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More than 80000 Tamil civilians were killed during the last attacks of the Sri Lankan civil war.

One may be tempted to say that it is not the first case of impunity, not even in recent history. True: in Syria for example there are concurrent narratives of propaganda blaming alternatively the government and the rebels. But the novelty in respect of Sri Lanka is the absence of competitive perspectives. It is well known that China protects Sri Lanka; a little less divulged is the Indian protection of Sri Lanka. But the real point is that the West is actually not interested in accusing Sri Lanka. The US made very bland recommendations to Colombo, in comparison what is at stake. The impression is that the Sri Lankan government shall be charged for mishandling the behaviour of its troops. The boys went too far in certain circumstances, but we don’t have the political will to scold our naughty soldiers.

500 000 Tamil civilians were chased out,through shelling and starvation.

500 000 Tamil civilians were chased out,through shelling and starvation.

The accusation is far from this insipid criticism: the government of Sri Lanka launched a heavy military offensive against hundreds of thousands of civilians. Again, it’s better to have clear in mind that we are not speaking of isolated episodes: the plan was to bring war in the middle of Tamil inhabited areas. The operation was designed to bring havoc in every Tamil house. At the peak of the Vanni operation, almost half a million of people has been chased, starved and bombed out. It is less about the casualties and more about the intentions. The carnage of 80000 civilians is still not the most horrible part of the truth. Soldiers massively brainwashed and put under extreme psychological stress, can eventually go crazy and out of control. This is still criminal and to blame. But the Sri Lankan case is worst: the government planned to massacre the civilians. We are not discussing episodes of crossfire: we are accusing the government of Sri Lanka of heavy shelling on harmless population. Repetitively. It was a decision, it was planned.

united nations

The silence of the United Nations is a crucial accomplice in the massacres.

And the United Nations, the government of USA, UK, India, France, Norway and Japan know what happened. The UN actually published a report where it estimates at 40000 the number of civilian casualties[1]. Moreover an internal inquiry from the UN provided even more critical observations about the accomplice negligence[2].

New Delhi provided military intelligence, electronic surveillance and field support on the ground: India was informed in real time. Actually, it was New Delhi that was informing Colombo about the development of action.

Now such carnage won’t be sanctioned.

Why? Several reasons for the convenience of geopolitical equilibrium. We have some suspicions that the oil discovery in the LTTE[3] controlled area could have been a game changer, especially for India (with Vedanta and Cairn) and European countries, like the UK (again with Cairn and Vedanta, both London-listed), France (with Total); but also Malaysia, with its powerful Tamil presence, was involved through Petronas[4].

The estimated reserves of the Mannar Basin oil field  are up to a billion barrels.

The estimated reserves of the Mannar Basin oil field are up to a billion barrels.

Aside this allegation, the undisputed outcome is that Sri Lanka will walk away from a planned massacre with total impunity, because it made the right diplomatic move. Namely, it sought agreement with every power involved. With the US, Colombo justified the operation with war on terror (it was actually a civil war). With China, it sold out a port facility (to be included in the String of Pearls). With the other Sri Lanka exchanged attractive economic deals (the exploration rights have been ceded at bargaining price). In fact during the final phase of the war, the duo Kouchner-Miliband improvised a timid protest[5], but already in 2011 France was pledging support to Sri Lanka[6] (in 2012 Paris collaborated with Sri Lankan secret service in the extra-judiciary killing of an Ex-LTTE member Parithi[7] and in 2013 Total is ready to join the Mannar Basin deal[8]), while UK was deeply compromised with Colombo for arm trade (see the scandal that led to the resignation of Defence minister Liam Fox[9]) and economic interest (Cameron lobbied in favour of Cairn and Vedanta with Indian government[10]).

This episode will establish an important precedent in international jurisprudence: heavy diplomacy with all the parties, with all the regional and global powers will give you clearance on everything you do. Everything.

