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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > International Frame of Struggle for Tamil Eelam > United States & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam > US Congress Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, November 1995 - Statement by Professor Marshall R. Singer
United States & the struggle for Tamil Eelam
Whatever may be said, who ever may say it - to
determine the truth of it, is wisdom - Thirukural
US Congress Committee on International Relations
Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific - Hearing on Sri Lanka - November 14,1995
Statement by Marshall R Singer, Ph. D.
Professor of International and Intercultural Affairs
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs - University of Pittsburgh
[for a response see Sanmuga Suntharam in Chapter 23, Down Memory Lane to Reach Tamil Eelam]
What is the most effective way for the United States Government
to be helpful in resolving the Sri Lanka ethnic conflict?
" One of the essential elements that must be kept in mind in understanding the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict is that, since 1958 at least, every time Tamil politicians negotiated some sort of power-sharing deal with a Sinhalese government - regardless of which party was in power - the opposition Sinhalese party always claimed that the party in power had negotiated away too much. In almost every case - sometimes within days - the party in power backed down on the agreement. "
Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee, let me thank you for having invited me to speak to you today.
My name is Marshall R Singer, Ph.D.
I am Professor of International and Intercultural Affairs at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh.
Next year will be the 40th anniversary of my Fullbright Scholarship to Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka). I have been studying Sri Lanka ever since. Since the civil war broke out in 1983, I have been back to India and Sri Lanka 4 times, interviewing literally hundreds of politicians of each one of the political parties in the country, scholars, students, journalists, bureaucrats, religious leaders, business people, military officers, labor leaders, villagers, and foot soldiers, on both sides of the line.
I have also interviewed the leaders of all of the major separatist groups, with the exception of Mr. Prabhakaran who is the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which is the major group still fighting against the government for an independent homeland for the Tamil people. I have just returned from a month in Sri Lanka and India, where I have continued my interviewing. I think it can be argued that I am reasonably well informed about political events in the country.
The problem this testimony is meant to address is the ethnic civil war that has been raging in Sri Lanka since July 1983. Possibly 50,000 people have been killed since that time, and hundreds of thousands have been made homeless. As with ethnic conflicts everywhere, so too in Sri Lanka the roots go back hundreds of years.
Specifically this testimony will address three issues:
1. Causes for the renewal of hostilities between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the Sri Lankan Government, since April, 1995;
2. Prospects for moving the combatants either back to the bargaining table, or toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict without direct negotiations;
3. U.S. and international community obligations to help with humanitarian aid in the refugee crisis which has developed.
My full written testimony, which you have, outlines in considerable detail some background information on the population, the history of the island, the economy, and the politics that led up to the civil war. I then go on to discuss Mrs. Kumaratunga's election to the presidency in November 1994, and her efforts to bring an end to the fighting by negotiating directly with the LTI'E (or the Tigers, as they are commonly known.
She did achieve a cessation of hostilities between mid-January and mid-April of this year, while talks continued. I then discuss the events that led to the Tigers' unilateral breaking of the pause in the war, and the fighting that has occurred since. I also discuss the peace package which Mrs. Kumaratunga unilaterally offered the Tamil people, after the negotiations with the LTTE collapsed.
That package is the most far-reaching offer of devolution of power from the center to the regions ever offered to the Tamils. It took a great deal of courage to make such an offer.
It is not yet clear that she is going to be able to persuade her own Sinhalese people to accept it. The Buddhist monks have already come out against it as have many integer and, of course, the Sinhalese chauvinists who oppose any concessions to the Tamils, whatever. In order to get the 2/3 majority of parliament necessary to enact a constitutional amendment, and to pass a required national referendum, it will require the support of the other major Sinhalese party, the United National Party (UNP), which has already said it would support the measure only if some of the provisions offered are either weakened or withdrawn.
The UNP is under tremendous pressure from many Sinhalese nationalists not to accept the proposals. My own feeling is that Mrs. Kumaratunga is going to have to offer the UNP something big - like a sharing of power with them in a Government of National Unity - to get them to support, and help implement the peace package.
