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In 2009 the Sri Lankan army crushed the Tamil insurgents, the LTTE. More than 360000 Tamil civilians were trapped in the fighting theatre. The Sri Lankan government established a “No Fire Zone” to protect the civilians. According to the UN Panel report, more than 40000 civilians died. Less conservative figures put the toll at 80000. This footage was taken from the No Fire Zone on 10th of May 2009.

The government of Sri Lanka claimed that it pursued a “Zero civilian casualties” policy; in an interview with NDTV, Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaksa stated that no more than 100 civilians died[1].

Any possible debate about Sri Lanka can start only after the vision of these images. They are crude, but they are testimony of what happened.

Protest againts Vedanta for its operations in India.

Protest againts Vedanta for its operations in India.

It was a quest for survive that pushed Vedanta to find another, lucrative business. In fact its plan for more than $5.8 billion to increase the Aluminium production has been rejected by the government, due to mounting international pressure to protect the Adivasis in Niyamgiri Hills[1]. The repercussion of that failure is big enough to be the mover for the challenge against Ambani’s Reliance.

 Cairn main assets in India are in Rajastan, a huge field estimated in billions of dollars. That was the jackpot for a small venture like Cairn; But to compete with Reliance, you need to be much bigger and much linked to political power. Requirements that Vedanta matches. On the other hand, to exploit Vedanta’s economy of scale, Agarwal needed to grab any possibility on the market.

The Mannar Basin oil fields were ideal. Unfortunately the Sri Lankan civil war was a major obstacle, with the fierce LTTE ready to go all way for the cause of independence. The Sri Lankan government lacked the political will to annihilate the rebels.

A march of the Balck Tigers, the LTTE special forces for suicidal attacks.

A march of the Balck Tigers, the LTTE special forces for suicidal attacks.

In fact 20 years ago, when the Indian Peace Keepers intervened in the fight, Colombo incredibly re-armed the rebels, just to kick out New Delhi from the island[2]. In 2005 the parties were close to a peace treaty. But while Sri Lanka was ready to devolution, the LTTE wanted a clear path to secession. Meaning: conflict could last for another generation.

So the new President Rajapaksa changed the strategy[3]: now it was complete destruction of the rebels. Why this stance wasn’t adopted earlier? Two reasons: civilian casualties involved in chasing the guerrilla forces. And India. New Delhi never really approved the elimination of the LTTE (though responsible of the killing of Rajiv Gandhi). But in 2006, the Indian position changed. Suddenly New Delhi offered complete support: maritime patrol, electronic surveillance, military and political backing (the Tamil nationalist sentiment in Tamil Nadu were controlled by the then Chief Minister, Mr Karunanidhi, a hard-core supporter of LTTE, but involved in a personal scandal during that period[4]).

In 2009 80000 Tamil civilians have been massacred on the shores of Nandikadal lagoon and in Mullivaikal.

In 2009 80000 Tamil civilians have been massacred on the shores of Nandikadal lagoon and in Mullivaikal.

The rest is history: from the bloody shores of the Nandikadal lagoon, 280 000 Tamil civilian come out, leaving behind possibly more than 80000 dead. The fate of the Tamil population in their land now is the one of an occupied country. The military presence is strangling any activity.

But the Mannar Basin fields are blooming. In 2013 Sri Lanka launched another bidding round, this time everybody in the sector was queuing: Exxon, Total, Gazprom, Eni[5].

Clearly the news of Cairn-Vedanta success reached the big players of oil and gas.

The question now is: who could provoke a radical change in the Indian policy towards Sri Lanka? Cairn is out of the question.

Vedanta entered the game only in 2011, when the war was over since 2 years. If you believe in conspiracy, you could suspect that Vedanta chased the deal much earlier, convinced the Indian government to intervene in its favour and Cairn to spearhead the negotiation to avoid attention.

Of course this is just an exercise of speculation.