Mullivaikkal Massacre May 2009

Mullivaikkal Massacre May 2009


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IV eelam warIn this year, the IV Eelam War broke out. After the attempt of the Peace Talks from 2001 to 2005, both parties strove to resume hostilities. Many reasons have been added for the failure of the peace process. For the LTTE and especially its leader, Prabhakaran, the agreement was to far away from full independence. Of course that target was impossible to reach through negotiations, therefore only the military way was open for that purpose. On the other side the Sri Lankan government had promised even too much in the eyes of its more nationalistic constituency. Therefore in 2006 everybody was keen to start again the war.

Erik Solheim and Velupillai PrabhakaranPhoto nation.lk

Erik Solheim and Velupillai Prabhakaran
Photo nation.lk

The biggest loser was Norway. The Nordic country in fact dedicated a lot of efforts to find a deal. If you consider that from 2001 TGS-Nopec, a company specialized in seismic survey for oil exploration, was showing enthusiastic reports about the possibility to find petroleum reserves, you may guess that the government in Oslo had some undisclosed interests. If you add that the special envoy, Mr Erik Solheim, just on the brink of the Peace Talks ending was nominated Minister for International Development1, with specific interest in the oil sector, for the Norwegian initiative “Oil for development”,Norad2, (see Solheim’s activity in Ghana3, Sudan4, Angola5).

 But Norway is not the only country in the world searching for opportunities in the oil sector. China and India in the same period were involved in a tough race to secure contracts for natural resources

Union Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar with the President of China National Petroleum Corporation, Chen Geng in Beijing on January 13.

Union Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar with the President of China National Petroleum Corporation, Chen Geng in Beijing on January 13.

around the world. The competition was so strong, that their bidding war was driving prices up everywhere. Thus the two Asian giants decided to form an alliance. “The agreement aimed at preventing the two nations competition for oil assets pushing up prices, symbolises their increasingly assertive role in global energy politics” (source: Financial Time).6

 One of the first country to test this alliance, was precisely Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa, soon after he received information about the possible presence of oil in the Mannar Basin, decided to get rid of Norway and offered India and China one block each 78.

We are far from saying that the Peace Talks were interrupted for the oil discovery; we are also not affirming that the IV Eelam War was oil-driven and that the India and China support of Sri Lanka was motivated purely by the natural resource deal.

We can see a series of coincidences and we argue that oil played a role in Sri Lanka, maybe only a secondary one, but not completely marginal. Norway is our first indicator; the Nordic country didn’t though it could provide more transparency on its conduct, but had clearly a vested interest in the peace process in relation to the oil reserve. China and India had additional reasons to back

Anti-lankan protest led by politician and activist Vaiko in Tamil Nadu.Photo onlanka.com

Anti-lankan protest led by politician and activist Vaiko in Tamil Nadu.
Photo onlanka.com

Colombo, but it was a clever and opportune gift from Rajapaksa to offer natural resources in exchange of their help. In particular it could have represent the convincing point for New Delhi, to intervene without hesitation. India has oil operations on its side of the Strait, and the idea of leaving oil reserve in the hands of the LTTE or China alone could have been the decisive argument to make move. The energy sector is more vital and strategic for India that any other alliance of convenience between China and Sri Lanka.

If you think that oil doesn’t play any role in conflicts around the globe, then you can ignore our thesis. On the other hand, if you assume that natural resources are too important in contemporary geopolitical scenarios, and so are always involved, maybe to different extent, you may be tempted to spend more time on this hypothesis.

 

China's President Hu Jintao and Governor of Malacca Khalil Yakub

China’s President Hu Jintao and Governor of Malacca Khalil Yakub
Photo Reuters

President Hu Jintao back in 2003 started to mention the so called “Malacca Dilemma”, the fact that 80% of China energy needs will pass thorugh the waters of Malacca, without having any strategic influence over it1.

