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The commanders of “Vadamarachchi Operation”.
Courtesy Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence

The 1st Eelam War started in 1983, but the guerrilla warfare made it difficult for the Sri Lanka’s army to identify a proper enemy. So it took till the 1987 to design an intervation for a conventional warfare. On the 26th of May 1987 Colombo launched the Vadamarachchi Operation, or Operation Liberation. It was the first attempt to find a definitive solution to the Tigers’ insurgency. By the first week, the government troops were able to gain control of the entire zone and the goal of capturing Jaffna was at hand.

The war between Sri Lanka and the LTTE could be over in 1987.

The Tigers were still small and inexperienced; most of all, they lost that war: the Vadamarachchi offensive has been successful. Of course this could not be the end of Tamil nationalism.Maybe not even of the LTTE. But the Ist Eelam War would have finished with the Sri Lanka’s army in control of the territory.

Indian forces in Vavunya during the IV Eelam War

Instead India made it clear that no military solution was possible. This is a strong message, sent by a giant to its small neighbour. And it will affect any possible outcome in the future. No President in Sri Lanka could have find the political resources to move another, decisive assault in the North. In fact that was always the problem: Sri Lankan generals felt that a final move was not backed by the government, so it was impossible to really defeat the LTTE(1). And the politicians in Colombo clearly didn’t have to answer to the Tamil population: they had to answer to New Delhi. Now, it is commonly assumed that the Indian Congress wanted the head of Prabhakarn, for the murder of Rajiv Gandhi.

This may be correct; but until the IV Eelam War,it never realized. India only in 2006, almost 15 years after the murder decide to make its move. Surely revenge is best served cold, but it means also that a change occured in New Delhi.

Therefore, it is good to remember that: Sri Lanka’s army unstopped by India, could have won 22 years earlier. That entails also:Sri Lanka could win only if backed by India.

 (1)V.K. Shashikumar, “Lessons from the War in Sri Lanka,” Indian Defence Review (October 3, 2009), available at www.indiandefencereview.com/2009/10/lessons-from-the-war-in-sri-lanka.html.

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President Jayewardene
courtesy JR Jayewardene Centre

In the ’80’s India was proceeding from its non-aligned position towards an increasing friendship with the Soviet Union(1), whilst Sri Lanka was taking progressive steps to approach the Western.

At that time the Sri Lanka’s president Jayawardene was adopting very pro-Western economic policy(2). In reaction to this, Rajiv Gandhi decided to support the Tamil insurgency, after the civil war broke out.

By mid 1987 more than 20 000 Tamil combatants have been trained in Tamil Nadu(3). The Indian intelligence service (RAW) provided arms, training, monetary support4 and the insurgents group started to used Tamil Nadu as a sanctuary for their operations(5).

It is speculated that the Indian support was spread to 6 groups (namely Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE, Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization, TELO, People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam, PLOTE, Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS), Eelam People’s Revolutionary Libeartion Front (EPRLF) and Tamil Eelam Liberation Army (TELA)(6)

. Apparently the intention was to create a massive but divided front against the Sri Lankan army. The main objective for New Delhi was to weaken Colombo, not to support the Tamil cause.

(1)Robert C.(1982) Horn’s Soviet-Indian Relations , Praeger
(2)”Sri Lanka – an Overview”. Fulbright commission.
(3)”LTTE: the Indian connection”. Sunday Times. 1997
(4)Gunaratna, Rohan (1993). Indian intervention in Sri Lanka: The role of India’s intelligence agencies. South Asian Network on Conflict Research. ISBN 9-5595-1900-5.
(5)Interview with Prof. Surayanarayan, “A Sri Lankan Quest” documentary
(6)Rajasingham, K. T.. “Sri Lanka: The untold story”. Asia Times.

Tamils in Sri Lanka are estimated to be around 3.8 million. India lies few miles from the North coast of the island; in Tamil Nadu ( ‘The Tamil State’) there are more than 60 million Tamil. The linkages between the two are organic:not only historical and cultural relationships are very strong and close, but also many have relatives on both side of the Palk Strait. Outside India, the Tamils are looking at the Motherland as a benevolent giant, protector and guarantor of their rights.

In Tamil Nadu the empathy with the destiny of their fellow people is enormous, but it is not representative of the general attitude from New Delhi.
The aspirations of the struggle before and of bringing justice after the IV Eelam war are entrusted in the India by many Tamil commentators, advisors and lay people.

Leader of Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi and Mammon Singh, Indian Prime Minister
courtesy AP

This is probably not a very realistic and pragmatic perspective. In fact, though the Sri Lankan leaders are the material executioners of the repressive actions, nothing can happen beyond the Strait, that it is not blessed by New Delhi.

First of all, any Western intervention must be approved by India: USA, UN or Europe can’t allow themselves to interfere in the Indian Ocean without its consent. Lack of international activity in the IV Eelam War was primarily requested by India, perfectly in tune with Beijing this time, in the policy of not intervention in domestic affairs.
Second, a Sri Lankan offensive against the will of New Delhi would be simply impossible, politically and militarily. An embargo by India would strangle Sri Lanka; a deployment of Indian forces would end the game immediately.
Instead New Delhi gave full support to the Sri Lankan actions. It provided intelligence, satellite cover, cut off supplies line for the LTTE. And it granted back up on the international scene.

Leader of Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi and Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaksa
courtesy Forbes

In other words, India surrounded the LTTE as much as the Sri Lankan government.

The general assumption in the Tamil perspective is that New Delhi was forced to close an eye by fear of losing Colombo to the Chinese, with the partial consolation of a personal vengeance for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. On the contrary India behaved as its interests were perfectly aligned with Chinese and Sri Lankan ones.

New Delhi wanted what happened not less than Colombo and probably more than Beijing.

courtesy EPA

The LTTE and Sri Lankan Government mimicked each other’s conduct and reached an equilibrium that could have prolonged the years of bloodshed. A radical change was necessary to break the cycle of blow for blow retaliations and the first catalyst emanated from international waters.

East-West Shipping lane route

China.  The sudden resurgence of such a giant superpower revolutionized the geopolitical axis and reshaped the balance of power in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka lies just five miles off the East-West Shipping Lane; a maritime corridor used by ships as the major trade and transportation route from South-East Asia and the Far-East to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.  80% of the oil imported by China is conveyed along this shipping lane, and it expected that China will increasingly rely on such importations to fuel its growing energy demands in the future.  As such, the importance of Beijing securing a firm sphere of influence on the tiny island of Sri Lanka can’t be understated.

Chinese Port in the Indian Ocean- The so called ‘String of Pearls’

U.S. observers identified the expansion strategy of China along the shipping lane, as it built ports and facilities to safeguard its future energy supply. The amassed harbours have been christened as the ‘String of Pearls’; from Pakistan to the Maldives, Seychelles, Burma, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, China is effectively practicing a containment policy against India.  India was shaken by the success of the Sri Lankan-Chinese talks.  Sri Lanka is just a stone’s throw away from the mainland and India had always assumed its neighbour to be a firm ally.  New Delhi counterbalanced the action by starting to court Vietnam and their resources in the South China Sea, deeply angering Beijing.

courtesy Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation

Even in the face of betrayal, India remained a supporter of Rajapakse. It seems that China and India may not be playing as rivals, but rather as partners. Western commentators can only perceive the competition between the two giants, but it is more likely that the common interests shared by the Elephant and the Dragon will overshadow their minor frictions.

Indeed, many questions remain unanswered about the direction that India now wants to take in its role as the regional superpower, but you may find the answer if you look closely enough at the reflections from the broken shards of glass.

courtesy indianexpress.com

The Sri Lankan government and the LTTE became entangled in a vortex of violence and brutality. It is undeniable that the blatant disrespect for human life and dignity as the ferocity of the atrocities escalated is the responsibility of both sides.  The difference is that Pranhakaran’s Tigers were an underground, clandestine organization, whilst the Sri Lankan government is part of the international assembly – it is a democratically elected institution regulated by internal and external treaties and normative systems.

The Sri Lankan government had the legitimacy to eliminate the LTTE, who were executing targeted attacks against the civilian populace in alleged retaliation to civilian deaths by the hand of the Sri Lankan government.

courtesy ATP/Getty Images

Herein the problem lies, as you need to morally distinguish your actions from theirs.  Instead, Colombo mimicked the spirit of the cancer it wanted to destroy, retaliating indiscriminately and unnecessarily murdering tens of thousands of civilians.

The LTTE and the Sri Lankan government were so similar that they become one the mirror image of the other”.

(Dr Saravanmuttu, Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, interview for the documentary ‘A Sri Lankan Quest’).

courtesy Reuters

Three years ago today, 300 000 people were forced to flee from their homes as more than forty thousand corpses lay abandoned on the beaches of Mullivaikail. The international community has just begun to recognize the sheer magnitude of the event, but it is yet to realize the reasons behind the massacre.

The ball is being passed from court to court, as each side accuses the other of being the sole culprit. In the meantime, the major players are still juggling their factional interests, instead of facing up to their responsibilities.

courtesy Ishara S Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images

Our investigation reveals that the situation is far more complex than imagined, with a web of mutual liabilities impeding the emergence of the truth.

‘A Sri Lankan quest’ investigates the significance of the final bloody days of the conflict by asking the simple question why.

The internal conflict between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government persisted for a quarter of a century, but rapidly spiralled out of control as geopolitical interests intensified the gravitas of the fight. Three years after the event, the facts are slowly coming to light, but the real reasons behind the brutality and war crimes are still far from the spotlight. Whilst the government of Sri Lanka has a lot to answer for, it would be unfair to blame only the executioner and the ones who pulled the trigger. We suspect our revelations will be of interest to all Sri Lankan citizens, the relatives of the Tamils massacred and for anyone who cares wholeheartedly for human rights, justice and the truth.

To find out the real reasons behind the massacre, keep reading…

                                              (courtesy BBC News)