This essay was presented at the 9th International Convention of Asian Scholars held in Adelaide from 5-9th July 2015 and was therefore designed as a 15-minute presentation. Hyperlinks, maps, citations and bibliographical references have been inserted in this version, while pictorial illustrations are a supplementary appendix. Footnotes have been kept to a minimum.
The emergence and sharpening of Tamil nationalism from the 1940s to the 1980s is a complex tale which cannot be easily summarized in a few strokes. It is a tale of Sinhala extremism at one pole and Tamil extremism at the other pole feeding off each other. At the same time, the divisions within each extreme (that is, the existence of several competing parties with chauvinist positions) disabled steps towards moderation. Moreover, this major strand of political contestation – the Sinhala/Tamil divide — was complicated by strands of Leftist and Naxalite thinking that encouraged both Sinhalese and Tamil youth to move towards revolutionary struggle.
The growth of a number of Tamil militant groups in the 1970s and 1980s was facilitated by (a) the proximity of India, (b) the support of Tamil politicians, smugglers and fishermen in Tamilnadu and (c) the support of the central government in Delhi from July 1983 – so that most of the militant groups were able to sustain military training camps in India from late 1983 to 1987 (Fig. 1).
By the early 1980s there was increasing disenchantment among the Tamil youth with the Tamil parliamentarians of the TULF. The pogrom against Tamils in the south activated in July 1983 by Sinhala extremists and government functionaries not only hardened Tamil opinion in favour of insurgent struggle, but also spelt the death-knell of the TULF parliamentarians. They became persona non grata in the north (and several were gradually eliminated by the LTTE).
The initial existence of several militant groups competing with each other sustained Tamil liberation fervour. Between 1985 and 1990 the most ruthless of these groups, the LTTE or Tamil Tigers, established a monopoly of violence in the northern reaches by eliminating the leaders of the other groups. Their dedication, as embodied in the induction oath of self-sacrifice and a readiness to swallow a cyanide capsule in defensive acts of suicide (Fig. 3), garnered admiration because of the quality of arppaNnippu (dedication, sacrifice) it signified (Roberts 2005 & “Induction Oath,” 2014) .
There were four periods of warfare where Tamil militants and/or the LTTE engaged the SL state, with short periods of ceasefire in between. By mid-1990 a de facto Tamil state, the state of Thamilīlam, existed under Tamil Tiger authority, with Pirapāharan as its President. Every one of three ceasefires was deployed strategically by the LTTE to strengthen their capacity to extract independence by force.
So, Eelam Wars II, III and IV were between two states, Thamilīlam and GSL. The focus today is on the failure of the LTTE enterprise in the course of Eelam War IV (2006-09) and the strategy adopted by the Tigers and its agencies abroad as they were sliding towards military defeat in 2008/09.
These overlapping processes cannot be comprehended without attending to the cartographical picture as it developed over time (Maps I, II and III) and without attention to the specific battle theatre and the character of the warfare that prevailed. In the course of 2006/07 the LTTE lost control of the several pockets in the Eastern Province where it had held sway; while the SL Navy hunted down and sank the LTTE’s seven warehouse ships in the Indian Ocean at various moments in 2006/07.
MAP I — Thamilīlam in late 2007 and early 2008
Though it was on a declining slope, the LTTE determined the contours of military struggle on land in the northern Vanni and the political propaganda linked to this desperate bid for survival at a moment when the population of Thamilīlam was about 320-350,000 (with numbers of civilians having already been recruited into the peoples’ militia or makkal padai – see Figs. 3 and 4).
- As they suffered reversals on the western front, the Tiger leadership encouraged the local population to move eastwards ahead of the slowly advancing GSL forces ( 5 & 6), while deploying bunds, ditches and mines to defend their territory and/or slow down the SL Army which outmanned and outgunned them (Fig. 7 & 8). The Tamil people, I stress, had no reason to trust the GSL and moved willingly at the outset — but from January 2009 dissenting sentiments developed and multiplied so that increasing numbers tried to vote with their feet (or escape by boat).
- The SL Army advance from west to east, as well as north to south, was slow but steady. They secured the whole of the western coast by 20th November 2008.
