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Ugly Reality

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New rocket artillery on parade in Colombo. The internationally supported peace process was intended to create a space to rebuild Sri Lanka's shattered economy and the battered military. Photo Daily News

Since the beginning of Sri Lanka’s latest peace process, the doves and the hawks within the Tamil community have been engaged in intense debate on its merits and pitfalls.

 
The doves contended that the peace process was an inevitable engagement between the Tamils’ representatives and the Sri Lankan state.
 
Unlike past diplomatic engagements, this one, they argued, was more likely to succeed as a result of the support of the international community.
 
The hawks, for their part, were sceptical of the interests of the various foreign powers and more importantly of their track record of involvement in the island’s violent affairs.
 
The hawks, it seems, have been proven right.
 
In their much awaited statement this week the self-styled Co-chairs of the Sri Lankan peace process - the United States, Norway, the European Union and Japan - delivered a muted condemnation of the recent violence - orchestrated largely by the Sri Lankan state.
 
Most importantly, they made it bluntly clear that there would be no tangible measures take to curb the state’s aggression.
 
Many observers of the situation in Sri Lanka, including the rapidly shrinking population of Tamil doves, have been taken aback at how mild the Co-Chairs’ latest statement was.
 
However, the Sri Lankan government was evidently not anticipating any backlash from the Co-chairs.
 
The state was unleashing unprovoked bombing raids on LTTE-held territory even as the two days of deliberations in Washington were taking place.
 
The post-conference comments by the individual representatives of the Co-Chairs revealed much more than their feeble joint statement.
 
The US and Japan have been unapologetic backers of the Sri Lankan state for several decades, even through some of the worst acts of collective violence against the Tamil minority.
 
Mr. Nicholas Burns, the US representative, reiterated for the second time in a month punctuated by mass killings of Tamil civilians that Sri Lanka was a staunch ally of his country and that Colombo would continue to receive Washington’s unreserved support.
 
A little more surprising was the EU’s acknowledgement that it would continue its financial assistance despite Colombo’s disregard for the peace process and ceasefire agreement.
 
The EU, lest we forget, indignantly banned the LTTE in May 2006, the same month the Sri Lankan armed forces began their now six month old onslaught against the LTTE and the Tamils.
 
There was little evidence this week, moreover, that the EU was any more uncomfortable than the US in backing the Sri Lankan state amid its violence.
 
Another myth that was dispelled this week was the notion that the Norwegian peace process was being underpinned by aid conditionalities whereby the Sri Lankan state would need to make political compromises with the Tamils.
 
Mr. Yasushi Akashi, Japan’s representative, declared that most of the $ 4.5 billion of aid pledged to Sri Lanka in Tokyo in 2003 conditional upon progress in the peace talks, had already been delivered to the state.
 
This is despite Sri Lanka’s failure to deliver on a single agreement reached in the peace process - including the Ceasefire Agreement.
 
During the same period the Tamils’ representatives, the LTTE, were proscribed as part of a coordinated effort to pressure the movement into making concessions during the peace process. Apart from the EU, Canada banned the LTTE this year.
 
In December 2002 the LTTE said it would explore a federal solution. Since then the LTTE has not publicly asserted the Tamil demand for independence.
 
In 2003 it also put forward proposals for negotiations on an interim administration – maximalist proposals, yes, but for discussion.
 
These concessions were not reciprocated by the state, whose present position is, just as it has been for much of the conflict, that only a unitary solution will suffice.
 
The most telling aspect of recent international involvement in Sri Lanka has been the carte blanche offered to the state to continue its violence.
 
And this is after state terrorism in the island had already reached levels last witnessed during the height of the ‘war for peace’.
 
State violence against the Tamils ranges from collective deprivations though blockades of food and medicine on large swathes of the Tamil areas to a systematic campaign of execution and disappearances of Tamil aid workers, journalists, and elected politicians who are sympathetic to the cause of self-determination.
 
With hindsight, the Norwegian peace process appears to be little more than an elaborate effort to curb Tamil political ambitions which had begun gaining momentum through the LTTE’s armed struggle.
 
