Sri Lanka & Its Future

By Dr. Victor Rajakulendran
Australasian federation of Tamil Associations

1. Brief History of Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
• A mango shaped island in the Indian ocean off the • • • •

southeast tip of India 65,610 sq km in area – Little smaller than Tasmania (68,300) People lived in Sri Lanka at least from 900BC Sinhala speaking people 74%, Tamil speaking people 18% and other language speakers 8% Sinhalese – predominantly Buddhists and Tamils – predominantly Hindus

• Tamils are confined to the North East part

of the country (Tamil Homeland) and the Sinhalese occupy the rest of the country and culturally different • Until colonial powers controlled Ceylon (the country's name until 1972), Sinhalese and Tamil rulers fought for dominance over the island • When Portuguese took possession of the island in 1505 there were 2 Kingdoms • A Tamil Kingdom in the North and a Sinhalese Kingdom in the South

• Portuguese held the island from 1505 -1658 • Dutch India Company usurped control from

1658 – 1796

• The British took over in 1796, and Ceylon

became an English Crown colony in 1802 • Portuguese and Dutch kept the Kingdoms separate but British amalgamated them

• On Feb. 4, 1948, after pressure from

Ceylonese nationalist leaders (which briefly unified the Tamil and Sinhalese), Ceylon became a self-governing dominion of the Commonwealth of Nations

2. In good old days
• Rolling hills with Tea estates in the middle • White sandy beaches in the East and the

South West coast

• Quality of life and value of the currency were

superior to countries in the region like India, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore etc. • English was still the official language and a bridging language between communities and there was no chance for mistrust

3. How did all go wrong?
• To reduce the Tamil representation in Parliament

the first Singhalese government of independent Ceylon disenfranchised the Indian Tamils • S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike became prime minister in 1956 and championed Sinhalese nationalism, making Sinhala the country's only official language and including state support of Buddhism, further marginalizing the Tamil minority.

• In 1972 his wife Srimavo Bandaranayke introduced a new • • • •

constitution and converted Ceylon into a Socialist Democratic republic of Sri Lanka. With this, even the minority protection clause 29 in the 1948 constitution, that provided protection to the minorities against discrimination up to this time, disappeared. All the British tea companies were nationalised with out any compensation. She introduced a system of standardisation to the University admission to favour the Sinhalese students further alienating the Tamil community. All the peaceful protests by the Tamils were crushed using the armed forces.

4. A turning point
• All the Tamil political parties joined hands to form • • •

the Tamil united Liberation Front (TULF). Vaddukkodai Resolution - a resolution calling for a separate state was passed at the TULF’s convention held in 1976. Tamil people gave their mandate to the TULF for this resolution, which was their platform, in the parliamentary elections in 1977. TULF requested the Tamils to initiate their struggle to establish a separate state.

• President Jayawardana sent the armed forces

into Jaffna peninsula to crush this struggle • Tamil youths decided to start an armed struggle • Government instigated anti-Tamil pogrom in 1983

• More youths joined the armed struggle

5. Tamils’ armed struggle for Self-determination
• The right to self-determination, a fundamental

principle of human rights law, is an individual and collective right to "freely determine . . . political status and [to] freely pursue . . . economic, social and cultural development." • Contemporary examples: Southern Sudan and East Timor • The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is spearheading the armed struggle for Selfdetermination of Tamils from 1983.

• More than 70,000 people have lost their lives;

including 18,000 LTTE cadres and more than 18,000 Sri Lankan soldiers and millions of $ worth of property and infrastructure destroyed as a result of more than 25 years of war • During this time the fighting force of the LTTE has developed into a conventional force with artillery regiments, a Navy with gun boats and now the SLG claims LTTE even have an Air force with few light planes.