Meanwhile the Sri Lankan military has started another offensive to try to cripple the Tigers militarily. As we speak the army is poised just a few miles from the city of Jaffna the Tamil capital and the second largest city in the country - waiting to take it.
If the Tigers decide to let the army have it, and then take it back later after the monsoon rains make it difficult for the government to supply their troops, the government could take the city in a matter of days, with a minimum of civilian casualties. It on the other hand, the LTTE decides to fight to defend the city house by house, then the number of civilian casualties will be enormous.
As it is, there are reports that somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 civilian refugees have fled before the government's advancing army. The government claims that the people left because the LTTE forced them to. The LTTE claims that they left because of government shelling and bombing of civilian areas. Either way there are now perhaps hundreds of thousands of civilians who have fled into the jungle, with no shelter, no food, no sanitation, probably very little water, and even fewer medical supplies. Thousands could die of starvation and disease unless the international community comes to their rescue and offers humanitarian aid.
Last week, the Sri Lanka government announced that in the past too high a percentage of humanitarian aid has fallen into the hands of the Tigers and, therefore, from now on, all aid will have to be under government control. The problem with this is that there is no way the government is going to be able to get into the Tiger controlled areas, where the refugees are, to administer that aid - unless, of course, the Tigers surrender and the government takes control of the entire peninsula. That is not a likely scenario. Thus, while the argument goes on about whose fault it is that these people are refugees, and whose fault it will be if thousands die of season and disease, the fact is that is exactly what could happen.
The United States and the international community must act quickly if they are to prevent the worst refugee disaster since Bosnia. Food, clean water, shelter, medicine and other humanitarian assistance must immediately be allotted to the regular international aid agencies to administrate and distribute. I believe that the entire international donor community will agree with this, and that ultimately they will convince the Sri Lankan government to allow the international agencies to once again resume distribution of aid.
There are, by the way, thousands of Sinhalese refugees who have had to flee their homes after brutal raids on their homes by the LTTE, who are determined to drive Sinhalese off the land that they claim for their own. These refugees, however, are being housed in camps set up and supplied by the Sri Lanka government, and while they are suffering, their plight, at the moment anyway, is not as acute as is the plight of the Tamil civilians in Tiger-controlled areas of the north.
At the barest minimum, this Congress should immediately offer humanitarian aid under international control - to prevent a disaster from occurring, and call upon the international community of donor nation,; to do the same. In the longer term I would urge the Congress to have the United States use its good offices to get a permanent, equitable, peaceful, settlement of the conflict implemented. Below I have laid out some specific suggestions on haw to do that. In sum, they call upon the United States to:
1. help Mrs. Kumaratunga win support for her peace proposals among the Sinhalese people, by using its influence with both the government and the UNP to work together to achieve peace;
2. use influence to end the military offensive which, unless it is unbelievably successful may actually be counterproductive;
3. use its influence to bring the LTTE and a unified Sinhalese government back- to the bargaining table to work out an equitable, enduring, peaceful solution to the ethnic problem;
4. failing to get the LTTE to negotiate, or to agree to anything short of de facto independence, the U.S. should give Mrs. Kumaratunga's government whatever assistance it needs - short of direct U.S. peacekeepers, or monitors - to implement the peace package without LTTE support;
5. long-term money for reconstruction and economic development are going to be
needed if any peace agreement is to work. Hopefully, the U.S. and the international donor community will come through with that aid, once peace is achieved.
Finally, it would be good if we had an ambassador in Colombo to facilitate this process, and I urge the Congress to approve the ambassador designate, as soon as possible.
Thank you Mr. Chairman. I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have.
