People’s Truth: Tamil Eelam Struggle and its Lessons
Posted by n3wday on August 19, 2009
Tamil Eelam Struggle and its Lessons
On 18th May 2009, the president of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapakshe declared that the three decades of war against the LTTE has come to an end. He declared that the Sri Lankan army won a final victory against the Tigers. The Sri Lankan army and the government also claimed that the LTTE leader Prabhakaran and many of his lieutenants were killed in the battle and showed the photographs of the dead body of Prabhakaran in the electronic and print media. On 20th, the Sri Lankan government declared a national holiday to ‘celebrate’ this ‘victory’.
The timing of this declaration created suspicion amongst the people who are closely watching the developments in Sri Lanka, in India and all over the world. It appears that the Sri Lankan government deliberately spread this news after the announcement of parliament election results in India. While the Sri Lankan government and the UPA government led by the Congress party celebrated this, millions of sympathizers/supporters of Tigers and Eelam struggle all over the world were shocked in disbelief that the struggle for a separate Tamil Eelam would come to such an end. Within 24 hours, the Tigers rubbished the Sri Lankan government’s claim and published that the Tiger’s chief and many leaders of the LTTE are safe and the struggle for Tamil Eelam would continue until realizing its goal of achieving a separate homeland for the Eelam people.
Tamils all over the world held protest demonstrations, and in Tamil Nadu (TN), some violent incidents also took place. Although the claim by the Sri Lankan government that they have achieved a conclusive victory over the LTTE and the armed struggle for a separate homeland for Eelam can be disputed, at least for the present, there is no doubt that the Sri Lankan army achieved a major military victory over the LTTE.
How could one of the most powerful guerrilla forces, the LTTE, have faced such a defeat and how was the Sri Lankan army able to inflict such a defeat? With this defeat, whether the three and half decades of armed struggle for self-determination come to an end? Whether the Sri Lankan government will fulfill the genuine national aspirations of the Eelam people? Whether the Tamil people in Sri Lanka can live as equal citizens along with the Sinhalese? What will be the future of Tamils in Sri Lanka? These are the important questions for all those who fight for freedom, national liberation and for people’s democracy and those who genuinely support the cause of Tamil Eelam. To understand the struggle for Tamil Eelam it is necessary to look into its origin and its growth.
Origin of the demand for separate Tamil Eelam
The Sinhalese people trace their origins in the island to the arrival of Prince Vijaya from India, around 500 B.C. Before the arrival of prince Vijaya the Tamils were already living in the Island. According to Sinhala historian and Cambridge scholar, Paul Peiris “..it stands to reason that a country which was only thirty miles from India and which would have been seen by Indian fisherman every morning as they sailed out to catch their fish, would have been occupied as soon as the continent was peopled by men who understood how to sail. Long before the arrival of Prince Vijaya, there were in Sri Lanka five recognized Isvarams of Siva which claimed and received the adoration of all India. These were Tiruketeeswaram near Mahatitha; Munneswaram dominating Salawatte and the pearl fishery; Tondeswaram near Mantota; Tirkoneswaram near the great bay of Kottiyar and Nakuleswaram near Kankesanturai”. (Paul E. Pieris: Nagadipa and Buddhist Remains in Jaffna : Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch Vol.28)
By the time the Portuguese colonialists arrived in the Island in 1505 there were three kingdoms, namely one Tamil-based in Jaffna, and two Sinhalese-based in Kotte and the third at Kandy. In 1619, the Portuguese defeated the Tamil king and annexed the Jaffna kingdom. In 1656, the Dutch arrived and later in 1796, the British conquered the Island. In 1802, Ceylon becomes a Crown colony. In 1833, the whole of Ceylon for the first time was brought under a single administration by the British. Around the same period, the British started to bring the laborers from TN to work in the tea, coffee and coconut plantations.
About one fifth of the island’s populations, of 17 million, are Tamils and somewhat less than three quarters are Sinhalese. The Tamils reside largely in the north and the east and on the plantations in the central hills, whilst the Sinhalese reside in the south, west and in the centre as well. The area of the Tamil homeland in the north-east is around 7,500 square miles or 19,509 sq. Kms.
