Volume 1, No. 1, March 2000


Onward March for Tamil Eelam

— Nirmala


On Nov. I,’99 the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) launched "Unceasing Waves III". Within a couple of days six army bases fell to the LTTE. It was the worst ever setback for the Sri Lankan Army since the war began in the 1980s. The LTTE took control of Oddusudam, Nedunkerny, Ampakamam, Olumadu, Mankulam and Kanakarayankulao. From Oddusadam in the eastern theatre to Mankulam, a crucial military town on a key highway linking the northern Jaffna Peninsula to the rest of the island, to several towns in the western flank of Vani, town after town fell to the Tiger offensive.

The LTTE regained in a few days all the areas it had lost to the Sri Lankan army during the previous two years of military onslaught. By November 12, as the Tamil guerrillas seized a string of garrisons, the military braced itself to defend the last northern town under government control Vavuniya. Vavuniya, which was captured by the army in 1993, currently houses one of the biggest garrisons. The LTTE requested civilians to leave the town before their attack, identifying ten neighbouring hamlets as safe areas. The exodus of one lakh of the population (90%) took place despite the government call to the people not to leave. The army mobilised 12,000 troops for defending this vital town.

By November 20, Tamil guerrillas began pounding the north – western coastal town of Mannar. It brought a number of villages in Mannar district under its control and maintained a barrage of artillery fire at a crucial army camp in the town.

By mid-December the LTTE began attacks around the key Elephant Pass area the only entry point to the Jaffna Peninsula from the south. On the second day of this thrust, the LTTE gained control over Vettiakerni, a major naval base on the north-east coast. It also began pounding the garrisons guarding the Elephant Pass.

Then, on the eve of the presidential elections, human bomb attacks targeted major leaders. During her last election meeting a human bomb blew up within five meters of President Chandrika Kumartunga. Although a bullet-proof car saved her life, she has been blinded in one eye and injured in the other. Also killed were 20 people, including the DIG of police, Colombo.

Simultaneously, another bomb attack took place 25kms away, at the opposition’s UNP (United National Party) meeting, killing 12 persons, including the former army chief of staff, Major General Lucky Alagama.

Within this one-and-a-half months of fighting the Sri Lankan army faced severe losses. There has been a heavy loss of military hardware — tanks, vehicles, army and ammunition — which have been captured by the LTTE. More than the loss of territory, the death of hundreds of soldiers and the loss of arms and equipment worth millions of dollars, has been the dwindling morale of the Sri Lankan armed forces. Panic spread like wild fire, soldiers revolted, many deserted, often with arms. Stunned by the losses, the government instituted a court of inquiry and suspended a brigadier and a major general. But, with an estimated desertion rate of 10% even in normal times, and with little response for the government amnesty offered to deserters, the situation looks bleak for the government.

History of Revolt

Tamils of Sri Lanka have always been treated as second-class citizens by the Sinhala chauvinist rulers and the buddhist clergy. In July 1983, the killing of 13 soldiers who were undertaking counter- insurgency operations sparked off the worst-ever ethnic riots in the island. It was a systematic anti-Tamil pogrom, in which hundreds were butchered, and raped, and thousands arrested and tortured. This precipitated the present civil war, with the Tamils demanding a separate Tamil Eelam

Earlier, on November 27, 1982, the LTTE cadre,Sathiyane Kambarmalai, became the first martyr. Since 1989, the LTTE has been observing this day each year as "Great Heroes’ Day," to honour those Tigers who had fallen in battle. It is on this day that the LTTE makes important announcements.

During the early 1980’s the LTTE was originally trained and armed by the Indian government and its intelligence wing, RAW (Research and Analysis Wing). But after the failure of the Thimpu talks, where the LTTE refused to toe India’s line, relations thawed. The Indian rulers had sought to merely utilise the Tamil Eelam movement to further its own expansionist designs over Sri Lanka. When this failed, the Indian government switched sides , and, at the invitation of the Sri Lankan government Rajiv Gandhi sent in the IPKF forces. The intention was not just to suppress the Tamil Eelam movement, but to assert Indian domination over entire Sri Lanka.

So ruthless, arrogant and cruel were the IPKF forces, that soon both the Sri Lankan govt. and the LTTE joined hands to kick them out of the country. Peace talks were conducted between the LTTE and President Premdasa, with the latter even arming and funding the LTTE to defend itself against the IPKF. He also handed over control of the North and the East to the LTTE, to prevent it from falling into Indian hands. But, no sooner that the IPKF was out, the civil war resumed and ultimately, in 1993, Premdasa was assassinated.

In the build up to the presidential elections in 1994-95, Kumaratunga promised a final peace. The Tamils voted for her in the elections. But after a landslide victory and a number of futile rounds of talks, her party turned out to be little different from the earlier UNP which had ruled Sri Lanka for 17 years with an iron hand.

Prabhakaran accused the Kumaratunga government of "bad faith" and broke off the talks in Apr.’95 and, with the sinking of two naval boats in Trincomalee harbour, launched the Third Eelam war. Simultaneously, Kumaratunga began an all-out war, with a viciousness surpassing that of the UNP. Not only was the LTTE targeted, but also thousands of civilians were attacked and turned into refugees. The LTTE not only lost its stronghold in the Jaffna peninsula, but the Sri Lankan army also began extending its control in the East. Since then, till Nov.99, the government was on a winning streak with only two significant lossesthe eastern isolated Mullaitivu Army camp which the Tigers overran through their Operation Ceaseless Waves I in 1996; and Kilinochchi, which the guerrillas regained in 1998 through Operation Ceaseless Waves II.

