Archive

Monthly Archives: March 2013

In this video, India’s express Chief Editor Shektar Gupta interviews Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa for NDTV’s program “Walk the Talk” on 1st of June 2009, in the immediate aftermath of the end of the conflict.

The first, immediate aspect is about a sense of normality, almost familiarity. I don’t want to dig about the mutual propaganda of India and Sri Lanka, but one thing is clear: this interview could not take place with a Chinese journalist.

Colombo is leaning vigorously on the Beijing side and yet this meeting is a reminder that Sri Lanka plays with India, not matter how many billions, tankers or vetoes in the security council arrived from far away, ultimate solutions and persistent problems will concretize in the neighbourhoods.

On this line it is emblematic what Rajapaksa considered Prabhakaran’s biggest mistake: the killing of Rajiv Gandhi (part 1, min 02.20). More than the genuine thinking of the President it is important that he is completely in tune with an Indian audience. For Rajapaksa is not an effort to get in to such character: he’s more than pro-India or India-friendly: he is organic in the Indian vision of politics. This is obvious, regardless the sincerity of the president.

The triumph of this attitude of course is when Rajapaksa says: I was fighting their war (part 2, min 3.55). Probably there is the intention of favourably influence the Indian public, but he transmits also a degree of submission, almost like a servant delivering the job for his master. Many consider Rajapaksa a cunning fox, which is actually deceiving the Indian partner. But when discussing the timing of Prabhakaran’s killing it is more than obvious that it was prepared in collaboration with New Delhi: even Gupta, in his most than toothless interview, feels the need to highlight the timing (part 2, min 2.00). I want to point out few lines earlier: when discussing the politicians in Tamil Nadu, Rajapaksa doesn’t have the guts to mention their names (part 2, min 1.20). The nationalist Tamil parties are direct in their accusation and they clearly stand as a vocal opposition against his administration. Yet, he is quick in downplaying a straight confrontation.

This overdose of diplomacy sounds wrong, especially when with soft words claims that the Tamil issue is an invention of politicians (part 2, min 5.35). That is a sort of very dark sarcasm, if you consider the numerous progroms against the Tamil since independence. The horror grows in the final, when he assures that he’s looking after the Tamil brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka (part 3, min 5.15).

13 out of 16 division of the Sri Lankan army are stationed in the North and the East; countless cases of abuses against women by armed forces, land grabbing and expropriation. All these episodes are not good example of protection. But the pearl of this exaggeration is not contained in the screened version of the interview; if you go to on-line transcript[1]: he claims that the number of civilians is less than 100. Less than 100!

This would be ridicule if we weren’t talking of one of the most horrendous massacres in recent history. NDTV had the taste of not including these idiocies in their program; on the other hand Gupta certainly didn’t grill his interviewee. The overall impression is that India and Sri Lanka share more than cultural and economic ties: also responsibility for the slaughtering of tens of thousands of civilians, Tamils to be precise, and also for the mediatic cover up of the entire operation.

Well done India!

Advertisements
war tourism

War tourism in Sri Lanka.
Photo BBC

In Sri Lanka a new sector is booming: war tourism. On the site where the last bastion of the LTTE was crushed by the Sri Lankan army, a holiday resort has been built to cater for an audience eager to see with their own eyes these places. The advert reminds that on this lagoon, the heroes of the army, the terrorists of the LTTE and many others, died.[1]

November the 27th was the usual “Martyrs day”, a festival instituted by the Tamil Tigers to commemorate the soldiers fallen for the cause. This year students of the Jaffna University lighted lamps in public in their honour and they were jailed in rehabilitation camp, with the accuse of fomenting hate and the resurgence of terrorism.

tamil victims 2

Tamil victims in Sri Lankan civil war.

In this two episodes it is possible to see all the contradiction of the post-conflict process in Sri Lanka. The government hails as heroes its soldiers; all of them, including the ones responsible of the massacres. It is beyond any reasonable doubt that a huge number of civilians has been killed. The UN first referred to 40 000, but a recent book of Harrison, based on unpublished studies from the World Bank corrected the figures to 70 000. In any case, the death toll is enormous. And they were civilians, Tamil civilians. Therefore any celebration of the state for the “heroes” is a painful reminder of the personal losses for the Tamil community. At the same time, the “terrorists” were fighters for secession of an independent Tamil Eelam, after 60 years of oppression and abuses. Not to mention the fact that they were relatives of many in the

Pro-LTTE rally in London, 2009.Photo BBC

Pro-LTTE rally in London, 2009.
Photo BBC

Tamil population. And they are eager to commemorate their husbands, fathers, brothers and sisters. But the government banned any public sign of mourning the dead. And imposed a rigid silence over the civilian massacres.

The reconciliation will always be in a stall, until these positions will change. The fallen soldiers of both camps died for a cause, some of them committed crimes and most important all the civilians killed, were innocents. This is the source of the crime! The LTTE’s attacks in Colombo and other cities were criminal because they targeted the harmless Sinhalese population. Equally despicable was the involvement of hundreds of thousands Tamil civilians in the military operations led by the Sri Lankan army.

