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DateLine Sunday, 30 September 2007

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Prabhakaran plummets from peak to pit

End of an era

Part III

By H. L. D. Mahindapala I first met the Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, in bed!

Don't get me wrong. He was lying on a bed at the Army Hospital recovering from the bullets and shrapnel that had hit him in the Kilali operations. His one arm was in a sling and he was still not quite fit to get up from bed when I visited him with the then Army Commander Cecil Waidyaratne and Lt. Col Lucky Algama.

Hollowness of the Tigers' hold exposed

The successful operation in which the Security Forces advanced as far as Kilali and burnt the boats of Kilali exposed the hollowness of the hold the Tigers had even in Jaffna - the heartland of their political centre.

The confident Army asked for permission from President D. B. Wijetunga to cut across to Point Pedro from Kilali. Wijetunga refused. It was a disappointment to the Forces. Once again the weak political head was sitting on top of the Security Forces who had a chance of taking on the Tigers in the north.

If my memory serves me right, Sarath Fonseka was quite confident of overrunning the Tigers in the north. He was an intrepid soldier. He has that streak of the daredevil in him, ever willing to take calculated risks. So when the Tigers targeted him and missed in March 2006 they instilled a new determination and a fire in him to put an end to Tiger terrorism. In this attempt to get the Army Commander, the highest point of security, Pottu Amman and Prabhakaran were out to display their lethal fireworks and to impress the Tamil diaspora and the international community that they were a military force worth backing because they had the capacity to strike at will any target of their choice. They were also keen on impressing the new Mahinda Rajapaksa administration that they were a superior force that can dictate terms to the nation, perhaps even better than the way they imposed their will on President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Diminishing returns for violence

Though Prabhakaran's violence paid him initial dividends he failed to realise that his brutalising and dehumanising violence was facing the consequences of diminishing returns. He was, of course, buoyed by the adulation and the technological toys delivered to him by ardent loyalists in the Tamil diaspora. But global events and national trends were running against him. After September 11 every act of terror committed in any part of the globe was a direct blow to Prabhakaran's terror tactics. Every act of terror elsewhere confirmed that his brand of terrorism had to be put down, one way or other.

For instance, on December 1, 2006, Prabhakaran tried to get Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the Defence Secretary. He missed again. The backlash was severe. In a press release issued that morning the United States , highlighting that "the attack bears all the hallmarks of an operation by the LTTE... condemned strongly the terrorist attack on the convoy of Defense Secretary Rajapaksa."

Tiger rhetoric lost its original force

Tiger rhetoric too had lost its original force. They were labouring in vain to convince the world that they were "freedom fighters". The key players that mattered in the international community were refusing to buy it. And back home, he was running out of cadres. The ideology that fired the imagination had lost its original impetus. Prabhakaran was forced to go from house to house in the poor villages demanding Tamil sons and daughters for a cause that had no future.

Tiger media, which had a reputation for speed and as a guide to Tamil news, was on the back foot trying to focus on human rights violations of the GOSL. In the past they were wont to crow about their military exploits which boosted the morale of the Tamil Diaspora. The Tamil media were no longer projecting the Tigers as the victorious forces winning over the Security Forces. They were now projecting themselves as victims of the oppressive and aggressive GOSL.

Their sporadic attacks, in between, were not yielding the victories they expected. Their denials of terrorist attacks had lost credibility because, according to their media, the Tigers had never ever committed any war crime or crimes against humanity.

Without such victories the TamilNet and other allied media outlets were busy focusing on human rights violations. This was not due to any sincere commitment to human rights. They were using human rights as a political weapon to halt the advance of the Security Forces. It was a sure sign of the Tigers losing on the battlefield.

The increasing failure of the Tigers to whitewash their crimes was reflected in the reactions of the international community. From the 90s the international tide had turned against him, slowly but surely. It began with Indian ban in 1991 after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. USA banned him 1997. UK followed in 2001. Canada in April 2006. And EU in May, 2006. But the message still did not get through to him that terror as a weapon has outlived its usefulness.