The Chinese leadership is quite aware that whoever will control the Strait will be able to choke the supply line of the People’s Republic. It is interesting to note that the notion of the Malacca Dilemma and the String of Pearls were born almost at the same time. The String of Pearls is much more famous, but is also more misleading. It aims to address the containment policy of China against India. If you reflect, China will never be able to evict India from the Indian Ocean. Moreover China is already a global superpower, while India is struggling to become a regional one. The only field in which they are competing directly is natural resources. But the String of Pearls won’t deny that to India. The truth is that the String of Pearls is a menace perceived by the US. Washington really could be excluded from the South East. So the Americans are pushing the Indians to think they are threatened by the Chinese.

In this puzzle, the role of a piece is growing in importance: Myanmar. Back in 2007, president Bush put its eyes on the humanitarian condition of Burmese people2. It is praiseworthy, especially from an administration that launched wars to appropriate natural resources of sovereign state, practised unlawful detentions, torture, extrajudiciary killings and so on. Myanmar is itself rich in natural resources and lies in a strategic position: just before the Malacca Strait. Much of the attention Myanmar received in recent years should be probably ascribed to this aspect, rather than the restless endeavour of the US for human rights.

Sri Lanka's President Rajapaksa and India's Prime Minister Singh

Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaksa and India’s Prime Minister Singh

The Tamil diaspora in Malaysia

Finally, with regards to Sri Lanka, it should be clear that there is no such a thing as India strangled by China. Beijing is securing its supply lane; Sri Lanka is part of this architecture. Nobody in New Delhi has been forced to do anything. What happened to the Tamils and the LTTE has nothing to do with the clash of global super powers. Sri Lankan deeds are a domestic affair for India and they have been treated as such. It is easier to blame the Chinese and because they consider this kind of debate as farcical, they don’t even defend themselves. But an accurate analysis of the geopolitical interests will show that Sri Lanka is under the patronage of India, with occasional and contingent flirtations with China, dictated by convenience rather than long term alliances.

The Malacca Strait is the place where the future rearrangement of the global balance of power will take place. India should start to look at its interest, rather than following the clue thrown by the Americans (though sometimes they could overlap in any case). And if the Tamil diaspora in Malaysia has any intention to influence the international scenario, should start to appreciate its strategic role in this context, rather than chasing the infinite intrigues of New Delhi politics.

1Chen Shaofeng, “China’s Self-Extrication from the “Malacca Dilemma” and Implications” International Journal of China Studies China’s Vol. 1, No. 1, January 2010, pp. 1-24

Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran, premier of TGTE, the Tamil government in exile

Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran, premier of TGTE, the Tamil government in exile

The premier of the Tamil government in exile, Mr. Visuvanathan Rudrakuman, wrote in his greetings for new year about his aspirations for 20131. My impression is that the Tamil people has never been so far away from independence. He disagrees and I suppose he’s so desperate that needs to show some ungrounded optimism.

He states that an independent Tamil Eelam is compatible with the interests of international states, Sri Lanka included. It is not my intention to dismiss light-heartedly his thoughts, but it is important to understand if he’s talking seriously, if he believes genuinely in what he says. In this case, the Tamil leadership is lost.

At present, it is interest of nobody an independent Tamil Eelam and if you don’t get this, you are doomed to perpetuate the same mistake on and on.

Black Tigers, the LTTE battalion for suicidal operations.

Black Tigers, the LTTE battalion for suicidal operations.

The LTTE was outlaw organization; right or wrong, everybody decided to labelled so. We can discuss about rehabilitation of its memory or why it was sanctioned. But reality states that it was considered a criminal outfit. If you don’t want to spend time in understanding this, you’ll always find everybody on the other side. It is worthy remember that in 2009 China, India, USA and the rest of the European states were against the LTTE. Right or wrong, that was the situation.

