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The Sri Lankan Conundrum
   
 
 
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The Sri Lankan Conundrum

 
Thursday, 07 May 2009 14:00
 
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by Seema Shekhawat
EPOS Notepad

Sri Lankan has never witnessed turmoil of such a proportion as in the last three months. Since the latest offensive of the Sri Lankan army against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) started in January 2009, more than 5000 civilians lost their lives, and about 80,000 have become displaced. Hundreds are still entrapped in a 6 square kilometre area where the LTTE leader, V. Prabhakaran is reportedly hiding. The Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa on 22 April 2009 gave ultimatum to Prabhakaran to surrender but the ever elusive leader remained at large. Two prominent leaders of LTTE, Daya Master and George have already surrendered while about 3,000 LTTE cadres have laid down their arms. Reportedly, the LTTE has used the civilians as the shield against government forces. Amidst this protracted endgame, the civilian casualties have risen tremendously. The current crisis too has brought a heavy toll on the Sri Lankan economy with its rupee sliding down from 113.30 to 120.40/60 per dollar.

The Sri Lankan crisis has taken a significant turn after the incumbent president Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power in 2005. The president vowed to wipe out the LTTE, considered one of the most dangerous organisations in the world and labelled terrorist organisation by the UN. In the last 25 years the conflict engulfed in its violent form the island nation as a section of ethnic minority Tamils under the banner of LTTE began fighting to carve a sovereign nation out of the Sinhalese dominated island. In this period reportedly more than 70,000 people have been killed. Since June 2006, the government has admitted to have lost 3,800 troops till the end of 2008, and claimed to have killed 20,100 rebels in the same period. The Norwegian brokered peace process remained almost a non-starter, as the parties did not adhere to the basic principles outlined in the agreements. While the LTTE clung to its demand for a sovereign nationhood, the Sri Lankan government agreed to concede internal autonomy within Sri Lankan state. The Indian government’s action in 1987 under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi to control LTTE was retaliated by the terrorist organisation with his assassination in 1991. The LTTE due to its violent activities especially its targeting the civilians has gradually lost sympathy for its cause. The organisation is known to have used women and children as soldiers in its terror operations. In fact one of the former presidents of Sri Lanka, Ranasinghe Premdasa was killed in 1994 while in office by one child suicide bomber of the LTTE. From the NFZ about 80,000 people have fled to government erected camps, but without adequate facilities there. As per reports many of the injured lie in the camps unattended by doctors. The Australian government has expressed concern as some Asylum seekers from Sri Lanka have reached its shores after violence gripped the island nation. The humanitarian situation, thus, continues to remain precarious in the island state.

The international community has responded to the crisis with serious concern. The powers like India, Russia and China have considered the issue an internal affair of Sri Lanka, though they have expressed concern at the humanitarian disaster. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton on 22 April 2009 expressed disappointment at the Sri Lankan government’s handling of situation in No Fire Zone in which thousands of civilians are trapped. The United Nations Security Council on 22 April 2009 called the LTTE to give up arms, surrender and start negotiation with Sri Lankan government.

The pressing issue in a post-LTTE Sri Lanka must be rehabilitation and well being of the civilians
including the displaced who suffered violence. The complete rehabilitation of the displaced may take a longer time. But in the mean time Sri Lanka along with the international community must take all possible measures to avoid a human catastrophe and to ensure the protection of the displaced in the camps from hunger and disease. The international community must be forthcoming to rebuild the devastated nation. At the same time the post-war island nation must initiate a broader reconciliation process which can accommodate diverse aspirations within broader framework of a united Sri Lanka.
From a broader perspective, the Sri Lankan issue can be seen as tussle between the principles of pluralism, state consolidation and ethnic nationalism waged not only in Sri Lanka but in many other parts of the world. Hence, the outcome of the ongoing Sri Lankan crisis would have wider ramifications for the global order. Many of the separatist movements are motivated by the concept of ethnic nationalism. The question arises whether different aspirations in a multiethnic pluralistic state can be accommodated within a broader framework, or they must be allowed to secede. In fact many of the nation states of the world are multiethnic and pluralistic in character. The separatist movements, hence, need to be seen in a broader framework of multiethnicism Vs. separatism. Pluralism is the principle that respects diverse characters in terms of religion, ethnicity, and culture of the people without any state discrimination. The principle of state consolidation emphasises on national unity and integrity. The principle of right to self-determination invoked by the separatist groups, however genuine and just, cannot be supported by means of violence resulting in killing of innocent people. The Sri Lankan issue is of global importance as it is faced with one of the worst tragedies in international politics. Besides the competing claims and their consequences, it is the civilians whether Tamils or Sinhalese who suffer the most. The current war may lead to the end of LTTE as a terrorist organisation. But the most crucial aspect of the Sri Lankan politics post-LTTE will be how it deals with the victims particularly with their displacement and rehabilitation. In this direction the international community and donor agencies will have to play a crucial role.

Photo:by trokilinochchi licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric L. Beauregard/Released

 





Last modified on Wednesday, 11 July 2012 14:51
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