Nor was he made with that degree of nuances thinking or flexibility to acknowledge that his dogged commitment to an elusive Eelam was dragging him to a dead-end.

Trapped inside his cage

He was trapped inside his own ideological and military cage. Neither his political goal which was nowhere within sight nor his military methodology was going to rescue him. Compounded by his intransigence, which he mistook for courage and vision, he was doomed. He refused to accept that terror tactics come with its limitations. This is the lesson that the Tigers, and their financial backers in the Tamil diaspora, have yet to learn. By the time he targeted Lt. Gen. Fonseka in March 2006 Prabhakaran was about to fulfil the Biblical truism that those who live by the sword die by the sword.

The Tigers' last international drama

True, in the past both sides have been see-sawing, winning some and losing some. But Sarath Fonseka's forces that began to move from Mavil Aru carried with them a decisive air of finality, giving just not the scent of success but an end to the power, the bases and the hopes of Prabhakaran. After nearly 30 years of waging war against the Government of Sri Lanka (i.e., counting from 1975, the year of Prabhakaran's baptism in human blood) he had nothing to show except ever expanding graveyards of Tamils.

The Tigers played their last international drama when they went to Geneva for the last time in June, 2006.

An exasperated Norwegian government bemoaned publicly saying: "After having accepted the Norwegian invitation, and after having arrived in Norway, the LTTE raised objections to the previously communicated intentions and modalities for the meeting. This was the reason for the meeting not being held.

"By this a critical opportunity has been lost for the peoples of Sri Lanka who so desperately need their leaders on both sides to renew their obligation to uphold the CFA and other CFA-related commitments and to improve security," said Norway .

But there was no CFA to uphold. A desperate Norwegian government was writing to both parties asking: "Will the parties stand committed to the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) of 22 February 2002?" The Norwegians were trying pathetically to shore up not the peace which they had helped to destroy but their own standing in the international community as "peace-makers".

What madness possessed Ranil Wickremesinghe to even contemplate the draft outline of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) - let alone sign it in its complete form - and what madness possessed Prabhakaran to tear it up after he got the nearest thing to his Eelam, is totally incomprehensible. It was a document of total surrender to international pressure and Tamil Tiger demands. Wickremesinghe did it on his own without informing the President, parliament, or people.

The CFA signed on February 22, 2002 had, inter alia, two major components: 1) tying down the nation to an international commitment and 2) a commitment to Prabhakaran to hand over power and territory.

Wickremesinghe had no mandate for either. An agreement of that magnitude had to have the signature of the President and parliament. As stated by H. L. de Silva, the pre-eminent constitutional lawyer, it was "illegal and unconstitutional."

Predictably, it was hailed by Anton Balasingham and Erik Solheim, his misguided political ally who thought that the Sri Lankan sun came out of Balasingham's nostrils. Anyone with common sense would have concluded that if these two jointly approved then it must be counter-productive to Sri Lanka for the simple reason that it is not in their politics to approve anything that benefits the nation which they are bent on destroying.

Wickremesinghe creates illusion of peace

Elated by what he thought was his great achievement Wickremesinghe removed the barriers and lifted the embargoes to create the illusion of peace. He then proceeded to make endless concessions in the name of "confidence-building", an NGO fiction actively pursued by Wickremesinghe's obedient factotum, "Badman" Weerakoon. Wickremesinghe and Solheim were crowing that the killings had lessened - note not ceased.

The CFA was by definition to end the firing and killing. But neither was evident. True, the war had moved down from high intensity gear into low intensity gear. That was no consolation to the victims of the war going on unabated - a war that was adequate for Prabhakaran to pursue his military and political objectives.