The signing ceremony of the agreement of petroleum resources between the Government of Sri Lanka and Cairn India (Pvt. Ltd) . President Mahinda Rajapaksa,  Minister of Petroleum and Petroleum Resources A.H.M. Fowzie and Indrajith Benerjee, Chief Finance Officer and Ajay Gupta Head of Commercial and New Business of Cairn India . Photo Sudath Silva

The signing ceremony of the agreement of petroleum resources between the Government of Sri Lanka and Cairn India (Pvt. Ltd) . President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Minister of Petroleum and Petroleum Resources A.H.M. Fowzie and Indrajith Benerjee, Chief Finance Officer and Ajay Gupta Head of Commercial and New Business of Cairn India .
Photo Sudath Silva

agarwal ambani

Mr Agarwal, founder of Vedanta and Mr Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries

With the purchase of Cairn India, Mr Agarwal, boss of the mining powerhouse Vedanta resources, officially challenged the dominance of Reliance Industry, the Ambani’s giant in petrochemicals and refining[1][2]. Vedanta and Reliance were undisputed kings in their respective sectors: complementary and parallel. Both can count on mighty political clout and this feud showed their potential: in defence of Ambani’s Reliance went in Mr Sharma, chairman of the state-owned ONGC and Petroleum Secretary Mr Sundareshan. On the camp of Agarwal’s Vedanta, nobody less than UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron[3].

Mr Cameron pubblicly lobbied in favour of Vedanta with Mr Singh.

Mr Cameron pubblicly lobbied in favour of Vedanta with Mr Singh.

The bone of contention is simple: oil. In Sri Lanka[4]. Offshore of the Mannar Basin lie reserves up to a billion barrels. Reliance Industry was drilling on the Indian side of the Strait, but when the government of Sri Lanka offered the exploration rights in 2007, they Ambani’s group declined. Why?

Well there are always a lot of risks associated with oil extraction, first of all, there is no guarantee of discovery, second it could be not commercially viable to extract it.

But the Mannar Basin case was even riskier: it was the theatre of a civil war. The area was under the control of the LTTE, one the fiercest guerrilla army in the world. Surely if you buy, you want some guarantees that your will be able to access your property.

The LTTE navy, the Sea Tigers, guaranteed the security of sea lane supply for more than 30 years.

The LTTE navy, the Sea Tigers, guaranteed the security of sea lane supply for more than 30 years.

Now the company that was awarded the concession was Cairn, a small venture based in Edinburgh (with the bulk of their interests in India). What was the level of political leverage that Cairn could exercise to demand for assurance? Null. The management of Cairn, we are supposed to believe, bought the exploration rights with no further collateral for their purchase, no political promise that their property will be their hand soon.

But in 2011 Vedanta saved the “Scottish” company with their offer[5]. The operation was hardly contested by the Indian government; as we have seen, the move was an aggressive entrance in the landscape of Reliance and Ambani’s clan didn’t particularly welcome the new comer[6].

Agarwal acknowledged the leading role of Ambani: “They (Reliance) will continue to be the largest player. But, at the same time, there is enough water in the sea for other players to also do business.” [7]

If you are familiar with the Indian capitalism, you know very well that the big players are running monopolies supported by political protection. Competition is sacrilegious. So why Agarwal decided to challenge so directly Ambani?

Adivasis fighters.

Adivasis fighters.

Rumours go that he was concerned for his venture in Orissa[8]. Vedanta was involved in a billion mining project; they received of course all the authorization from the central government, but a small detail was blocking the operations: 80 million of Adivasis, the Indian Aborigines. The inconvenience was due to be quickly removed with mass evictions; this led the Adivasis to join the Maoist guerrilla, but Vedanta wasn’t worried: in fact the central government declared this insurgency (sometimes the Adivasis attacked with bows and arrows) as the nation’s main security threat: more than the archenemy, atomic-armed Pakistan. Operation Green Hunt was launched to eradicate the Maoist[9] and incidentally, any obstacle to Vedanta manoeuvres. Unfortunately for Vedanta, public and international outcry sprung in favour of Adivasis and suddenly the big deal, despite all the political support, was in peril[10]. The Orissa crisis urged Vedanta to look for alternative business[11]. Quickly.


mullivaikal

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


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.

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?