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Silent Complicity

Sri Lanka’s military is now killing Tamil civilians with abandon. Emboldened by the manifest reluctance of international ceasefire monitors, leading members of the international community and southern liberals to condemn their actions, Sri Lanka’s armed forces are abducting and killing people with impunity. In the past two weeks alone, dozens of civilians have been murdered by army and navy personnel who, amongst numerous other attacks, abducted youth from a temple, rocketed rickshaws carrying revellers to a birthday party and, this weekend, rampaged through residential parts of an islet off Jaffna. Meanwhile, people suspected of supporting the Liberation Tigers are being abducted and murdered or shot out of hand in the street. The matter of extra-judicial killings was raised with reporters by frustrated junior ceasefire monitors. “They [military] don’t even try to make things up,” one said in disgust.



But the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) is officially silent on the wave of bloodletting unleashed by the military amongst the Tamils of the Northeast. Indeed, the SLMM’s new head, Ulf Henricsson, has focussed his attention primarily on censuring the LTTE. This newspaper warned recently that the SLMM had set a dangerous precedent by withdrawing, under Colombo’s hostile pressure, its accusation that that “government security forces have, in the north and the east, been involved in extrajudicial killings of civilians.” Regrettably, we were proven right within days. Killings of civilians by the armed forces have escalated sharply, particularly in Jaffna, but also in every other district of the Northeast.



We also queried earlier, that if the international monitors are prepared to retract their statements or abandon their ‘convictions’ simply because the Sri Lankan state expresses its displeasure, then what purpose is served by the SLMM? To monitor the LTTE alone? The answer, it seems, is yes. Despite the widely reported, unabashed violence unleashed by the armed forces against Tamil civilians, the SLMM seems more preoccupied with Colombo’s accusations against the Tigers.



Matters have not been helped by the undisguised contempt Mr. Henricsson demonstrated for the LTTE in his wide-ranging comments to the press in the recent past. Mr. Henricsson’s job is to monitor breaches of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), not pontificate on the character of the LTTE and its leadership. Nor is it his brief to theorize on sovereignty or to interpret international law. Those are matters, surely, for the negotiators of both sides, if and when the so-called ‘core issues’ are taken up for discussion. It is Mr. Henricsson’s brief, however, to investigate and condemn the violence unleashed against our people by the armed forces, amongst other breaches of the CFA. His failure, indeed refusal, to do so has arguably contributed to accelerating the cycle of violence.



The SLMM, however, is following the conduct of leading international actors involved in Sri Lanka’s ‘peace process’. Amid very real fears that Sri Lanka is slipping back towards a major conflict, the international community, resolutely refusing to look at the localized dynamics of the ‘shadow war’ (now, according to the SLMM a ‘low-intensity war’) are focused primarily on pressuring one side, the LTTE. The Tamils have repeatedly argued that the violence is a cycle, whose continuation stems from the actions of both sides. But rather than condemn and pressure the Sinhala nationalist government of President Mahinda Rajapakse, the international community is instead praising Colombo and condemning the LTTE.



The wider framework of peace and political accommodation are irrelevant to the Tamils now. Physical security is the only concern. Thus it is the international community’s continuing reluctance to rein in the Sinhala leadership that is going to precipitate a major confrontation. Some Tamils suspect the international community is allowing Colombo a space to terrorise the rebellious minority into pressuring the Tigers to be more accommodative. Such logic ignores the history of the conflict. Indeed, Tamil media report a sudden flood of recruits to the Tigers, rather than a flurry of petitions.



In the meantime, the impassive, implacable attitude of the international community is eroding Tamil faith in international commitment to their wellbeing. The feeling that the callousness demonstrated during the ‘war for peace’ of the late nineties still holds, has gained widespread credence. This is also contributing to belligerence amidst the terror. The CFA has been described as the bedrock of the Norwegian peace process. This is not only because it promoted a sense of security between the protagonists and Sri Lanka’s peoples, but because it provided a secure space in which communal harmony and amity could grow. Both are fast disintegrating.