Thamilchelvam's sweet talk - by K. Godage


Subsequent to the publication of my article captioned "It is futile to negotiate with the LTTE", a few Tami friends have stated that my article "was not helpful". A certain Tamil intellectual told me that "Eelam" in whatever form was the aspiration of every Tamil.

I am certain that this so called intellectual's statement does not represent the thinking of all Tamils, particularly those in Colombo, for as a Muslim friend pointed out, the intellectual wishes to have the best of both worlds."He cannot possibly have the cake and also eat it" was how he put it. He then referred to the infamous Indian partition and stated that "if ever Eelam was created there would be no free choice for the Tamil people, as there was for the Muslims who chose to stay back in India".

I pray that such a horrendous scenario would never ever come to pass in this country, because of the dreams of psychopaths and other madmen, dreams which would become nightmares for millions of innocent Tamil people whose only wish is to live in peace, security and with dignity in this land which belongs to all of us.

I was referred to the interview given by Thamilchelvam to the Sunday Leader, and I was asked to read it. I thought it was perhaps because I had stated that it was futile to negotiate with the LTTE. A careful reading of the interview only served to confirm what I said. I found nothing in it that holds out any hope that the Tigers have changed their stripes and that a negotiated settlement is possible with them. Unless of course you are prepared to believe Thamilchelvam’s sweet talk and his apostolic concern for the "sufferings that\ are being heaped upon the Sinhala and Tamil people consequent to this war".

He blames the war entirely on the Government, conveniently forgetting the fact that this time around too it was the LTTE that attacked the Government forces, without warning and, more importantly, it is entirely within their power to end the war if they wish to and end the suffering he is so concerned about. The State is only seeking to do what is incumbent on any State-to put down an insurgency. The State has been reacting to the continued violence of the LTTE. Therefore when they say "end the war against us", what they, the LTTE is in fact saying is, "surrender"!

The statements of Thamilchelvam are reeking with arrogance. For instance the man states " whether one likes it or not , it is we who decide on the duration of the war and the lifespan of this government" - what prize insolence. Perhaps this arrogance and confidence is born out of their awareness that the Sinhalese are not united. Nor are they and the other communities united in their approach to the LTTE. Furthermore there is also the charge that some people have exploited the war to become millionaires. A damning indictment on the political and military establishments of this country and us allthe supine people of the South.

The person who conducted the interview referred to Thamilchelvam's statement, that "what was needed was to build mutual confidence between the two parties" and stated: "You are the people who breached the confidence throughout the history of the Eelam war." He referred to their many acts of treachery when they broke off peace talks without a warning.

Thamilchelvam, instead of answering the question, poses a counter question "I am asking you a question, would you answer?" He refers to the other Tamil parties who have laid down arms and joined the peace process and inquires as to what they have achieved, conveniently forgetting the fact that the LTTE has deliberately not permitted the 'peace dividend' to be paid out.

On the matter of 'trust and confidence', it is useful for us to understand what Thamilchelvam states. His position is that deception has been practised on the Tamil people "throughout history". He recalls (what he describes as oppressive measures against the Tamil people) the Sinhala Only Act, the colonisation schemes, the restrictions placed on university admissions, many broken promises and broken agreements. He refers to the Sinhala Governments reneging on the Bandaranaike Chelvanayakam Pact and the Senanayake - Chelvanayakam Pact and asks the question as to who deceived whom?

Thamilchelvam raises a question, which to my mind is a valid one. It is indeed important for us have the answer to this. He asks, "why did our youth seek LTTE membership? Why did they take up arms when they could have lead normal lives like other boys and girls?'' These are valid questions and those who are interested in finding a solution to this problem must reflect upon them.

It is a fact that in 1983 the LTTE had only 250 members and who and what was it that made Tamil youth join in droves to fight the Sri Lankan armed forces? What made them agree to carry a cyanide capsule around their necks and want to sacrifice their most precious possession their lives for the cause? What was it that made Babu wait for two years to assassinate President Premadasa, knowing all the time that he would have to kill himself when the order came. Was it because, as Thamilchelvam states, of the oppression visited on the Tamil people that Babu was prepared to sacrefice his life?