General Background Information:
Sri Lanka is an island about the size of West Virginia just off the southeast coast of India. It has a population of approximately 17 million people, the majority of whom are Sinhalese. They are presumed to have come to the island more than 2,500 years ago from northeastern India. They speak the Sinhalese language (a derivative of ancient Pali), and most practice the Buddhist religion. They make up approximately 71% of the total population and now live predominantly in the south, west and central (Kandian) highlands.
The other major ethnic group on the island is the Tamils, who make up approximately 22% of the population, but they are divided into two very distinct groups of almost equal gm. The somewhat larger group is called the "Ceylon Tamils," or "Jaffna Tamils," named for the city they founded on the Jaffna peninsula, in the north of the island. The ancestors of these people came from southern India in waves sometime from the 10th century A.D. and drove the original Sinhalese inhabitants south from their original capital of Anuradhapura, Polonnarauwa, and then still further south into the Kandian hills, and the southern plains.
The second Tamil group, called Estate Tamils (or Indian Tamils) also came from southern India, but they were initially brought over by the British in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as cheap labor, to work on first the coffee and later the tea estates which the British had set up in the highest Kandian hills. Both of the Tamil groups speak the Tamil language, most practice the Hindu religion, and are from the same Tamil ethnic group as those who inhabit the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India. There has never been very much contact between these two Tamil groups in Sri Lanka, however, since the Estate Tamils are untouchables in the Hindu caste system, while the Ceylon Tamils were mostly of the farming and fishing castes.
While the Ceylon Tamils are concentrated on the Jaffna peninsula and on the east coast, they are also scattered all over the island including a large community in Colombo. The Estate Tamils, on the other hand, live exclusively on the estates in the hill country, in the center of the island. They have never been involved in the Tamil separatist movement, and are not to this day.
Approximately 5% of the population is Muslim. These people are actually descendants of Arab traders, Malays and Malabars, but all practice the Muslim religion. Since most settled in the Eastern Province which at that time was inhabited primarily by Tamils, most speak the Tamil language as their first language.
Finally, less than 2% of the Sri Lankan population, called Burghers, are the descendants of mixed marriages between Europeans and natives. Most of the Burghers, and about 8% of the rest of the population - both Sinhalese and Tamil - are Christian.
History of the Island:
When the Portuguese arrived in the island in 1508, they found a Tamil kingdom centered in Jaffna probably a separate Tamil kingdom centered on the east coast, a Sinhalese kingdom in the Kandyan hills, and another Sinhalese kingdom on the southern and western plains. They conquered the entire coast of the island and subdued the two Tamil Kingdoms, and the Sinhalese kingdom in the south and west, but not the Kandyan kingdom. In 1650 the Sinhalese invited the Dutch in to throw out the Portuguese. The Dutch obliged, but then refused to leave.
They, too, remained in the coastal regions for 150 years, until they made the unfortunate mistake of siding with Napoleon against the British in one of their many wars. The cost of that mistake was to cede Ceylon to the British, in 1800.
The British, for their part also stayed for 150 years, but in their case, after several unsuccessful attempts to conquer the Kandian hills, the territory was ceded to the British by the Kandian nobility in 1812, when they couldn't agree among themselves on a Kandian successor to the throne. It was the first time in modem history that Sri Lanka was united. But for the Sinhalese, Sri Lanka is, and always was, one unified Sinhalese Buddhist island - except when it was invaded by foreigners.
In the old days, Sri Lanka had a sustenance farming economy like most other places in the world. Peasants ate what they grew and traded services with other peasants. It worked quite well in much of the country, because much of Sri Lanka is a lush tropical paradise where virtually anything grows. That is not the case in the north, however, where most Ceylon Tamils live. There is only one monsoon each year in the north and the land is not very fertile, hence fishing has traditionally been a major source of income for the northern Tamils. Land in the Eastern Province is much better.
Culturally, education has always been very important to the Tamils, so when the British took over from the Dutch and allowed American missionaries to open an English language school in Jaffna, Tamil families jumped at the opportunity. Large numbers of English-speaking Ceylon Tamils were soon working for the British in one capacity or another.
