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Three years after the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War

May 14, 2012

Three years after the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War

Over the last three years I have been spending much of my time researching and documenting the event that led to the end of the Sri Lanka ethnic conflict. I know that official government sources frown upon calling this a war and prefer to use euphemisms to recast it as some kind of police action. This may work well in certain circles but in my mind it was certainly a civil war. If the deaths of somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 people over the three decades of does not define this as a civil war then almost every war will need to be redefined. I do not make bones or pull punches when discussing the conflict in Sri Lanka; I call it war or to be more precise it was a civil war between government forces and the LTTE.

There are some matters which seemed to have the western media reports confused about Sri Lanka. Much of the confusion appears to revolve around the inability to separate the causes of the civil war from what was perpetuating it. I have grown tired of reading the ill-informed rants by journalist who try to portray the war civil war as purely Sinhalese majority versus Tamil minority, or some try to claim to be little more than a ‘racist war’. What is missing from such opinions is any knowledge about the ethnic makeup of Sri Lanka at the time of the war. For some it was news to them that over 60% of Tamils lived outside of the rebel LTTE controlled areas. They honestly believed that all the Tamils had either fled the country or had fled to the LTTE controlled areas soon after the pogrom in 1983. For some there was an unspoken myth that any Tamil found in Colombo would be shot on sight. Because they had never been to the merchant and business districts of Colombo they had no idea how many Tamil owned businesses existed.

The inability to separate ’cause from perpetuation’ has had a devastating result in Sri Lanka. For years hundreds of millions of dollars were being raised in western nations to feed the war chests of the LTTE. As the west sat passively watching LTTE agents and stand over merchants intimidate and threaten the Tamil Diasporas into funding a civil war and the epidemic of terrorism that it spawned. Only after Amnesty International blew the lid on what was happening in Canada was the matter taken seriously. Another deep failing of the West was its blindness to terrorist funding networks until it came back and bit them on the butt with the 9-11 attack upon the Twin Towers in the USA. Thankfully the inappropriately named ‘War on Terror’ did result in the arrests and convictions of LTTE bagmen and weapons procurers. It also resulted in the exposure and closure of one the LTTEs most blatant front organizations called the TRO (Tamils Rehabilitation Organization). After raids on its offices in the USA and the arrest of its leaders on terrorism charges the TRO was banned in the USA and the UK. The fake charity TRO has since rebadged itself ITRO in the UK but it is a skeleton of what it once was.

If we look at the causes of the Sri Lankan Civil War we can delve into an array of controversial subjects and scapegoats. Yet my interpretation is this:

  • The exploitation of ethnic differences for political gain came to a head with the introduction of the ‘Sinhala Only Act’;
  • The ‘Sinhala Only Act’ caused greater social division when many Tamils suddenly found that they were no longer able to work in government jobs;
  • Peaceful protests at the time lead to no progress and as result some turned to violence;
  • The most significant violent act was the execution murder of 9 police officers in the north of Sri Lanka (reputed to have been carried out by the head of the LTTE);
  • On the day of the funeral for the murdered police riots broke out all over Sri Lanka which targeted and murdered scores of Tamils (Official figure of killed are sketchy but many seem to agree that over 3,000 people were killed as a results of the riots);
  • In the following year (1984) the LTTE launched its war with the massacre of 40 Buddhist monks at the temple of the sacred Bo Tree in Anuradhapura. They also killed over 100 people in associated attacks upon civilians on the same day.

In the years since the pogrom on the Tamils in 1983 the ‘Sinhala Only Act’ has been repealed and significant progress has been made by Sri Lankan government who do not wish to be associated with social division. There is no reason to call Sri Lanka the perfect multicultural utopia but the major mistakes that lead to the civil war were largely recognized and addressed years ago.

This leaves us with the ‘perpetuation of the war’ side of the ledger. No doubt the enormous funds pouring into the LTTE coffers from the Diaspora was the key driving factor. Yet the mutation of the demands for social equality and inclusion into a war for Tamil Eelam was the key motivation for the LTTE. My interpretation of the ‘perpetuation’ of the war is this:

  • The pogrom of 1983 had a devastating effect upon the collective Tamil psyche that spilled over to Tamil Nadu in India;
  • RAW in India were willing to train and supply Tamil separatist organization with weapons. This included the TELO, EROS and the LTTE;
  • The ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka became mythological associated with the claim that separatism was the only solution;
  • The IPKF (India Peace keeping Force) that was sent to Sri Lanka was given unclear agenda about how to end the ethnic conflict. Thus the IPKF was a total failure and as a result helped build the myth of invincibility around the LTTE;
  • The LTTE were able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars a year using the ‘Myth of Invincibility’ and the 1983 pogrom as it key propaganda weapons;
  • The LTTE were allowed to operate for years in western nations and in Southern India raising money, purchasing weapons and intimidating the local Diasporas (Only after the suicide assassination of Rajiv Gandhi did India start to crack down on the LTTE);
  • The LTTE were able to use peace talks as a delay tactic to rearm and regroup before they started the war again (It is important to recognize that the LTTE had acquired heavy artillery that could fire 130mm shells on the battlefield);
  • The leader of the LTTE (Prabhakaran) was unwilling to negotiate anything other than total control of a new homeland called Tamil Eelam;
  • Too many western leaders had developed a naive and romanticised view of insurgency and were very forgiving of the LTTE terrorist acts.

The Civil War in Sri Lanka was a costly and blood war by every measure. Three years after its end the bloody cost is still being felt in a generation that has lost too many fathers, brothers, sons, sisters and mothers. The lessons of the civil war looks to have been forged in the minds of this generation who were forced to inherit something that was started before many of them were born. It is only just that they did all they could to prevent it from being passed onto their children and their children’s children to fight.

Three years have passed since the end on the Civil War and in that time there have been no suicide attacks; no more hacking to death of civilians; no more bloody battles; no more child soldiers and above all a chance at peace. Three years have passed without war and I look forward to making the same appraisal in another three years.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2012 9:00 pm

    Good, balanced overview of the situation.


  2. September 12, 2012 11:53 am

    Thanks for the link. I will check it out.


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