- This was about the time when the LTTE, assisted by its many networks abroad, developed a grand propaganda strategy: they presented a picture of “an impending humanitarian catastrophe” – namely, mass civilian deaths. As the Tiger political leader Pulidevan told European friends “just as in Kosovo if enough civilians died in Sri Lanka the world would be forced to step in” (Harrison 2012: 63). In other words, the Tamil citizens encased within their declining battle theatre served as a raison d’etre and bargaining tool for Western interventions that would keep the LTTE state afloat Roberts, “Blackmail,” 2012).
- This spectre of a “calamity” was not a fiction. But it was a situation, a context, which the LTTE had engineered. Thus, from mid-2008 the geo-political parametres of the war were of Tamil Tiger making. The people, in fact, were more than “human shields” or sandbags set up by the LTTE. In the context of declining terrain in their hands, the mass of people were a central defensive formation. From December 2008 the LTTE began moving people from the Mullaitivu locality (where their command centre was sited) to the relatively deserted shores east of Nandhikadal Lagoon (hereafter NKL or “Last Redoubt”). A mass of people on the coast (see Figs. 9 & 10) would hinder the GSL forces from exercising an amphibious assault that would have boxed in the Tamil Tiger forces and forced them to fight on four fronts rather than three.
MAP II — The reduced area of Thamilīlam on 23 Dec. 2008 –further reduced when they lost control of the A9 and Kilinochchi by 31 December 2008
- This strategy of “impending calamity” was revved up to strident pitch from January 2009 after the LTTE lost control of the A9 arterial road and was forced to abandon the administrative capital of Kilinochchi. Central to this strategy was the series of reports sent by the medical doctors serving the state of Thamilīlam and those from Tamil functionaries working for INGOs and NGOs within Thamilīlam. Crafted under Tiger orders, such reports invariably highlighted tales of death and injury, shellfire hits on hospitals and/or increasing malnutrition – in brief provided grist for the mill of “calamity.”
- This picture of disaster was also retailed in strident manner by Tiger and Tamil networks in the West. By late 2008 the Tamilness of many migrant families – even those with reservations about the LTTE – had been stirred to fever pitch. Second and third generation Tamil migrants joined the street demonstrations and airwave agitations. From late 2008, and especially in early 2009, Sri Lankan Tamil patriotism moved into crescendo levels in many Western cities (see Figs. 11 & 12).
- The Western media networks swallowed this line of propaganda hook, line and sinker. Reports from the medics in Tigerland were presented as definitive fact. Western reporters based in Colombo were equally gullible (and remarkably ill-informed).
- Though some Western human rights agencies did stress that the LTTE was using its own people as “human shields,” many took up this crescendo of concern and pressed for a ceasefire or some UN/US intervention. The English reporter Simon Jenkins was quite exceptional in contending that a ceasefire would materially assist the retreating Tigers – in effect implicitly opposing the thrust of Western demands (Jenkins 2011).
- USA’s embassy in Colombo under Robert Blake, various UN agencies and other Western ambassadors worked hand-in-hand with the GSL to provide relief supplies for the citizens of Thamililam via food convoys (till end-January) or relief ships. But, at the same time, this consortium relentlessly pressed the GSL to resort to a ceasefire.
- Only limited pressure seems to have been directed towards the Tiger leadership to (a) release the civilians held as defensive shield-and-escape platform or (b) to initiate a ceasefire or respect those proclaimed by the GSL.
- The problem here was that US policy was guided by the guidelines set up by their embassy staff in the 1970s and 1980s without attention to the character of the LTTE in its state-form under Pirapahāran (Gamage 2014). In the 1980s USA believed (with good reason) that the Tamil people tout court had been badly treated and that the answer was a devolved federal set-up. But, in the years 2006/09 this meant devolution to the fascist state of Thamilīlam under the LTTE and its supremo Pirapahāran. Pirapahāran had one goal and one goal only: an independent state, nothing less. In such circumstances when Michael Owens, Political Attaché at the US Embassy in Colombo, told the media on 6th May 2009 that USA wished to sustain the LTTE as an organisation, he was revealing not only (A) a fundamental flaw in their reading of the Tamil situation from the moment the LTTE assumed dominating power among the Tamil people by 1990, but also (B) a gross layman’s misreading of the war theatre THEN in early May 2009 — for at that point the LTTE as military force was in its death throes.
