EU Ban And After
Purely on merits, a ban on the LTTE would be justified, but the timing and the manner of the ban should not give an impression as if the EU is taking sides with the Sinhalese extremist elements.
© Outlook / India - May 29, 2006
The reported decision of the Europen Union (EU) countries to declare the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as a terrorist organisation and ban its activities in their respective territories would be unimpeachable legally and on merits, but ill-timed, unwise and ill-considered politically.
Ill-timed because the decision would come at a time when the Sri Lankan government of Mr Mahinda Rajapakse and the LTTE have been blaming each other for the escalation of violence, which has characterised the ground situation since Mr Rajapakse took over as the President in November, 2005. The truth of the matter is yet to be established by an impartial international investigation, but respected international non-governmental organisations have been increasingly expressing their skepticism over the version of the ground situation as disseminated by the Rajapakse government and over its bona fide.
In a statement issued at London on May 16, 2006, the Amnesty International said:
"Amnesty International is alarmed by the increasing number of civilians killed as a low-intensity armed conflict appears to be escalating, despite a 2002 ceasefire agreement between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). More than 200 people have been killed over the past month alone, the majority of them civilians, and more than 20,000 others have been displaced from their homes. Amnesty International fears that a collapse of the ceasefire agreement and return to full-scale armed conflict would have further devastating consequences for civilians.
"In separate incidents over the past weekend, 13-14 May, at least 18 civilians were reportedly killed in the north and east of Sri Lanka. Thirteen Tamil civilians were reportedly killed in a spate of incidents on Kayts Island, a small islet off the northwestern coast of the Jaffna Peninsula that is strictly controlled by the Sri Lanka Navy, which has a major base there. On 13 May, at about 8.30 p.m., unidentified gunmen reportedly entered the home of Sellathurai Amalathas in Allaipiddy and opened fire. Eight people were killed on the spot, including a four-month-old baby and four-year-old boy, and one other person died later in hospital. In another incident, at around 10:30 p.m. the same night, unidentified gunmen reportedly entered the home of 72-year-old Murugesu Shanmugalingam in Puliyankoodal, also on Kayts Island, and shot him and two other members of his family dead. Ten shops in Puliyankoodal were reportedly burnt down. In Vangalady, gunmen reportedly entered the home of Ratnam Senthuran, a tea shop owner, and shot him dead. Other members of his family also were shot and injured, but managed to escape.
"The government has condemned the Kayts Island killings and announced that a police investigation is underway. Amnesty International welcomes these initial steps but notes that there is a disturbing pattern of incomplete or ineffective investigations by the government, with the result that perpetrators of such violence generally operate with impunity. In accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Sri Lanka has ratified, the government must carry out independent, impartial and effective investigations into all killings; the results of these investigations should be made public, and those found responsible for the attacks must be brought to justice.
"Without effective investigations and prosecutions, the cycle of retaliatory violence that so endangers the lives of civilians is likely to escalate. The LTTE has accused the Sri Lanka Navy of responsibility for the attacks on Kayts Island, a charge which the Navy has denied.
However, Amnesty International has received credible reports that Sri Lanka Navy personnel and armed cadres affiliated with the Eelam People's Democratic Party, a Tamil political party that is opposed to the LTTE, were present at the scene of the killings. The government in turn has suggested that the LTTE orchestrated the attack in order "to divert international opinion".
" Regardless of who is responsible for the attacks, the Sri Lankan government has obligations under international law to take steps to prevent such killings, to ensure that those who commit them are brought to justice, and that the families of those killed are able to obtain redress. Amnesty International calls on all parties to the conflict, including the government of Sri Lanka, the LTTE, and other armed groups, to take all possible measures to avoid harm to civilians and respect international humanitarian law, which prohibits murder or violence to those taking no active part in hostilities".
In a statement issued on May 23, 2006, the European Union itself demanded action against those responsible for bombing three international charities operating in Sri Lanka’s northeast. The EU's skepticism about the government's version , which blamed the LTTE for the bombing, was evident from its statement which said that the Sri Lankan government must demonstrate its commitment to ending a "culture of impunity" by bringing to justice those responsible for Sunday’s grenade attacks which wounded three people at three locations. It added: "The EU welcomes the government's statement condemning the attacks. But the EU is concerned about the lack of effective follow-up on past violent acts and the development of a culture of impunity that the government recognized last week in its address to Parliament and pledged to fight."
The apparent unease in the government of India over the one-sided version being disseminated by the Sri Lankan authorities in their efforts to have the LTTE banned by the EU was also reportedly evident at a press briefing on foreign policy by Shri Shyam Saran, our Foreign Secretary, at New Delhi on May 23, 2006. It is learnt that during the press briefing he characterised the situation as "tit for tat violence" and did not agree with a correspondent of a Chennai-based newspaper, who tried to project the situation as the outcome of the LTTE's unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Gen.Sarath Fonseka, the Commander of the Sri Lankan Army.
