-amnesia-in-sri-lanka/#comments
    Allergy to analysis and historical amnesia in Sri Lanka, Dayan Jayatilleka, 17 October 2010:
    ”… The Bandaranaike administration sowed the dragon’s teeth and it took Mahinda Rajapakse to slay the marauding dragon, with all the corollaries and consequences that entailed. … Dozens of Tamil youth were imprisoned under Emergency for years, for the crime of hoisting black flags against the promulgation of the ’72 Constitution. …” (Jayatilleka was former Sri Lankan Representative to the UN)

  • The Mervyn Silva

    The Wijayapala,

    I am happy to be telling you that we are already bridging the gap between the Weerawansa peoples and Kalana Senratne type peoples. We are getting rid of the gap by making everybody like the Weerawansa. Then we are going to be bridging the gap between the Tamil in the room and the Sihalese by making the Tamil just like the Sinhalese also. After all that no gap is going to be remaining, except the one in between our ears!

  • TT

    Davidson,

    1. They are 3 out of 20 million Sri Lankans. They cannot make governance changes if the 20 million don’t want.

    2. Tamils have not endorsed their views.

    3. Their proposals cannot cure defeatism.

    Triumphalism always go hand in hand with defeatism. As you say defeatism is also about begging for mercy. Why beg for mercy when Sri Lanka already has equal individual rights? Mercy for LTTE suspects in custody is understandable. It is similar to mercy for anyother prisoners. There is no need to make it a “Tamil” affair just because the prisoners concerned are Tamils. On the other hand, making it a “Tamil” affair to get a unfairly favourable outcome than what other prisoners (murderers, rapists, thieves, etc.) is unfair and borders racism.

  • channa

    Thanks to everyone for their kind comments.

    Wijayapala, I agree wholeheartedly that we need to bridge the gap between those who follow the Weerawansas and those who listen to the Kalana Senaratne’s, but I just don’t know how we can do this without being like the Weerawansas.. How do we convince those Sinhalese who believe that there is no need to listen to Tamil grievances simply because there aren’t any and people who think that any attempt to talk about those grievances is part of an international conspiracy? How do you convince them that not listening to Tamil grievances now may lead to another bloodbath in the future when they are convinced that the military is more than capable of handling another challenge and that it is up to the Tamils now to ‘behave’ and show that they have learnt a lesson? How do you convince them without continuously diluting your own views in order to appear less and less threatening to them, so that in the end there is no difference between you and them? That would be bridging the gap too but the wrong way to do it.

    And do we just ignore the Tamil in the room because some people would find it threatening if we make overtures to him? In the current climate it doesn’t take much to present anything as threatening as long as it is presented by people who can make your life miserable. All you have to say is that it is against the nation, that it is an international conspiracy etc and most people will believe it simply because no one wants to appear threatening to those who have the power to banish you to the corner of the room. How can we bridge the gap in such circumstances?

    I would rather stand with the Tamil in the corner than join the party with those who believe that reconciliation will come through humiliation. But if you can think of a way of bridging the gap without abandoning decency I am all ears, and I am not saying this rhetorically.

    Great to hear you liked Kandy at War. I was working on it when I finished my A/L and was waiting for the JVP and the army to stop killing each other so that I could go to uni! I had lots of notes I had taken during this time which I ended up destroying because I did not want the police or the army to check our house and find lots of paper with ‘guerrilla warfare’ written all over them! I picked up the project again here in Australia and started from scratch.

    Regarding my work on Ealam War I, it is more a military history than a history; I am focusing on the military events, trying to place them within a narrative, identifying themes and contexts. It started as a study of all four Ealam Wars but I ended up concentrating on the first one due to several reasons. This was a war fought by two ‘armies’, that were both learning their trade. The Sri Lankan army had never fought a real war before this and the militants were beginning to set up an armed movement from scratch, both sides working under considerable constraints. Both sides grew in terms of numbers, the sophistication of equipment and training but throughout this phase of the war they remained forces with very limited defensive and offensive potential. As a result, strategies and tactics were crude, operations very low intensity and often more harmful to the civilians than the combatants. Indeed, what we see during the entire war is the steady development of the two military forces, increasing in size and sophistication until one destroys the other.

