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Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)

Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)

At the end of the ’90s, the Albanian minority in Kosovo intensified its political pressure to gain independence from Serbia. Kosovo was a province with a particular meaning in the Serbian history: it was the place where the Serbian kings resisted the Ottoman invasion. The Serbian cultural identity sprung from Kosovo. In the last 20 years immigration from the nearby Albania increased the size of that ethnicity and in the mid ’90s Albanian could correctly affirm of being the majority in Kosovo. Serbia is culturally and politically on the side of Russia (for religious, linguistic, historical and political reason), therefore it is arguable that its international status was very low in those years.

 The Albanian independentist forces joined to create the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The US decided to punish the Russian presence in Europe, hitting their closest ally, Serbia. Therefore they supported the Albanian request for a separated Kosovo.

Commandos from the Kosovo Liberation Army

Commandos from the Kosovo Liberation Army

It is interesting to note that history of the Kosovo Liberation Army as a terrorist group. In 1998 Robert Gelbard, envoy of the American government, speaking of the KLA said “without any questions, a terrorist group”12. The UN resolution 1160 used similar words34. But later on the US government approached the KLA leadership to represent Kosovo in the negotiations with the Serbs. The Wall Street Journal in February 1998 mentioned the removal of the KLA from the list of terrorist organization5, when discussing its linkages with Al Qaeda. France didn’t delist the KLA until late 1998, after UK and US pressure6. KLA is still present in the list of MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base7 and is considered an inactive group by the National Consortium for the study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism from the Homeland Security8.

The KLA was considered a terrorist organization because of its linkages with organized crime and with Al Qaeda and they started a campaign of attacks against the Serbian civilians9. The common argument was that Kosovo people had the right for self-determination10, even when terrorist means were used to achieve that goal.

Black Tigers (commandos for suicide mission of the LTTE, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)

Black Tigers (commandos for suicide mission of the LTTE, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)

Now, I suppose that very few will disagree with the fact that the LTTE was a liberation army, which used terrorist means to achieve self-determination for its people.

It is wrong to state that the LTTE lost international support because it was a terrorist outfit. Quite on the contrary: it was a terrorist organization because it lost international support. This could sound pedantic, but very often it’s the core of the debate. All the atrocities committed by the LTTE do not explain its status. The LTTE failed to secure the support of main international sponsors (like US and India) and therefore it was fighting alone. And when you have guns and bank account, but no consensus, per definition you’ll be labelled “terrorist”.

It’s not about conduct, but about relationship. The LTTE killed innocent civilians, but this is not the point. LTTE was isolated and that is the reason for its terrorist status.

6 Derek SReveron and Jeffrey Stevenson Murer, eds., Flashpoints in the War on Terrorism. (New York: Palgrave, 2006)

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The Sri Lankan Government has a military mindset: it won a war, now it garrisons the peace. Simple as that.

The Sinhalese supremacist narrative told the story of a righteous war: the evil terrorists attacked the righteous Sri Lanka and the brave and peaceful (at the end of the day, aren’t they Buddhist?) Sinhalese were forced to react. 30 years of nightmare were a reaction to the insane plan of a mad leader and his followers. Indeed Prabhakaran was a bloody warrior, he had an obsessive idea and he committed atrocities. But this is only the reverse of what actually happened. The LTTE was a consequence, not the cause.

The ethnic Tamil,working in the plantations, were disenfranchised of the citizenship after independence.

After independence, the Tamils were systematically undermined in the legitimacy of their citizenship: cultural identity, historical heritage were a dangerous claim against the majority. The ideology of a Sinhalese state besieged and threatened in its existence by corrosive forces was the reason of the mandate for president Bandaranaike. The Sinhala Only Act, the decision to downgrade the Tamil culture, was taken on the basis that the simple fact of speaking Tamil is a menace for the entire Sinhalese culture. The Sinhala speaking, Buddhist majority at the time was around 66% of the popultion. The disfranchisement of Plantation Tamil (Tamil of more recent immigration from India: “only” 150 years), put the proportion at 75%. Three quarters of the island is culturally Sinhalese. Nonetheless any presence of difference, is considered a challenge to the majority. The Tamil has been indeed a very influential community. But you can see nowadays the animosity against the Muslim as a product,stemming from the same intolerance.

When in the ’70s the pressure to minimize the Tamil identity started to become unbearable, moderate elements of the Tamil society decided that it was a better idea to second the Sinhalese ideology: if you want a state that is completely Sinhalese, then you can have it. We well retreat to our land of origin, the Northern and Eastern Provinces and secede. Of course the Sinhalese extremists consider this an act of rebellion and used an iron fist to put the Tamils in their place. After that, came the LTTE, a violent, brutal and blind force of reaction against a racist repression.

