"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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LTTE & Terrorism

July 1998


A visitor to the tamilnation website from France wrote:

"I wish to ask the Tamilnation how you can justify the violent terrorist acts committed by the LTTE not only against the Sinhalese civilians, but also against its own people. How can a bloodthirsty megalomaniac like Pirabaharan be expected to lead our people? I'd rather live under the Sinhalese government than under his terrorist regime!"

We respond to your question on the basis that it  may have sprung  from genuine concerns  that you may have...

We do not  justify terrorism. But, we do take the view that the armed resistance of the people of Tamil Eelam to alien Sinhala rule is not unlawful. The reasons for that view will appear from the web page on Tamil Armed Resistance. Clausewitz's remarks reflect, perhaps, the unfortunate political reality:

"The would be conqueror is always a lover of peace, for he would like to enter and occupy our country unopposed. It is in order to prevent him from doing this that we must be willing to engage in war and be prepared for it." - Clausewitz quoted in Philosophers of Peace and War, edited by Professor Gallie

The political reality is that the practise of democracy within the confines of a single state has resulted  in rule by a permanent Sinhala majority (for the nature of that rule please see Indictment against Sri Lanka. and for the Tamil response please see  The Charge is Genocide - the Struggle is for Freedom.)

Having said that, it is  true that an armed resistance movement is not a carte blanche to kill and lines will have to drawn, however difficult or even seemingly impossible that task may sometimes appear to be. As wars have become more and more 'total', it has become increasingly difficult to separate the contributions of 'civilians', the 'para military', and the 'military' to the war effort and the distinction between combatants and non combatants has been observed, more often than not, in the breach.

The German blitz on London and the night time Allied bombings of Bremen during the Second World War exposed some of the hypocrisy behind the stated concerns about 'humanising' armed conflicts. Again, as Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed, it is military necessity that in the end, prevails over humanitarian considerations. The stated justification for the use of the atomic bomb was that it prevented the huge casualties that US military forces would have suffered if a sea borne invasion of the Japanese mainland was launched - not to put too fine a point on the matter, the projected casualties of US combatants (i.e. US armed forces) were balanced against the clearly foreseen casualties of Japanese non combatant civilians.

At the recently concluded Rome deliberations on the International Criminal Court, India's attempt to include the use of nuclear weapons as a crime against humanity failed. The nuclear bomb is the ultimate weapon of terror - it makes no distinction between combatants and non combatants and it is intended to terrorise and intimidate the enemy into submission. The user justifies the  use of the nuclear bomb by relying on the ends that the user seeks to achieve - freedom and justice. The justice of the ends seems to influence the 'morality' of   the means employed to achieve those ends. Means and ends appear to be inseparable in more ways than one.

In the case of the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka,  there is also the further circumstance that Sri Lanka  refuses  to even recognise  the existence of an 'armed conflict' in the island. It refuses  to accept the applicability of  the Geneva Conventions  to the conflict. This is in contrast to the LTTE which has publicly stated and in writing to the relevant authorities, that it recognised the applicability of the Geneva Conventions  to the conflict in the island.

Sri Lanka's refusal to recognise the existence of an 'armed conflict' is not unrelated to its  chilling record of gross violations of   humanitarian law. Significantly,  Sri Lanka also abstained from voting for the recent Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which made provision for individuals and governments to be punished for crimes against humanity,  serious violations of the humanitarian law of conflict and genocide.

At the same time, the actions of the LTTE that have violated the humanitarian law of armed conflict may have to be carefully considered on the facts of each individual case. Truth is often the first casualty in a war and Sri Lanka's continued media censorship is proof enough of that. (please see Truth & Propaganda) One instance of Sri Lanka's disinformation campaign was proven in 1990. An Associated Press report  in the London Times on 23 June 1990 declared:

"Tamil guerrillas hacked to death 62 Muslim villagers in eastern Sri Lanka yesterday, accusing them of being government informants, the Defence Ministry and an opposition Muslim leader said. The massacre at Nintavur came on the eleventh day of war between Tamil separatists and Sri Lankan forces for control of the northeast...The Defence Ministry said troops found the bodies of Muslim men, women and children in Nintavur. Military officials said rebels used knives to kill the villagers. Survivors said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam raided the village early yesterday because they feared the residents would reveal their jungle hideaway, according to Mahroof Gani of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress an opposition party. He said that the rebels set fire to a mosque, looted and burnt down houses and left placards warning Muslims not to work for the government...." - Associated Press Report in London Times, 23 June 1990

The Sri Lanka military were later compelled to retract the graphic descriptions of 62 villagers having been hacked to death.