    I am trying to place the military events (up to the end of Operation Liberation) of the war within a coherent narrative integrated with analyses. In a way, it is an attempt to re-order and re-contextualise events already set in some order by people who have often responded to event emotionally. For instance, the killing of civilians by the Sri Lankan forces and the Tigers are seen more in terms of strategic considerations or tactical constraints rather than as massacres by “racist Sinhala armies’ or ‘murderous terrorists’.

    In terms of the gradual escalation of the military conflict during this phase I recognise three phases: up to 1983 when the militants established their cells and survived the army’s hunt for them, 1983-85 ,particularly late ’84 – mid ’85 when the militants, fresh from Indian training, pushed the army to the wall and ’86 – ’87 when the army, increasingly confined to their camps, attempted to break out and seize the initiative. Operation Liberation was the only real showdown between the two sides in the war and it ended inconclusively due to the Indian intervention. Despite the lack of a political will for a peaceful settlement on both sides the constraints working on the two parties ensured that the showdown will remain inconclusive during this phase of the war. This was not the case in 2006-09. Both sides were not interested in peace but the balance had clearly shifted in favour of the Sir Lankan military. There was no India to drop dhal. On the contrary India was actively supporting operations against the LTTE. There were no issues with weapons procurements, China and Russia supplying the hardware, and as a result the military had expanded by leaps and bounds, now dwarfing the rebels in numbers and clearly superior to the enemy in firepower which enabled it to crush resistance mercilessly while absorbing heavy casualties; a ruthless political and military leadership that was willing to see the fight to the bitter end, despite the heavy human toll and last but not least the weakening of the LTTE by the split in 2004 and the utterly suicidal decision to fight an army with immensely superior firepower with trench warfare. To this must be added the general consensus in the world about the LTTE and Prabhakaran. They had simply overstayed their welcome – by at least two decades.

    There is a bit written about this phase of the war, I agree, but to my knowledge only one narrative history of the war from a military perspective. Edgar O’Bllanace published a slim volume called Cyanide War in 1990. This was chock- full of information, almost totally unsourced and without much analysis. A few other works deal with bits and pieces of the military side of the conflict but without making a military narrative their focus. The IPKF’s participation on the other hand, is far better documented. The only truly scholarly work on the military aspect of Ealam War One that I have come across was written by Tom Marks in 1986 (I think) and it appeared in Pacific Defense Review. It’s a well researched, sourced and lucidly written paper focusing on insurgency and counter insurgency in Sri Lanka in the early to mid ‘80s.

    • wijayapala

      Hi Channa

      All you have to say is that it is against the nation, that it is an international conspiracy etc and most people will believe it simply because no one wants to appear threatening to those who have the power to banish you to the corner of the room.

      All I can say for now is that the present is not permanent and Sinhala triumphalism will not last. We will eventually shoot ourselves in the foot in some way. Actually we are making the same mistakes that many Tamils did during the CFA when the LTTE was at its zenith, although it remains to be seen how hard the impact will be when the future hits us.

      For instance, the killing of civilians by the Sri Lankan forces and the Tigers are seen more in terms of strategic considerations or tactical constraints rather than as massacres by “racist Sinhala armies’ or ‘murderous terrorists’.

      Not sure if I agree, at least on the SLA side. The SLA was notoriously undisciplined up to the mid-1990s, and its effectiveness largely depended on the individual commander. The atrocities that it inflicted against Tamil civilians was typical for a force that was unable to locate more or less effectively fight the militants; I really do not think there was a “strategy” involved. The LTTE on the other hand was hoping to spark another Black July.