6. Current Peace Process
• After defeating the Sri Lankan Forces (SLF)

in several battles including the Elephant Pass Garrison in 2000, LTTE declared unilateral cease-fires and invited the SLG for negotiations with the help of a third party • Although both sides agreed on Norway as the facilitator for the negotiations, because President Chandrika believed in “talking while fighting”, SLG did not reciprocate

• In Dec. 2001 elections, President Chandrika’s party was • • • •

defeated and Ranil Wickramasinghe became the Prime Minister In Feb. 2002 Ranil signed a ceasefire with LTTE and Norwegian mediated negotiations began. The cease-fire recognises government controlled and LTTE controlled areas and a Scandinavian monitoring mission is monitoring the cease-fire LTTE was prepared to consider a settlement under a federal model as an alternative to cessation Even after 6 rounds of negotiations things were not moving forward on the peace front

• Intense political rivalry between President • • •

Chandrika and PM Ranil threatened the peace process In Nov. 2003 Pres. Chandrika wrested away some of PM Ranil’s powers and in Feb. 2004 dissolved the parliament and called for fresh elections With this the peace process also came to a halt Her gamble worked and her party formed a government and the present President Mahinda Rajapaksa became the PM

• The last thing both sides were talking about when the

process came to a halt was setting up an ISGA in the North East until a final solution is worked out • PM Rajapaksa under pressure from his coalition partners, Marxist terrorists JVP and the JHU a Nationalistic Buddhist monks’ party, did not take any interest in the peace process • JVP and JHU are against talking to LTTE, against Norwegian facilitation and believe only in a settlement under a unitary government • Army intelligence unit used Tamil paramilitary groups to attack and kill unarmed LTTE political workers in the government controlled areas

7. Tsunami disaster
• Dec. 26 2004 Tsunami struck like rubbing

salt into the festering wound • More than 38,000 people died in the island and $ Billions worth of property got destroyed • More than 70% of the death and destruction was in the Tamil home land the North East

• Pres. Chandrika and the Tamil Tigers

reached an International Community supported deal (P-TOMS) in June 2005 to share about $4.5 billion in international aid to rebuild the country after the devastating tsunami.

• JVP and JHU were opposed to the P-TOMS and

blocked its implementation through a court order • Hundreds of NGOs have gone into Sri Lanka to help in the rebuilding – George Well and AFAP is doing a good job • Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) is the only local NGO serving the war and Tsunami affected people of the North East • TRO has provided temporary shelters to the Tsunami victims, taking care of orphans and providing preschool facilities in the LTTE controlled areas

Temporary Shelters

Nutrition Program

School Meals Program

8. What is happening now?
• After President Rajapaksa was elected as new • •

President with the support of JVP & JHU in Nov. 2005 situation has changed to worse He has struck out the P-TOMS altogether and vowed to create a government mechanism As he promised in the election manifesto he does not want to accept the concept of Tamil Home Land, wants to find a solution under the present unitary constitution Appointed military hardliners as his advisors on defence matters and commanders of the armed services

• Violence surged again in December 2005 and •

• •

continued into 2006 threatening the cease-fire Norwegian Minister for International Development Erick Solheim visited both sides and managed to persuade both sides to meet in Geneva, Switzerland on the 23rd and 24th of Feb 2006. Few days after agreeing to meet in Geneva a Paramilitary group with the connivance of SLA abducted 2 groups of 5 TRO humanitarian workers Three have been released since but 7 remains missing

• Just few days before Geneva talks Pres.

Rajapaksa reiterated that he rejects the Tamil homeland concept, and the final solution has to be found under a unitary system of government • LTTE responded by saying that if so, they will have no alternative other than to endeavour hard to respond effectively to the Tamil call for self rule

• The Sri Lankan delegation agreed at the

Geneva talks that there will not be any attacks by paramilitaries on LTTE from government controlled areas • But before the delegations started their journey back home the paramilitaries started their attacks.

• As a result violence escalated mainly in the East

and it spread to the North too • As a retaliation to an attempt on army commander’s life in Colombo the Sri Lankan President ordered aerial bombing of civilian targets in the East under the disguise of targeting LTTE camps • Then using a local water dispute as excuse President ordered ground offensives to take LTTE controlled areas

• Under pressure from the International Community

both sides went again to Geneva for talks, but could not even agree to meet again • Since then SLG has intensified its military operations • In the North SLG closed the A9 highway , the only highway linking the peninsula with the south, effectively imposing an economic blockade on the 600,000 people trapped there and this blockade still continues

• In the East the 40,000 people got displaced due to the SL • • • •

forces’ offensive in Trincomale District and moved down south to Vaharai area SL forces started aerial bombing and artillery shelling campaign in the area where these 40,000 displaced were temporarily sheltered in SL forces closed down the A15 highway leading into Baticalloa effectively preventing these displaced people from leaving Vaharai and preventing food and medicine Closer to 100 people died due to these bombings and drowning while trying to flee by sea As the Tigers made a tactical withdrawal from Vaharai, all the people in Vaharai moved out and became refugees in Baticaloa area