The war is over, but not the tension which caused it. Open hostilities were the symptoms of the disease, not the root. The government recurring theme of the war on terror was a successful brand to convince the West. But the troubled 40 years of independent history preceded the military struggled. The Tamils suffered persecution with communal riots, pogrom and discrimination by the state. The inability or lack of will to fix these grievances are the origin of the military response of the Tamil community.

Government War Memorial near War-Tourist Site Mullivaikal Mullaitivu District

Government War Memorial near War-Tourist Site Mullivaikal Mullaitivu District

At the same time 30 years of violence and war didn’t bring the wished end of that condition. The military option has been defeated and living in the hope of taking arms again won’t change the past. The possibility to mourn the Tamil Tigers should be a right of the community, to remember relatives. But it should be clear also that the LTTE was ruthless organization, that suppressed any form of political freedom and killed any single opposer to their plot.

Until the Sri Lankan state will feel obliged to celebrate its victory against the Tamil, any reconciliation will be clearly impossible. It will reinforce in that community the perception that only armed struggle will bring justice.

On the contrary if both community will realize that victims were the innocents of both camps, that could become the turning point for a real resolution of the tension. The conflict of interest in Sri Lanka can be eased only by a mutual recognition: the legitimacy of the Tamil to maintain their cultural and communal identity and the the right of the state to guarantee the security of its citizens, all of them.

tamil protest

Protests in Tamil Nadu continue over Sri Lankan Tamils issue.

Recent history showed that it is very difficult to try bloody leaders when they lose the war: Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death, Milosevic was tried, but died before the verdict, Gaddafi killed in a summary execution. Only Charles Taylor has been convicted and for crimes committed in Sierra Leone, not his own (Liberia). Bashir in Sudan could be the next one, but with strong opposition from the Arab countries. As you can see, it is almost impossible to put on trial state leaders. And these had lost the war, they were on the wrong side. Croatian leaders with very similar responsibilities of Milosevic haven’t been even mentioned; Kosovar gangs of criminals have been rewarded with independence. It goes without saying that misconduct, abuses and tortures committed in Iraq and Afghanistan are out of the agenda.

Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation

360 000 Tamil civilians have been chased, bombarded and starved out.
Photo: Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation

So the idea of starting such a process in Sri Lanka is remote, very remote. Further on it is very clear that the chain of command points straight to the top: President Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya.

More than 80 000 Tamils have been massacred; the army targeted civilians on such a scale, that mass graves are visible from the satellite[1].  And the government was talking of a “zero civilians casualties policy”. You wouldn’t expect from the Rajapaksa administration an outspoken confession; but from US and Europe a more resolute stance to bring justice and accountability.

Rajapaksa won the war and is winning also the post-conflict. I’m convinced that war crimes have been committed: only independent investigations could verify this claim. Given the procedures currently on-going in Geneva, we have almost the certainty that a war crimes case against Sri Lanka will never take place.

 

mullivaikal massacre 2

More than 80 000 Tamil civilians are missing from the last assault in the Nandikadal lagoon, where the people have been bombarded by heavy artillery.

 

 

 

bidding oilOn the 7th of March 2013 Sri Lanka’s government held an international road show to facilitate the bidding process for the offshore exploration rights for several blocks[1], locations: Houston, London, Singapore.

It may be interesting to note two facts: in this round there is almost a unanimous interest: Exxon, Total, Eni, BP, Gazprom, Petronas[2].

This enthusiasm probably derives from the successful operations of Cairn-Vedanta. The Anglo-Indian company in 2011 found oil.

This leads to the second interesting fact: the previous road show was held in 2007[3], same locations (Houston, London, Singapore). Did anybody hear about the Eelam War? It ended quite bad for the LTTE, the separatist army, which was annihilated and also for more than 360 000 Tamil civilians, chased out like wild animals. More than 80 000 civilians are supposed to have died in the final stage of the conflict. Well, in 2007 the war had just re-started. Not a surprise that the bidders were a bit more cautious.

rajapaksa oil cairn agreementIn fact the LTTE was one of the best trained, motivated and fierce liberation army in the world, with an exceptional navy. During the civil war, the LTTE navy, the Sea Tigers have been able to evenly match the Sri Lankan one. The region controlled by the Tamil Tigers was run like a state, with banks and post offices. And it was rely heavenly on sea supply lane. So it was vital for the LTTE to have a successful protection from the sea. Then in 2007 India started patrolling. India’s position has been ambiguous, to say the least, with the LTTE.

But in 2007 the idea of buying exploration rights in war zone was simply mad. Unless the government pledged beyond any reasonable the certainty of the deal…

How can you guarantee such agreement during a conflict?