      I recognise three phases: up to 1983 when the militants established their cells and survived the army’s hunt for them, 1983-85 ,particularly late ’84 – mid ’85 when the militants, fresh from Indian training, pushed the army to the wall and ’86 – ’87 when the army, increasingly confined to their camps, attempted to break out and seize the initiative.

      Personally I am unconvinced that Indian training played a decisive role in Tamil militancy. My evidence: all the major groups received some sort of Indian assistance, yet the LTTE wiped them out with relative ease in 1986-7 (and again later in 1990). TELO was the group most favored by Delhi, yet the LTTE crushed it in 1986 after only one week. The most vital and indispensable Indian contribution, in my view, was sanctuary.

      I think that your analysis should answer the key question how the LTTE became the most powerful militant group by 1986 (if not earlier). Dayan J gave a good answer in his monograph on the Northeast Provincial Council, and D. Sivaram dropped a few hints here and there, but you can do better.

      • channa

        Dear Wijayapala,

        Thanks for your response.

        I think Indian training was crucial but that statement needs to be qualified. After July ’83 there were thousands of Tamil youth willing to fight for the militants but they had neither arms nor training. India provided that, enabling the militants to achieve a military potential they did not possess before that. In that sense it was crucial. India was not the only source of arms and training but during that period, immediately after 1983, it was. This was demonstrated very clearly when the militants launched a sustained campaign from August 1984 onwards, taking the government by surprise. I take your point about the TELO. I think the TELO-LTTE clash was of a different kind than the clash between the militants and the army. I think many factors other than military power enabled them to do it. But, in the fight against the army, Indian training and weapons were crucial in the immediate aftermath of the July riots.

        Regarding civilian massacres, yes, I agree the army was notoriously indisciplined and that it depended a lot on individual officers. When it came to helicopter gunships it even depended on the individual who commanded the chopper. But we must also look at this indiscipline in the context of the army’s experience agaisnt the militants. As I said in my previous posting, the army was on a learning curve, having never fought a real war. After the escalation of violence in August the army even cut down the training from 12 to 8 weeks and the training given was very basic and had little to do with the kind of war they had fight. And this was the worst kind of war a green army could fight, against an enemy that refused to show himself. In such circumstances soldiers reacted predictably, taking their rage out on the civilians who could be found. Many massacres during this time bear signs of nervous reaction, soldiers simply running amok after a landmine attack, shooting everybody in sight. Many junior officers simply went along with their men because they shared the feelings of their men or were afraid that they might lose overall control if they didn’t give in at times like that. This is almost a universal reaction in armies facing similar situations. The Sri Lankan army was more prone to it than others due to its lack of experience. I am sure the ethnic factor also played a role, but it was just one of the factors and in my opinion not the main factor at least in the north. In the East this was somewhat different as there were numerous killings of civilians as part of ethnic cleansing.

        The government didn’t help, labelling people killed after a massacre ‘terrorists’. It gave the green light to the soldiers that they could run amok and get away with it. However, it must also be said that there were numerous attempts to discipline unruly soldiers and the government was often quite candid about the problem in the army.

        The difference between LTTE killings of civilians and military’s brutality towards civilians is that the former was cold blooded in most cases while the latter was often hot blooded. The LTTE killed mainly because they could gain strategically from that. It s often overlooked that the majority, perhaps 90% of their village massacres were carried out during major military operations in the north, as a means of diverting military attention. Then there were also those massacres in the East that were carried out as part of ethnic cleansing, to chase away Sinhala settlers because they were a strategic asset to the Military.

        Thanks very much again for your constructive feedback.

      • wijayapala

        Dear Channa

        India provided that, enabling the militants to achieve a military potential they did not possess before that.

        If you haven’t already, I would strongly recommend interviewing a former Tamil militant from that era to get his insights. What I’ve heard from them has tended to be quite different from what I’ve read (by Indian or Sinhala authors). One of the very few English-language publications that provides just a few nuggets is Mark Whitaker’s book on Sivaram, although you have to read it very carefully because Sivaram never gave a focused account of Eelam War I and instead sprinkled his observations.

