LTTE Supremo's 'Martyrs' Day' expected to end ethnic crisis

By Satheesan Kumaaran

Tamils inhabiting the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka are weary of the continuous, on-and-off clashes between the Sri Lankan government forces and the cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The people want to find a solution to this never-ending crisis, be it in the battle-field or on the negotiations table.

The final picture will be revealed in the 'Martyr's Day Speech' by the LTTE Supremo on November 27, 2007, when he will declare the final verdict on the anniversary of the deaths of members of LTTE cadres, will declare final war.

Dual standards

The Sri Lankan government, succumbing to international pressure to end the ethnic clashes through peaceful means, has been inciting both peace and war.

While on one hand, it speaks of peace to satisfy the international community, on the other, the actions of the government's defense attachment officials and the hard-line parliamentarians of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, speak in favour of war. These officials and lawmakers are understood to take the war-path keep in check, the extremist political parties, such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Jathika Hela Urumaya, and the armed dealers, senior military officials, and Sinhala Buddhist extremist monks and the like.

The Sinhalese on the island of Sri Lanka practice Buddhism and consider Lord Buddha their God; the monks, who preach the lessons of Buddha to the faithful, are embroiled in politics and have pressured the governments in power since the first day Sri Lanka became independent from Britain, in 1948. These monks, on many occasions, have resorted to violent means by taking up arms against the ethnic minority in the island. They seem to favor war in order to wipe out the Tamils. Though it does not imply that all Buddhist monks are extremists, but it does reveal the fact that many influential monks speak in favour of violence.

Monks as messengers of violence

The influence of Buddha in India was positive. As far back as 560 BC, Buddha renounced his right to rule over the mighty kingdom he was to inherit and left his palace in Kapilavastu in search of truth. He is said to have wandered on foot before he settled down to meditate in Buddha Gaye, where he founded the greatest philosophy on earth, and that is of Ahimsa (non-violence). Thus became Gautama Buddha out of Prince Siddhartha.

Lord Buddha spoke in favour of oppressed people and changed the minds of great kings and the leaders of oppressive regimes, including of the mighty King Ashoka - the great, who embraced

Buddhism and its preaching.

Ironically, this is not the case in Sri Lanka, as the case may be in 1956, when the then highly-influential Venerable Buddharakkitha Thero, heading the great temple of Kelaniya and leader of a political organization of Buddhist priests called the United Bhikku Front, was largely instrumental in making SWRD Bandaranaike, the Prime Minister of the island nation. Bandaranaike championed the cause of Buddhism and Sinhala. Not long thereafter, Bandaranaike, who proved to be a better Buddhist than he was a good Christian, was murdered by Buddharakkitha Thero, with the assistance of another monk, Somarama Thero.

Buddharakkitha Thero, though not as a Member of Parliament, did have a proxy in the cabinet, in the form of a woman who was minister for health. He killed Bandaranaike, not because he did not do enough for Buddhism, but because the monk's vested interests were being jeopardized. It has always been difficult for monks of this calibre to combine religious teachings with war and politics. For these monks, turning as messengers of violence is nothing but practicing hypocrisy as a full-time job.

Dynastic Politics at the fore

While monks embroil themselves in politics, politicians run the country as their own personal fiefdoms.

President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is almost running a family business, with most of his relatives occupying high-ranking and decision-making portfolios in the government. One of his brothers, Basil Rajapaksa, is the Presidential Senior Advisor. Another brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who served in the Sri Lankan military, has been appointed Defense Secretary. And, still another brother, Chamal Rajapaksa, is the Minister of Water and Management and Ports and Aviation.

War is a costly affair

The common masses, irrespective of ethnic or religious background, are suffering due to the soaring price of commodities on the island. Although the war between the Tamils and the Sri Lankan government is centred in the Tamil-dominated northern and eastern provinces, the common people in the rest of the island are suffering from the high cost of goods and services. The unemployment rate is at a record high.

In addition, the rate of exporting maids to Middle Eastern countries is on the rise, despite regular stories that Sri Lankan maids are exploited in all means, as they are totally at the hands of their masters.

Learning from the neighbour

Let's talk about our neighboring country - India, a nation with a population of over 1.1 billion, is instituting stringent laws regarding the recruitment of Indian women workers to the Middle East.

Against the backdrop of reports of serious abuses by the employers of such women, the Indian government is inaugurating the new and tighter regulations governing household workers on September 01, 2007.

Under the new restrictions, India has said that 18 countries including Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries will be under mandatory obligation to pay each worker a monthly salary of USD 400 and a security deposit of USD 2,500, in the form of a bank guarantee with the Indian mission. Members of the Sri Lankan government, however, fear the effects of these regulations; they fear that the revenue that they earn will come down drastically if employers no longer hire women workers. According to them, this will further result in affecting the overall economy of Sri Lanka, whose population of 20 million enjoy a literacy rate of 92 percent and can report only 5000 HIV/AIDS cases.

