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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.

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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

In some part of the North, the soil is actually red. You could mistake it for a Martian ground. But the real sense of estrangement comes from politics.

The history of Sri Lanka and the surrounding region, is a complex one. Major interests orbit in the Indian Ocean; China and India are testing each other; India is still a work in progress as a conglomerate of ethnicities, powers, traditions. The elimination of the LTTE was a move that found too many, too powerful supporters. But the problem resides in the way it has been achieved: a military conquest with a barbaric massacre of civilian population and. We have two clear issues in the aftermath of the IV Eelam War.

The first is that war crimes have been committed. Atrocities were common during the civil war, many done by the LTTE as well. This is by no means an excuse to condone what happened in the Vanni in 2009. The Mullivaikal shores are the emblem of such carnage.

President Rajapaksa unveiled a monument in Pudumathalan, not far from the shores of Mullivaikail, where the last massacres took place.
Courtesy to Sudath Silva

The second is that the military operation was conducted against the LTTE, but the Tamil aspirations haven’t been addressed. Actually it looks like that the ‘Sinhalese State conquered the North’ and its  aim was to subjugate any form of alternative to the majoritarian culture.

Anybody who is dealing with the situation in Sri Lanka knows very well that the army is an oppressive presence; that Tamils are struggling to have the same rights of the Sinhalese, not more, as in the case of the provincial councils . The government wanted to punish the Tamils to reassert a dominion, not be questioned anymore.

Then it comes the circus of media mainstream. On July the 26th, the government issued a plan to implement the recommendations of the LLRC, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. It is a government appointed commission that should inquiry about any measure to be taken to prevent the occurrence of another conflict. In other words it’s a judgement about what happened and what should be done to prevent another ethnic conflict. The reason for the conflict are quite simple: the Tamil minority has been oppressed and cornered to such an extent that its reaction went out of control, in the form of the armed struggle of the LTTE. The IV Eelam War saw the total annihilation of the LTTE and also the complete subjugation of the Tamil civilian population. President Rajapaksa is the architecture of this final, extreme solution. So you shouldn’t expect that a commission appointed by him could achieve too much.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa
courtesy Commonwealth Secretariat

But the farce it has only begun. We are discussing the reasons of the conflict on the merit of an inquiry promoted by the very perpetrator of the final massacre. But now the subject is precisely this: we are discussing the LLRC. And supreme irony, the government struggles to implement even the farce it has established.

The commission has no power of investigating correctly what happened and even less the will to go to the roots of the discrimination and the oppression. But just talking about that, just mentioning the facts is too embarrassing for the government. And it should be. Only in Sri Lanka you can really debate about those facts: they did happen, everybody knows (everybody, including the USA, Europe and the UN), and yet we are arguing about the LLRC.

Buddhist monks, supporters of the government, march towards the U.S. Embassy, to urge the United States to withdraw its support for a proposed U.N. Human Rights Council resolution on alleged abuses during the country’s civil war, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, March 14, 2012.

In March 2012, the UN commission for the human rights approved a resolution ‘against’ Sri Lanka. Much of the Tamil community was ecstatic for this victory, especially because India sided against Colombo. The crude reality of facts is that New Delhi fooled the Tamils, because the vote was powerless. You can celebrate the mere happening of such a friction between Sri Lanka and India, yet if you are waiting for concrete intervention, don’t hold your breath. But the votation actually stated that Sri Lanka should at least implement its own recommendations.

On the 26th of July president Rajapaksa decided to issue the new action line for the implementation of the LLRC, dismissing that it did because of international pressure, you don’t know if it’s time to smile or to cry.

It seems really a parody to discuss the Tamil issue and the situation in the Northern Provinces on the bases of the LLRC. Let’s start with demilitarization. Civilian officers are replacing military ones. “95%”, or so they say. And we are discussing these figures? If you ask the people in the Northern Provinces, they’ll tell you a different story. You need to ask the permission of a army commander to do everything.They are militarizing the mind. Between 60% and 75% of the Sri Lankan army is stationed in the North.

Constant abuse, from intimidation to rapes are normal stories in the day to day life of the Tamil. Most recently, the problem of land grabbing from the army. It is a growing phenomenon that attract some attention. The army is confiscating land from the Tamils. These are just few examples, but the message is that the government has no intention to take seriously the Tamil issue. You don’t need to be an extremist to see that this is simply preparing the ground for a growing tension. Far from reconciliation and unity, it’s just another chapter in the oppression of the Tamils. The LTTE took a wrong path, but you can easily see why it all started. Yet, the LLRC is telling you another story. And bear in mind, they can’t even implement that.

courtesy Daily FT