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,
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
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
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 losses—the 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
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.