        What exactly was the military potential? The militants robbed banks and overwhelmed police stations. By early 1985 they formed an alliance and confined the SLA’s movements using a coordinated sentry system, establishing little more than a stalemate. With the exception of the LTTE, they did not seem to be well-armed. Indeed, the bulk of non-LTTE cadres in India apparently had no weapons.

        I think the military potential lay not so much in Indian arms and training, which was deficient in both quality and quantity, but in Indian sanctuary and the sheer numbers of militants. By 1985 there were more Tamil militants than Sri Lankan military personnel! Yet, these militants had a far lower level of military power than the LTTE did by 1990, even though the LTTE even by that time was a much smaller force. In those early years, the LTTE probably played a more important role in containing the SLA’s movements than the other groups using its expertise in landmines. The LTTE gained this expertise on its own (having it even before Black July); the Indians would not have given it to the LTTE while denying it to more favored groups.

      • Channa

        Hi Wijayapala,

        Yes I agree, having a refuge in India was crucial. When I spoke of military potential, I meant that as well. A guerrilla group needs weapons and the skill to use them to hit as well as a refuge to run to. But I should have made that clear.

        A bit more on the military potential enhanced by Indian training: we need to be very careful about making generalisation about this period. It was a period during which both sides increased their fighting potential no matter how crude it was. Yes, the militants were robbing banks and overwhelming police stations but we must make a distinction between quick grab and dash raids like Annacottai and Chavakachcheri in 1982 and sustained, devastating attacks like Chavakachcheri in November 1984 and Jaffna in April 1985. These latter belong to a phase (starting in August 1984) in which the militants demonstrated a clear ability to go beyond sniping at the army and police and launch more serious attacks. Above all they were now using the landmine with great skill. True, they now had large numbers of cadres to take on the army (40,000 by mid 1985 according to Sivaram) and I am sure without help from India other than providing a refuge, they would have been able to gradually build up their arsenals in other ways, but the marked increase in the ability to take the fight to the army which was demonstrated in late 1984 and early 1985 came mainly due to Indian help. Yes, the Indians provided weapons of low quality but they were still far more lethal than what the guerrillas possessed in mid-1983. When you are looking at a military conflict which is fought with pretty basic weapons even a slight change in the arsenal of one side can tip the balance substantially. If the JVP had a few rifles in 1971 and the skill to use them effectively, things would have been very different for the army. Likewise, the possession of large quantities of explosives, AK 47s, and RPGs and the skill to use them enabled the militants to turn the tables on the army in late 1984. They would have acquired these weapons and the skill on their own through other sources eventually as the LTTE demonstrated, but in that short period since 1983, it was Indian aid that enabled them to do so. But I think I need to qualify this assertion a bit more, in light of the issues raised by you and perhaps focus more on the other means by which the militants built up their arsenals.

  • TT

    Channa,

    Bridging the two essentially involve economic benefits too. What are the economic benefits both parties get by coming together? If nothing, then I’m afriad nothing would happen.
    1. There was a big economic case for war. We can see now that was very real. The economy is doing much better than it was during the war and ceasefires. Another thing, now there is massive room for economic expansion which was not there during war and ceasefire. It was unthinkable during war and ceasefire for Sinhalese and Muslims (85% of the population) to access economic resources of Jaffna, Mulaitivu, Kilinochchi, Mannar and Batticaloa districts plus a significant part of Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Ampara districts. The ONLY (I mean the ONLY) way these became within the reach of the 85% of the population was thanks to war. So called Tamil Homelands cover 35% of the land, 65% of coastline. Should the others (85%) devolve power or hand this over to “Tamils” and get sqeezed into just 65% of land area and 35% of the coastline? Not if their army can deliver the goods, I would say!