In 1919, the Ceylon National Congress, comprising both Tamils and the Sinhalese, was formed under the leadership of Arunachalam Ponnambalam, a Tamil. Later, in 1921, he quit the CNC accusing that it represents only the Sinhalese. In 1947, the Soulbury Constitution was enacted which emphasized the unitary state under colonial rule. In 1948, the British left Ceylon handing over power to the Sinhala compradors. The Sinhala ruling classes regarded the island of Sri Lanka as the exclusive home of the Sinhalese and the Tamil people as `outsiders’ who were to be subjugated and assimilated within the confines of a unitary Sinhala Buddhist state.
Immediately after assuming power in 1949, the Sinhalese ruling classes disenfranchised the plantation workers from TN. The passage of the Citizenship Act 1949 made more than a million Tamil plantation workers of Indian origin disenfranchised and stateless. In 1949, the Tamil Federal Party (FP) under the leadership of S. J. V. Chelvanayagam, who is regarded as the father of the Eelam nation, was formed. Its First convention was held in 1951 declaring its intention to campaign for a federal structure of governance, and for regional autonomy for Tamils living in the North and East.
In 1956, Solomon Bandaranaike was elected on a wave of Sinhalese nationalism. Sinhala was proclaimed as the sole official language of Ceylon and other measures were introduced by the government to bolster Sinhalese and Buddhist chauvinism. J.R. Jayawardane, who became Sri Lanka’s President in the 1980s, openly incited Sinhala chauvinism “…The time has come for the whole Sinhala race which has existed for 2500 years, zealously safeguarding their language and religion, to fight without giving any quarter to save their birthright… I will lead the campaign…” (J.R.Jayawardene, Sinhala Opposition Leader reported in Sri Lanka Tribune: 30th August 1957)
In 1958, Bandaranaike and Tamil leader Chelvanayagam signed a pact (B-C Pact) on a federal solution, devolving wide ranging powers to Tamils in North and east of Ceylon. But, within a week after signing the pact the government under pressure from the Sinhalese and Buddhist chauvinists unilaterally abrogated it. In protest against this, a peaceful disobedience movement was launched by the FP. The government reacted by sending police and military forces to crush the movement and unleashed anti-Tamil riots in Sinhalese dominated areas. More than 200 Tamils died and thousands were displaced.
After a Buddhist monk killed Solomon Bandaranaike in 1959, his wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the world’s first woman PM came to power. She continued the Sinhalese chauvinistic measures. In 1972, Ceylon was renamed as Sri Lanka and Buddhism given primary status as the country’s religion. These measures further antagonized and alienated the Tamils in the Island. In 1964, the Sirimavo-Sashtri pact was signed for the repatriation of stateless plantation workers to India. In 1965, the Dudley-Chelva agreement, which is a diluted version of the B-C pact, was signed. The agreement was abandoned without being implemented due to opposition from the Sinhalese chauvinists and Buddhist clergy. In protest, FP’s Tiruchelvam, Minister of Local Government, resigned from the cabinet.
In 1972 Ceylon became a Republic on May 22nd and was officially renamed the Republic of Sri Lanka. The United Front government enacted a Sinhalese-supremacist “Republican Constitution” for the country, which makes Buddhism the de facto state religion pushing Tamils, of both Eelam and plantation laborers, into second grade citizen.
Threatened by the growing state sponsored chauvinism, Tamil parties formed the Tamil United Front (TUF) comprising the FP, Tamil Congress (TC) led by G. G. Ponnambalam, and Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) led by Thondaman, which was renamed as TULF in 1976. A small group of youths formed a militant organization named the Tamil New Tigers (TNT); later in 1976 the name was changed into the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Jaffna peninsula to fight for Tamils rights led by a 17-year-old Velupillai Prabhakaran.
In 1974, the Sinhalese chauvinists in collusion with the Sinhalese police attacked the attendees of the prestigious International Tamil Cultural Conference in Jaffna killing nine Tamils and injuring many. State discrimination against Tamils reached its peak with the introduction of “standardization” denying equal opportunities for Tamil students in admission to universities. This measure has not only denied higher education and employment for Tamils but also aimed at gradually eliminating the Tamils from holding posts in the state administration, police and army.
