The death of Fr. Karunaratnam & The tragedy of Tamil Civilians

Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP)
22nd April 2008

Father M X Karunaratnam

The Peace Secretariat regrets the death of Father M X Karunaratnam, in a roadside bomb attack on the road between Mankulam and Mallavi. The LTTE has blamed what they term a government Deep Penetration Unit for the attack, while the military claims it was the LTTE. Father Karunaratnam was head of what is termed the NorthEast Secretariat on Human Rights, and had been deeply critical of the LTTE as well as of the government, in view of the forced conscription that has been reported by so many agencies operating in the North of the country now.

This is the tenth episode in which civilians have died at the hands of unknown agents after hostilities resumed following the LTTE attacks on Muttur and Muhumalai in August 2006. The first of these, on October 10th 2006, related to a van that exploded after it was released by court, while the next four claimed five lives due to what seem to have been untargeted shrapnel or shelling.

The next five relate to claymores, all of which exploded in territory currently held by the LTTE. One of them, in which a dozen persons died, on January 29th 2008, took place in Mannar, fairly close to the forward lines of the Sri Lankan army. The other four took place deep in LTTE controlled territory, so, if the armed forces were responsible, they would have had to penetrate about twenty miles on each occasion.

Tiger Terrorist Suicide Training Camp for School Children in Tiger held territory in Northern Sri Lanka

It would be difficult to do this unless some ground support were available. If the LTTE really believes then that these explosions, three of which claimed one or two lives each while the other claimed thirteen, were the responsibility of the armed forces, they must assume at least some degree of local involvement. This may seem unlikely, given the stranglehold the LTTE has on the local population, but perhaps in the context of increasing suffering through this, there has been a substantial change in attitudes.

The belief that such a sea change had occurred governed the report of the Jaffna University Teachers for Human Rights, which attributed the destruction of a van at Iyankerny on 27th November 2007, causing 13 civilian deaths, to local people disgusted with the LTTE.
Though it claimed that the bomb itself may have been supplied by the armed forces, it was almost categorical in claiming that the explosion was not attributable to any DPU. That revelation suggested for the first time the deep hatred felt amongst some people in the Vanni for their taskmasters, though it is possible that the targeting of civilians including children was not deliberate, but the result of an essentially amateur approach.

Whatever the cause of these deaths, they should not be repeated. Other Tamil militant groups, having realized the suffering intransigence causes, have abandoned the military option and entered the democratic process. Tamils in the North can see how things have changed in the East, and seem more interested in a political settlement than seemed possible under any previous government. If the LTTE really believes that the government has penetrated so deep into its territory, it must realize that continuing militarization, more conscription, more disruption of health and education, more reliance on a world that is tired of terror, will get it nowhere. The extraordinarily good record of the Air Force, with allegations of civilian deaths in just half a dozen cases out of one hundred and seventy carefully targeted aerial attacks, is a tribute to the precision of the personnel involved and also the information they have received. That information has not come out of the blue.

It is not likely that their awareness of the feeling against them will make the LTTE rethink. But they should be aware that, as UTHR pointed out, the people are not only tiring of continuous suffering, they are taking steps to find relief. Attempts to persuade the international community, as the LTTE terms their few interlocutors in the world at large, to bail them out will not succeed when there is ample evidence that the Tamils at large have begun to understand the need for democratic pluralism. Resistance to totalitarianism may be limited to begin with, but with elections and other opportunities presenting themselves, the civilians in the Wanni may soon make themselves free. In that case the efforts of Fr Karunaratnam to stop the scourge of child soldiers and forced conscription would not have been in vain.

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process

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