Unlike the Portuguese and the Dutch before them, the British transformed the Ceylonese economy into a plantation economy, producing mostly tea, spices (for which Ceylon was famous), and later rubber. For this transformation, the British needed roads, ports, buildings, and railroads, and they needed accountants, engineers, businessmen and thousands of other professionals to get the jobs done. It was not long before the Ceylon Tamils filled a share of those professional jobs disproportionate to their numbers in the country as a whole. This was particularly true of the highly paid civil servants of the country.
At independence, most Sinhalese still lived in a sustenance economy in their villages, but many Ceylon Tamils now lived all over the country - particularly in Colombo performing professional tasks. Clearly they were resented by the mass of the Sinhalese population.
Unlike in other countries, there was no real "independence struggle" in Ceylon. Once the British made the decision to leave India, they decided to leave what was then called Ceylon, as well. Although there were some small leftist parties functioning on the island even before independence, the main party which united almost all Sinhalese and many Tamils was called the United National Party (UNP).
The Tamils did have one political party called the Tamil Congress which had asked the British for a 50/50 split of power between the Sinhalese and Tamils, but most Tamils, in the earliest days, supported the UNP. (Today, most Sinhalese chauvinists date the beginning of modem conflict between the two ethnic groups with the demand of 22 percent of the population to share power equally with the other 71 percent of the population.) One of the first things the UNP - Sinhalese dominated - government did, on gaining independence, however, was to disenfranchise the Estate Tamils on the grounds that they were "Indians" and not really Ceylonese. Obviously, India didn't want to take back the (then) over a million poor Tamil estate workers, who would certainly be unemployed in India.
Through negotiations, and many, many years, large numbers of the Estate Tamils have managed to gain Sri Lankan citizenship and now most of them do vote. It should be noted, however, that they don't vote for any of the other parties in Sri Lanka but rather they vote almost 100% for their own party. That party has been headed by the same leader since the 1940s, who will throw his party's votes to any other party, or coalition, which will give the best deal to his estate workers. While they are not now, and never have been involved in the Tamil separatist struggle - because their leader won't let them be - that could change when their leader, who is now 83, passes from the scene. For now, however, when we refer to 'Tamil separatists' or Tamil militants," we are referring to Ceylon Tamils.
The disenfranchisement of the Estate Tamils, in 1948-1949, was certainly an unnerving event to the Ceylon Tamil population at the time.
Almost immediately a party called the Federal Party came into existence, demanding a federal system for Ceylon with each of the provinces to have considerable authority to govern itself. That party was helped along enormously when, in 1956 S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike broke with the ruling UNP, and started his own, more Sinhalese nationalist party called the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). He promised to restore Buddhism to its proper place in society by making it the national religion, to restore Ayurvedic (local) medicine to its proper place, and most important, he promised to make Sinhalese the only official language of the country. In 1956, Bandaranaike, with a coalition of parties he had formed, was swept into office on that platform. In 1958, rioting broke out and perhaps as many as a thousand Tamils were either killed or injured by Sinhalese nationalists.
Also in 1958, Prime Minister Bandaranaike was assassinated by, of all people, a Buddhist monk who felt that Bandaranaike was not moving fast enough to implement his Sinhalese Buddhist platform Ultimately, Bandaranaike's widow took over the party. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected as the world's first woman Prime Minister in 1960. When she came to power again in 1970 with a coalition of like-minded parties who took control of two-thirds of the seats in parliament - enough to amend the constitution - Mrs. Bandaranaike instituted an "ethnic preference program" in the educational system which would make it easier for Sinhalese to get into universities, and more difficult for Tamils.
Shortly after coming to power in 1970, however, Mrs. Bandaranaike was faced with an armed uprising of radical Sinhalese youth, many of whom had gone through the university in the Sinhalese medium of instruction. When one creates 60,000 university graduates who only speak Sinhalese, one had also better create 60,000 jobs for university graduates who only speak Sinhalese. The government badly failed to do that. These radical youth were known by the English initials JVP, and they caught the government completely off guard. All political parties in Sri Lanka condemned them, including the Communists and Trotskyites who were in her coalition government, and with the help of most foreign governments, including India and the United States, they were brutally crushed.