In 1976 the TULF passed the “Vaddukoddai Resolution” to establish a “free, sovereign, secular, socialist State of Tamil Eelam based on the right to self-determination” to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil nation in Sri Lanka. In the 1977 general elections, TULF contested the elections with the slogan of separate a Tamil Eelam State. The Tamils overwhelmingly, more than 90%, voted for a separate Eelam. It was nothing but a referendum for the aspirations and right to self-determination of Tamils in a peaceful manner. But the Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinists refused to recognize the rights and aspirations of Tamils; instead more state sponsored violence was unleashed to trample their genuine rights. In an attempt to crush down the Tamil identity and their history, the Jaffna Public Library, which contained many rare collection of books, over 95,000 volumes, including many irreplaceable and culturally important manuscripts in Tamil was burnt down by the Sri Lankan armed forces, under the direction of two ministers, Gamini Dissanayake and Cyril Mathew.
In the pre-liberation war period, in 1983 July, (which is called “Black July”) the anti-Tamil pogroms, which were executed in a very planned way, was the most cruel and wide-spread massacre. It took place not only in the north and east of Sri Lanka, where the Tamils are in a majority, but also throughout the country, More than 4000 people were killed and thousands rendered homeless. Their properties were either looted or destroyed, thereby wiping out their means of livelihood. Even in the jails, Tamil prisoners were brutally killed and their eyes gouged out.
More than 1,50,000 people fled Sri Lanka as refugees to India and western countries. Directly inciting the riots, President Jayawardane said “I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people… now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion… the more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here… Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy.” (President J.R.Jayawardene, Daily Telegraph, 11th July 1983)
This incident was the turning point in the struggle for self-determination by the Tamil Eelam people. The Tamil people lost their faith in the ‘parliamentary democracy’ of Sri Lanka, which sought to consolidate Sinhala-Buddhist hegemony over the island, through a series of legislative and administrative acts such as disenfranchisement, state sponsored colonization of the Tamil homeland through the systematic settlement of Sinhalese in the north and east, discriminatory language and employment policies and ‘standardization’ of University admissions.
The struggle transformed from a non-violent, peaceful one into an armed struggle. Thousands of youths joined various militant organizations. They were initially trained militarily in India with the support of the Indian government as the Indian expansionists (then under the domination of Soviet social imperialism) wanted to utilize the issue to pressurize the Sri Lankan government (then under US domination) to fall in line with its expansionists demands. The people realized that the parliamentary and peaceful methods have not only eroded their dignity and rights but also their right to live a decent life. Hence, they rejected the parliamentary politicians and whole heartedly supported the armed struggle.
Hiding these facts the Indian government and the media, particularly the English newspapers and TV channels, have been making a big hue and cry about the armed struggle, using their terminology ‘terrorism’, deliberately distorting and propagating lies about the history of the struggle for Tamil Eelam. From then onwards, the LTTE, within a few years, became the most prominent organization representing the struggle for separate Eelam; in the process they violently crushing the other organizations, as almost all of them had become agents of, either the Indian or the Sri Lankan governments.
The Civil War and Peace Talks
In July 1983, the LTTE launched an attack on the military in the North of the country, killing 13 soldiers. Whipping up chauvinistic sentiments the Sri Lanka government organized massacres and pogroms in Colombo and other parts of the country. About 4,000 Tamils were killed, and thousands fled Sinhalese-majority areas. This marked the beginning of the civil war or Eelam War I.
After the commencement of the civil war in 1983, till the recent defeat of the LTTE, there were four wars and four peace talks were conducted. The first peace process started under the intervention of the Indian expansionists in 1985 at Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. The LTTE and other militant groups participated in the talks by dropping the demand for a separate sovereign state for the Tamils and put forward the demands that the Tamils must be recognized as a nationality; the north and eastern region of Sri Lanka must be considered as a single entity and the homeland of Eelam Tamil’s right to self-determination, including right to secede, must be recognized. The talks failed due to the refusal of the Sri Lankan government to meet the genuine aspirations of the Tamils.
But the Indian and Sri Lankan governments signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord on 29th of July 1987, without any representation or participation of the people of Eelam or the militants who were waging the national liberation war. Instead, the Indian expansionists, who allowed the militant groups to set up their bases in TN and provided them arms, ammunition and military training, imposed the accord on them. The Sri Lankan government brought forward the 13th amendment to the Constitution, providing devolution of powers to Tamils.
The LTTE and the people of Eelam rejected the Accord as it had provisions only for a Provincial Council under the unitary state of the Sinhala government, which was far from meeting their genuine demand for self-determination. Moreover, to implement the Accord, the Indian government sent a 1,40,000 strong ‘peace keeping’ force to the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka, as the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord did secure India its strategic interests. The Sri Lankan government agreed to India that “Trincomalee or any other ports in Sri Lanka will not be made available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India’s interests”.
