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No White Flag in Tamil Eelam
It was the Prussian military theorist Clausewitz, who remarked that war is a continuation of politics by other means. President Premadasa is proving Clausewitz right. The military offensive launched by the Sri Lankan army, two weeks ago, on the LTTE and the Tamil people is a continuation of President Premadasa's political campaign to survive in power in the South.
The impeachment resolution against President Premadasa, though aborted, seriously weakened his grip on power. Ex Ministers Lalith Athulathmudalai and Gamini Dissanayake held well attended public meetings in the Sinhala South. The thrust of the UNP rebels' campaign was a naked appeal to Sinhala chauvinism. Lalith Athulathmudali accused President Premadasa of having supplied arms to the LTTE, 'which arms are being used against our Sinhala soldiers'. Gamini Dissanayake asserted that Minister Thondaman's Ceylon Workers Congress was 'slowly eating up the upcountry areas' and warned that there would soon be a temple to temple, village to village campaign by Buddhist monks against the Executive Presidency.
President Premadasa had reason to fear that as the UNP rebel campaign continued, it would attract more and more of the disgruntled and discontented in the Sinhala South. His ruthless campaign against dissidents in the South, during the past two years and more, meant that the reservoir of the disgruntled had been kept well supplied.
Again, the army, with Goigama Buddhists in the upper echelons of power, some with connections with the dissident UNP rebels and pushing for a 'gung ho' approach, had become more difficult to manage. What better way to counter the opposition Tamil bashing campaign in the South than by starting an army Tamil bashing campaign in the North? Deeds, after all, speak more effectively than words. And, it would not be for the first time, that a Government wracked with internal problems has sought to unite its people behind it, by recourse to an external military adventure.
There was also an external aspect to the political compulsions faced by President Premadasa. In the run up to 1992 and the lifting of travel restrictions within the European Community, EC members had become increasingly restive about the presence, within their borders, of large numbers of Tamil refugees, amounting to around 200,000. It was in the immediate interest of several European states to secure an early settlement to the conflict in Sri Lanka.
A Commonwealth mediation initiative was announced in Australia by the Shadow Minister for External Affairs, Senator Robert Hill with the support of Prime Minister Bob Hawke. President Premadasa's response was cool. He closed the Israeli interests section in Colombo and looked to Libya for arms. The UK High Commissioner in Colombo, Mr. David Gladstone was expelled in May 1991, in an attempt to stifle British and other Western criticism. In July 1991, Britain withdrew its aid offer of £3 million on the ground that Sri Lanka's human rights performance had not improved significantly since October 1990.
Be that all as it may, the conventional wisdom in the international community was that neither Sri Lanka nor the LTTE can win the war and that a settlement of the conflict was a necessary pre condition for economic growth and stability. The question was: what was the settlement that would suffice to bring peace?
It is an open secret that during recent months, many initiatives were taken by interested and concerned individuals and international organisations to mediate in the conflict. Last month, with the statement of the leader of the Liberation Tigers, Velupillai Pirabaharan, that he was ready for peace talks, the peace initiatives appeared to have matured. At a discussion meeting with students at Jaffna University, Pirabaharan declared:
Elephant Pass had demonstrated that there were two conventional armies in the Island. President Premadasa understood only too well that the establishment of a conventional Tamil National Army was leading to a de facto separate Tamil Eelam state and would strengthen the LTTE's hand in any negotiating process.
Independent commentators, for example in Asiaweek, had begun to accept the need to structure a solution to the conflict on the basis that there were two nations in the Island. Rev. Richard Wooton of the Uniting Church of Australia, in a communication addressed to the Heads of the Commonwealth, on the 30th of September, openly called for a resolution of the conflict on the basis of either two independent states or a con-federation of two states.
President Premadasa recognised that it may become increasingly difficult to resist a demand for a political settlement on the lines of associate structures in the European Community or of sovereign states as conceived in the new Union Treaty of the USSR - difficult that is, without being seen to be unreasonable and intransigent. His present military offensive is intended, therefore, to thwart a political settlement based on the territorial integrity of Tamil Eelam.
President Premadasa seeks to weaken the conventional military strength of the LTTE and reduce it to a more politically manageable guerilla force which has no effective control of territory. At the same time, he seeks to force a 'settlement' on the Liberation Tigers, and secure 'peace', on the basis of Provincial Councils, within the frame of Sri Lanka's unitary Constitution.
In a unitary constitution, all effective state power will reside at the centre. Unitary means just that - one and not two. President Premadasa and his advisers know that any 'political solution' within the frame of Sri Lanka's unitary Constitution, will necessarily vest executive power in the Colombo President and legislative power in the Central Parliament. President Premadasa and his advisers know that the Sri Lanka Constitution provides that its unitary character cannot be changed except by the people at a ref-erendum.
In the end, the answer, not surprisingly, lies in the eventual good sense of the Sinhala people themselves. It also lies in the emergence of a Sinhala political leadership which is unafraid to tell its people that the Tamil struggle for self determination is just and right and that peace will not come to the Island without justice. It lies in the emergence of a Sinhala political leadership which is unafraid to say openly that no people can force another people to live together with them, but two peoples may structure a polity where each associates with the other in equality and in freedom.
War may be a continuation of politics by other means. But, as Clausewitz added, it is also true that the object of war is to break your opponent's will. The military offensive launched by President Premadasa has served, instead, to consolidate and strengthen the will of the Tamil people to resist the Sinhala invader of their homelands and Velupillai Pirabaharan and the Liberation Tigers are today, the living symbols of that will. The military offensive launched by President Premadasa has served to underline to the Tamil people, the compelling need for a sovereign state of Tamil Eelam where the Tamil people may live in security and with dignity. There will be no white flag in Tamil Eelam.