    2. In the case of sea resources, it is even better. Fish prices today are actually less than 2008 or 2009. Previously Sinhalese and Muslims could not fish in over 50% of the coastline and seas beyond. Today they can. This is a huge economic boon thanks solely to war. It could never have been achieved peacefully.

    3. No one is willing to forego or be restricted economically for a political solution. The support for the Weerawansa camp must be understood this way. In addition, there is a 15,000 square kilometres of land now in the hands of all Sri Lankans to be exploited in the future that was not avialable during war and ceasefire. People know this came to them after sacrificing 26,000 soldiers and over 10,000 civilian lives on their part. They will be foolish to give this up. Here I’m refering to future potential.

    To make matters worse, all pro-Tamil groups are vehemantly against Sinhalese and Muslims exploiting economic resources in what they call “Tamil homelands”. This is a genuine economic threat to 85% Sri Lankans. It is tangible.

    4. Foreign investments, their benefits, development projects in the north-east, and their benefits including employment during the project, oil drilling off Mannar (don’t know if this is just bluff), natural resources in the north-east,…….. These are economic things people feel and can affect their income, food, etc. They will not forego these or suffer any restriction over their use just because they belong to the “wrong race”.

    So the main reason why Weerawansa camp and Jehan Perera or Sambandan or kalana camp cannot be sustainable bridged is because each have their own tangible economic attachments. Peace with Tamil Elamists is economic DISASTER for non-Tamils.
    The day Sri Lankan patriotism gives no economic benefits, it will die down. The day Tamil “nationalism” (or racism??) gives no economic benefits, it MAY die down. I refuse to believe there are many people who genuinely love Sri Lanka so much that they would become Weerawansas or soldiers who take no salary. Its all economic.

    • channa

      TT,

      Thanks for your response. Let me just respond to what you say and also the kind of attitude you seem to represent with a quote from the movie “Mr. Saturday Night”. Buddy Young the washed out performer is having an argument with his brother Stan. Stan complains that Buddy has made him suffer for him. Buddy is arrogant, thinks Stan owes him for making him the brother of a famous star.

      Buddy: I didn’t take your life Stan, I gave you one.

      Stan: Yeah, but you coulda been nicer.

    • wijayapala

      TT,

      I think you might have missed the point. Channa used Kalana Senaratne as opposed to Jehan Perera or Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu because Kalana was not an NGOish anti-war activist. In case you didn’t notice, the first paragraph from Kalana’s first article here read:

      “It was, unfortunately, a necessary war, for terrorism had to be defeated, eliminated. After some thirty long years, on or around the 19th of May 2009, Sri Lanka gained liberation; liberation from the clutches of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), from the clutches of terrorism”

      Perhaps we can understand you better if you can explain the economic benefits the Eelamists will get from discarding separatism.

  • TT

    Channa,

    Sadly you have been unable to grasp hard facts. Its very unlikely inability to grasp economic realities will take us anywhere! So the winner and the loser of the affairs surrounding May 19, 2009 remain.

  • anand

    A consoling article for Tamils.

    For those that do not want to realize the oppression on Tamils, let them be reminded that, tigers had no support from india, china, usa, russia, and pakistan. Even israelis had help from US against mid-eastern enemies. Think for a moment what would have happended even if one of those countries helped the tigers; it would have been disastrous for sinhalese.

    Now sinhalese are playing against USA and Europe and India. Sure there are no tigers left to regroup. But their spirit among the diaspora is more than enough to unsettle sinhalese thinking. If Tamilnadu tamils rise against indian establishment for the eelam cause, it will be a nightmare for india and hardcore sinhalese.

    Hope the moderate sinhalese have the say by hook or crook or by divine mercy!

  • wijayapala

    Dear Channa

    we must make a distinction between quick grab and dash raids like Annacottai and Chavakachcheri in 1982 and sustained, devastating attacks like Chavakachcheri in November 1984 and Jaffna in April 1985.