It is understood that the following report, which was carried by The Hindu of Chennai on May 24, 2006, was based on the Foreign Secretary's briefing though it does not refer to him: "India believes that if the current tit for tat violence between Colombo and the LTTE continues, it is a matter of time before an all-out war breaks out. Official sources on Tuesday also hoped that the Sri Lankan government would not greet with triumph a EU ban on the LTTE, but would show flexibility, along with the Tigers, in agreeing to a second round of peace talks in Geneva. "
The report added: "India felt that it was still worthwhile for both sides to make concessions to ensure a return to negotiations. New Delhi was specially concerned about the plight of civilians, who invariably get entangled in a conflict situation. Pointing out that about some 2000 Sri Lankan Tamils had already landed in Tamil Nadu, sources revealed that several hundred more were waiting for a chance to flee the violence that had gripped the island nation."
Not a day passes without more Tamil refugees from the Eastern Province fleeing to India.
When the LTTE took to arms against the Sri Lankan government post-1983, there was a large exodus of Tamil refugees to foreign countries. Those from the Northern Province, economically better off and better educated, fled to the Western countries and Australia. Those from the Eastern Province, not economically well-off and inadequately educated, fled to Tamil Nadu, where they were put up in camps. Following an improvement in the ground situation after the conclusion of the cease-fire agreement in February,2002, and the initiation of conflict resolution measures by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, the refugees from the Eastern Province started returning.
This process has been reversed after Mr Rajapakse took over as the President and, since January,2006, there has been a fresh flow of refugees into Tamil Nadu from the Eastern Province. Many of those, who have come, have accused the Rajapakse government of following a policy of targeted killings of the Tamils of the Eastern Province.
The Hindu of May 24, 2006, has quoted some of the refugees as saying as follows: "There is no guarantee of life in Trincomallee. The Sinhalese, with the help of the Sri Lankan Army and Navy, have started an onslaught against the Tamils. Several Tamil youngsters have been kidnapped by unknown elements. Even after many days not even a single kidnapped person returned home in our surroundings. When they are torching shops run by the Tamils and shooting innocent people in the name of controlling the Tigers, who can give us safety? ........They (the Sinhalese) have plotted to wipe out all Tamils living in Trincomallee. There is no rule of law there. Most of the Tamil families have fled to either Jaffna or India from the surroundings of Trincomallee. If the international community fails to check the harassment by the Sri Lankan Army, the Tamil community will not be found in the Trincomallee area."
The New Indian Express of May 26,2006, has quoted some of the refugees as saying as follows: " The Tamils are not allowed to move out of their homes even in daytime. The Sri Lankan Army and the Sinhalese were continuously attacking and maiming Tamils. It was only after the take-over of the Mahinda Rajapakse regime that attacks against the Tamils had been stepped up."
Well-informed sources say that while the LTTE has been responsible for the deaths of a large number of combatants belonging to the Sri Lankan Army, Navy and Police since November last, most of the civilian deaths are attributable to the policy of targeted killings of suspected Tamil supporters and sympathisers of the LTTE initiated by the Sri Lankan security forces through the intermediary of the followers of "Col" Karuna, who deserted from the LTTE in March,2004, due to differences with Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader. Mrs. Chandrika and Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe reportedly refused to authorise the policy of using Karuna for such targeted killings, but this policy is being implemented vigorously since Mr Rajapakse took over as the President, thereby giving rise to a suspicion that he might have authorised it.
The reported EU decision to ban the LTTE would be exploited by the government as the international community's acceptance of its version of the killings which have been going on since November last and as ruling out any international condemnation of its counter-insurgency methods as followed since November.Any non-condemnation by the EU of the new counter-insurgency methods of the government would be seen by the Sri Lankan Tamil community as taking sides with the Sinhalese.
The reported EU decision at this juncture would be unwise and ill-considered politically because it could create difficulties in the working of the cease-fire monitoring process and drive even those Tamils, who might be developing misgivings about the leadership of Prabhakaran, into closing their ranks and expressing solidarity with the LTTE. The Rajapakse government is hoping that the EU ban would isolate the LTTE and make it more amenable to a compromise political solution, not necessarily involving a federal formula. Its hopes may be belied and the EU ban, at this juncture when both parties are responsible for the deterioration in the situation, may drive the LTTE to be more recalcitrant, pushing further away the chances of a political solution.
The difficulties in the working of the ceasefire monitoring process would arise from the fact that while Norway is not in the EU, Sweden, Denmark and Finland are. Would Sweden, Denmark and Finland join the other EU countries in imposing the ban? If they do, would it not make their continued participation in the monitoring process untenable?
The LTTE is one of the most dreaded terrorist organisations of the world, which was responsible, inter alia, for the brutal assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, our former Prime Minister. Purely on merits, a ban on it would be justified, but the timing and the manner of the ban should not give an impression as if the EU is taking sides with the Sinhalese extremist elements.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai