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Remembering Thamilselvan 8 years on

Photograph TamilNet

S. P. Thamilselvan, the head of the political wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was assassinated by the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) on November 2nd, 2007.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights' (OHCHR) report into Sri Lanka's atrocities (OISL) noted that Sri Lanka's military killed the LTTE's political head before it officially withdrew from the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) in 2008. It noted that the attack was preceded by a military budget that "had reportedly risen by 40 percent and the Army had tripled in size from 100,000 to 300,000, with almost an additional 5,000 troops recruited per month between 2005 and 2008". 

The death of Thamilselvan, who became the LTTE's top peace negotiator following the death of Anton Balasingham, was mourned across the world, with over 25,000 Tamils attending his funeral.

Five other LTTE officials - Lt. Col. Anpumani (Alex), Major Mikuthan, Major Neathaaji, Lt. Aadchiveal and Lt. Maavaikkumaran - were killed along side Brigadier Thamilselvan, during the SLAF attack. The aerial bombardment targeted the residence of members of the LTTE's political division.

The attack was hailed by not only the ruling government, but also the current ruling coalition member, the UNP.

In an interview with BBC Sinhala shortly after the assassination, the UNP spokesperson, Lakshman Kiriella, said it was not possible to talk peace with the LTTE, describing the killing of Thamilselvan as "a victorious moment".

“You can’t have peace talks if only one party is willing to talk,” he said.
“When the UNP was in power we tried to negotiate with them. But they were not willing,” Kiriella added.

Our editorial on the first anniversary of Thamilselvan's death appears only more poignant today.

"The assassination is a quintessential reflection of the Sinhala mindset. President Mahinda Rakapaksa, along with the vast majority of Sinhalese, see the island's ethnic problem purely as a Tamil terrorist challenge.

For all the lip-service (and there's not much of that about now) about power sharing, the south is single-mindedly focused on a military victory.

The abandon with which the military has for two years blasted Tamil villages, driven hundreds of thousands of Tamils from their homes and continues to abduct, torture and murder Tamils is underwritten by the confidence the international community, despite its distaste, is nonetheless solidly behind Colombo’s war.
Both the Sinhalese and the international community have their legitimating theories.

For the Sinhalese, once the LTTE is destroyed, the Tamils will docilely accept whatever limited (and decidedly undeserved) powers they are given.

The leading members of the international community in Sri Lanka agree. But they also believe that once the LTTE is destroyed, the island can be 'developed' whereupon Sinhalese, Tamils and, for that matter, the Muslims, will come to see each other as fellow Sri Lankans and live happily ever after.

Despite the decades of Sinhala oppression the Tamils have faced by successive governments since independence (i.e. three decades before Tamil militancy was triggered), the international community bases its strategy today off a utopian vision of an ethnic harmony to come.

It is not that such a vision is impossible that is staggering but, rather, the belief it can be realised by enabling a violent Sinhala conquest of the Tamils followed by economic development."

"Last week Sinhalese reveled in Mr. Tamilselvan's assassination. Traditional drums were played in the street. Parties were organized at home. Some Buddhist temples held all night celebrations.

For any Sinhalese who genuinely desires a negotiated solution, the killing of the other side's top diplomat should have been deeply worrying and regrettable.

But very few in the south feel this way, something the Tamils need to bear in mind as they make their way in the time to come."