Cursory Comments No. 13

CC12 examined the Principal Paper presented at the WAPS Conference (Oslo Aug 04) by H.L.D. Mahindapala under the title "A North-South Conflict?" . It was stated there that the other Papers will be examined in a subsequent Essay. The other Papers vary greatly in quality and relevance and considering them all in a single Essay may not be appropriate. Accordingly only those Papers worthy of comment will be considered in separate issues of the "Cursory Comments" series, beginning with the Paper by Paul Harris.

WAPS-2: Paul Harris on Appeasement of the LTTE
by Victor Gunasekara

The WAPS one-day Conference held in Oslo 21 August 2004 consisted of a series of Papers and presentations and some other supporting material. The present writer did not attend the Conference and these comments are based on the Papers presented at the Conference as carried on the Norwegian website The principal paper "The North-South Conflict" was commented on by me in CC 12. This Essay deals with the Paper by Paul Harris entitled "The Appeasement of Terrorism: Doomed to Failure". Some of the other Papers will be considered in subsequent Essays in this Series as time permits.[1]

Harris' Three Propositions
Paul Harris' Paper is the only one that did not beat about the bush and pointed out the simple reality of the current stage of the Sri Lankan Conflict. There was no attempt to delve into history, apportion blame, or make invidious comparisons. It was a simple attempt to call the conflict is it exists now.

Harris has conveniently summarized the three conclusions of his Paper as follows:

H1: "The LTTE and its leader Prabhakaran remain unreformed terrorists operating internationally."
H2: "The period of talking peace has been used to rearm, regroup and prepare for another outbreak of war."
H3: "There can be no future – apart from buying time - in continuing to parley peace with committed terrorists wholly uninterested in compromise."
Of course some of these propositions were implicit in the other papers presented at the Conference. But these had not been presented as starkly, or as logically, as by Harris. It seemed as if the others still entertained the hope that the Peace Process will lead to an outcome which, if not ideal, is one which the country can live with, and which will lead to a period of genuine peace. Perhaps it was felt that this could be reached if the international community, and its quasi-official delegate Norway could be turned around. Both these assumptions behind the WAPS Conference are of course false.

It may be worthwhile to delve a little more into the implications of Harris' three propositions.

H1: "Unreformed terrorism"
The plain fact, that the LTTE are unreformed terrorists, is one which Sri Lankan Governments since the MOU have tried to deny. They are even reluctant to pronounce the word "terrorist" in reference to the LTTE and its leader. There has been a remarkable change of attitude in relation to this matter, one which has placed Sri Lanka at variance with international opinion on the subject. In the early years of the conflict there was no reluctance on the part of Sri Lankans and the SL Governments to describe the LTTE as terrorists. At that time it was the international community which refused to call them terrorists and used terms like insurgents, rebels, guerillas or even freedom fighters. This was a time when terrorism was not a threat to the West, and they continued to support terrorists in other parts of the world especially if these countries were seen as not been completely subservient to them. Even if they were subservient as Sri Lanka was they supported their opponents if they felt that the latter would be more useful for them. At that time word "terrorism" had still not entered the political vocabulary of the West.

All this changed after the "9/11" attacks in the US. Now terrorism was immediately raised into a high priority by the West, and terrorists came to be seen everywhere. Curiously it was at this time that Sri Lanka changed its tune. Now the LTTE terrorists suddenly became bona fide political agitators who had, after all, legitimate grievances. Both the Ranil W. and Chandrika K. governments have been fully behind these attempts to whitewash the LTTE terrorists. Thus once again SL was at odds with international opinion, although for a totally different reason.

There has been no change of any sort in the LTTE position which would justify the SL governments changing their tune. The LTTE remain in Harris' term "unreformed terrorists". Success came to the LTTE because of their terrorism. When compared to the SL government during the phase that the SL government was militarily engaged with the terrorists the balance of advantage lay completely with the SL government. They had a larger population from which to recruit combatants. They had full change of the finances of the nation which far exceeded the funds which the LTTE was able to raise from the Tamil Diaspora and their illegal activities. Moreover the propaganda advantage would have been with the SL government because they had not only law but also justice on their side.[2] Yet despite these advantages they failed miserably in their war with the LTTE and has finally been forced to surrender the to the LTTE.

The critical advantage which the LTTE had was their terrorism. They were the first terrorist group to pioneer suicide terrorism.[3] They used these suicide bombers not only to carry out attacks against civilians but also against political leaders. In addition suicide attacks were deployed in military engagements both on land and on sea. It is therefore unlikely that the LTTE would give up this weapons that has struck terror to the Government and indeed the people of the South. So the LTTE has not disbanded its squad of "Black Tigers", and indeed has increased its size. They have no reason to give up terrorism in spite of whatever the political leaders of the 'South' may say.

H2: "Preparation for War"
There is a stark difference between the attitude of the LTTE to the Peace Process and that of the SL Government. The LTTE of courses tries to gain as much as they can from this process as they realize that they can blackmail the SL government with their terrorist threat. But they are fully prepared to resume the military effort if what they get from the peace process is not to their liking. This has been clearly stated by Paul Harris.