    I entirely agree that Tamil militancy became more lethal after Black July than before. However, my view is that the key difference was the number of cadres involved, not Indian arms and training, with the primary beneficiary being the LTTE because it could impart its inherent effectiveness to a larger number (even though it had numerically less cadres than the other groups).

    Only 8 Tigers carried out the 1982 attack against the Chavakachcheri police station, while 35 TELO cadres participated in the first wave alone for the 1984 attack. Estimates of the 1985 attack in Jaffna list 100-200 Tigers involved. I don’t think any of the other militant groups had carried out an attack of this scale, despite being larger than the LTTE (with the possible exception of the EPRLF’s failed attacks against the Karainagar navy camp and Gurunagar army camp).

    Yes, the Indians provided weapons of low quality but they were still far more lethal than what the guerrillas possessed in mid-1983. When you are looking at a military conflict which is fought with pretty basic weapons even a slight change in the arsenal of one side can tip the balance substantially.

    I more than agree that a slight change in the arsenal can make a huge difference, but that makes it all the more striking how little had changed given the dramatic increase in the number of cadres (from about 200 before Black July to as many as 40,000 by 1985 as you pointed out). They simply evolved from attacking police stations to attacking police stations on a larger scale.

    This outcome leads me to ponder the possibility of Indian assistance actually weakening, not strengthening Tamil militancy! As far-fetched as it sounds, Indian arms and training primarily benefited the less effective non-LTTE groups (esp TELO and ENDLF) that by early 1983 had appeared to be all but defunct. By encouraging dependence, the Indians may have stifled these groups from developing their potential as the LTTE did on its own.

    One major benefit the LTTE had that the others did not was the support of MGR. Instead of keeping the LTTE on a leash with arms and training, MGR gave vast sums of money without strings that allowed Prabakaran to develop his organisation on his own terms, for example building a shipping fleet and establishing the most sophisticated communications system of all the groups. MGR did not support the others; Karunanidhi did but he did not have the resources of the Tamil Nadu government as the leader of the opposition. I am amazed how few if any of previous publications have not considered this in explaining how the LTTE pushed out the other groups.

  • Channa

    Dear Wijayapala,

    “I more than agree that a slight change in the arsenal can make a huge difference, but that makes it all the more striking how little had changed given the dramatic increase in the number of cadres (from about 200 before Black July to as many as 40,000 by 1985 as you pointed out). They simply evolved from attacking police stations to attacking police stations on a larger scale.”

    The 40,000 cadres were, according to Sivaram, trained (at this stage, trained mainly in India) but only a small number of them were armed. The militants’ attacks at this stage reflected this limited potential as well as their numbers. Remember, India gave them enough to keep the army on its toes, not to crush it. I standby my asertion that this limited potential was achieved during this short time largely due to Indian contributions but I admit it requires a bit more study.

    I think we have to see all these factors as significant: Indian training and refuge and the increase in the number of cadres. It was a combination of these that made the militants a serious threat to the security forces in 1984-85. But your reflections have made me think more deeply about placing too much emphasis on the Indian training factor. I thank you for that.

    Yes, very few people mention MGR’s two milion rupees and how much it helped the LTTE to set up its own shipping line etc. I do mention this and think I also need to focus more on this as an example of militants striking out on their own, independent of RAW tutelage.

    Once again, thank you for your feedback. Greatly appreciated.

  • wijayapala

    Dear Channa

    Once again, thank you for your feedback. Greatly appreciated.

    Your welcome!

    I think we have to see all these factors as significant: Indian training and refuge and the increase in the number of cadres. It was a combination of these that made the militants a serious threat to the security forces in 1984-85.

    How about after 1985?

