"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
 
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Selected Writings by Nadesan Satyendra
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Sathyam Commentary
16 December 2000

Minister Kadirgamar's Baby Talk

"As the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, I do not welcome statements made by people outside the country, even though they come from very friendly countries, prescribing remedies for our problem.... The LTTE are not babies conducting a war by accident, but are capable of coming for talks while continuing fighting  " - Sri Lanka Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar 13/14 December 2000 


Caught between a rock and a hard place, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar has turned to the usual responses of  the cornered - squeal, bluster and verbal abuse.

The rock, ofcourse, is Velupillai Pirabaharan, representing, as he does, the indomitable determination of a people to live in equality and in freedom.  The hard place is the stand taken by the international community - a stand which was spelt out by UK Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Peter Hain on 23 November 2000:

"...This is a war neither side can win militarily. It is a conflict that cannot be resolved without elected leaders being prepared to sit down with people who may well be responsible for barbarous assassinations, but who do have a legitimate political programme which needs to be engaged, not shunned. It took far too long for us to learn that lesson in Britain, and far too many lives were lost as a consequence. Equally, the LTTE, like the IRA, need to acknowledge that, whilst a Tamil Kingdom constitutionally split from the rest of the island will not receive recognition by Europe, the USA or indeed India, the principle of self determination and control over most if not all the key policies affecting daily life would be supported by the international community..."

Minister Kadirgamar objects to the international community 'prescribing remedies for our problem'.  He would prefer to cherry pick  from the statements made by UK Minister Peter Hain. He welcomes the statement that 'a Tamil Kingdom constitutionally split from the rest of the island will not receive recognition by Europe, the USA or indeed India'. But  Minister Kadirgamar objects to the recognition given to the 'principle of self determination' and objects to the people of Tamil Eelam being given  'control over most if not all the key policies affecting (their) daily life'. 

He declares, with almost viceregal disdain:

"As the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka I do not welcome statements made by people outside the country, even though they come from very friendly countries, prescribing remedies for our problem. I find some of these remedies are very academic. They are based on the experiences of the other parts of the world which do not necessarily relate to us. They disturb the domestic scene. They sometimes upset our neighbouring countries who have different kind of arrangements. And therefore altogether, I would ask our good friends abroad to desist from making statements which infringe on our right to resolve our own problem." (Sri Lanka State Controlled, Daily News, 14 December 2000)

On the one hand, Sri Lanka goes with a begging bowl to the international community (in Paris) to bolster an economy which is in ruins, with run away inflation, and interest rates at 28%, so that it may continue to prosecute its genocidal war against the people of Tamil Eelam. On the other hand, Minister Kadirgamar does 'not welcome' statements made by that same international community as to how the war may be ended. Minister Kadirgamar would rather receive a blank cheque - in silence.

Leave it to us, he says. Do not 'infringe on our right to resolve our own problem', he adds. He tells the international community: do not disturb the 'domestic scene'. The Kadirgamar story line is simple, if somewhat disingenuous :"We are well meaning 'moderates', but there are these rabid Sinhala Buddhist extremists, who must be managed. We need to be allowed the space and time to do that, without interventions from outside'. 

The story line is, ofcourse, an old  line - as old as the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka.  

For instance, in 1985, at a tea break during the Thimpu Talks in Bhutan, H.W.Jayawardene Q.C. who led the Sri Lanka delegation, sidled up to one of the Tamil delegates and said in an earnest voice: "You know our difficulty. We would like to go further -  but we can offer nothing more than District Councils because Mrs.Bandaranaike will create a rumpus, if we do." 

That H.W.Jayawardene said this in 1985, after decades of broken pacts and evasive proposals, was surprising enough. That Minister Kadirgamar should suggest the same 15 years later, defies reason. The 'domestic scene' to which Minister Kadirgamar alludes is simply a euphemism for the constituency which all Sinhala political leaders (without exception) have carefully cultivated and nurtured during the past several decades. It is the constituency to which Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake went on bended knees a few months ago:

'...We will seek the views of the Mahanayaka Theras on each and every paragraph, clause and line of the draft Constitution so that they could correct us, where we have gone wrong...'' (Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake,  and President Kumaratunga loyalist, 14 August 2000)

It is the constituency to which Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga made her nakedly racist appeal in May 2000:

"...Throughout history, timely heroes were born against forces which had tried to divide our nation. I think it is due to the inspiration received form such heroes that people like you have been born today...  History records that even (Sinhala) Kings Dutugemunu, Gajabahu, Vijayabahu and Parakramabahu have suffered defeat at the hands of the (Tamil) enemy at some stage. But each time they faced such setbacks, they had faced the enemy with renewed strength and achieved victory. Dear war heroes, we too have to follow in the footsteps of our past heroes... Your blood is boiling to liberate your motherland... " (Sri Lanka State Controlled Daily News, 12 May 2000)

It is the constituency to which President Kumaratunga appealed when she stage managed her infamous victory ceremony after the Sinhala armed forces conquered (Yapa Patuna) Jaffna in 1995. The Sri Lanka state controlled Daily News reported triumphantly on 6 December 1995:

"Some historians have already looked upon the liberation of Jaffna, Yapa Patuna of ancient fame, as a historical parallel to its re-taking by Prince Sapumal in the 15th century by vanquishing the forces of rebel chief Arya Chakravarti. Prince Sapumal later ascended the throne as King Buvenekabahu IV. A report on the completion of the operation Riviresa will be presented to President Kumaratunga today, official sources said."