"The military admitted yesterday that its report that Tamil Tiger separatists had hacked to death 62 Muslim men, women and children was false... They claimed their earlier report was based on faulty information from residents. The allegation was reported by international news agencies and appeared in newspapers around the world." - Associated Press Report, London Sunday Times, 24 June 1990.

The Voice of America reported on 28 November 1995:

"The Sri Lankan Government is waging a propaganda war to complement its military offensive.... truth has become one of the war's victims. Media observers say Sri Lankan television has begun resorting to disinformation in its reporting on the war against Tamil Tiger guerrillas...

....The military press office on Saturday issued a statement that the Tamil Tigers had used gas on troops, implying it was a chemical weapons attack. Only later did military sources admit the gas in question had been tear gas. The government continues to ban reporters from the northern war zone. The state information department hands out video and still photographs produced by the Sri Lankan army. Information is provided by fax. The government is also forbidding reporters to visit camps where hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled to escape the fighting.  Sri Lanka media are subject to military censorship. The local cable operator even blacks out stories about Sri Lanka that appear on foreign television channels."

Again, the attacks on Sinhala 'settlers'  on the boundaries of Tamil Eelam may need to be considered in the context of that which the LTTE itself declared in an open letter to the Sinhala people in September 1991:

"The Sinhala people should know that the so called state aided ‘colonisation schemes’ within Tamil areas having nothing to do with solving landlessness among the Sinhala poor. The real aim of the Sri Lankan government is to use Sinhala settlers sometimes as a buffer, and sometimes as a cutting edge, in its war of aggression against the Tamil nation.

The additional longer term purpose of these ‘colonisation schemes’ is to change the demography of the Tamil homeland and in this way, make the Tamils a manageable minority in their own land.The Sri Lanka government has systematically armed these settlers - some of them ex-convicts - and often uses them to attack Tamil villagers in the surrounding areas.

Such actions, together with the brutality of the operations of the regular Sri Lankan army, have led our fighters to engage these armed settlers, with consequences which, sometimes, have been admittedly unfortunate and counter productive to our cause. ..

We appeal to the Sinhala poor not to become pawns in the ‘colonisation schemes’ which have been carefully designed by Sinhala chauvinistic forces to sow the seeds of discord and create everlasting enmity between the Tamil people and the Sinhala people."

In February 1985, a Joint Memorandum submitted by a group of nine Non Governmental Organisations at  the UN Commission on Human Rights declared:

"The President of Sri Lanka has announced his Government's plan to colonise all Tamil areas with Sinhala settlers to reflect the nation-wide population ratio of 75% Sinhalese and 25% other minority ethnic groups. This is calculated to undermine the numerical strength of Tamils in areas where they have traditionally lived... Under the plan 250 families would be selected from each of the Sinhala constituencies for resettlement in the northern province. Such settlements would be created this year in Killinochchi, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu and Mannar districts and extended to the Jaffna Peninsula next year.

The new settlers would be given military training and equipment to safeguard themselves. In fact, in certain predominantly Tamil areas like Vavuniya, Mannar, Mullaitivu and Trincomalee districts, guns have already been distributed. In its recent report the Civil Rights Movement  has drawn attention to the arming of civilians: 'Civilians in the Trincomalee district have been given arms by police, ostensibly for their self-defence. Instances have been given reported of such individuals and groups using arms to terrorise persons of the Tamil community.'"