  • Channa

    Hi Wijayapala,

    I think in 1986-87 with the LTTE becoming more dominant and India getting increasigly cranky witht he Tigers, the Tigers move their operations to the peninsula. They set up at least five major camps in the peninsula and also set up weapons factories and workshops. The mortars that come to play a big role in the siege of army camps come from these factories. LTTE also comes to rely increasingly on their arms shipments; the ships are anchored in international waters and the LTTE boats ferry the cargo to the shore. The control of the north easters and north western coasts becomes very important in these operations.

    However, during Operation Liberation India again comes to play a hand. Alarmed by the possibility of teh Tigers being defeated, RAW reportedly suplied teh Tigers with 20 tonnes of exxplosives that later come to be used against the Indians themselves. RAW is also reported to have provided the Tigers with a number of heavy machine guns in late June. However, I think overall after 1985 the Indian influence diminishes.

    • wijayapala

      Hi Channa

      I agree that the LTTE’s dominance in Tamil militancy characterised the 1986-7 period, but I did not follow some of your points. The LTTE established camps in the Jaffna peninsula as early as the summer of 1984 (like Atchuveli, which the SLA destroyed the following year), and it maintained weapons factories in Tamil Nadu (Coimbatore) even through the IPKF war. I am not familiar with the LTTE’s use of mortars in this period, although they did play an important role from Eelam War II onward; it had only about 16 60mm and 81mm mortars when the IPKF war started.

      Also, the LTTE’s shipping fleet was just as important in 1986-7 as it was in 1984 when Prabakaran purchased the MV Cholan. This was amply demonstrated by the LTTE’s failed attack in Kokilai in Feb 85 when the SLA recovered AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and nightvision goggles, which to my knowledge the other groups did not have. The LTTE did not have to anchor its ships in international waters at this time; they unloaded at Madras and transported the weapons to the Vedaraniyam coast where smaller fiberglass boats would smuggle them to Sri Lanka.

      • channa

        Hi Wijayapala,

        The LTTE had camps in Jaffna before ’85-’87 but after ’86 there were more of them and on a larger scale than before. The Atchuveli camp (wich I think the army raided in early January 1985) was a pretty smal one compared to the large open air camps they seem to have opened in ’86 where scores of recruits trained regularly. They also seem to have operated with greater impunity despite the airforce possessing greater means of atacking them. Not too sure why this was so.

        The Tigers also used mortars of much larger calibre than 60mm, sometimes 120mm and even 150mm. They were all home made. I am not sure exactly when these come into play for the first time. They did use mortars in the attack on Jaffna police station but were they the light mortars they may have obtained from international sources or the home-made ones, I am not to sure. The latter becomes more prominent during ’86-’87 when the siege of army camps tightens. Kittu boasted that they could produce 25 mortar bombs per day intheir factories but this may have been an exaggeration. But the Tigers did have enough mortars by mid 1986 to throw a few bombs at army camps almost every night. According to Depinder Singh not a single building inside the Jaffna Fort was standing when the IPKF took over. The Tigers surrendered dozens of heavy mortar bombs and some mortars to the Indians but I am quite sure they didn’t give up all of them.

        I was refering to some intelligence reports cited by gvernment sources with regard to arms ships being anchored in international waters and their cargoes ferried by boats. I think the LTTE shipping line plays a bigger role in 1986-1987 although the evidence is not conclusive.

        Yes, no other group as far as I know, possessed RPGs by the time of the Kokilai attack. I think the army recovered several RPG grenades not the launcher. But a few weeks before that they recovered 2-3 launchers and RPG grenades when they smashed the LTTE hideout in Atchuveli. I haven’t come across any other instances where they used RPGs during this phase (’84-’85) except during the attack on the Jaffna police station, perhaps you can enlighten me on that. The landmine, was the premier weapon of theis phase (supported by small arms) where the army is gradually forced to confine themselves to the camps. The heavier weapons become more prominent later with the camps themselves coming under pressure. My take on this is that although the LTTE was bringing in weapons through their own channels, the project was still in its early stages of development. Weapons are coming in dribs and drabs rather than in substantial consignments. It is possible that we are looking at the contents of the first consignment of weapons through the Tigers’ international shipping channels, the main cargo having been loaded in India and the contents smuggled across bit by bit. Still there isn’t a huge increase in the use of sophisticated weapons during this period, we only encounter them in small quantities. This (along with the increased potential of other groups) is enough, however, to escalate violence dramatically compared to the period before august ’84 and alarm the goverment and place teh inexperienced military under severe stress.