With these victories in hand, Kumaratunga sought an early Presidential election, in order to gain a two-thirds majority, to enable changes in the constitution. But her move backfired, due to the LTTE offensive.

The Election Farce

Taking an extreme Sinhala chauvinist position she sought to win over UNP elements to her fold. But her gain of a few UNP MPs was insignificant compared to her losses on the battlefield, which turned the tide against her. Besides, unlike the 1994 election, the Tamils enbloc voted against her. Prabhakaran’s speech on ‘Great Heroes Day’ specifically targeted her government.

In this election, the official policies towards the war were reversed from that of 1994-95. On this occasion it was Kumaratunga who took a Sinhala chauvinist stand, while promising her "devolution package" (autonomy) to the Tamils as a sop. On the other hand the UNP manifesto promised: a de-escalation of the war, the establishment of an interim council in the Northern and Eastern Provinces involving the LTTE, and an immediate end to the harassment of Tamil people.

The elections took place on Dec 21,’ 99 amidst reports of large-scale violence by government forces and mass-scale rigging. Inspite of this, Kumaratunga won with a miniscule lead. She won 51.12% of the votes (compared to 62.28% in 1994) while the UNP got 42.7% of the votes (compared to 35.9% in 1994).

While the Indian Observers (including former election commissioner G.V.G. Krishnamurthy) gave a clean chit to the elections, a Colombo-based NGO, CMEV, (the Center for Monitoring Election Violence) stated that the elections were "marred by serious violations, systematic impersonation, ballot-stuffing, violence against and intimidation of voters, officials and monitors alike, and abuse of the state machinery and resources in a significant number of polling centres throughout the country." It added, " the result has been irredeemably compromised in 59 of the country’s 160 election divisions". It recommended that the "entire election be nullified".

Beware of Indian Expansionism

The Indian rulers seek to utilise the conflict in order to dominate both the Tamil Eelam region and also Sri Lanka. A section of the ruling classes of Tamil Nadu and India seek an independent Tamil Eelam subservient to India. In general, the Indian rulers seek to use the LTTE and this conflict, to whip the Sri Lankan rulers to bow to the interests of the Indian big comprador bourgeoisie. They thereby play a double game of intrigue and treachery with both the LTTE and Sri Lankan government.

The demand for an independent Tamil Eelam is a just demand. The Tamil minority, has a right to self-determination, including secession from the chauvinistic Sinhala state. But , the Tigers have maintained that they would not insist on Tamil Eelam if a viable alternative is offered and in pursuance of this goal, they have been in touch with a number of intermediaries, like the Commonwealth Secretary General, British Parliamentarians, the Norwegian Government, etc.

Of late, they have even been praising the BJP government in India as a friend. Not having learnt from the earlier back-stabbing experience of the Indian rulers, they expect a government that ruthlessly supresses nationality movements within its own country, to support a nationality cause outside. Such a sentiment was openly expressed by the LTTE’s chief political advisor, Anton Balasingham, at a public meeting in London on Great Heroes’ Day (Nov. 27 ’99). He said that India, and particularly the BJP government , was a friend. He said, "whatever the past hostilities, there was no denying that India was the greatest friend of the Sri Lankan Tamils, and by extension, of the LTTE". Balasingham went on to say that when Tamil Eelam becomes a reality, the fledgling state would be India’s staunchest ally in the region ….it would revolve within India’s orbit !!

Such statements are, of course, music to the ears of the Indian rulers. Certain constituents of the ruling National Democratic Alliance in India (like the PMK, MDMK of Tamil Nadu, and even the Shiv Sena) have been pressuring the BJP to support the LTTE, on the grounds that they are fighting for the cause of hindus.

On the other hand the Sri Lankan government is in a corner, faced with its current military defeats.

Earlier, in 1971 and 1987, it suppressed the JVP revolts with the assistance of the Indian army. But after the IPKF experience, it fears Indian domination, and is hesitant to take Indian military assistance. Its own military expenditure has burgeoned from Rs. 1.8 billion in 1983 to Rs. 47.3 billion in 1999 i.e. 13.3% of budgetary expenditure, one of the highest among Third World countries. Yet, it is facing losses on the battlefield. To sustain her crumbling rule Kumaratunga is now acquiring highly dictatorial and autocratic authority.

While seeking a compromise within the Sri Lankan framework through international (and local Tamil) intermediaries, it is panicky about the Indian rulers utilising its weak position against it. With the likes of George Fernandes in power, they are forced to submit to the Indian rulers. Not surprisingly, on February 2, 2000 they were pressurised into finally signing the free trade pact with India. The Indian big bourgeoisie has been demanding this for the last two years; and infact, it was even mooted by the two Prime Ministers long back in December ’98. But, due to the one-sided nature of trade between the two countries, Sri Lanka had hesitated to finalise it. But now, with the Damocles’s word of relationship of some Indian leaders with the LTTE hanging over their heads, the Indo-Sri Lankan Free Trade Pact was hastily signed, to keep the Indian wolves at bay.

The struggle of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka is at the cross-roads. Having achieved major military victories in their just struggle for a Tamil Eelam, they have thrown the Sri Lankan Government on the defensive. But, in this battle, it is the masses of India, and not their government , that are their true allies. Any genuine Tamil Eelam must be independent not only of the Sri Lankan government but also of the expansionist ruling classes of India.




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