An armed resistance movement is not an afternoon tea party. Aurobindo's words are not without relevance:

"It is the common habit of established governments and especially those which are themselves oppressors, to brand all violent methods in subject peoples and communities as criminal and wicked. When you have disarmed your slaves and legalised the infliction of bonds, stripes, and death on any one of them who may dare to speak or act against you, it is natural and convenient to try and lay a moral as well as a legal ban on any attempt to answer violence by violence...

But no nation yet has listened to the cant of the oppressor when itself put to the test, and the general conscience of humanity approves the refusal...Liberty is the life breath of a nation; and when life is attacked, when it is sought to suppress all chance of breathing by violent pressure, then any and every means of self preservation becomes right and justifiable...It is the nature of the pressure which determines the nature of the resistance."

But to say all this, is not to say that 'humanising' an armed conflict is not a necessary objective - neither is it to say that genuine efforts in that direction should not be whole heartedly supported. However, the good faith of those who question some of the means adopted by the armed resistance of the Tamil people will be less open to question, if at the same time they do not deny the justice of the ends that the Tamils, as a people, are struggling to achieve i.e. freedom from alien Sinhala rule.

Such recognition, does not mean blind support for the armed resistance led by the LTTE. By all means let us raise the issues that are matters of genuine concern to the Tamil people and to the extent that we openly do so, we purify the struggle - and thereby strengthen it. The struggle will not benefit from mindless support. But nothing is gained by consorting with those who seek to conquer and rule us - except, perhaps to secure a few (personal) crumbs for oneself from the master's table.

Neither is anything gained by a slanging match or name calling. Calling  Velupillai Pirabaharan  a 'megalomaniac' will not change the reality that he has earned the trust and respect of millions of Tamils living not only in Tamil Eelam but also in many lands - trust because of his integrity and his unswerving commitment to the freedom of his people, and respect because of the  skills that he has displayed in leading that struggle. Here, you may find the comments of India's ex Foreign Secretary Dixit, and Professor Marshall Singer and others of interest.

Lieutenant General S.C. Sardesh Pande, IPKF Divisional Commander, Jaffna summed it up well in his book 'Assignment Jaffna':

"I have a high regard for the LTTE for its discipline, dedication, determination, motivation and technical expertise... I was left with the impression that the LTTE was the expression of popular Tamil sentiment and could not be destroyed, so long as that sentiment remained."

The truth is that Velupillai Pirabaharan is not simply an individual - he has come to symbolise and represent the stubborn determination of the people of Tamil Eelam to free themselves from alien Sinhala rule. It is, perhaps, not surprising therefore,  that those who are opposed to the Tamil struggle for freedom are quick to categorise this stubborn determination as 'megalomania'.

During the Second World War, there were those who opposed the Free French movement led by Charles de Gaulle and who were content to live under the German sponsored rule of Vichy France - and they too may have found it useful to rationalise their subservience by categorising de Gaulle as a 'megalomaniac'. But that did not prevent the overwhelming majority of the French people supporting the struggle for freedom from alien German rule. Again, some of those who supported Vichy France may have turned 'informers' and put at risk the lives of those who were struggling for freedom and the Free French may have been compelled to take 'action' against 'their own people'. But, again, that is not to say that all such actions were necessarily justified. (please see 'Tamil Informers')

During  British rule of India, there were some  Indians who welcomed the continuation of alien British rule and did not want to be ruled by Indians - they felt that  Indians did not have the capacity or the good sense to know how to rule themselves. Today, there may be some Tamils who may feel the same about the people of Tamil Eelam. Again, there may be other Tamils who may not speak out against  Sinhala rule because they do not wish to be 'rounded up, tortured and killed'. The case of Arulapu Jude Arulrajah is but one of several thousands:

''Thousands of Tamils are being arrested every month in Colombo, most without any valid reason. ....In many cases families who have not been notified of the arrest desperately search for their missing relative, fearing they have 'disappeared'. The army and armed groups working with the government have abducted some people and held them in secret places of detention for upto two and a half months, where they have been tortured before being dumped on the side of the road or transferred to police custody...