Mr. Visuvanathan Rudrakuman says that it is interest of India to support independence. Now, even if you a politician, you should pay more attention to your optimism. It is very well known that India strongly opposes any secession in the region. Its own unity is at stake and New Delhi will never back any centrifugal movement. Separation of Pakistan and Bangladesh could look so remote as secession of Tamil Nadu, but it is clear that the Indian unity is fragile. For this reason, they will never let the Tamils go in Sri Lanka. Further on, they have no particular reason of friendship with the Tamils: the narrative that they are brethren stands as long as you are Tamil. The rest of the India doesn’t feel any particular closeness with them than with Sinhalese. India is a multi-ethnic country. Sinhalese are originary from Orissa. In the eyes of New Delhi Sinhalese and Tamils are equally distant from their heart. I repeat: for India there is not a single reason to support independence in Sri Lanka.

us navyThe USA are engaged in a tough struggle of power with China. Sri Lanka is dividing its attention between New Delhi and Beijing. Clearly the USA will back any Indian resolution with regards of Sri Lanka, because on the other hand they would help China. India is firmly against independence. Would the USA pursue a strategy that is reinforcing Beijing? So on which grounds it is in American interests to support the secession of Tamil Eelam?

The UK, in recent meetings (Queen’s jubilee, the Olympics), welcomed president Rajapaksa as a respectable head of state. It is recurrent the theme of “British economic interests” in Sri Lanka.

France recently approved the killing of a former LTTE leader (Parithi) on its soil.

Norway support of the LTTE cause was mainly oil driven. With the defeat of the Tigers, their edgei in the deal disappeared; they don’t have any other interest in the Tamil nationalism. So what is exactly the European interest in the Tamil Eelam secession?

Celebration in Sri Lanka for the end of the War.Courtesy JDS

Celebration in Sri Lanka for the end of the War.
Courtesy JDS

Finally, where is the convenience of the Sinhalese ? Tamil oppression dates back since independence. In 2009 they finally managed to crash the armed struggle. The TGTE forgets that. You need to rebuild a negotiating position and the Tamil one is weak now.

The war crimes and atrocities are not an excuse. Justice must be brought with or without Tamil Eelam.

If you put on the table the genocide as a compensation for the defeat, you are badly wrong. The Sinhalese don’t have any reason to accept this deal. They won.

 

1http://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/two-state-solution-eminently-compatible-with-interests-of-tamil-and-sinhala-people/

nigeria oilIt is talking for stake in Mozambique’s Rovuma-1 gas field, is gazing 1 million barrels of crude oil in Ghana, has sent its special envoy in Sudan, has planned to boost investment in oil sector in Venezuela. Who is it? A little help: it is an Asian country with more than 1 billion people. And no, it is not China.

Surprise?

India’s growth is probably less spectacular and iconic than China’s, yet the magnitude is similar. And so it is its thirst for natural resources. China is scary, instead India has the reassuring smile of a Santa Klaus Mohamon Singh, it’s the biggest democracy, no Bollywood villain can seriously be taken as a menace.

India's Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh.Photo Reuters

India’s Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh.
Photo Reuters

India has a friendly face. The worst it can happen with India is that they will start to dance and to sing in falsetto. Yet, New Delhi needs natural resources, desperately. In particular, oil. Loads of oil. India in 2011 consumed a third of the oil of China, but China produced also a third1. China imports almost half of its need, India almost all2. And the future could be even more unbalanced for New Delhi. It is fair to say that India is looking as ravenously as China for new oil sources.

As we mentioned in the introduction India was in talks over the stake in Mozambique’s Rovuma-1 gas field3, with Ghana about equity participation and industrial collaboration4 and also for a contract of more than 1 million barrels5, has sent a special envoy in Sudan6 with the clear mandate of lobbying for India in the competition with China over the Sudanese oil; finally, it is investing in Venezuela more than $ 2 billions7.

Union Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar with the President of China National Petroleum Corporation, Chen Geng in Beijing on January 13.

Union Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar with the President of China National Petroleum Corporation, Chen Geng in Beijing on January 13.

This competition with China is not new. In 2006 they signed an agreement to stop such a bidding war that was driving up prices worldwide8. In 2012 in a very unnoticed press release, they “agreed to “work together to maintain peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region”. The “consensus” was reached during the recent visit of the Chinese defence minister General Liang Guanglie to India, the first such visit since 1976.”9 Few months earlier their race for the assets in the Western Hemisphere attracted some attention by the analyst10.

