Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sri Lanka Declares Victory Over Tamils

From The Times
May 19, 2009

The Tigers are beaten but it isn't over yet

The Sri Lankan Government is claiming victory but no insurgency is ever beaten by force alone

Michael Clarke
London Times

The Sri Lankan Army is celebrating victory as its elite forces occupy the Tamil Tigers' last refuge at the Mulathive Lagoon, thanks to Chinese military aid. Since 2007 China has equipped the Sri Lankan Government with all the weapons and support the rest of the world had denied it, in return for permission to build a strategic port at Hambantota in the south.

For the Sri Lankan Government, this bloody victory means facing down international outrage at the civilian suffering it has caused. More than 100,000 people have died in this war, at least 30,000 in the past two years alone. But Sri Lanka's Government will live with that. It calculates that history will recognise a stunning military victory, after 26 years, against an insurgent force that had been a model of ruthless determination.

The Tamil Tigers were unique in blending fear and terror with a successful campaign in the world's media; not to mention running their own significant navy and a small air force that was unstoppable, until the Chinese gave Colombo half a dozen F7 fighters. For the Sri Lankan Government, the end of an insurgency that once controlled almost a third of its territory on behalf of the Tamil fifth of the population is an end that justifies the means.

This cynical calculation, however, is based on a number of assumptions that the Sri Lankan Government is only guessing at. It portrays the Tigers as alienated from the Tamil population. This is not necessarily untrue - the Tigers were cruel - but the Sinhalese chauvinism of the majority gave the Tamils plenty to resent. And this sort of ruthless military victory always creates stories of atrocities - the raw material for breeding new fighters. It is not clear that the Government of Mahinda Rajapaksa has the will or skill to break the cycle of fear and hatred that is passed down the generations.

The Government also assumes that the military campaign is over. But there are no convincing examples of serious insurgencies ever being eradicated by military force alone. Around half the insurgencies since 1945 have ended with the insurgent groups achieving some greater measure of autonomy. Less than a quarter of insurgencies end up in successful secession or governmental takeover.

Most insurgencies make some political impact, but then get trapped within their own liberation myths, criminality and incipient violence to become like a grumbling appendix in the body politic; until they burst or else history catches up with them to create a new political situation.

The nearest example to the Sri Lankan victory would be the Russia campaigns in Chechnya. A second, decade-long war has ground to a halt, leaving Chechnya devastated, cowed and resentful under the control of an unstable puppet president. Moscow claims the war is over, but violence continues; that the violence isn't more intense is more to do with exhaustion than acceptance of the Moscow-dominated status quo.

Successful counter-insurgency campaigns are fundamentally political rather than military. Force has an indispensable role to play if a terrorist or guerrilla group is making territory ungovernable. But military force is a necessary and not a sufficient condition for victory. As David Petraeus, the successful US commander in Iraq, is fond of saying: the target of American actions is the insurgency, not the individual insurgent. So the military must be subordinate to a political authority that aims to make the insurgents irrelevant in the eyes of those people who might otherwise support them. The legitimacy and effectiveness of the government has to displace the appeal or the fear of the insurgents.

This was successfully achieved by the British against a communist insurgency in Malaya. But 10,000 insurgents required more than 40,000 Commonwealth troops, a quarter of a million local police and 12 years of painful campaigning to bring an essentially political end to that emergency in 1960. Even then, another smaller insurgency flared up seven years later and lasted until 1989.

In Northern Ireland the military had a poor start and the IRA set the pace. But by the late 1970s the soldiers had learnt painful lessons and were operationally on top of the IRA. There was no more that they could do; the 1980s were a period of stalemate, waiting for a political settlement to take shape - which exhaustion and generational change gradually achieved after the ceasefires of 1994. Fifteen years later those ceasefires still cannot be taken for granted.

Mr Rajapaksa's Government should not be so confident that it has won. After a shaky peace broke down in 2005 it committed itself, partly out of exasperation, to outright offensives against the Tamil Tigers. It gave up entirely on the “hearts and minds” aspects of the problem. So the Tamil Tigers may be beaten in the audacious military guise they adopted but Tamil nationalism is not dead, even if it is stunned by the defeat. It will not be surprising if it finds new, and probably violent, ways of expressing itself again within the next couple of years.