• Now the security forces have started artillery attack

and multi-barrel rocket attacks from government controlled areas into the LTTE controlled areas in the Baticaloa district • SL security forces even attempted to move into the LTTE controlled areas • Although the LTTE has repulsed these troop movements large number of civilians have fled these areas and gone into government controlled areas making the displaced in the Baticaloa district to more than 120,000 now

• On the political front President Rajapaksa has been

hoodwinking the International community by forming an All Party Conference (APC) to arrive at a Southern consensus on a political settlement • The expert advisory committee appointed by the president to advise APC has put up a proposal which is being vehemently opposed by JVP and JHU and President has started to disown this proposal • JVP filed a case in the supreme court against the merger of Northern and Eastern provinces under the Indo-Lanka Accord and the court has declared that the merger is illegal, effectively ruling out the North East remaining as the homeland of the Tamils

• To complicate the political situation President

took some dissident opposition UNP members into his cabinet to make his government a majority government Now UNP and JVP are not participating in the APC and as a result any devolution proposal coming out from the APC will be from the government and not from all parties Therefore now there is no chance for the most welcome southern consensus too on a devolution structure

• Considering all these and the lack of progress in the, war

and tsunami affected Tamil people’s rehabilitation and the military offensives carried out regularly by the SL forces, LTTE leader in his Hero’s day speech in November 2006 declared that there is no other alternatives to the Tamil people other than Self-rule in their traditional homeland • Everyone fears that a full scale war could erupt soon or it is already on • As a retaliation to and to reduce the aerial bombing by the Sri Lankan Kfir jets of Civilian areas, LTTE has for the first time used their light aircraft to successfully bomb the airbase in Colombo and return to their base

• On the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the

Cease-fire agreement on 22nd of Feb. 2007, LTTE declared that the International Community has failed to persuade the SLG to uphold the cease-fire and continue the peace process • Rajapkasa administration continued military approach to resolving the conflict and carried out full scale military operation to take over LTTE controlled areas in the East of the country

• LTTE tactically withdrew from the east leaving

behind a force capable of carrying out guerrilla type of operations. • Using this as a propaganda, Rajapaksa administration continued its military approach and promised to get rid of the LTTE from the North too. • After more than 9 months of military operations in the north Sri Lankan forces have failed to gain even an inch of LTTE controlled territory.

• As Rajapaksa government has become dependant

on JVP for remaining in power, it has to be seen as taking a military approach against LTTE and not to be seen as devolving powers to the Tamils. • Therefore now Rajapaksa administration has decided to abrogate unilaterally the Cease-fire agreement • But the LTTE has responded by saying that they are prepared to uphold the CFA 100% and have asked Norway to remain as facilitators.

• The Co-Chairs to the peace process – US, EU,

Japan and Norway have expressed their concern and dismay about Rajapaksa administration’s action and have said that there is no military solution to this conflict and have asked access to the populations that is going to be affected by war and also access to meet LTTE leaders. • UN Secretary General also have expressed similar concerns.

9. What is the future?
• If the SLG does not accept Homeland,

nationhood and self-rule the three basic and cardinal principles, that have been guiding the LTTE in its struggle to find a peacefully negotiated political arrangement, and not willing to share power with the Tamils under a con-federal system or some form of a twostate solution, LTTE will be forced to continue it struggle for the selfdetermination of the Tamils.

• War may be used as one of the tactics to

achieve this with devastating effects • Sri Lanka will become inaccessible to many of us • Pressure on the Sri Lankan government by the International community to accommodate the aspirations of the Tamils in a final solution is the only way to prevent the break up of Sri Lanka

• Australia was the second largest foreign investor in • •

Sri Lanka at one time Australia has a lot to gain by achieving peace in Sri Lanka It is a disappointment that the last Australian government did not take any positive initiative as opposed to the Nordic countries Australia could help by recognising the Tamil people’s right to their self-determination like the way it has accepted that of the people of Bogainville and East Timor and by taking other positive initiatives to find a just peace in Sri Lanka