India and China will maintain internal stability only with massive growth, which in turns will be possible only through a constant, reliable access to natural resources. The human cost for this race will be enormous. In India the group Vedanta launched a para-military campaing with the support of the New Delhi (“operation Green Hunt”) to evict the Adivasi11 people from the mining site.

India is looking everywhere for new possibilities. So it was very welcomed news when they discovered fields at home in Gujarat12, the Andhra Pradesh13 and the Cauvery Basin14. Since 1981 presence of oil on the Indian side of the Basin were confirmed15.

Cairn India was awarded the contract for oil exploration in block No.2 of the Mannar Basin and has signed a petroleum resources agreement with the government of Sri Lanka.

Cairn India was awarded the contract for oil exploration in block No.2 of the Mannar Basin and has signed a petroleum resources agreement with the government of Sri Lanka.

So it was only a matter of time before they found oil on the Sri Lankan one. Indeed. In 2011 Cairn launched a press release where they announced the oil discovery16.

If you consider that the Sri Lankan government in 2006 assigned one block each to China and India for further exploration, then you’ll have a more complete framework of the Chinese and Indian interests in Sri Lanka17.

When it comes to natural resources and their appropriation in countries with conflict issues and violations of human rights, you may easily accuse the role of China, as it is the case in Sudan. Well, we suggest that India, with a much lower profile, has very similar interests and very similar doing. China didn’t export wars, as the US did. We would like to broad the debate about conflict and natural resources also to India.

Stay tuned.

Sri Lanka:Oil and LTTE presence

Map of Sri Lanka.
In Blue the areas interested by oil exploration.
In Black areas previously under the control of LTTE.

11The Adivasi are the Indian aborigenes, Estimated in 80 millions.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi met US foreign secretary HIllary Clinton.
Courtesy Reuters/Cameron

In the last two years Myanmar embarked on a series of reforms that promise to bring democracy and to open up the country. The Burmese people are in desperate need of involvement from the international community, but it is very likely that the first who will come in Myanmar will be the usual suspects. The country is blessed with natural resources, from oil to gems, not to mention its strategic position. In fact China already built port facilities for what the US called “the String of Pearls”. So it is very important to monitor the way investors are coming in Myanmar. In this article1 , civil society groups express their concern for the pace of development, too fast, with no attention for the humanitarian cost. Norway in particular is leading the way in funding peace-building in community affected area. The head of the Norwegian mission, Mr Petrie declared:

 

Charles Petrie, Head of MPSI in Myanmar.
Courtesy: UN Photo / JC McIlwaine

The real concern [of activists and civil society groups] is the fact that the political process hasn’t started or has not been developed sufficiently far enough… On the part of government officials, there does seem to be a commitment to dialogue, but I think that some of the groups want a clearer idea of how that is going to proceed,”

According to Petrie, MPSI’s aim is to provide immediate support for the tentative ceasefires through humantiarian relief as well as building trust between the government and ethnic minority communities through development projects. MPSI is funding projects in Rakhine, Chin, Shan and Mon states.2

Petrie criticized severely the government in 2007 and was expelled. His words are an important warning. And everybody should listen, including Norway. Indeed as recently as a couple of weeks ago, Norwegian prime minister Stoltenberg, vowed to strength cooperation about energy, hydropower, oil and gas, fishery and communication3. This angle of the news came from the Chinese agency Xinhua. Other sources are of course highlighting the Norwegian effort in building peace and easing the tension amongst minorities.4

Norway’s Prime Minister Stoltenberg visits Burma’s President Thein Sein.
Courtesy Myanmar Government

The lesson is that Norway is coming to Myanmar with a real concern for human rights and a real interest in the country’s natural resources. It is a good way to bring attention for the humanitarian aspect when dealing with economic development. You can call it best practices. Yet the Norwegian endeavour is far from being dispassionate. And we must remember this. Very often the West criticized action of other countries, in primis China, but they rarely debate the fact that we are talking of a competition, that the race for natural resources must be win. And one of your tool can be the humanitarian groups, but it is crucial to recognize that is a tool, for the real purpose of economic exploitation.