Sinhala Buddhist fundamentalism forms the bed rock on which President Kumaratunga built and continues to build her political advancement - and this is something about which the international community is well informed.

The international community is also well informed of the continuing collapse of the democratic process in the island of Sri Lanka: 

"...It is CMEV’s considered assessment that taken as a whole the 2000 General Election was significantly marred by violence and election-related violations. In addition, the ongoing offensive in the Jaffna peninsula, as well as the de facto deprivation of voting rights to approximately 250,000 Tamil voters in so-called uncleared areas in the North-East Province has resulted in the election being a fraud in this province. In the rest of the country, 35 of CMEV’s monitors and observers were threatened and intimidated by supporters of the People’s Alliance..." (Centre for Monitoring Election Violence, Report, 14 October 2000)

The international community is also well informed of the continuing desertions from the Sri Lanka armed forces and the harsh reality of soldiers' coffins without soldiers' bodies:  

"The bodies of those (Sinhala soldiers) killed in the war would be brought to the villages in sealed coffins and after all the crying and the rituals, people were given this compensation. I realised that this was a tragic and vicious circle, so I created a character that would expose this....If someone opens a coffin they lose the compensation money. These are the rules. The coffin is sealed and two soldiers stay with it until it is buried. In my film the old man has the coffin broken up so that no one will get any compensation.

"After the film was screened yesterday, one young man came up to me and said it would be better if the coffin contained an army uniform otherwise youth would be discouraged from joining the army. I explained that the film had to show what was really happening - that the army and government don't even bother to keep the soldier's uniform - they just put tree trunks and stones to give some weight to the coffin. This is the harsh reality of the situation."

"I wanted the film to express my opposition to the war, but I have to be truthful when I create such a character. The father doesn't know what he has exposed. The reality of the war in some ways is beyond him. This is what the film shows. Opposition to the war, however, is now starting to build up throughout the country. People are getting tired of the argument that the war can be solved militarily by massacring Tamils, especially when their sons and next of kin come back home in sealed coffins. I hope my film will assist in this process." (Sinhala film maker Prasanna Vithanage who made the Sinhala movie, Pura Handa Kaluwara - Death on a Full Moon Day)

Given the deteriorating economy, the increasing army desertions, the collapsing democracy, the continuing erosion of press freedom, the horrendous human rights record, Minister Kadirgamar knows that the stand taken by the international community (as expressed by UK Minister Peter Hain) reflects the international community's  increasing reluctance to accept at face value, President Kumaratunga's continued protestations that she and her Government's approach to the conflict,  remains 'their best bet' for 'peace and stability' in the island of Sri Lanka. The international community may also be mindful of the spill over effects in the Indian region, of a continuing, unresolved conflict in the island of Sri Lanka.

And, hence Minister Kadirgamar's bluster. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Minister Kadirgamar, seeks to extricate himself by engaging in some real politick of his own. He seeks succor from India and suggests that the stand of the 'international community' has  'upset neighbouring countries.' 

In 1956, when the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi, led by the Gandhian, S.J.V.Chelvanayagam demanded a federal constitution, the Sinhala majority castigated the demand as 'separation'.  Forty four years later, the self evident political reality  is that President Kumaratunga and her Sinhala Buddhist constituency continue  to resist a genuine federal structure for the island of Sri Lanka. 

Unable to contain the ensuing struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam for equality and freedom, Sri Lanka seeks to enlist New Delhi's support by suggesting that a genuine federal structure, is a threat not simply to the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka but to that of India as well. Sinhala chauvinism  seeks to gloss over the political reality that it was the refusal to establish a genuine federal structure that resulted in the struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam. 

In 1985, at the Thimpu Talks, the blundering Romesh Bhandari (India's then Foreign Secretary in a Congress dispensation) when confronted with the Tamil demand for self determination, responded: "How can we support that - if we do, we will have to concede that India is a multi national state". Fifteen years later, and thousands of deaths later, Minister Kadirgamar, would have New Delhi bail Sri Lanka out by making the same blunder that Romesh Bhandari had made.