Both Solheim and Wickremesinghe, however, refused to acknowledge that Prabhakaran, the co-signatory to the CFA, was chipping away at every vestige of credibility left in the CFA. Solheim was turning a blind eye to the violations of the CFA and was more concerned about taming the para-militaries (i.e., anti-Tigers Tamils and Muslims) - a demand made vociferously by Anton Balasingham.

Oblivious to the new turn of events, Wickremesinghe, who was completing a two-week fellowship at MIT's Center for International Studies (CIS) addressed expatriate Tamils at the Boston Tamil Center, even as late as May 2006, on the subject that he was promoting doggedly: "Beyond a militarized approach to terrorism: Experience from Sri Lanka." He told the Boston Tamils that only concerted action by co-chairs or India will be able to able to arrest the collapse of the peace process.

He said that the issue of para-militaries is one of the major causes for the deterioration of the ceasefire, and added that paramilitary should be disarmed. TamilNet, May 14, 2006 03:12 GMT]

As for Solheim, he was flying every week to London to sit with his pal, Balasingham, and get the political line from him for his next move against the GOSL. "For a long period of time," Solheim told the Tamils gathered at Alexandra Palace to say farewell to Balasingham, "I came to London every week, speaking with Bala, having his point of view about how the peace process could be moved forward; having his analysis of the situation in Sri Lanka; also exchanging my view and also what we have heard from the Government of Sri Lanka about their positions." TamilNet - December 20, 2006).

The Tigers were relying on Solheim to pull their chestnuts out of the fire and he was leaning over backwards to give them the advantages only he could in the diplomatic field, the negotiating table and even with financial backing, as revealed by Karuna. The Norwegian role was so pernicious, counter-productive and blatantly partisan. Questions were asked even in the House of Commons of the behind-the-scene manoeuvres of the Nordic interventionist to pull and push on behalf of the Tigers.

Labour MP, Chris Mullins (Sunderland, South): "Would I be right in thinking that the Norwegian general who was based in Sri Lanka advised the EU against declaring the LTTE a terrorist organisation and said that would lead to the breakdown of the ceasefire?" (May 2, 2007 House of Commons).

Dr. Kim Howells, the Minister of state and for the Middle East, who opened the adjournment debate, said, in the course of making his statement that "the ceasefire is in trouble, if not shot to pieces" and added that he will write to Mullins and inform him of his inquiries on the issue of Norwegian intervening on behalf of the Tigers.

For his part, Vidar Helgesen, the head of the delegation for peace talks at Phuket , Thailand , was even insisting that Balasingham should be addressed as "His Excellency".

The Norwegians were playing their partisan role without any inhibitions. They overstepped their mark and in their anxiety to appease the Tigers they were ready to overlook the aspirations of the other communities. Their assumption was that if they could appease the Tigers they could win peace. The Tigers, in the meantime, had appointed themselves as "the sole representatives of the Tamils" - the implication being that they alone held the monopoly of war and peace in their hands and to dictate terms.

It was this obsession with power concentrated exclusively in the hands of Prabhakaran, with no checks and balances, which degraded and debased the lives of the Tamils kept under the jackboots of the one-man regime. This was the first time that the Tamils had the power to exercise considerable amount of power, almost that of a quasi-state. But they proved to be utterly incapable of ruling themselves with dignity and respect for their fellow-man. Though the craze among the Tamils was to wield political power their first experiment in handling power proved to be a disaster mostly to the Tamils. The Tamils have never been humiliated nor made to suffer so perversely as under Prabhakaran. The man who claimed to be the liberator turned into the most ignominious and ruthless oppressor of the Tamils.

This aside, the Tigers, despite some of their spectacular military exploits, were never a force that could compare itself with other movements like those of the Palestinians, Afghans or Kashmiris. The backbone of the Tigers was not at home. It was invariably located abroad - in the Tamil diaspora which is primarily responsible for keeping the Tigers going. The Tigers would collapse almost instantly if the diaspora withdraws its support. Besides, except for the brief period during which India backed them the Tigers had no committed international states backing them like the way the Palestinians are supported.