Some agencies routinely beat detainees to extract confessions... After being released they are at risk of being repeatedly re arrested, most likely to be released each time without charge and without ever knowing why they were detained..

The indiscriminate round ups of people solely because of their ethnic origin and reports of their treatment in custody is making members of the Tamil community fearful that they are not safe to walk the streets of Colombo.... (Amnesty International Reports released in January and February 1994 and widely circulated at the 50th Sessions of the UN Commission on Human Rights at Geneva in February/March 1994)

Yet, again, there may be other Tamils who may even welcome the prospect of living under such alien Sinhala rule, so long as they themselves are safe and are not  rounded up,  tortured and killed.  But, unsurprisingly, the views of such Tamils do not influence the people to whom they belong, because that which they say relates only to their personal well being, and is unrelated to the pain, the suffering, the agony   and the aspirations of a people  struggling for freedom.

The struggle for Tamil Eelam did not just happen. It was born in the womb of oppression but its seeds are to be found in the separate language, culture and heritage of the Tamil people. The struggle for Tamil Eelam arose in Tamil soil - and from amongst Tamil speaking Tamils. The words of the Bengali writer, Pramatha Chauduri (written in Bengali)  in 1920 have a broad relevance:

" You have accused me of  'Bengali patriotism'. I feel bound to reply. If it is a crime for a Bengali to harbour and encourage Bengali patriotism in his mind, then I am guilty. But I ask you: what other patriotism do you expect from a Bengali writer?  The fact that I do not write in English should indicate that non Bengali patriotism does not sway my mind...."

The struggle for Tamil Eelam is a quest for freedom that received the overwhelming support of the people of Tamil Eelam at the General Elections in Sri Lanka in 1977 - and which today, finds  poignant expression in the hearts and minds of millions of Tamils, not so much in English, but in Tamil:

thayakam.gif (1848 bytes)

And here, Gramsci's words may be helpful:

'The error of the intellectual consists in believing that it is possible to know without understanding and especially without feeling and passion... that the intellectual can be an intellectual if he is distinct and detached from the people-nation, without feeling the elemental passions of the people, understanding them and thus explaining them in a particular historical situation ... in the absence of such a bond the.. intellectuals become a caste or a priesthood...'

Finally, there is, perhaps,  a need to recognise that the epithet 'terrorism'  is often deliberately used to cloud the moral legitimacy of a people's struggle for freedom.  The lessons of Vietnam and Algiers have not been lost on Governments that failed to quell liberation movements despite having recourse to superior arms and resources. Michael Schubert writing 'On Liberation Movements And The Rights Of Peoples'  pointed out in 1992:

"The French Chief of Staff Andre Beaufre wrote about his own experiences in Algeria and Vietnam in his 1973 German-language book 'Die Revolutionierung des Kriegsbildes':

'The surprising success of the decolonization wars can only be explained by the following: The weak seem to have defeated the strong, but actually just the reverse was true from a moral point of view, which brings us to the conclusion that limited wars are primarily fought on the field of morale.'

In order for... states to quickly and effectively wipe out "revolt", which could get out of hand despite technical superiority (read: better weapons) due to the political and moral convictions of the mass movement, it is necessary to make comprehensive analyses early on and to take effective action in the psychological arena. It's no coincidence, therefore, that military and police circles seem to stress the benefits of "psychological warfare".

Ever since the U.S. Defence Department organised the first ever World Wide Psyops Conference in 1963 and the first NATO Symposium On Defence Psychology in Paris in 1960, many NATO leaders and several scientists have been working in the field of psychological counter-insurgency methods (cf. The detailed reports and analyses of P. Watson, Psycho-War: Possibilities, Power, And The Misuse Of Military Psychology, Frankfurt 1985, p.25ff.).

The central aim of this defence approach is to destroy the morale of the insurgent movement at the early stages, to discredit it and destroy it using repressive means like long periods of isolation detention in prisons, thereby preventing a mass movement from starting which could be hard to control with conventional means.

Defaming the insurgents as "terrorists" and punishing them accordingly - thereby ignoring international law concerning the rights of people in war - is a particularly useful means."

 
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