Map III – Analytic Graphic Map of Military Penetration the Last Redoubt & Subsequent Exodus of Trapped Civilian & Deserting Tigers – Daily Mirror, 24 April 2009
- Eelam War IV in its last phase did not, therefore, involve only two actors. There were three other parties to the struggle. USA, the UN and other Western governments in tandem on the one hand and human rights/civil liberty agencies in Colombo and abroad on the other were active players in the unfolding scenario – with the Western media from BBC to ABC to Guardian, Times and NY Times, as supporting actors in the background.
It is an irony of history and a reflection upon the play of POWER that those who were players in a conflict have become prosecutors and judges of that very same conflict. I stress here that they all those identified in the previous paragraph were influential players in an unfolding scenario from mid-2008 onwards. The agitation in 2008 centred upon the catch cry “catastrophe.” After the war ended with the military defeat of the LTTE, this evocative slogan has been transformed into a picture of “genocide.” Tamil people in Sri Lanka and abroad, whether Tiger sympathisers or other nationalists, have repeated the term incessantly — thereby providing support for that contention set in stone by Joseph Goebbels about the effectiveness of “the Big Lie” repeated ad nauseam.
In this work they have been assisted by the main plank in USA’s policy since 2007/08: namely, seeking to wean Sri Lanka away from its increasing comradeship with China. Both the report on the war gerrymandered by the so-called “Panel of Experts” set up by the UNHCHR and the Internal Review Panel Report for the UN chaired by Charles Petrie have been instruments in this design.
What is even more alarming is the manner in which moral crusaders in the human rights industry have run with this particular picture of the war (Harshula 2011a; Roberts, Tamil Person & State. Pictorial, 2014: 3-37 & 209-29). Take Gordon Weiss’ book The Cage and his public presentations. Or better still, take the document entitled Island of Impunity presented in February 2014 as the Report of the International Crimes Evidence Project that had been set up by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Sydney (with Weiss as one of the five assessors). Island of Impunity ha no bibliography, but there are extensive footnote citations. In the first 153 pages of this 234 page document the UN Panel of Experts is cited 162 times. There is no indication that the ICEP even glanced at the considered and scathing review of the UNoP document by a Marga think-tank which highlighted its slipshod methodology. Again, the ICEP seems to have studiously avoided attention to the exhaustive study of the war by Citizen Silva in his Numbers Game (IDAG 2013; Noble 2013) and the several essays by Sarvananthan, Noel Nadesan, Rajasingham Narendran, de Silva-Ranasinghe and Roberts. In other words, they have not taken note of research work that severely undermines aspects of the evidence that are part of the Tamil accusatory arsenal. When moral crusaders parading their ethics are that wilfully blind, their ethics and morality are in question.
This does not mean that we should discard all their data and findings. They have revealed some definite cases of extra-judicial killings of Tiger commanders/functionaries in mid-May 2009 at the tail-end of the war (Weiss 2012). However, little weight has been attached to the outstanding fact that the LTTE set up the immediate circumstances that placed the non-belligerent civilians in the field of fire. More predictably, the moral crusaders, USA and the UN have not taken note of their role as players – both as a conglomerate and individually — in the warring context. The overall LTTE strategy was predicated on drawing their intervention on humanitarian grounds and/or their strategic foreign policy interests.
Throughout the period 2008/08 Gordon Weiss happened to be located centrally in Colombo as UN Media Officer. He has since become an author and prosecuting witness and, then again, evaluating-judge as one voice in the ICEP’s committee.
What has transpired in Sri Lanka, therefore, has only deepened my cynicism in the reading of international politics and all politics.
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 This contention was presented to me quite forcibly by the Indian correspondent for The Hindu, Muralidhar Reddy in April 2009 and I accept it wholly on the basis of my brief visit to Thamilīlam in November 2004 and the information conveyed by Anoma Rajakaruna who visited the LTTE areas regularly in the ceasefire period.