The unity of India will not be secured by urging New Delhi to follow the same path that was tread by Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism for the past several decades in the island of Sri Lanka, with such disastrous results. Minister Kadirgamar would have New Delhi ignore the vision that was articulated on behalf of the Tamil delegation at Thimpu in August 1985:

"... we are not chauvinists. We do not take an exaggerated view of nationalism.... We know that in the end, national freedom can only be secured by a voluntary pooling of sovereignties, in a regional, and ultimately in a world context. And we recognise that our future lies with the peoples of the Indian region and the path of a greater and a larger Indian union is the direction of that future. It is a union that will reflect the compelling and inevitable need for a common market and a common defence and foreign policy and which will be rooted in the common heritage that we share with our brothers and sisters of not only of Tamil Nadu but also of India as a whole. It is a shared heritage that we freely acknowledge and it is a shared heritage from which we derive strength - and we know that we too, as a people, can at the same time, contribute to that strength..."

Today, President Kumaratunga's real fear is not that the LTTE will not agree to anything short of an independent Tamil Eelam. Her real fear is that the LTTE may well agree to a settlement of the conflict within the broad  framework suggested by the international community. 

And so Sinhala chauvinism which resisted  federalism for more than four decades now resists the prospect of  federalism plus Velupillai Pirabaharan with even greater vehemence, because they know that in Velupillai Pirabaharan, the Tamil people have a leader who will not compromise the right of his people to equality and freedom. 

Minister Kadirgamar repeats the mantra 'territorial integrity', 'territorial integrity', 'territorial integrity', at every turn and in this way seeks to avoid facing up to the issue of  negotiating structures within which two peoples may live in equality and in freedom. 

In this day and age, in an increasingly small world, territorial boundaries have become increasingly porous. Stability clearly lies in securing structures where different peoples may voluntarily associate with each other in equality and in freedom. And if this be perceived by some as an unrealistic 'idealism', the European Union (established albeit, after two World Wars) may help to focus our minds and our hearts - and serve as a pointer. 

Minister Kadirgamar who views UK Minister Peter Hain's suggestions as 'very academic' may hopefully find the views expressed by a non academic, Velupillai Pirabaharan, more acceptable:

".. It is the Sri Lanka government which has failed to learn the lessons from the emergence of the struggles for self determination in several parts of the globe and the innovative structural changes that have taken place..." (from the theme of 1992 International Federation of Tamils  Conference in London)

Be that all as it may, the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka will not be resolved by debates in cyberspace, or for that matter by simple minded appeals to reason elsewhere. Neither will the conflict  be resolved by public posturing of the type displayed by Minister Kadirgamar. Some ten years ago, Sathasivam Krishnakumar was in a reflective mood in London. He said in Tamil: 

"Thalaivar once remarked to me: there may come a day when the Sinhala Government may propose a genuine federal constitution. When that day arrives, it will mean that in the perception of that Sinhala Government, Tamil Eelam was round the corner."

The bottom line which the Tamil people understand only too well,  is that Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism will not agree to a genuine federal structure unless it concluded that if it did not, it may no longer be able to prevent an independent Tamil Eelam from coming into existence.

Minister Kadirgamar may want to re visit the words  of Tamil Eelam Leader, Velupillai Pirabaharan, in a BBC interview in September 1994, before the beginning of the previous round of talks with the Chandrika government:

 "Sinhala thesam should understand that a solution to the Tamil question cannot be found by resort to war and by military suppression of the Tamil people."

So long as the Sinhala people believe that a military solution remains an option should talks fail, so long as they believe that they can conquer the Tamil homeland and rule a people against their will, through quislings and collaborators, so long will they fail to see the need to talk to the Tamil people on equal terms.

It is encouraging to note that Minister Kadirgamar recognises that the LTTE are not babies. Encouraging, because this is undoubtedly a step forward from the remarks made by Sri Lanka Deputy Defence Minister, Ranjan Wijeratne, some 10 years ago:

"... What is left (of the LTTE) is the baby brigade of young boys and girls. They will wet their pants when they meet my armed forces." (India Today, 15 July 1990)

And perhaps, the time has also come for Minister Kadirgamar to stop the baby talk about 'fighting and talking' at the same time - and get on with the serious business of negotiating a secure and just  peace. He may also find it helpful  to attend to the words of Walter Kemp from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe: 

"...many peace agreements are fragile and the 'peace' that they create is usually the extension of war by more civilised means... A peace agreement is often an imperfect compromise based on the state of play when the parties have reached a 'hurting stalemate' or when the international community can no longer stomach a continuation of the crisis. A peace process, on the other hand, is not so much what happens before an agreement is reached, rather what happens after it... the post conflict phase crucially defines the relationship between former antagonists..." (Walter Kemp, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe reviewing 'After the Peace: resistance and reconciliation' by Robert L.Rothstein, 1999)

After all, the LTTE are not babies. 

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