Note that the decision of living separately and seconding the Sinhalese myth has been considered an act of rebellion. You are a good Tamil citizen if you give up language and culture and embrace the Sinhalisation.

Then it was war, a fight for survival driven crazy by decades of oppression and humiliation. It is ideological to call this conflict a war on terror, a legitimate act of policing against terrorism. It was a civil war, the eruption of ethnic tension provoked by the intransigence of Sinhalese supremacy. The end of the war brought the victory on the Sinhalese side and it is up the victors to write history. Now they can state that any dissent is aligned with the terrorist insurgency. The militarization in the Northern provinces is only the prosecution of the same Sinhalese supremacy: to repress diversity with violence.

The LTTE was a natural consequence of such oppression and the actual exercise of power is the same majoritarian force that caused the reaction. The roots of violence haven’t been eliminated with the annihilation of the LTTE. On the contrary they prosper with under the warmongering regime of Rajapaksa. Nobody but Sinhalese people. This is the brutal, effective message, after the Eelam War. No country for Tamils, no country for Muslims. That implies also: no country for free man (see Lasantha Wickrematunge).

Rajini Thiranagama

Rajini Thiranagama was a doctor,an LTTE member and a human right activist. Her personal trajectory explains much of the Tamil independence movement and represents also a clear evidence of the derangement of such movement in the LTTE incarnation.

In the early years of the armed struggled, she was very much in tune with the aspiration of the Tigers; later on, she become increasingly critical of both the Tigers and the central government. Sge begun to collect evidence of human rights violation by the LTTE and the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF). She was one of the founder of the University Teacher for Human Rights, whose activity culminated in September 1989 with the publication of “The Broken Palmyra”, a book reporting the violence in Jaffna in the 1980s, committed by all parties involved: Sri Lankan government, LTTE and IPKF.

A week later, she was shot dead in front of her house in Jaffna.

courtesy University Teacher for Human Rights, Jaffna, Sri Lanka (uthr.org).

Her spirit is a guidance for everyone who’s committed to bring back Sri Lanka from the hell where has fallen. It is interesting that a person like Rajini in the first stage of the conflict, was aligned with the military struggle. To me it is a clear sign that the discrimination and the oppression of the Tamil community reached such a point that no other choice was available but to embark on a open warfare with the government. And with equal clarity, her condemnation of the LTTE and her subsequent assassination are the crystal evidence of the Tigers brutality. The LTTE stemmed from a natural sentiment of self-defence and justice, but very soon their ideal spiralled into a blind perpetuation of violence for the pure sake of it.

Students walk past a destroyed building in Jaffna [CC HumanityAshore]

The LTTE mutilated any attempt from the civil society to emerge as an expression of the Tamil community and the result was that no other path was available but to fight till victory or dying trying. The horrendous truth is that the leadership chose that direction intentionally: Prabhakaran eliminated such person from the political and intellectual landscape, precisely because they were representing a voice of conscience and a limit to his delirious warmongering.

The LTTE bears heavy responsibility for the way the IV Eelam War ended. Certainly the strategy on the field has been criminal; but much worst than the frantic decisions of a bunker situation, the two decades of terror imposed first of all on the Tamil people are the moral culprit of the tragic end of the conflict.

The responsibility of Sri Lankan government stands in full, despite this evil collaboration. That is why we must keep on, taking inspiration from people like Rajini Thiranagama towards a salvation of Sri Lanka. The German philosopher Heidegger said that: “where danger threatens, that which saves from it also grows”.

So I’m not surprise that in the moral devastation of the Sri Lankan war, you can find great spirit like her.

Muslim in Sri Lanka are quite a distinct case. Unlike Tamils and Sinhalese, they never made any claim of sovereignty in the island. But they found themselves harshly hit by the civil war. They suffered ethnic cleansing in the Northern Provinces by the LTTE and complete oblivion by the Sri Lankan government as refugees.

About 100,000 Muslim Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) for the past 20 years have lived in refugee camps in Puttalam District and neighbouring areas. Tamil Tigers had expelled them.courtesy asianews.it

In Puttalam more than 100 000 people have been forgotten in refugee camps for 20 years. As recent as in 2009 the UNCHR (the United Nations agency for refugees), in partnership with Brandix Lanka were still struggling to deliver basic needs, like water and sanitation to them.

The Muslim in the Northern Provinces were Tamil speakers and lived in the region since hundreds of years. Their presence in modern times is old as the ones of Tamil or Sinhalese; yet they were considered stranger by the LTTE, on the main ground that they weren’t ‘real’ Tamils. If it was necessary, an evidence more of LTTE’s lack of democratic and inclusive conscience.