But the attitude of the SL Government is totally different. They have no second line of action as they have not only expressly renounced the military solution but have allowed their military capability to be so downgraded that they may be incapable of resuming the military struggle even if they want to.

This difference of attitude to the peace process is also seen in their respective attitudes to the external "monitor" to the process which is now Norway the long-standing ally of the terrorists, who is also the quasi-official delegate of the International Community. So the LTTE despite the fact that the "independent monitor" is really on their side does not rely too much on this monitor as they are confident in their own military efforts to secure their objectives should it come to a real fight. On the other hand the SL Government, despite the fact that the monitor is not on their side, is totally beholden to the monitor! They have build up the myth that the Monitor is indeed an independent authority despite the proven fact that they are supporters of the LTTE. This shows the blind eye which the Monitor has shown to the numerous violations of the MOU by the LTTE despite the fact that the SL government has gone even beyond what they had agreed to observe in order to please both the Monitor and the LTTE. This is another curious fact that characterize this peace process.

H3: "Buying Time"
The LTTE has used negotiations simply to get a temporary cessation of hostilities to build up their armaments and get over some temporary difficulty. When the time is right they will simply end the negotiations without further ado. This was seen in all previous agreements. The last time they used the cessation of hostilities to round up nearly a thousand policemen and soldiers who had laid down their arms under the belief that a truce was on. These policemen were then killed in cold blood to the cheers of local Tamils. This atrocity like everything else done by the terrorists has been conveniently forgotten by the ever-obliging SL Government.

There are several reasons why the MOU has gone on this time for as long as it has. This is because the LTTE is watching the international War on Terrorism to gauge how this will affect them. Once again the SL government has given them the chance to do so undisturbed. It is now clear that the US-led War on Terrorism is only directed at those who are a direct threat to the US. The LTTE of course is not such a direct threat. So far they have only been a threat to the people of Sri Lanka. The interests of the people of Sri Lanka do not rate high, or at all, with the US. However the LTTE needs to be sure that the US will not do anything real that will hinder them except perhaps to hinder to a small degree the flow of funds. But finances have never been a weak point with the LTTE. The US has badly miscalculated when they attacked Iraq under the guise of being supportive of terrorism when their interest was simply to grab Iraq's oil. This has landed the US in an untenable position that will only reduce their capacity to act against terrorism outside of the US. The LTTE is bound to draw these conclusions, which has already resulted in greater militancy on their part.

How the LTTE has uses the MOU
Paul Harris has conveniently listed how the LTTE has made full use of the current cessation of hostilities. His list includes the following activities:

Forcing government department heads to work for LTTE
Taxing civil servants 8% of salaries
Controlling business of government cooperatives and thereby obtaining a steady income
All contracts for government and NGO projects are to be carried out by LTTE approved contractors and income is thereby derived
Controlling and using all available government resources
Demeaning activities of competing political groups
Sending cadres into government areas in defiance of conditions of the MoU
Influencing and using teachers, students and labour unions to carry out hartals, demonstrations, picketing and protests
Erection of monuments to martyrs and LTTE figures
Influencing government servants to use LTTE headquarters in place of government facilities in the eastern province
Influencing civilians to make legal complaints via the LTTE, rather than to the police
Organising mass ‘Tamil awakening’ rallies known as Pongu Tamils
Classes on Eelam in schools
Edicts on dress code for women instructing them to dress in traditional clothes
Restrictions on businesses involved in private tutoring of schoolchildren
The creation of a general psychosis of fear in coveted areas to be included in the state of Tamil Eelam. A psychosis of fear is being brought about by enforced conscription of youth into the LTTE, general coercion and extortion of funds from traders, especially the Muslim community.
In addition Harris lists the following actions of the LTTE which is worth quoting in full:

“In addition to the undermining of government control and authority, the enhancement of LTTE military capability is being undertaken through reconstruction of defences; accelerated recruitment; reinforcement of command posts and radio rooms with concrete allowed into LTTE areas under the MoU; smuggling of arms and ammunition; building up of arms and ammunition stockpiles in government areas; movement of heavy mortars and machine guns into the east; increased level of training; intensified reconnaissance on army, Special Task Force (STF) and police locations; and the reorganisation of LTTE cadres into regiments. Military cadres are moving into government held areas under the conditions created by the MoU and undertaking their missions with little impediment.”

This list is by means complete but it shows the scope of the LTTE activity. No other terrorist group has been able to do even a few of these while they are still committed to the terrorist course of action. Without even renouncing terrorism, let alone being punished for their criminal acts, the LTTE has been able to do all the things listed by Harris which even some sovereign governments may not have been able to do.

The LTTE is able to conduct these activities because the SL Government actually recognizes the LTTE as a parallel government (indeed a substitute government) in the areas which are left in their undisputed possession under the MOU. In fact SL has abjured sovereignty over a large part of the territory of SL, which in many countries would be considered a treasonable act. The fact is that most of the Governments in Sri Lanka, certainly since the MOU, have been treasonable Governments whatever be their political complexion.

