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International Mandate

Sri Lanka's undeclared but open war continues. Last week the Army launched its most determined push yet to capture Vaharai in the Batticaloa district. The offensive failed with at least 40 combatants killed. However it was the 40,000 Tamil civilians crowded into that narrow strip of land that bore the brunt of the Sri Lankan onslaught: at least 40 people were torn apart by artillery and naval fire. Scores more were wounded. The offensive came as Norwegian Special Envoy Jon Hanson-Bauer departed the island.
 
But it is not only the fighting in that remote backwater that we should take note of. It is the deafening silence from around the world as Colombo unleashes an indiscriminate military campaign. The protests this week by the UN and the international monitors are, of no consequence. The United States did protest last week - but that was only after LTTE shells killed three Sinhalese civilians and caused 3000 others to flee. They were singled out, but not the 40,000 people in Vaharai. We know why. In the meantime over half a million Tamils are undergoing great hardship in Jaffna. But there is no pressure on Sri Lanka to open the A9.
 
In fact, there is no international pressure on Sri Lanka in any respect. The government of President Mahinda Rajapakse is essentially being given a green light to prosecute its long-prepared war against the LTTE. The Tamils therefore need to come to terms with the international community's new strategy: to allow the government to attack and weaken the Tigers until whatever political solution Colombo sees fit can be imposed. The Co-Chairs statement of November 22 said as much. Apart from a mild reproach to both parties (accompanied by a vehement US attack on the LTTE) it leaves it to the Sinhala south to come up with solution. Having failed to persuade Colombo to make a genuine offer of power-sharing to the Tamils, the international community has opted for the easiest alternative: allowing the Sinhalese to proceed with a military solution. The Tamils should be under no illusions; just as during the previous 'war for peace' the international community will not be mere bystanders, but will be actively seeking ways to strengthen and support the state against the LTTE.
 
It is thus not clear why Mr. Hanson-Bauer was in Sri Lanka last week. The lone envoy did not have a chorus of diplomatic support when he arrived. And most damagingly for the Norwegian initiative, Oslo's neutrality (at least perceived neutrality) was badly compromised when he acquiesced to Colombo's pointed curtailing of his facilitatory space. With Sri Lanka's passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) - and semantic hair-splitting aside, it is the draconian PTA that's been invoked anew - it appears the Norwegians will need Colombo's explicit approval to speak to the LTTE. So much for peace facilitation.
 
Mr. Rajapakse's address last week announcing the new terrorism legislation was also a declaration of war. The President, it should not be forgotten, was voted in wholly by the majority Sinhalese. It was this constituency he began by thanking for giving him a mandate to 'defend the motherland.' The rest of his speech was a call to arms, to a new war. And it was not only the LTTE, but the wider Tamil campaign for self-determination that is the target (the original PTA, it should be recalled, was implemented in the wake of the TULF's landslide victory in the 1977 'Eelam' election; the LTTE was less than 30 strong then.) Saying that he relished the task set by his voters, President Rajapakse told Sri Lankans to choose: to stand with his Sinhala-nationalist cause or against it. The Tamils were told in no uncertain terms what was expected of them: as long as they know their place in this, the Sinhala motherland, they were of no concern to him.
 
None of this is new. Sinhala leaders have told the Tamils such things since 1956. And, as our shattered homeland attests, this is not the first onslaught (wrapped in the rhetoric of counter-terrorism) that we have faced from the Sinhala leadership. But this time we know what Tamil hardliners have been warning all along. That international commitment to peace is wafer thin. That when the Sinhalese baulk at sharing power, the international community will again let a clash of arms settle matters. That the international community's strident advocacy of 'just solutions', 'human rights' and 'lasting peace' is mere rhetoric. Just as in 2001, international support for a peaceful negotiation can only be secured when the viability of Sri Lanka's military option is again discredited. Until then, the Tamils can expect all manner of horrors. But it is not our fault. For years we have tried our best to plead our case. But no one gave a damn.