On the other side as well, Colombo showed its absolute disinterest for any other ethnic group outside the Sinhalese. During the IV Eelam War, Muslims parties have orbited around president Rajapaksa, on the ground that as a minority, it was better to cooperate rather than contest the majoritarian force of the central government. In the present coalition of government, Sri Lankan Muslims are present as ministers, but this compromise seems shor-lived.

The supremacist Sinhalese sentiment is growing stronger also against the Muslims. In April, radical Buddhists have tried to demolish the mosque of Dambulla. They fire-stormed the mosque and they threatened 70 others buildings of cult.

The monks involved in the protest claimed that they are just protecting Buddhism from encroachment, but everyone knows that all the other religions on the island are quite low-profile and don’t dare to contest the dominant position of the Buddhism. The minorities only try to survive in a climate of mistrust and oppression.

It is significative that the government is placidly turning its eyes somewhere else, when these cases of hatred and violence erupt. In a state where authoritarian rule is based on the iron-fist of the army, you may wonder how episodes of anarchy can take place. The reason is always the same: from the communal riots of ’58 and ’83, the government is implicitly backing up the racist-driven unrest.

All the the rhetoric of the Sri Lankan state is dedicated towards a unitarian entity, but in any possible occasion it is remarked that unity Sri Lanka is Sinhalese and Buddhist. Consequently all the other minorities should consider themselves as barely tolerated.

The reality in the island is an intense hatred of the minorities by the majority. Sometimes this underground sentiment surfaces and explodes in violence. But the government is far from trying to reign it. On the contrary it deliberately let the steam off as a measure of control and threaten of the minority.

The LTTE was responsible for heinous crime, but the war was not anti-terrorism. The Tigers desperately tried to resist a force of discrimination and oppression, a violent force with the secret intent of eliminating and wiping out all the outsiders of the Sinhalese mainstream.

Until Sri Lanka will come to terms of the diversity within itself, an underlying resentment of the other minorities will be kept alive for further challenges of this unjust authority.

 

Dambulla and Black July:Not just anti-terrorism against the LTTE

Muslim in Sri Lanka are quite a distinct case. Unlike Tamils and Sinhalese, they never made any claim of sovereignty in the island. But they found themselves harshly hit by the civil war. They suffered ethnic cleansing in the Norther Provinces by the LTTE and complete oblivion by the Sri Lankan government as refugees.

In Puttalam more than 100 000 people have been forgotten in refugee camps for 20 years. As recent as in 2009 the UNCHR (the United Nations agency for refugees), in partnership with Brandix Lanka were still struggling to deliver basic needs, like water and sanitation to them.

The Muslim in the Northern Provinces were Tamil speakers and lived in the region since hundreds of years. Their presence in modern times is old as the ones of Tamil or Sinhalese; yet they were considered stranger by the LTTE, on the main ground that they weren’t ‘real’ Tamils. If it was necessary, an evidence more of LTTE’s lack of democratic and inclusive conscience.

On the other side as well, Colombo showed its absolute disinterest for any other ethnic group outside the Sinhalese. During the IV Eelam War, Muslims parties have orbited around president Rajapaksa, on the ground that as a minority, it was better to cooperate rather than contest the majoritarian force of the central government. In the present coalition of government, Sri Lankan Muslims are present as ministers, but this compromise seems shor-lived.

The supremacist Sinhalese sentiment is growing stronger also against the Muslims. In April, radical Buddhists have tried to demolish the mosque of Dambulla. They fire-stormed the mosque and they threatened 70 others buildings of cult.

The monks involved in the protest claimed that they are just protecting Buddhism from encroachment, but everyone knows that all the other religions on the island are quite low-profile and don’t dare to contest the dominant position of the Buddhism. The minorities only try to survive in a climate of mistrust and oppression.

It is significative that the government is placidly turning its eyes somewhere else, when these cases of hatred and violence erupt. In a state where authoritarian rule is based on the iron-fist of the army, you may wonder how episodes of anarchy can take place. The reason is always the same: from the communal riots of ’58 and ’83, the government is implicitly backing up the racist-driven unrest.

All the the rhetoric of the Sri Lankan state is dedicated towards a unitarian entity, but in any possible occasion it is remarked that unity Sri Lanka is Sinhalese and Buddhist. Consequently all the other minorities should consider themselves as barely tolerated.

The reality in the island is an intense hatred of the minorities by the majority. Sometimes this underground sentiment surfaces and explodes in violence. But the government is far from trying to reign it. On the contrary it deliberately let the steam off as a measure of control and threaten of the minority.

The LTTE was responsible for heinous crime, but the war was not anti-terrorism. The Tigers desperately tried to resist a force of discrimination and oppression, a violent force with the secret intent of eliminating and wiping out all the outsiders of the Sinhalese mainstream.

Until Sri Lanka will come to terms of the diversity within itself, an underlying resentment of the other minorities will be kept alive for further challenges of this unjust authority.