Though the people of the country, particularly in the south, were aware of the unrest in the North, they were not aware of its magnitude nor were they addressing their minds to the cause of the uprising. Nor were they concerned about the many indignities that the Tamil people claimed were being heaped upon them by an Army, ill equipped to handle the situation.

The violence that followed the International Tamil Conference in1974 continued at a low intensity till August 16, 1977 when the Police clashed with Tamil youth and the Government of J.R. Jayewardene brought in the Army to control a civilian uprising. The spiral of violence went into a tail spin on the eve of the DDC elections in June 1981 with the burning of the TULF headquarters, the burning of the Jaffna Library (which contained over 97,000 books) and the burning of the home of S.Yogeswaran, MP, (later assassinated in Colombo by the LTTE) and the disruption of the DDC elections itself.

These incidents indicated that the violence was spiralling. The fact that no action was taken against the perpetrators of these and other crimes lead to despair. But the events that marked the turning point in the level of the conflict and not only 'internationalised' it but helped the militants to recruit not hundreds but thousands, were the massacres of July '83. Amnesty International in its reports also referred to the torture chambers in Army camps in Vavuniya, Palaly,Elephant Pass, Point Pedro and Gurunagar, and states that arbitrary arrests were common and that "as a result thousands were driven to arms".

Thamilchelvam states "it was they who pushed us to that extreme". His point is well taken. There must be an acceptance by the Sinhala people that the State in particular and thugs instigated by the State, visited horrendous crimes on the Tamil people. We owe them more than an apology. In this regard, it would be recalled with a measure of shame by the Buddhists of Buddhist Lanka, that it was left to an Anglican Bishop, Lakshman Wickremesinghe, to extend an apology and metta to the thousands of innocent Tamil people who had suffered at the hands of mindless thugs instigated by politicians.

The Sri Lankan armed forces by their mindless violence became the best recruiters for the Tamil militants. The Government and the military were were outmanoeuvred and tricked by the LTTE and the other militants. Their strategy was to provoke the armed forces into killing innocent civilians and damaging their property. This strategy succeeded beyond belief. To cite a few instances of reprisal killings, after the Tinnaveli ambush on July 23, 1983, where 13 soldiers were blown up by a landmine, the soldiers are said to have gone berserk and killed over 60 civilians and injured many more in the area.

On December 2, 1984 we had the Iriyaperiyakulum killings where over 100 civilians were reported to have died in reprisal killings for the deaths of two soldiers. Once again on the December 4 there was the reprisal killing of civilians for the attack on a military jeep on the Mannar road. I shall cite two further instances - the Velvettiturai massacre of civilians after a Major and some soldiers were killed and last but not least the infamous Kokaddicholai massacre of civilians. These massacres drove thousands of youth into the arms of the LTTE and other militant groups.

Thamilchelvam is right. It was we who helped the militants to recruit by our clumsy and heavy handed approach to a political problem. We had also reneged on the political agreements concluded between Tamil leaders and Prime Ministers Bandaranaike and Dudley Senanayake.

Even granting the fact that they were repeatedly "deceived by Sinhala Governments" and also conceding the fact that the measures mentioned by Thamilchelvam, such as the Sinhala Only Act and the standardisation disadvantaged them unfairly, and also conceding that the army acted in an oppressive manner seeking to brutally crush a politically motivated insurgency, this does not explain the treachery of the LTTE when they broke off negotiations with the Premadasa Government in particular, which had done so much for them and the Chandrika Kumaratunge Government which was also sympathetic to their cause.

Thamilchelvam conveniently avoids making any reference to or giving any explanation for breaking the ceasefire with an unprovoked attack in June of 1990 and subsequently assassinating their own 'godfather', Premadasa. Neither does he come up with credible reasons for similarly breaching the ceasefire in1995. He refers to the make up of the Government delegation (for one round of the talks) but makes no reference to how they even tricked the President into removing perhaps the only man on the delegation who had first hand knowledge of the situation: Lionel Fernando.

An interesting fact that must be noted in this regard is that the LTTE 'carried' the negotiations for fourteen months after the battering they received at the hands of the IPKF. They needed that time to regroup and re-arm to resume their journey to Eelam. All the while they spoke or negotiated they were building bunkers and other fortifications and using 'goodwill' to get Premadasa to get the armed forces to move out of strategic positions to make their take over easy.