The SL Government has not only allowed the LTTE to act as a duly constituted Government in the areas ceded to them, but it has served the LTTE in those areas in which the SL Government has legitimate control. Thus the LTTE have been allowed to use SL Government controlled territory when it suits the LTTE such as their recent actions against the Karuma faction in the Eastern province. The LTTE has no air force so the SL government planes are put at the disposal of the terrorist leaders for their transportation needs.

This has made the LTTE a unique phenomenon for a terrorist movement in any part of the world.

Response to Harris' Views in SL.
Paul Harris has recounted the reaction his views in Sri Lanka. He recounts an address to the Colombo Rotary Club when his views were greeted with frank incredulity. Of course the Colombo Rotarians are not noted for intellectual acumen or capacity to understand even simple arguments. They are more skilled at swilling beer! But the reaction would not have been much different if these views had been expressed to a typical Sinhala audience or even to a hard-core Hela group. They refuse to believe what is not pleasant for them to hear. At the moment they treat Prabhakaran as something of a god ("Wanni Deviyo") and anything said against him is sacrilege!

But the opposition to Paul Harris' views has taken an even more serious turn. He says that the Prime Minister at the time Ranil Wickremesinghe had even set his goons to attack Harris on the ground that he was an opponent of the "peace process"! So much for the "democracy" amongst the Sinhalas much touted at the WAPS conference. The fact is most Sri Lankans are afraid to express anything against the peace process. Many of them in fact are supporters of the peace process. So there may not be any difference between the ruling Government and the people they are supposed to represent. The ravages of the Hela mentality has seen to this astonishing reversal of the values of the classical Sinhalas.

The Options for Sri Lanka
There is another vital difference between the presentation of Paul Harris at the WAPS Conference and that of the others. He actually discusses the options now open to Sri Lanka, whereas the other speakers seem to have shied away from this all important question.

Harris outlines four options for SL, as follows:

Option 1. Sue for peace unconditionally
Option 2. Alternate periods of fighting with periods of truce.
Option 3. Relentless fight with the terrorists
Option 4. Essentially Option 2 with the truce period being used to prepare for the next phase of fighting.

I have called option 1 the policy of surrender, option 2 as a quasi-surrender, option 3 as the Military solution and Option 4 as a tactical military effort. Harris identifies option 3 as the only "winning strategy". This has of course the military solution which President Jayawardene initially adopted. He essentially abandoned it when he capitulated to Rajiv Gandhi's intervention in Sri Lanka's affairs. After this we had a period of quasi-surrender until the full surrender when the MOU was signed with the terrorists. As Harris points out Option 4 was never tried out by the SL Government. But it is what is behind the LTTE agreement for the truce.


It is ironical that it has been left to an Englishman to state the plain truth about the current stage of the SL Conflict. All the questionable interpretations of the SL historians, the graphic pictures of LTTE atrocities and their military might, the attempt to plead with the Norwegians, etc. come to nothing without a firm indication that what is needed now. This is that if SL is to survive as a single political entity as it has done for most of two-and-a-half millennia it must resume the military solution. Whether it can do is is the great unanswered question.


[1] The following are the other Papers that were presented at the Conference: Susantha Goonetilleke, "Norway, A 25-Year Odyssey", Shantha Hennayake, "The Impact of LTTE Terrorism on Sri Lankan Society", Asoka Bandarage, "Peace, Justice and Democracy in Sri Lanka", Stewart Bell, "The Snow Tigers: The Canadian Tamil Tigers Network". Of these the Paper of Goonetilleke will be considered as it raises several issues. The other papers may not be worth spending time on.

[2] It is true that the SL government was not able to capitalize on their many advantages vis-à-vis the LTTE. But the greatest failure was in the propaganda. SL governments had the habit of staffing its diplomatic posts with party stooges who were totally incapable of discharging their duties. It is no surprise that the international Tamils separatist lobby could easily out stage them.

[3] It is now generally recognized that suicide terrorism is the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of terrorism, at least until they get their hands on weapons of mass destruction. While there have been people who have committed suicide while doing terrorist acts there was no organized terrorist movement that had used suicide terrorism as a terrorist weapon before the LTTE. The LTTE had long used the suicide pill as a method of preventing their cadres from falling into the hands of their opponents. It was a short step to move from the suicide pill to the suicide belt. The suicide belt is another unique invention of the LTTE terrorists.


POSTSCRIPT. The papers at the WAPS conference does not seem to have evoked much of a response, either favourable or not, in Sri Lanka or amongst expatriate groups. It has been announced that these Papers will again be presented in Sri Lanka later in the year. We can only hope that the re-presentation of these papers will result in greater notice being taken of them. I can only hope that some of my comments will be taken into consideration at the re-presentation. Otherwise they are likely to be as inconsequential as in their original presentation.

In the next CC on the WAPS Papers I hope to consider the Paper by S. Goonetilleke.



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