Probably you planned carefully to eliminate any resistance, any dissent. And with 1 billion barrels of oil, you can buy international support and help.

no war franceFrance became the global defender of peace and international justice when it antagonized the USA for the war in Iraq. Legions of citizens looked at Paris as the guardian of civilization: again the nation of liberte egalite fraternite stood against the brutal, warmongering forces which regularly try to strangle the universal values of citizenship and human rights. Very well, nice, lovely. Only, France didn’t oppose USA for those reasons; it is true that they considered the war in Iraq as unlawful: but the big problem was that they were excluded from the loot, not the war itself!

In fact France is not against colonial imperialism: it was one of the major colonial forces in the past; what France object is to be left behind in the race. In Iraq Paris could clearly see that the Iraqi oil was going all in American pipes. Mon Dieu! Never again!

france warSo when the Arab spring shook the region, France was more than ready to invade another country and to plug French pipe in the Libyan oil wells. The war in Mali signifies a new commitment of France in Africa. Mali’s undersoil is supposed to contain uranium, oil, gas and gold[1]; it is also a neighbour of Nigeria, which has an increasing agitated scenario by its own Islam groups[2]. Whatever the reason, France is on the move to re-assert its sphere of influence[3].

kouchner milibad

France and UK foreign ministers Kouchner and Miliband meet Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaksa.

So I have a rule of thumb: if you see a French diplomat on the move, ask yourself what business is in sight. During the last days of the Eelam War, we saw Kouchner and Miliband (respectively France and UK foreign ministers) running to make pressure on Colombo’s government. What kind of pressure? Well some photographic posing, speeches in favour of human rights and the rule of law. In brief, absolutely nothing. Now, Great Britain has very clear economic interests: they sell weapons to Sri Lanka and they are actively involved in the oil exploration in the Mannar Basin. Cairn and Vedanta are listed in London, though they are Indian companies. But France will remain seated while others are making money in the usual colonial way? Mon Dieu, impossible!

Parithi killing in Paris

LTTE member Parithi Killed in Paris, 2011

Last year a former LTTE leader (the secessionist Tamil movement, defeated in 2009 with the massacre of 80 000 civilians),  Nadaraja Matheetharan alias Parithi was killed in Paris by agents of the Sri Lankan secret services[4]. My big question was: how France can allow such a move on its soil? Especially after Sri Lanka should maintain quite a low profile with the international community and the West… What happened?

Well Cairn and Vedanta don’t hold an exclusive of exploration: they have concession for ONE zone. In the 2013 Sri Lanka will organize another round of auctions. Which are the front-runners? Exxon and Total[5]. I think we’ll hear a lot of noise in Geneva about committee and votes, and alignment, and new resolution and all this sort of empty talking. I suspect that the murder of Parithi was a “gesture of good will” from France in the perspective of the oil exploration rights bidding. totalHuman rights declaration is not worth the paper is written on if you don’t have the political will to enforce it. Mon Dieu, colonial times are over, can can’t interfere in internal matters, we only give wise, impotent advices. Of course the farcical clash of interest is merely superficial: the government of Sri Lanka can show its citizens and supporters that they stand against the old colonial power, the European countries can show their own citizens, they stand for the right cause, but diplomatic route will take time. And we have plenty of time, don’t we? History is not written in a day, oil contracts are. Anything else left to discuss in Geneva?

UNHRC and Sri Lanka

UNHRC and Sri Lanka

The upcoming UNHRC will very likely vote a resolution against Sri Lanka. The US had made clear it is a procedural on and we can expect India to align itself with the Western countries. What does it mean? Absolutely nothing. This is the masterpiece of diplomacy by US, Europe and India, to support the criminal regime of Sri Lanka. In fact all this manoeuvring in Geneva, all this supposed actions against Sri Lanka, in reality are nothing. The 2013 resolution will be merely procedural: it means it won’t bring any novel fact, only it will require to implement the 2012 resolution. It is the case that 2012 resolution, the big betrayal of India against Sri Lanka, was in fact another joke. In 2012 the US sponsored resolution asked the government to implement the LLRC. Now, LLRC was the recommendations for the government by a committee nominated by the government. As you can image, the most serious allegations and issues weren’t touched even marginally: the LLRC was a toothless instrument.

rajapaksa smilingThe focus on LLRC is a diplomatic mirror to elude the reality of fact: the US, Europe and India can confront Sri Lanka on that irrelevant field. Sri Lanka will respond, UN will make more pressure, finally they will find a compromise. Everybody is happy, the West shows it has forgot Sri Lanka, India can say that they fight for the Tamils on the international stage and Colombo can cry on this fake diplomatic defeat.

Can we remind ourselves that the problem in Sri Lanka is not burocracy, or the implementation of a recommendations made by the government to itself, but the serious allegation of war crimes and genocide.

Can someone tell the Tamil diaspora that fighting these risible battles doesn’t make any difference? That if you “defeat” Rajapaksa on this, you are actually losing? Rajapaksa will accept this pressure after long negotiations: do you know that after such compromise, you can’t start to ask something else immediately?

You will win the Geneva vote in 2013 and that will have zero consequence in the process of accountability and even less in the protection of the Tamils in Sri Lanka now.