Among Ceylon Tamil youth, similar sentiments were stirring. Under the language policy, they had been allowed to study only in the Tamil language, in schools in Tamil areas - which included Jaffna University - but there weren't any more jobs for 'Tamil only' educated youth then there had been for "Sinhalese only" educated youth. With the education reforms of the 1970s, even fewer Tamil youth were going to be admitted to universities to study in Sinhalese. In addition, young Tamils were increasingly frustrated with Tamil politicians who had not been able to deliver even federalism, which would have granted them some degree of control over their own destiny, at least in Tamil areas. One of the tragedies of Sri Lanka is that the Sinhalese have never understood the meaning of federalism. To them it meant creating a separate country on the island, which they simply could not abide.
One of the essential elements that must be kept in mind in understanding the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict is that, since 1958 at least, every time Tamil politicians negotiated some sort of power-sharing deal with a Sinhalese government - regardless of which party was in power - the opposition Sinhalese party always claimed that the party in power had negotiated away too much. In almost every case - sometimes within days - the party in power backed down on the agreement.
By the late 1970s, small bands of Tamil teenagers began forming to demand total independence from Sri Lanka, and they had become convinced that violence was the only way it was going to happen. While most Tamils didn't approve of their violent ways, they did approve of their message and soon the largest mainstream Tamil party changed its name and began calling for total independence - Tamil Eelam (Tamil homeland) - for the north and east, combined.
When in July of 1983 a group of these 'boys" (as they were called by their Tamil elders) ambushed and killed 13 Sinhalese soldiers, whose bodies were brought back to Colombo for a public funeral riots broke out. The government did nothing to stop the riots, whether because they felt that they couldn't control the military, or because the government wanted to let the Sinhalese vent their anger with Tamils generally. For five days the riots continued, some argue with government assistance. When it was over, several thousand Tamils had been killed or injured, and over 100,000 had fled to India. For many Tamils, this was the major turning point. It was a pogrom of such intensity that many former moderate Tamils suddenly became convinced that only a totally separate Tamil state could protect Tamils.
The Sinhalese government's attempt to stamp out the militants was so draconian that they created many more militants than they killed. Every time the government launched an offensive into Tamil areas, hundreds of innocent civilians were killed, and hundreds more otherwise moderate Tamils became militants.
Let me be very clear about these Tamil "militants.' They are ruthless. They terrify Sinhalese villagers, particularly in the Eastern Province which they consider part of their traditional homeland. They consider the Sinhalese, who have been settled by the government on the better land there, as unlawful trespassers on their land. They have no compunction about going into villages at night and slitting the throats of men, women and children. What is more, one particular group of militants - the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or "Tigers") - has now brutally eliminated all of the other militant groups who once fought at their side. They have also killed most moderate Tamil leaders whom they label as "traitors". Indian courts believe that they have enough evidence to convict the Tigers of having killed former Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and probably Sri Lankan President Premadasa as well.
As far as I can tell most ordinary Tamils support the Tigers, not necessarily because they like them, but because they like the Sri Lankan - or Indian - armies less. The Tigers are ruthless and authoritarian but they are not corrupt - they don't tolerate stealing, bribery or rape, things other armies are famous for. In fact they are perceived as being single minded in their defense of Tamils. They are so disciplined that when captured, they swallow cyanide capsules that they carry with them at all times, rather than risk revealing anything under torture.
Until now, their mistrust of the Sinhalese has been so intense that they have not been
willing to consider anything but complete independence. To them "compromise" is
a dirty word, but there is now some talk that the Tigers would be willing to consider some
form of federalism provided that they were guaranteed that this arrangement would survive
any change of government in the south.
Causes for the renewal of fighting.