The role played by the Indian government created suspicion in the minds of those who were genuinely fighting for national liberation. They felt that the Indian government betrayed and back-stabbed them. The relationship between India and the LTTE worsened further when the peace talks were still continuing. On 4th October 1988, the Sri Lankan navy captured a boat and arrested seventeen LTTE men, including top ranking leaders Pulendran and Kumarappa at Point Pedro. The LTTE asked the Indian government to intervene and get them released. Protesting against the dubious role played by India, the leader of the LTTE’s political wing, Lt. Col Thileepan began a hunger strike and subsequently died.
But the Indian government tacitly supported the Sri Lankan government which began shifting the detainees to Colombo. Subsequently, all LTTE cadres in jail committed mass suicide, which sparked protests and clashes. The peace talks broke down and the civil war started again. The Sri Lankan government asked the IPKF to put down the rebellion. On 9th October 1988, the IPKF started an offensive against the LTTE code named “operation pawan”.
They expected to complete the whole operation in a few weeks. Contrary to their expectations the IPKF got bogged down in the war losing more than 1700 troops with thousands more either injured or maimed. Finally they were forced to withdraw ignominiously in March 1990.
The election to the north eastern provincial council was imposed at gun point jointly by the Indian and Sri Lankan governments. While the LTTE boycotted the elections, other militant groups like the EPRLF which became stooges of the Indian expansionists, participated in it. Even today the Indian government and its trumpeters are clamoring for a so-called political solution to the ‘ethnic conflict’ centering on the same ‘solution’ imposed by the Indian expansionists in 1987. Of course, the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists opposed even this nominal ‘devolution of power’ to the Tamils. Later, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court struck down the 13th Amendment as ‘unconstitutional’.
Opposition to the accord and the presence of the Indian armed forces in Sri Lanka gathered momentum among the Sinhalese also. The Premadasa government even supplied arms to their arch adversaries, the LTTE, to fight the Indian armed forces. Sensing the danger to their power, the Premadasa government asked the IPKF to withdraw. With the defeat of Rajiv Gandhi in the 1989 general elections and the pressure from TN, the V.P. Singh government ordered the withdrawal of the IPKF in March 1990. After the withdrawal of the IPKF a temporary truce was maintained between the LTTE and Colombo. But the war once again broke out in June 1990. Thus began the Eelam War II.
After the withdrawal of the IPKF, the LTTE consolidated its position in the northern and eastern areas. After Chandrika Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance (PA) was elected to power with slogan of peace with the LTTE, a ceasefire agreement was signed in January 1995 and negotiations begun. But it too failed due to intransigent attitude of the Sri Lankan government. Eelam War III broke out in April 1995. The military onslaught by the Sri Lankan government turned more gruesome with the Lankan Air force jets bombing St. Peter’s church at Navali killing 125 civilians and wounding 150 others. After seven weeks of intense fighting, the government troops succeeded in bringing Jaffna under its control for the first time in nearly a decade. As a mark of ‘victory’, Sri Lankan Defense Minister, Anirudda Ratwatte, raised the national flag inside the Jaffna Fort on December 5, 1995. The government estimated that approximately 2,500 soldiers and rebels were killed in the offensive, and an estimated 7,000 wounded.
The LTTE launched its counter-offensive in 1999 with “Operation Unceasing Waves” and 17 other attacks on the enemy recapturing all the lost territories. In that single operation, conducted for less than three days, the LTTE killed more than 1200 Sri Lankan soldiers. It was as though two nations were fighting a conventional war. It also successfully captured the Elephant Pass (Operation Frog) cutting all land and sea supply lines of the Sri Lankan armed forces in the town of Kilinochchi and surrounding areas.
On April 22, 2000 the Elephant Pass military complex, which had separated the Jaffna peninsula from the Vanni mainland for 17 years, completely fell into the hands of the LTTE. About 40,000 Sri Lankan troops in Jaffna were surrounded by the LTTE and were in a dire situation, and there was no other way for them but to surrender or get annihilated. It was only through the intervention of the Indian and US governments that this was prevented. The Vajpayee government openly threatened the LTTE not to advance further, or to face serious consequences. It even sent its naval ships to save the Sri Lankan soldiers. Not ready to defy the threats from the US and the Indian governments the LTTE did not move forward.