Petrie led the internal report on the UN action in Sri Lanka.
Courtesy: Sky News

Otherwise the objectivity of the debate becomes very questionable. It is worth to mention that Petrie issued a very critical internal report against the UN agency in Sri Lanka during the end of the civil war in 2009. The UN intervention in Sri Lanka was a massive failure, missing the very purpose of its presence, namely protecting civilians. So it is more than welcomed the internal review of such misconduct. Yet, the fact that Petrie was appointed to lead the committee raised some question about conflict of interests5. Especially if you consider the past involvement of Norway in the Sri Lankan peace process. If you advocate for the principles, then be careful to follow your own preaching.

The international community faces a curious challenge with regards of Sri Lanka. In fact we are in presence of a massive violations of human rights, happened during the end of the war, not to mention also the continuous incidents of unlawful abductions, suppression of press freedom and abuses from the military and organized thugs. The point of the clash is about sovereignty on internal affairs; the argument from Sri Lanka, China and Russia is that any state is absolutely sovereign in disputes within its borders. The way to deal with internal dissent, discontent or even open revolt is entirely national. So not matter how disproportionate can be the reaction against these dissenting forces, it would be always regulated by internal mechanisms.

The West challenges precisely this notion, that any kind of violence is admissible. But it is a opposition largely on principles. In fact it is always too well known that the West screams loudly against violations of rival countries, whilst with allies and friends the protests are definitely quiter.

People’s unrest in Bahrain has been stopped with brutality
courtesy BBC

The example of Lybia and Syria on one side and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on the other. You don’t need to be a genius of geopolitics to see that the cases are precisely the same and only a decision of convenience makes them different.

You can consider Sri Lanka as a test. Colombo is leaning very clearly towards the non-Western front of China and the World South (Africa, Asia and Latin America), but is not yet a enemy. And this indecision is becoming an accusation against the West. Evidences of violations and war crimes during the end of the conflict are there. Even the UN, even Ban Ki Mon is (almost) tempted to say something. Satellite pictures, mobile footages, Wikileaks reports are so in front of your eyes that it seems almost a joke their denial.

The killing of civilians in Syrian civil war has been firnly condemned by the West and largely publicized.
REUTERS/Shaam News Network

And now we come to the point. Why it is so difficult to make a move and tarnish Sri Lanka with the same accusations? The main justification is about diplomacy: it will cause more harm than help to the victims and to the refugees, such a direct confrontation. It is better to wait. Why? In Syria and Libya you didn’t need any time to wait. With Saudi Arabia and Bahrain the case is already closed. The supect is that you can really decide whether Sri Lanka is an open rival or a distant friend. Only when it will be sorted out, then you’ll know whether Sri Lanka committed the crimes or not. In other terms the violations are against the alignment with the West, not the human rights.

If you can’t decide whether a violation has been committed or not, because you can’t decide on the alliance, then you reinforce the arbitrariness. The defence of human rights is becoming more and more a soft power of the West against China, Russia and other countries of the World South.

China’s vote in the United Nations’s security council
Xinhua

But rapidly this hypocrisy will backfire. The protection of human rights is a principle; if it can be bent to arbitrary necessity, then it is not a principle any more and countries like China are entitled to see these accusations merely as an intrusion.

The case of Sri Lanka reflects even too much this duplicity: the pressure is directly proportional to its distance from the West. The paradox is that if you raise the tone, the country will quickly move far away, so the necessity of escalating the case will make duplicity even more patent. If you remain silent, you’ll gain “points” in other cases, but then you’ll reinforce the negotiable nature of your battle for principles. This is the paradox of Sri Lanka, that prosecution on its violations will uncover the hypocritical fight of the West.

The solution to paradox is of course very simple: you need to stand for human rights always. It is a principle, therefore is not negotiable. The argument is that those principles are better protected by the West, even when they are violated. I don’t know your opinion, but to me this sounds dramatically unconvincing.