Professor Michael Clarke is director of the Royal United Services Institute

Peace hopes grip Sri Lankans

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

The national flags are out. They are decking the streets, sold in clusters on street corners, fluttering from the auto rickshaws, waved by men in a pick-up truck.

On the streets of Colombo there is jubilation and smiling faces as the firecrackers are lit.

"I'm very very happy. After 30 years we've won… victory, I suppose!" says a young woman in Pettah, an old market area near the city centre, almost in surprise.

She says she is proud of the president and intends to go home and put out flags.

Not only Sinhalese but also Tamil, Muslim and other people tell the BBC they are relieved.

For decades they had feared boarding buses or visiting temples, some said, for fear of bombs. Now they hope there will be peace.


There is patriotic satisfaction, too, in website postings by Sri Lankans.

Some take pride in the military. "Every time we all are with you, our great warriors... One nation - One flag - Sri Lanka."

The army says its operations are ended, that rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is dead and troops now hold all of the island's territory for the first time since 1983.

Such news will have been greeted almost with disbelief by Sri Lankans, many of whom were born into war or barely remember the time before it.

"We're part of history!" says another posting. "Today is the first day of my life I'm living in a Sri Lanka where there is no war."

A taxi driver expresses the view that, with the top Tamil Tiger leaders out of the picture, bomb blasts really will become a thing of the past.

But will they?

End of the road

Some commentators have predicted that, after their military defeat, the Tigers will concentrate more on their hallmark bombing tactics - saying this will be made possible by the cells they maintain.

But one expert tells the BBC he does not accept that argument.

Maybe there will be stray cases, he says, but with so many of the top LTTE [Tamil Tigers] leaders reportedly killed by the army, he does not see what Tamils would want to kill themselves for.

After all, according to Prabhakaran's biographer MR Narayan Swamy, for the Tigers he was "their brain… their heart… their god… their soul".

Indeed, asked whether they would continue the guerrilla war, the LTTE's foreign-based international relations head, S Padmanathan, told Britain's Channel 4 television on Sunday he believed in a peaceful solution for the Tamil people.

The war started by the LTTE has left humanitarian suffering on a huge scale - including in its final stages.

Dealing with the suffering of the refugees, the wounded and the bereaved will loom high on Sri Lanka's agenda in the immediate future.

Almost a month ago, the United Nations said it feared 6,500 civilians had been killed and twice the number wounded in the war zone since January - civilians who, it alleged, were forcibly held there by the LTTE (although the rebels always denied that) and were caught in heavy crossfire.

It described more recent violence in the small rebel-controlled zone in the north-east of the country as a "bloodbath".

Doctors working in the area described hundreds of deaths and injuries at their makeshift clinics, having to abandon the facilities in the last days.

The government said it doubted their information, as they might have been speaking under LTTE pressure - but the UN trusted them as an impartial source.

Even on Monday the UN refugee agency's head in Sri Lanka, Amin Awad, said he was worried civilians might have been killed within the past 48 hours.

Ongoing grievances

Hundreds of thousands of traumatised, emaciated people have poured out of the combat zone in the past few weeks and now stay in difficult conditions in government-run camps.

The UN and humanitarian agencies will be hoping for better access to them now that the war is over.

The UN has also said it is concerned about the welfare of the doctors who are believed to have escaped the fighting but have not been heard from since.

The government says political reforms will also be on its agenda, reforms that will perhaps aim to tackle some of the grievances of Tamil citizens who, as an ethnic minority, feel discriminated against or marginalised by the state.

There have also been calls, both from within and outside the country, for a process of reconciliation and healing, and for the government to be magnanimous in victory.

One Sri Lankan exile, also posting on the web, says he is concerned that a "hunt for Tigers and traitors will continue" - reflecting on the hard line the government has often taken towards dissenting voices and those it accuses of giving comfort to the rebels.

"We shouldn't be triumphalist," a Sinhala woman, who largely supported the government's campaign against the LTTE, told the BBC.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/05/18 21:21:20 GMT

Obituary: Velupillai Prabhakaran

Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is dead, the Sri Lankan military says. State television made the announcement shortly after the military said it had surrounded him in the north east.

To his followers, Vellupillai Prabhakaran was a freedom fighter struggling for Tamil emancipation.

