Tiger's war cry

Print edition : December 15, 2006

LTTE leader V. Prabakaran's Heroes' Day speech points to a resumption of war.

B. MURALIDHAR REDDY in Colombo

V. PRABAKARAN MAKES his Heroes' Day speech from an undisclosed location in Sri Lanka's embattled north on November 27.-

IT is supposed to be the `speech' of the year as far as Sri Lanka is concerned. Yet the 2006 `Heroes Day' pronouncement by LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran that `uncompromising Sinhala chauvinism' of the Sri Lankan state has left his organisation with no option but to pursue the path to an independent Tamil Eelam has hardly evoked the kind of response such a `chilling' message would normally elicit.

Ironically, it would have been a surprise if Prabakaran said he had chosen the path of peace and negotiations instead of making the high-pitched war cry for a separate homeland. Though the demand has never been backed by a single credible voice within and outside Sri Lanka in recent decades, secession has always been on the agenda of the Tamil Tigers. Seeds for the latest LTTE `policy' statement were sown in the 2005 speech of Prabakaran when he asked newly elected President Mahinda Rajapaksa to resolve the ethnic question in a year's time (see box).

That the LTTE chief was not serious about the time line was evident when the Tigers resumed their military campaign against the government forces within two weeks of the speech. As per official statistics, over 3,500 persons have been killed since the November 27, 2005, speech of Prabakaran and over 2.5 lakh people have been displaced because of the fighting. According to the LTTE itself, 818 of its cadre were killed during the year. All of them did not die in `defensive actions' as is made out by the LTTE supremo.

The accepted definition of war is a conflict situation in which on an average 500 people are killed. Ironically, 2006 was one of the bloodiest years for Sri Lanka in terms of attacks and counter attacks.

Rajapaksa lamented in the course of a visit to India that his government did not even get `breathing space' despite the LTTE's public commitment to `wait and watch'.

Prabakaran characterises the government stand as Sinhala `duplicity'. A variety of factors has contributed to the LTTE leader's decision to up the ante on the Eelam demand. On paper, he gave a year to Rajapaksa to come forward with a `reasonable political framework' but in reality Prabakaran never defined the expectations of his outfit beyond the unaltered Eelam demand. In other words, Prabakaran's speech would not have been any different if the Rajapaksa regime heeded his demand.

Rebellion by `Col.' Karuna, once the LTTE commander in the East, and the consequent weakening of the Tamil Tigers in that region, and the strengthening of the Sri Lanka Air Force, among other things, brought about a series of military setbacks for the LTTE during the year.

The Tigers desperately need a morale booster and that is precisely what Prabakaran hoped to give through his latest speech. On the international stage too, the LTTE has been isolated like never before. Despite its best efforts, the LTTE has not been able to get the European Union (E.U.) to reverse the ban on the outfit; it is also faced with the prospect of more countries taking the E.U. route.

The much-talked-about coming together of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the principal Opposition group, the United National Party (UNP), and the prospect of an early pact between the two sides for the resolution of the ethnic conflict must have been another major factor on Prabakaran's mind. Lack of southern consensus on the ethnic question had provided the LTTE the much-needed oxygen to conduct its political campaign against the Sri Lankan polity among the Tamil population as well as in the international community.

SOLDIERS PATROL a road in north-central Vavuniya.-REUTERS

According to Rajapaksa, the All Parties Conference (APC) constituted by him to advise him on a conflict resolution process, will submit its report by December 15 and the government hopes to unveil a package for maximum devolution based on it.

These very complex factors have constrained Prabakaran from making either a declaration of full-fledged war or a unilateral declaration of independence. Besides, as political analyst Jayadeva Uyangoda told Frontline, Prabakaran's speech would not impress anyone as it was entirely based on a critique of `Sinhala nationalism' and offers nothing constructive to the Tamil people in terms of the LTTE's vision.

The tasks before the government are cut out in the face of the LTTE threat. While the Rajapaksa government should be able to meet any military challenge posed by the Tigers, utmost care is required to safeguard the interests of civilians caught in the crossfire. The international community is particularly troubled by the record of the government and the armed forces on the human rights front.

Promises of zero tolerance on human rights violations have not been kept. A culture of impunity prevails, with the government frowning upon any mention of its mistakes. The handling of the episode involving Allan Rock, the United Nations envoy who accused the armed forces of lining up children in the east for recruitment by the Karuna group, is a case in point. Instead of launching an impartial investigation into the charges, the government launched a scurrilous attack on Rock.

The government can draw from the enormous international support to its military fight against the LTTE only if it is seen as being sensitive to the security and humanitarian needs of ordinary citizens. Closure of the A9 highway, the only trunk road that links Jaffna peninsula to the rest of the country, since August 11 in the name of national security has proved to be a costly exercise, particularly for the 6.5 lakh people trapped in the zone. Incidents of killing by the forces of civilians allegedly used by the LTTE as a human shield have tarnished the image of the government.

On the home front, Rajapaksa should build on the spirit of unprecedented camaraderie with Leader of the Opposition and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to expedite the process towards devolution and power-sharing. It is certainly not a coincidence that the two factors, pressure from the world community and consensus on the ethnic issue among the principal parties, figure prominently in the speech of Prabakaran. There is all-round consensus that there could be no military solution to the ethnic issue and the campaign to isolate the Tigers can only be effective with a solution that accommodates the aspirations of all communities. It is time the Rajapaksa government translated its commitment for a credible solution to the ethnic strife into action without being distracted by Prabakaran's diatribe.

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