Almost every element of the peace process appears to have been stacked against the Tamils.
 
Even the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) in its official accounting of violence since 2002 has been less than even-handed.
 
The SLMM rules that most violations were carried out by the LTTE.
 
But there is no accounting for the six hundred thousand Tamils being starved in Jaffna each day – or the 40,000 being bombed in Vahari.
 
The many accusations of child recruitment against the LTTE remain as violations even when the teenagers are released.
 
But the hundreds of thousands of Tamils unable to return to homes occupied by the military, or resume their fishing and farming livelihoods are not even logged.
 
For its part the Sri Lankan state is content that given the status quo continues, it will be able to crush the Tamil problem through a multifaceted campaign of violence.
 
The massive military and financial support it is receiving from the international community has allowed it to increase military spending by 30% this year.
 
Commenting on Indian assistance reportedly not forthcoming, President Mahinda Rajapakse confidently asserted that he doesn’t need anything more from Delhi: the present economic ties and support from India would be more than adequate for Sri Lanka to sustain its present military initiatives.
 
The Tamil doves have clearly been wrong.
 
At the outset they thought the LTTE had mistakenly been included in the ‘war on terror.’
 
They contended that if the Tamils could demonstrate to the international community that the situation in Sri Lanka is a case of ethnic oppression, then the world would pressure the state to end its tyranny.
 
However, this calculation is incongruent with the widespread support the Sri Lankan state was enjoying prior during its ‘war for peace’ – and that was prior to the international ‘war-on-terror’ which began in 2001.
 
The Tamil people endured the collective punishments of embargo and blockade throughout the 1990s – during which period the international community was determinedly backing the Sri Lankan state.
 
The reality is that Sri Lanka is no more an ally in the ‘war on terror’ than it was an ally in the war against communism in the 1980s.
 
The international community has always known that the war is between the Sinhala-dominated state and the persecuted Tamil minority. The language used suited the era, but the reality was always understood.
 
But the optimism triggered amongst the Tamils when the same international actors which had backed a war against them suddenly began backing a peace process lent weight to the doves and marginalized the hawks.
 
The prevailing understanding was that the international community was simply uninformed as to the realities of Sri Lankan state oppression.
 
Enormous effort has thus gone into engaging with the international community, into explaining the history oppression, into appealing for support for a just and equitable solution.
 
It was a monumental waste of time and effort.
 
The logic of the international community is thus much more understandable in the aftermath of the Norwegian peace process.
 
The major actors have frequent briefings on developments on the ground and have an intimate knowledge of daily events. They are briefed by the various political, humanitarian and military actors.
 
The Tamils need to come to terms with the fact that the international community is in fact extremely well informed and always has been. It is simply not interested in their difficulties.
 
The international community is primarily concerned with pursing its own interests and to that end will be actively complicit in Sri Lanka’s genocidal efforts, if necessary.
 
The Tamils should not be surprised at the present turn of events.
 
Morality has no place in such calculations. The invasion of Iraq was about destroying Saddam’s threatening regime, not about freedom for Iraqis. The world coolly watched the genocide in Rwanda for months. And justice is being served there only because the Tutsis won.
 
The Tamils need to take note. History is written by victors – it is perhaps this very logic that drives the international community’s immoral approach to Sri Lanka.
 
Throughout the conflict there has been a direct correlation between international confidence that the LTTE could be defeated and the level of international support rendered to the state’s indiscriminate and vicious war effort.
 
And the Norwegian peace process was ultimately about a space to rebuild Sri Lanka’s shattered economy and battered military.
 
The international community, perhaps satisfied that the peace process has achieved these objectives, is now openly demonstrating its contempt for the Tamils’ ‘legitimate’ grievances.
 
But perhaps, the point which has, in turn, eluded the international community, is that the peace process was also an exercise for the Tamils in studying the motivations of the international community.
 
The eternal debate between the doves and the hawks over the intentions of foreign powers has now concluded.
 
The Tamils, in the island and the Diaspora, have conclusively proven to themselves that their fate rests solely in their own hands.
 

In short, strength inspires respect, weakness invites contempt. And violence.

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