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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > Demobilising is Irrelevant to Peace

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

Demobilising is Irrelevant to Peace

21 September 2002


In his speech at the inaugural sessions of the peace talks between the government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam (LTE) in Thailand, Prof. G. L Peiris said he welcomed efforts by the LTTE to transform itself into a political organisation. In Colombo, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, says that the United National Front (UNF) government should get guarantees from the LTTE that it would lay down arms and renounce violence.

In fact she is stating quite plainly what Prof. Peiris ventured to insinuate subtly.

Dr. Anton Balasingham laid the matter to rest on Wednesday during the press conference at the end of the first round of talks in Thailand. Answering a question whether disarming the LTTE was taken up during the discussions, he said:

“You know very well both parties- the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE - have two standing armies, two navies and this is the first time a stable ceasefire has been established. Your question of disarming and decommissioning the LTTE will not arise until we reach a permanent settlement that will satisfy the aspirations of Tamil people.”

There are a host of liberal democratic intellectuals who are also clamouring that a commitment from the Tigers, at least in principle, on demobilisation should be in the agenda of the when the peace talks reach the ‘substantive’ stage.

During a visit to Batticaloa, the British High Commissioner Linda Duffield went as far as to assert that the LTTE should make an open declaration that it will renounce violence.

Basically all are making a case after their own fashion that the LTTE should recognise the sole right of the Sri Lanka army to bear arms and use them to achieve military objectives as directed by the Sri Lankan state.

The British High Commissioner was bold enough to presume that her audience was na´ve enough not to grasp the implication of her statement.

If the LTTE were to renounce violence it would be automatically recognising the sole right of the Sri Lanka army to wield armed force.

The fundamental and defining character of the Tamil question is that it is challenge to the Sri Lankan state’s monopoly on violence, its sole right to raise, arm and deploy an army.

As we all know the modern state stands on three cornerstones – the monopoly on violence (the army), the monopoly on extortion (revenue) and the monopoly on adjudication (the unified legal system). Democracy is a game played on the field demarcated by these three cornerstones and by the symbols and interests of those who hold these monopolies.

The provenance of modern nation states in 18th century Europe and the consolidation of colonial rule in India and Sri Lanka in the 19th century would prove this beyond any doubt from a historical perspective.The Tamil grievance is that the Sri Lankan state is a Sinhala-Buddhist state; that it is so defined by its entrenched unitary character, the primacy of ‘Sinhala-Buddhism’ as state religion and Sinhala as the official language, all guaranteed in the constitution.

Therefore the Sinhala-Buddhist state would inherently and inexorably be inclined to abuse its monopoly on violence, i.e. the sole right it enjoys to raise, arm and deploy an armed force in Sri Lanka, to promote only the interests of the Sinhala nation. One cannot blame the Buddhist clergy for acting and speaking in the belief that the Sri Lankan armed forces should champion the Sinhala Buddhist cause.

The view that Tamils’ rights could be ensured only by challenging the Sri Lankan state’s sole right to wield violence gained currency after it deployed the army to suppress the Federal Party’s non-violent Satyagraha campaign in 1961.

The anti-Tamil pogroms of 1977 and 1983 entrenched the belief that the Sri Lankan state’s sole right to raise and deploy military force had to be effectively challenged not merely to ensure the legitimate political rights of the Tamils, but more fundamentally to secure their inalienable right to life as members of a specific community.

Ultimately, the modern nation-state’s monopoly on violence within its territory can be justified (though cosmetically) only by the right to life it can guarantee to all its citizens, regardless of their ethnic or religious or other allegiances.

By the extensive use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Emergency Regulations, the Sri Lankan state did everything over the last two decades to convince the Tamils that the military challenge was inevitable to protect and ensure their fundamental rights and the right to life.

It also did everything over the same period to entrench the belief among the Tamils that it would even consider their basic political aspirations only when its monopoly on violence is under serious threat. It agreed to limited regional autonomy only after India threatened an invasion in 1987.

Everyone, except the die-hard Sinhala supremacists, knows that the ‘Sri Lankan state’ is talking to the Tigers in Thailand because the Sri Lanka army was beaten back when it attempted to recapture Palai, (and thence, Elephant Pass) in April 2001.

Amal Jeyasingha, the AFP correspondent in Colombo says in a story he filed on 15 September, “Retired army brigadier general Vipul Boteju believes it is the military strength of the Tigers that forced the government to talk with them with the help of Norwegian peace brokers. ‘If the army was even half an inch taller than the Tigers, the talks would not have been necessary,’ Boteju said.”

Today the stark fact is that every fundamental freedom enjoyed by the Tamils in the northeast has been secured by the sheer military power of the LTTE’s armed forces.

This is why the fundamental freedom to travel unhindered, the to worship freely, the right to education in a fear-free environment, the right to cultivate one’s land and to fish, the right to medicine and sanitation were all part of a ceasefire deal negotiated by the Liberation Tigers.

As we have pointed out on many occasions, the most sophisticated arguments by Tamil politicians about the evils of the draconian PTA and their peaceful Parliamentary agitations for its removal for 23 years fell on deaf ears and had no effect. It took the military power of the LTTE to compel the Sri Lankan state to lift it even temporarily under the ceasefire agreement.

And many Tamils, including senior members of the groups opposed to the Tigers, believe the LTTE’s conventional military power and its well-demonstrated ability to strike in Colombo is the main deterrent against any future anti-Tamil pogrom.

In this manner military power has become central to the political being of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Any attempt to deny this before the right of self-determination is realised would mean war. But of course if the right to self-determination is negotiated successfully then the question of demobilisation becomes irrelevant.



 

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