As for the local base, it is a highly exaggerated force. He does not have a people's movement behind him to back him up like the intifada, for instance. From time to time, Tamil media hype announced the "Upsurging People's Force (UPF) of Jaffna District" which issued thundering notices of the forthcoming wrath of their force. One notice signed by the UPF leaders of Jaffna said: "Days are numbered for the traitors who sell our Mother land," The final sentence in the press release, "We will meet again on the battle ground," hinting that the suspended offensives against the SLA forces by the "Upsurgence People's Force of Jaffna District", may resume soon. (TamilNet, March 30, 2006 19:54 GMT).

The fevered rhetoric was running high though there was no follow up action to back up the explosive verbiage.

Earlier, S. Elilan, Trincomalee district political head of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam commenting on the situation in Muttur east around April 2006 said: "We are in a state of readiness and are awaiting for the instruction from our leadership to respond with a force that will be catastrophically disabling and devastating to the enemy."

From these expressions of hellfire and brimstones the Tamil Tiger verbal fire came down to a "defensive war", in the words of S. Thamilselvam. Even the American Ambassador, Robert Blake, was commending the impressive naval and land victories of the Security Forces.

The writing on the wall is clear, particularly when Ranil Wickremesinghe announces that (1) federalism is no longer a viable proposition and (2) that the CFA is dead. To cut along story short, this mean the end of an era. There was, as stated earlier, an air of finality about the new turn of events. There seems to no option available for Prabhakaran now except to come to the negotiating table or to take the pill he hangs ceremoniously on the neck of his suicide bombers.

The violence unleashed by the Tamil leadership in the Vaddukoddai Resolution of 1976 is nearing its end. It has misled Tamil people like the children who followed the Pied Piper of Hamlyn to their premature deaths. The Tamil leadership wrote the script for the nightmarish end of the Tamil people who would have been immeasurably better off if they were guided to co-exist in harmony and peace with the other communities. But they were led to crave for a disproportionate share of power, over and above all other considerations of peaceful co-existence. It is rather difficult to find another intelligent community writing, directing, financing and acting out their funeral march to obscurity as the Tamils of Jaffna.

Wobbling on their last legs, the Tamil Tigers are now hastily backtracking pleading with the international community to save them. Balasingham began it with an unconditional apology to India. On June 27, 2006 Balasingham told an Indian TV station that the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was "a monumental historical blunder" and appealed to India to put the past behind to reconsider the ethnic question from a different perspective.

But the past is not forgiving. It was catching up fast with Prabhakaran. He had killed all his potential allies both abroad and at home. He is now fighting with his back to the wall. As pointed out by Lt. Gen Fonseka, when Prabhakaran appeals to the international community to rescue him it is a clear sign of a fast developing crisis in the LTTE-held Vanni.

"They have taken a bloody beating and now are seeking an international lifeline," Fonseka told The Island, (September 27, 2006). "They are unable to resist the growing military pressure on their positions on a wide front."

Reports claim that he has passed the baton to his son, Charles Anthony, which is likely to sow further seeds of dissension within the Tiger ranks.

If there is a lesson in all the twists and turns of history it is this: What history and geography had put together from time immemorial no man can put asunder.

The Tamils and Sinhalese were born to share their lives together. Their lives are so inextricably intertwined that, despite all the differences, the commonalities and bonds that weave in a symbiotic relationship are much stronger than the forces that strive to separate them.

Their destiny is to co-exist as historical partners, neighbours and even as mothers and fathers or husbands and wives. It is a destiny that has been re-written once again with the blood of those who carried this historical burden on their shoulders. They have sacrificed their lives to affirm it - and let not the bogus theoreticians, intellectual hypocrites, political opportunists and even churchmen cooking up theological fictions come between the people and their common and historical destiny.

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