With the inability of the Sri Lankan ruling classes to impose a military solution to the national question of the Tamil people, the Ranil Wikramasinghe’s United National Front contested and swept the 2001 elections on peace platform. With the mediation from Norway a peace process was started again in December 2001. After announcing a ceasefire for 30 days by the LTTE and reciprocated by the Sri Lankan government, a formal MoU was signed on 22nd February 2002 and a permanent ceasefire agreement, CFA, was formalized. To monitor the ceasefire an expert committee, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, was also constituted with Norway and other Nordic countries.
The first peace talks were held at Phuket, Thailand on 16th September, 2002, and this was followed by many rounds of talks. The LTTE agreed for a federal solution for the Eelam question, compromising from its earlier stand for a separate Tamil Eelam and put forward its proposal for an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA). The government also on its part, for the first time, agreed to a federal solution, beyond the minimal devolution of power to the Tamils. The Tigers proposed that the ISGA would be fully controlled by the LTTE and would wield power in the north eastern region. The Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists in southern Sri Lanka raised a big hue and cry, saying that Wickramasinghe was handing over the north eastern region to the LTTE, and pressurized the government not to formalize the peace agreement.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga opposed the ISGA and declared a state of Emergency. The Indian expansionists and their boot lickers like The Hindu, N. Ram, Subramanya Swamy etc. hiding the facts and truth (that the LTTE was even willing to compromise) from the Indian people, shouted from the roof top that the LTTE is a ‘terrorist’ organization only interested in subversive activities and not for any negotiated settlement. This fourth estate of Indian democracy really acted as the agents of the Indian big bourgeoisie and the Sri Lankan chauvinists in molding public opinion against the genuine rights of the people of Tamil Eelam and their just armed struggle being waged by the LTTE. Despite not being able to arrive at any solution to the national problem, and though no headway was made in the peace talks, the ceasefire continued till July, 2006.
Mahinda Rajapakshe, who entered into an electoral alliance with the overtly chauvinist JVP, came to power defeating Wickramasinghe in 2004. Rajapakshe, who openly opposed the peace process planned for a big offensive against the LTTE. Taking lessons from its earlier defeats he concentrated on mustering necessary support, economic, military and political, from its friendly countries, particularly India and China, and prepared its forces for a final assault. It also unleashed a diplomatic offensive against the LTTE, particularly in the western countries, where the LTTE has strong support among the Tamil Diasporas. In addition, the government engineered a split in the LTTE and won over the traitor to the Eelam people, Karuna, to its side. This had not only weakened the LTTE in the eastern region considerably but many military secrets of the LTTE, hitherto not known to the government, also got exposed.
The Eelam War IV began with the Sri Lankan Air force launching an offensive on 26th July, 2006 on the pretext of opening the sluice gates of Mavil Aru, which had been closed by the LTTE. This was supposedly for supplying irrigation water to more than 15,000 villages in the east, under government control, The Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission persuaded the LTTE to open the gates. But the Sri Lankan government declined to stop the offensive stating that “the utilities can not be used as bargaining tools”. The SLMM condemned the attacks and observed that “it is quite obvious they (government) are not interested in water. They are interested in something else.”
From 2006 onwards the government forces gradually but steadily advanced and captured areas one after the other controlled by the LTTE. First it concentrated on the east gaining total control by July 2007. After winning militarily it consolidated politically by conducting an election farce and installed the traitor Karuna’s party, the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), in power. Then, in September 2007, it focused on the north, first capturing Mannar and then other areas leading ultimately to capturing all areas controlled by the LTTE.
After the commencement of the civil war, in the last twenty five years, the territory controlled by the LTTE has either increased or decreased in accordance with the development of the war. But, until its defeat in the recent war, it always maintained some territory under its control. Within its territory the LTTE administered a parallel government. It had structures like the judiciary, police, revenue, TV and radio stations, finance and banking, immigration, businesses, agriculture etc. Militarily, the LTTE had grown from a 30 member guerrilla force in 1983 to a conventional standing army having thousands of troops. It had infantry brigades, women’s brigades, commando units and specialized divisions for laying mines, sniping, firing mortars and artillery, resisting tanks and armored cars, etc. The Tigers also had a naval wing known as the Sea Tigers and it is the only guerrilla force in the world that had an air wing called the Air Tigers. The LTTE had many marine vessels and a limited number of small aircraft.
Part 2 coming soon…