Mrs. Kumaratunga (who by the way, is the only head of state whose father and mother were both heads of state before her, and a woman whose father and husband were both killed due to the ethnic crisis) was elected to the office of president, in part on a platform of negotiating an end to the ethnic conflict. Within weeks of taking office she had sent a delegation north to talk directly with the Tigers. A cessation of hostilities was worked out, but the Tamils insisted on four conditions for continuing the cessation.
The government agreed to one immediately: the lifting of the embargo - which had been in effect for some years - on food, commodities, gas, and other supplies to the north. The problem is that it was never really implemented very effectively in practice. Some goods got through, to be sure, but nothing like the amount that was needed or the amount southern Tamils tried to send north. Trucks were stopped and searched - as indeed they needed to be to prevent smuggling of arms to the north - but frequently they couldn't get through because of bureaucratic red tape, and probably military distrust and hostility.
A second demand, to allow Tamil fishermen the right to fish the northern coastal waters, was not agreed to until shortly before the resumption of hostilities. The Tamils saw this, of course, as one way to increase the food supply, as well as to start to restore normalcy of life to the north. The army, on the other hand, saw it as a way for the LTTE to smuggle more arms from India, in fishing boats.
The last two demands, for the removal of a military camp in a strategic position in the north, and permission for the LTTE cadre to carry guns when they are in government controlled territory in the east, the government insisted could not be met until there was a general peace accord.
The LTTE saw all of this as just one more example of the government's inability to deliver on agreements made, and on Sinhalese refusal to meet what they considered legitimate demands. They set a deadline of March for the demands to be met and later extended it, but on April 19, 1995 (despite having signed an agreement saying that either side would give 72 hours notice before abrogating the agreement) the Tigers gave 4 hours notice and then blew up two ships in an east coast harbor.
President Kumaratunga and the people around her felt that they had been duped by the LTTE. They now believe that the LTTE agreed to the truce merely to regroup and rearm. They were told specifically that the Tigers cannot be trusted, that they will break any agreement when it serves their purpose. They were warned of this by their military, by Indian government officials, by other Tamil militant groups upon whom the Tigers at some point turned and by their Sinhalese chauvinist critics.
Almost immediately the LTTE launched a major offensive against the Sri Lankan military, not a direct frontal assault but attacks here, there and elsewhere. Almost 1/4 of the Sri Lankan navy has been sunk, several planes have been downed by what may have been ground to air missiles, and scores of military personnel have been killed, all in the first months after the peace talks collapsed. This was particularly difficult for Mrs. Kumaratunga's relations with the military since during the talks she canceled approximately 72 million dollars worth of contracts for military hardware. At the time she argued that the government was talking peace, not war, and therefore military hardware was not necessary.
The LTTE also accuses the government of having used the cessation of hostilities to regroup and rearm but I find no evidence of this whatsoever. The evidence since the truce was broken, however, is rather convincing that the LTTE did just that.
The government responded to the breaking of the truce with an ill-advised offensive called "Operation Leap Forward." They used 10,000 armed men in the largest single military operation undertaken in the war up to that time, but it was a disaster. They were able to conquer approximately 78 kilometers of land, but they were able to hold only 7 or 8 kilometers. What's more, the government admits to 234 civilian deaths, and having created 183,000 refugees. Many Sri Lankan soldiers were killed and they lost a great deal of equipment as they were pushed off the newly captured land.
In August of this year, Mrs. Kumaratunga unilaterally announced a peace package which went much further than anything that had ever been offered to the Tamils in the past. Not only was she offering federalism (although one isn't allowed to use that word: "devolution" is preferred), but it is a federalism that gives the regions even more power than they have under the Indian, American, or even Canadian models. Virtually all of the powers that in previous proposals would have been held concurrently by the center and the regions, were to be handed over to the regions, more or less exclusively. With some modifications to the boundaries of the Eastern Province to be worked out in the future, this proposal recognizes the right of the Tamils to a single homeland in a merged Northern Region. This is a concept which the Sinhalese right finds particularly odious. Under this package, the regions are given the right to negotiate directly for foreign loans and investments, and the northeast is even given the right to maintain its own Tamil army.