 AP correspondent Ravi Nessman’s admissions of ignorance to Travis Smiley on CNN on 18 Feb. 2009 are a revealing example (Roberts 2014), further heightened by comparisons with the reportage on the war THEN by Serge de Silva-Ranasinghe in Perth and Muralidhar Reddy in Colombo. Reddy has told me recently that Nessman had unbounded conceit and was convinced that the Sri Lankan regime was the epitome of evil (email, July 2015).
 When Human Rights Watch approached the LTTE on this issue in 2008, they were told in no uncertain terms: “We are fighting for the people [so] the people must stay with us,” (HRW quoted in de Silva-Ranasinghe “Mullaitivu,” 2009b: 11).
 By mid-February 2009 Ambassador Blake was prepared to challenge the LTTE’s claim that the civilians did not want to leave and asserted “several civilians have been shot trying to escape,[while] many others have escaped.” He added that “we need to call the LTTE’s bluff” (see quotation in Roberts, TPS. Pictorial, 2014: 18). However, he does not seem to have had any method of pursuing the latter aim. The consistent demand was for the Government of Sri Lanka to cease military action so that the United Nations could send an emissary to the rump Tiger territory so as to persuade the LTTE leaders to release the people. Such a move was precisely what the LTTE was angling for. In brief, USA and its handmaiden, the UN, became a tool of the Tigers.
 “The organization said we were going to die anyway if we crossed to the army-controlled area and told us to die with them” – Rasamalar, a Tamil lady aged 48 (quoted in de Silva-Ranasinghe 2010b: 14).
 For profound insights into the character of this society and LTTE domination, absorb the details in Bavinck’s daily life in the Jaffna Peninsula (Bavinck 2014). Also see Roberts, “Inspirations,” 2012 and Ganeshan Iyer 2012.
 See Gamage 2014 for the relevant quotations.
 Note that in the period 19-23 April a remarkable SL Army operation penetrated the LTTE’s Last Redoubt east of Nandhikadal Lagoon and released some 103,00-120,000 trapped civilians and Tiger personnel at a cost of perhaps 3000 lives from crossfire and deliberate LTTE killings (see iDAG, Numbers Game, 2013; Roberts, TPS. Pictorial, 2014: pp. 146-49 and Tammita-Delgoda 2014b). Video footage of the exodus from NKL was widely screened in Sri Lanka and on the 24th April the Daily Mirror presented a revealing graphic map of the battle arena with bar graphs showing the numbers that had walked out. Even the US embassy took note of this event: “between 100,000 and 110,000 appear to have escaped the NFZ since early April 20,” wrote the US Ambassador Blake in despatch No. 456 of 23 April 2009 (Wikileaks).
 I add here that the Indian government also joined the array of forces seeking a ceasefire. On 24th April 2009 Pranab Mukherjee, the Foreign Minister, sent a high-profile delegation demanding a stop to the military actions – backing up a strong press statement on the 23rd April.
 This is my distinct impression from media reports in that period – a view supported by Charudaththa Ekanayake and Gerald Peiris. Also see Minnick 2015.
 See, for example, Rajasingham 2014 and Nadesan 2011.
 Elsewhere, in birching Marie Colvin for false reportage, I have presented this indictment: “clever misinformation and disinformation [had been] planted in the minds of liberal radical journalists (both foreign and local) located in Colombo — with Ravi Nessman of Associated Press and Gordon Weiss, Media Officer for the UN agencies in Colombo, being among their most effective cat’s-paws [for the LTTE machinery of propaganda] – see Roberts, “Truth Journalism,” 2014. A further illustration is seen in Nessman’s media report of 13th May 2009 which regurgitated claims about severe shelling and deaths by human rights agencies in England on the basis of TamilNet reports a few days earlier. Note that Nessman was located in Colombo throughout. So one wonders how and why he totally discounted local sources of information. It is on this type of evidence that I explicitly castigated him for a combination of blindness and duplicity (TPS. Pictorial, 2014: 18).
Note that Weiss referred to a “bloodbath” in an interview provided to Associated Press (Nessman’s employer) in early April and was reprimanded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (US Embassy despatch no. 514 of 11 May 2009). We need to ascertain his exact words before reaching further conclusions.