  • wijayapala

    Channa

    The Tigers also used mortars of much larger calibre than 60mm, sometimes 120mm and even 150mm. They were all home made. I am not sure exactly when these come into play for the first time.

    I read that the LTTE seized mortar technology from the EPRLF during its clashes from 1986 onward, but to my knowledge none of them were larger than 81mm until 1990 when the LTTE produced the “Pasilan-2000.”

    http://www.thesundayleader.lk/archive/20080511/defence.htm

    According to Depinder Singh not a single building inside the Jaffna Fort was standing when the IPKF took over.

    Not sure if this was credible; my understanding is that the SLA occupied the fort continuously throughout Eelam War I and was driven out only in the early 1990s.

    I haven’t come across any other instances where they used RPGs during this phase (’84-’85) except during the attack on the Jaffna police station, perhaps you can enlighten me on that.

    How about in ’86-’87?

    My take on this is that although the LTTE was bringing in weapons through their own channels, the project was still in its early stages of development.

    It was, but my point was that at no time was the LTTE dependent on Delhi for weapons, and it never had insufficient weapons for its fighters, to my knowledge. This was in stark contrast to the other militant groups that were dependent on Delhi but were still under-equipped (with PLOTE in the worst place, with too many cadres and little if any support from Delhi).

    • channa

      Hi Wijayapala,

      A couple of sources mention 155mm mortars in the hands of the LTTE rior to 1990. These are:

      “Inside Jaffna Fort: Battle of Nerves”, Ceylon Daily News, 11.9.86, reproduced in Saturday Review, 20.9.86, p.6.

      Rohan Guneratne, War and Peace in Sri Lanka, Institute of Fundamental Studies, Sri Lanka, 1987, p. 47.

      The article in the Daily News/Saturday review quotes a senior army officer as saying that the Tigers use 155mm mortars among others. Guneratne bases his assertions on Jane’s Weekly which in turn, depended on Robert Macdonald who spent 6 wweeks in Jaffna during Operation Liberation. Macdonald wrote a very interesting piece on his experiences in Pacific Defense Review:

      Robert McDonald, “Eye Witness in Jaffna”, Pacific Defense Reporter, August 1987

      Some details in Guneratne’s description of the 150mm mortars are corroborated by the officer quoted in the Daily News.

      Also, there are numerous photographs from this period, relating to the arms handover by the LTTE showing the Tigers handing over mortar bombs which are way larger than 81mm. The 155mm mortars used by the LTTE in 1986-87, acording to Guneratne, were called “Kutti Sri Kutti”. It is possible that the information in teh article you have cited relate to the Pasilan which was a later development.

      I too think Depinder Sigh was exaggerating a bit but there is plenty of evidence to show that Jaffna Fort came under regular mortar barrages. One army officer even went so far as to claim that they “fell like rain”. (Iqbal Athas, The Fear of living dangerously”, Weekend, 3. 8. 1986, p.23)

      Also see: Tim Smith, Reluctant Mercenary: the recollections of a British ex-army helicopter pilot in the anto-terrorist war in Sri Lanka, The Book Guild, England, 2002.

      Not much info on the use of RPGs in 1986/87. Several soviet made pieces were captured in the East in 1986 and an RPG destroyed a saladin armoured car in the Neliaddy atack in July 1987. In December 1986 one was fired at a helicopter gunship and although it entered the machine failed to explode because the safety pin was still in place. But I think they were used sparingly.