The rationale for the peace package going as far as it does seems to be that since the government didn't get anywhere in their negotiations with the LTTE they hope to appeal directly to the war-weary Tamil people. The government hopes that by offering the Tamils 90 percent of what they have been asking for, they could win the support of the common people of the north and cast, and that they, in turn, would put pressure on the Tigers to accept the arrangement. Whether that peace package will get the northern Tamil support that it hopes, remains to be seen.
A prior questions seems to be whether Mrs. Kumaratunga can get the Sinhalese support she would need to amend the constitution by a 2/3 majority in parliament, and to win a national referendum.
The Buddhist Sangha came out against the proposals almost as soon as they were announced. New political groups have emerged on the Sinhalese right hoping to defeat it in the referendum, even if it makes it through parliament. There is considerable pressure on the UNP not to support the package. So far the UNP has not rejected it outright, but it has said there would have to be significant modifications made before they could go along.
At the same time as the government was offering a political solution they decided that they needed to show both the Sinhalese right and the Tigers that they could be tough, and hand the LTTE a major military humiliation. Accordingly, in late October the government launched yet another military offensive against the Tigers. This time the government has thrown 40,000 troops into the battle. As of this writing I do not know how many people have been killed, but as the troops poise to take Jaffna city, estimates of the number of refugees who are fleeing range from between 100,000 to 500,00. Whether they are fleeing to escape large-scale bombing and shelling into populated areas, as the Tigers claim, or whether they are being forced to flee by the Tigers, as the government claims, is immaterial from a humanitarian point of view.
The fact is that there are now perhaps hundreds of thousands of refugees sitting in the north with no sanitation, no water, little food, and even fewer medical supplies. There are also tens of thousands of Sinhalese refugees in camps in the east, driven there by Tiger attacks on Sinhalese and Muslims, intended to force them, by terror, to leave the east. While these refugees are at least being cared for by the Sri Lankan government, the refugees in the north are not and last week, the government told international donor agencies that too much of the aid they have been supplying to Tamils in the north has been finding its way into Tiger hands, and therefore, from now on, all aid will have to be coordinated by the Sri Lankan government. Obviously, aid coordinated by the government will not get through to refugees in the Tiger-held areas, where the bulk of the newly created refugees are.
If the international community fails to act promptly to see to it that significant amounts of aid - under international supervision - does get through to those refugees, I believe we will see death due to starvation and disease, on a scale we have not seen since Bosnia. 12
1. In the short term I think the Congress ought to take as its objective to get significant quantities of humanitarian aid to refugees, quickly, before there is mass starvation, disease, and death.
2. In the longer term the U.S. government should use its good offices to get a permanent, equitable settlement of the conflict initiated before the end of 1996. 1 will discuss below specific things that can be done, by us, to facilitate that objective.
3. The most immediate thing we can do, however, to facilitate the above two objectives,
is to have an ambassador approved by the United States Senate, and sent to the island, as
soon as possible.
1. The level of distrust among the parties is so intense, and their perceptions of each other and of the facts, are so different, that they simply do not hear, or understand what the other is asking, or saying. If any negotiations are to take place, it will be critical to have international facilitators who are perceived by all parties as neutral to make sure that what is said, is actually heard. I also assume that any agreements reached will require international observers (not peacekeepers) to insure that whatever is agreed to is actually implemented. I further assume, on this point, that no Americans could perform those functions.
2. I assume that this struggle cannot be won militarily by either side. The more the government attacks, the more civilians are killed, and the more Tamil youngsters go off to join the Tigers. The more Tigers kill innocent Sinhalese villagers, the more it hardens Sinhalese resolve to get revenge, preferably on Tigers, but perhaps on innocent Tamils if there are no Tigers available. Hearts and minds of men and women are not won by guns and bombs. Therefore, I believe the Sri Lankan government should halt its current offensive in the north.