They milked the naive Premadasa to the maximum, they had him send away the IPKF, they obtained control of territory they had lost both to the Sri Lanka Armed Services and the IPKF, they obtained arms and money from him, they had the unfortunate police of the Eastern Province surrender to them and shot 640 of them in cold blood, they had the wife and children of Prabhakaran flown down to Sri Lanka from Sweden.

It was the same story with the negotiation with the Chandrika Kumaratunga . They needed to bring in the RDX and the Symtex and indulged the Government in talks until they were able to get their deadly cargo through. After that they had to resume their journey to Eelam. They almost succeeded in getting the

Sri Lanka Army to move its camps in the north. Fortunately the army resisted the pressure. They have only used the talks to obtain a military advantage for the next phase. Former High Commissioner Mani Dixit records how they practised deception not only on us but also on their then patrons - the Indians. Deception and treachery are their principal weapons together with the gun, in their pursuit of Eelam.

A few other aspects of the interview require comment. I wish first to draw attention to Thamilchelvam's statements of concern for the well being of the country. I am reminded of the wolf in the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Thamilchelvam states "We are children of the same mother. this is our country. This is our motherland. We can develop this country if we get together..." What love! Unbelievable isn’t it? What then is our problem? incidentally when he says "this is our country" I wonder whether he is referring to Eelam or Sri Lanka?

Next, commenting on the President's statement that the lives of her children were under threat from the LTTE, he had stated, "Why should we kill innocent children....our problems are with political leaders." Of course the LTTE did not kill children when they slaughtered the inhabitants of the Kent and Dollar farms on November 30, 1984 or when they visited Dehiwatte thrice on May 31, on June 13, 1985 and on Jan. 3, 1987; or when they butchered the people of Aranthalawa on Feb. 10, ’87 or on April 17, '87!

The atrocities are too numerous to mention and I am recalling just a few. When they lined up all the passengers from two buses at Aluthoya and shot them in cold blood, did they not kill innocent children? Or at the Bo Maluwa on May 14, 1985? Perhaps they did not expect children to be around when they blew up the Central Bank, the Pettah bus stand, and the Dalada Maligawa. Their concern for children can be likened to the concern of the fox for the chickens.

Of course they do not send children to battle, all those who died at Weli Oya and at Mullaitivu, sent across the mine fields to set off the mines so that the trained cadres could advance. they only only seemed to be twelve year and fourteen year olds! Child soldiers are a figment of the imagination of the callous Government of Sri Lanka, is it? Come off it Mr. Thamilchelvam.

The LTTE despise the Sinhala fool and scorn us for our naivety and it is only for this reason that they think they would be believed when they say the things they do. Going by our record I am not surprised, for their belief seems very well founded.

To revert to the matter of negotiating with the LTTE, the LTTE is undoubtedly the decisive player in the great game and perhaps at this moment of time the strongest player on the Tamil side. But as long as and until they publicly abandon their quest for a separate state and with it their call for recognition as a separate nation with the right to self determination, no Sinhala political party would have a mandate to negotiate with them. That would be political suicide.

Any negotiation with any militant group that would not move from that position would be futile. Further, the LTTE has taken up arms against the legally constituted Government of the country, maybe for a cause they consider just. But the insurgency must end for talks to begin. The Government would, of course need to offer a package that would ensure that the Tamils and other minorities live and participate in the life of this country as equal partners. They should be able to live in security, with dignity and to have a say in their destiny.

The international community, particularly the western countries and India, have a role to play to ensure that the Tamil diaspora in their countries would cease to support the insurgency in Sri Lanka and to underwrite any agreement that would be reached between the parties.

The Constitutional arrangement could either give the Tamils and other minorities a constitutional place at the head table, with a say in the development and affairs of the whole country or the constitutional arrangement could devolve as much legislative and executive power as is consistent with the existence of a single country and the perceived security needs of all the ethnic groups who inhabit this country.

To those in the South who who dream of a quick and easy military solution and ‘winner keeps all’, let me say that this is an even more urealisable pipe dream than Eelam. Those who advocate this course from the comfort of their drawing rooms, without having given up their children to the war, and others from the comfort of their temples, must come to terms with reality. The sooner the better it would be for us all.

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