If the rulers in Sri Lanka continue to follow the dangerous path on which they have been since the time the island gained its independence, the country's people will continue to suffer, not only economically, but also socially, culturally, and educationally.

Building a nation

The Sri Lankan government must rebuild the country, with the support of all ethnic and religious groups and, therefore, it must offer reasonable demands. Since the war broke out, over 17,000 Tamil boys and girls have given their lives for the birth of their homeland. Over 69,000 Tamil innocents died during the three-decades-old civil conflict.

Taking a cue, the rebels and the government of Indonesia solved the problem in Aceh, following the tsunami of 2004. Tsunami was a blessing in disguise as it killed over tens of thousands of people, finally settled the Aceh conflict. The conflict in Sri Lanka, however, continues, with a further buildup of military overtures on both sides. The LTTE is strengthening its military capability through naval and air power, while the Sri Lankan government is adding MIGs to the fleet of its air force and modern weaponry from countries like Russia, China, Pakistan, and Israel.

In a rare interview granted to the media last week, Gotabhaya Rajapksa stated that every time the LTTE was on the verge of military defeat, it sought a means of avoiding annihilation by using other than military means. For example, its leader, Pirapaharan, is cunningly trying to use the shield of 'human rights' to avoid the onslaught of the security forces. "The LTTE used India as shield during the 1980s and was now, with its accusation of human rights abuses, using the international community to blame the Sri Lankan government," he had said. The President, Mahinda Rajaksa, is himself a lawyer with a special interest in human rights; ironically, the international community is accusing of violations.

Liberation - for whose cause and at what cost?

When war-mongering increases in Colombo, the clashes between the two sides take place in the Tamil-dominated northern and eastern provinces, with increase in bombing, shelling, killing, torturing, kidnapping, raping, and looting. The Tamil civilians are stranded in the closed quarters of the Jaffna peninsula, where they cannot even move out of their homes during the evenings and early mornings, with fear of being kidnapped.

The Sri Lankan government in a show of strength escorts in a few journalists and diplomats, but the visitor(s) is only taken to certain areas on the peninsula and they are not allowed to visit openly. This is the ground-reality in Jaffna peninsula. Politicians, including the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary, however, assert from the safe haven of Colombo, that the people in the peninsula are living happily. This is done even as the situation in the eastern province is moving steadily into chaos.

Although the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Defense Secretary claim all areas in the east are being liberated from the LTTE, the locals claim most jungle areas in the region are not liberated and people in the region are living in fear. The LTTE fighters are present, with their heavy arms, ready to retaliate against the Sri Lankan armed forces if the latter infiltrate further into the jungle. The people in the towns, cities, and villages continue to suffer from anxiety regularly because they do not know what may happen next. All the people in the northern and eastern provinces hear is only stories of death every day. Unidentified armed men carry out surprise firing and then escape easily into the areas controlled by the Sri Lankan armed forces.

Is a final war at bay?

While the people in the LTTE-controlled areas are supportive of the LTTE, the recent, strict rules regarding the devotion of one-child-per-family for the war is causing considerable frustration in some families. LTTE members are urging the one-child-per-family policy by telling the families that the LTTE, at any time in the future, will be launching final war, Eelam War IV, designed to liberate the Tamil homeland from the occupation of the Sri Lankan armed forces. The leaders also say that this final war will mean the end of war and that the international community, too, will be ready to declare independence for Tamil Eelam after it witnesses a successful military victory by the Tamil Eelam armed forces (Tamil Tigers).

When will all this end?

Now, the question arises as to when the fate of the people of the north and east will be decided, is it through war or by peaceful means. There has been enough suffering.

Both sides have to decide whether an independent and sovereign Tamil Eelam will be brought about through military means or whether the northern and eastern provinces will be joined with the rest of the provinces and be part of a united Sri Lanka through peaceful means.

The international community must act more quickly to bring about peace or allow the parties in the conflict to fall into all-out war rather than engage in on-and-off clashes, which cause numerous casualties and considerable suffering to the many innocents.

As usual, the international community, the Sri Lankan government and politicians, and the Tamils are waiting to hear the words of the LTTE leader, Pirapahan, who is to deliver his much-awaited Martyrs' Day speech on November 27, 2007.

In his last three speeches, Pirapahan warned the Sri Lankan governments in power to enter into genuine peace talks or face dire consequences through military actions. The results, however, have not yet materialized. The governments in power did not enter into peace; rather, they intruded militarily into the northern and eastern parts of the island. And, the LTTE failed to launch all-out war against the government armed forces. The reality is that both continue to fight and neither can declare victory.

The contents of the LTTE Supremo's Martyr's Day speech this year is expected to be slightly different from past warnings. Pirapahan, in order to safeguard the people of the north and east, to save the lives of innocents, and to keep the human rights abuses issue in the forefront, has no other option but to enter into genuine peace talks or declare final war, with the support of the international community. His speech will have considerable weight, and the results, hopefully, will end the sufferings of the people of the north and east. The people, however, must bear in mind that they will also have to pay a high price for their freedom.

(The author can be reached at e-mail:

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