To his adversaries he was a secretive megalomaniac with a complete disregard for human life.

Under his leadership, the Tamil Tigers became one of the world's most highly disciplined and highly motivated guerrilla forces.

But in recent months they fought a desperate rearguard action as the Sri Lankan military inflicted defeat after defeat on them, ending their dream of a separate homeland in the north and east.

The youngest of four children, Vellupillai Prabhakaran was born on 26 November 1954, in the northern coastal town of Velvettithurai on the Jaffna peninsula.

Described as a shy and bookish student, he became involved in the Tamil protest movement after being angered by what he saw as discrimination against Tamils by Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese population.

He claimed he was influenced by the lives of two Indian leaders, Subhash Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh, both of whom were involved in the armed struggle for independence from Britain.

Cult of martyrdom

In one of his rare interviews he also said that he was fascinated by the lives of Alexander the Great and Napoleon and had studied many books on the two commanders.

It is believed that Prabhakaran founded the Tamil New Tigers in 1973 or 1974, although the exact date is unknown.

It was just another in a series of pressure groups and organisations protesting against what they saw as the marginalisation of the Tamil people in the post-colonial Sri Lanka.

In 1975 he was accused of the murder of the mayor of Jaffna, who was shot at point blank range while he was about to enter a Hindu temple.

The killing was said to be in response to an incident in Jaffna the previous year when a police attack on a crowd led to the deaths of about seven people.

A year later Prabhakaran's group was renamed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), commonly known as the Tamil Tigers.

The Tigers became a formidable force numbering upwards of 10,000 soldiers, including women and children.

They were also well-equipped with weaponry funded by Tamil expatriates and, according to some reports, by sympathisers in India.

Always outnumbered by the Sri Lankan army, Prabhakaran led his forces in a series of guerrilla actions against a range of targets.

He encouraged a cult of martyrdom among his followers which led to the first use of suicide bombings as a common form of attack, often against civilian targets.

Central Bank bombing

He was also reputed to carry a cyanide capsule around his neck to be swallowed in case of capture, a practice soon emulated by many of his soldiers.

In 1991 he was accused of involvement in the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was killed in a suicide bomb attack near Madras (Chennai).

It was alleged Prabhakaran had personally ordered the attack in revenge for Gandhi's posting of Indian peacekeeping troops to Sri Lanka in the mid-1980s.

An Indian court signed a death warrant in his name and Interpol issued a wanted notice on the grounds of terrorism, murder and organised crime.

Under his leadership the LTTE was branded a terrorist organisation by many countries and he was wanted by Interpol, the global police network for murder, terrorism, organised crime and conspiracy.

He was a shadowy figure, constantly under threat of arrest or assassination.

At one of Prabhakaran's very rare press conferences, in 2002, he refused to answer any questions about Gandhi's murder, referring to it as a "tragic accident".

Instead he repeated his demand for self-determination for Tamils and said he was prepared to die in the fight to achieve it.

Secretive figure

In 1996 more than 90 people were killed and a further 1,400 were injured when a suicide bomber crashed a lorry through the gates of the Central Bank of Colombo and detonated its cargo of explosives.

Most of the casualties were civilians in what was then the Tigers' deadliest attack, with a number of foreign nationals among those killed and injured.

In 2002 a Sri Lankan court issued a warrant for Prabhakaran's arrest in connection with the attack and, in his absence, sentenced him to 200 years in prison.

When the latest attempt at peace talks broke down in 2006, the Sri Lankan army launched a huge offensive against Tiger strongholds, eventually capturing large areas of what had been Tiger-held territory.

In early 2009 Prabhakaran suffered a major reverse when the Sri Lankan government captured the Tigers' administrative capital of Killinochchi and there were rumours he had fled the country.

Vellupillai Prabhakaran remained a secretive figure throughout his life, his movements between his various jungle hideouts carefully planned to avoid capture or assassination.

At the height of its powers at the end of the 1990s and the early years of this decade, the LTTE controlled nearly one-third of Sri Lanka.

But Prabhakaran was unable to translate this authority into his dream: an autonomous Tamil homeland in the north of the country.

His single-minded determination in pursuit of his goal never wavered: he once claimed he had ordered his own men to shoot him if he ever gave up his demands for a Tamil state.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/05/18 09:38:33 GMT

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