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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmaretnam Sivaram (Taraki) > Western Mediation: How effective can it be?

Selected Writings by Dharmaretnam Sivaram (Taraki)

Western Mediation: How effective can it be?

23 November 2001


The visit of the British Foreign Minister raises again the question of western mediation to end the conflict. How effective can it be?

If one were to go by the anxieties which seemed to underpin the earnest pronouncements of our Foreign Minister Mr.Lakshman Kadirgamar in the past, particularly during the hullabaloo over the prospect of the Tigers shifting their international headquarters to South Africa, one would be impelled to come to the conclusion that decisive action against the LTTE by western governments can bring the organisations to its knees.

Now, western governments are mindful of the fact that Colombo is urging them to crack down hard on the Tigers from a very unique position. Sri Lanka is the only country in the world and most probably the only one in modern times to fight an internal threat with the backing of many nations across the global political spectrum.

The range of countries that the PA has arrayed behind it to defeat the LTTE is truly amazing and unparalleled - India and Pakistan, America and Russia, China and Britain, the Czech Republic, Sweden, South Korea, Japan, etc.

There isn’t a single country that has not rushed to lend moral and material support for the PA’s war on the LTTE.

Lest there be any illusions on this score, it should be emphasised here that persuading or coercing the LTTE into a dialogue is not the primary role that Colombo expects the west to play in resolving the conflict.

The PA (the UNP and the JVP too), first of all, wants the western governments to arrest and deport known LTTE activists in their countries. Secondly, it wants them to ban the organisation as India and the US have done. And thirdly it urges them to stop the Tigers from collecting money.

The LTTE has learnt from its Indian sojourn that all foreign hosts are invariably inclined, for very pragmatic reasons, to view its assets on their soil including manpower as the means by which they may eventually be able to exert diplomatic pressure on the organisation.

Let us assume that western governments reach a point where they may really feel compelled to make the Tigers talk peace.

What would be the concrete means at their disposal to do so?

Let’s take the British first. They have Balasingham, Santhan and a couple of other known LTTE activists plus the so-called international secretariat of the organisation in UK.

There are senior foreign policy hands here who strongly believe that arresting the Advisor and his cohorts and closing down the HQ at least temporarily would send the right signal to the LTTE and compel it to the negotiating table. Mr.Douglas Devananda reflected the same belief when he said last week that the Tigers have agreed to talk peace because of international (read western) pressure.

If we follow the logical course of this line of thinking we would come upon a situation in which the British decide to apply a bit of tangible pressure on the Tigers in UK. The raid on the charity organisations believed to be raising funds for the Tigers has certainly helped in some measure ‘restore’ Colombo’s confidence in British bona fides and in a way prepared the ground for the Foreign Minister Hain’s visit this week. But what more can the British do?

Let’s say they arrest Balasingham and Co and shut down the HQ on Catharine’s Road. While it might pain the more ‘respectable segments’ of the LTTE’s supporters, it will not in any way shatter the organisation’s operational base in UK. That much is certain in the event of such a crackdown. The British intelligence establishment is probably well aware of this. The LTTE’s international secretariat is not in London but in the Wanni jungles. The person who is in charge of it is not Balasingham but Castro. The concept of a command and control centre as a physical entity vanished many years ago. The modern CEO’s operational HQ is where his laptop hooked to a satellite phone is.

The Indian experience taught the LTTE a good lesson quite early on in the war. One should always be prepared to face a host with diplomatic designs by having a reserve force in the shadows, beyond the ken of the host country’s intelligence establishment, made up of citizens of that country engaged in impeccably legitimate pursuits.

During the complete overhaul of its foreign operations in 1997-1998, the Tigers recruited and promoted Tamils who are law-abiding citizens in the countries of their residence. There are a lot of things these persons can do quite legitimately in their countries to aid the LTTE’s cause.

In addition to this, the Tigers have learnt that it pays to thoroughly understand the legal systems of the host countries and to build a pool of legal experts from which the organisation could profitably draw in crises.

Switzerland and Canada are two countries that have learnt this quite unequivocally from their encounters with the Tigers since 1995.

The Canadian example would suffice to illustrate my point. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has traditionally utilised a law that denies normal judicial review to a person detained under it to smoothly rid Canada of ‘undesirable aliens’ (mostly of non Anglo-Saxon stock).

Applied selectively, this law and the actions of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in the context of the Canadian federal judiciary’s approach to ‘terrorism’ and the historical construct of the ‘undesirable alien’ have indirectly helped the state to rein in some seemingly recalcitrant sections among new immigrants, argue critics of White Canada’s policy on its “visible minorities”.

All this was fine until the Canadians decided to arrest Suresh Manickavasagam and deport him to Colombo. This was clearly intended to show the LTTE and its supporters where the line is drawn in Canada.

We all know what happened thereafter. The LTTE fought the system, spending almost four hundred thousand dollars to make its point. Now Suresh is no longer with the organisation but the Tigers have rebuilt their operation in Canada on this experience.

Therefore, even if they were to crack down on the Tigers, most, if not all, western governments would find it difficult to take action under the normal law of the land against their own citizens who now run the LTTE’s operations in their respective countries.

The bottom line here is that everyone as always seems to be perennially missing the point that the LTTE will keep going as long as the Tamils feel aggrieved – west or no west.
 

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