3. I make the basic assumption that the general population is completely war weary, and want a peaceful solution as quickly as possible. It is just as clear to me, however, that at this moment the leadership on both sides believe that some further fighting is necessary to achieve their objectives.
4. While both the Sinhalese and Tamil populations are war weary, there is some question as to whether the Sinhalese people are prepared to go as far as the Sri Lanka government has indicated that it is willing to go, in offering devolution of power to the Tamils. On the other hand, I believe the vast majority of the Tamil population are more willing to settle for more compromise than are the Tigers.
5. I assume that Mrs. Kumaratunga must have UNP support to get whatever peace arrangements are finally agreed upon through parliament, with the 2/3 approval needed for constitutional amendments, and through a referendum in the country. Without UNP support, I just do not think any peace package can be put in place. I further assume that she will have to offer the UNP something important - like participation in the government to get that support.
6. I believe that a "National Unity Government" that included the UNP and some of the other smaller parties, even if only on this one issue of peace with the Tamils, would be a very important step for the Sinhalese to take. That way there would be no major opposition party screaming "Sell-out," as there always has been in the past. It would also make the possibility of actually implementing any agreement reached with the Tamils that much more likely.
7. If the Tigers, at some point, are willing to start negotiating with the government again, I believe that the government should try. Any attempted solution that does not have LTTE support will be much more difficult to implement than one that does. On the other hand if the Tigers refuse to negotiate, or insist on de facto independence as the only solution they will accept, then I think the government should try to implement the peace package which Mrs. Kumaratunga has proposed.
8. I believe it is clearly in the American interest to see peace and stability come to
Sri Lanka. I also believe that the United States must take the lead in mobilizing the
international aid that is going to be needed, first to avoid a human disaster and second
to provide the funds for reconstruction when peace does come.
The United States should immediately assist in avoiding a humanitarian disaster in Sri Lanka and should become more active in encouraging permanent peace in the country. Accordingly the Congress should:
-Along with other foreign donors, immediately offer humanitarian aid to refugees, under international supervision.
-Confirm the ambassador designate to Sri Lanka so that he can use his position in Colombo to help facilitate these recommendations.
-Assist President Kumaratunga to get UNP support - either through a National Unity Government, or otherwise - in order to get the peace proposals through 2/3 of parliament, and a national referendum
-Convince the Sri Lanka Government to halt the current military offensive.
-Convince the LTTE to negotiate with the Sri Lanka Government on the peace package. If the LTTE will not negotiate, or will not settle for anything short of de facto Eelam, then the U.S. should assist the Sri Government to implement the peace package unilaterally, as offered.
-Along with other donor countries the U.S. should offer significant international aid to rehabilitate the country, particularly the war-torn northeast.
-Encourage some international allies, who are perceived as neutral by both parties, to provide inspectors to monitor implementation of peace accords.
-Tie continued international rehabilitation aid to continued implementation of the peace package.
Yes, there are some costs involved, in terms of both humanitarian and long-term reconstruction aid, but these pale by comparison with the magnitude of the disaster facing Sri Lanka. Given the objectives outlined above, it seems to me that this recommendation most nearly meets all of those objectives. It is also the proper course of action for a country of the status of the United States to take, if we are to demonstrate continued world leadership. It for whatever reason, Congress cannot support this entire recommendation, than at a minimum, it seems to me, it ought to quickly vote for humanitarian refugee aid, under international supervision.
Monitoring and Evaluation:
No policy recommendations are complete unless they include monitoring and evaluation. I believe that it will be very important to have a trusted international team of monitors to assure that whatever terms of a final peace agreement are reached, they are actually implemented. Indeed, that is why, in my recommendation, continuation of international assistance is tied directly to implementation of the agreement. It can and must be done for the sake of lasting peace and stability in Sri Lanka.