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Sol Sanders Archive
Monday, January 12, 2009

Hamas and Tamil Tigers — violence, justice and peace

Sol Sanders also writes the "Asia Investor" column weekly for

Thousands of miles of ocean and years of history separate Gaza and Kilinochchi.

But the fall of the “capital” of the Tamil Tigers [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] [LTTE] in the early hours of 2009 has vast portent. The significance is not only for Sri Lanka, its Sinhalese [Buddhist] majority, its large Tamil [Hindu] minority and the country’s variegated spectrum of other religious, ethnic and social groupings.

Also In This Edition

It appears likely to lead to the eventual collapse of the most lethal and well organized terrorist movement in the modern world.

The LTTE has not only been labeled a terrorist organization by 32 governments, but its role as a tactical model for other terrorist organizations has been extremely important in the development of the worldwide threat to stability and peace.

The demise of the Tamil Tigers suggests lessons for dealing with other terrorist organizations, whether Hamas in Palestine, Hizb’allah in Lebanon or the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But it requires rejecting the most often mouthed cliché of the moment in international geopolitical circles: there can be no military solution. The corollary of this fiction is that if peace is to be established in troubled areas of the world, “the basic causes” must be sought and remedied.

When these bromides are trotted out, sometimes by the more naïve, often by the more sophisticated as cover for their own camouflaged “solutions”, they are more often than not accepted as ultimate truths.

They couldn’t be less profound.

The fact is, of course, that even the most superficial survey of history reveals war has often, for better or worse, brought an end to a confrontation. Hitler did not die a natural death in his Eagles’ Nest at Berchtesgaden, nor did the most powerful military machine the world had ever seen up to that time succeed in establishing a reign of a thousand years. It became mired on the Russian steppes and overwhelmed by American military resources in a war for unconditional surrender by the Allies.

There are, of course, difficult and complex moral issues that becloud the Sri Lankan conflict as they have always other wars. And alas! the Sri Lankan victory in what has been the heartland of this bloody insurgency has produced civilian casualties and tens of thousands of additional refugees in the last year. A new all or nothing campaign by the Colombo government, waged with restrictions on the media and therefore “a bad press”, has been accompanied by the LTTE employing as always its notorious tactics of suppression and intimidation in its increasingly narrowing area of control.

The new bloodletting only adds to 30 years of horror. Although largely ignored by the world, the Sri Lankan conflict has not only been one of the bloodiest in history but the Tamil radicals have initiated horrendous tactics – often imitated by other revolutionary movements in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The LTTE has lost 17,000 of its highly trained cadre. They include more than a hundred women recruited for their Black Widow Suicide squad. They have recruited children with perhaps 40 percent of their army — labeled by their own cadre as their Baby Brigade — aged between nine to18. Their suicide killings included not only government officials and government military but it has been used as a measure of intimidation and extortion against other Tamils who opposed them.

At their zenith in the 90s, the LTTE had set up a parallel civil administration in the northern Tamil-majority areas of the Island with an alternative regime including police, courts, postal services, banks, administrative offices, television and radio broadcasting station, etc. A vast network of highly skilled propagandists operated overseas among the huge Tamil diaspora in Southeast Asia, the U.K., and North America. And not unlike the Palestinian terrorists, the LTTE wangled its way into partial UN recognition and funding from legitimate sources such as the Asian Development Bank.

Nor has it ever been a secret to those who know the region that the LTTE aimed not only at their formal goal of creating a separate Tamil state on Ceylon but at also weaning away the southern Indian state of Tamilnadu . [Shades of Iran’s regional goals with Hamas and the Hizb’allah.] Indeed, much of its funding, external communications, and some recruitment occurred for a breakaway Greater Tamilnadu in south India. The loss of its seventh largest state of some 70 million would have been political dynamite for the Indian union, increasingly bedeviled with ethnic and linguistic divisions. And it has caused already fragile Indian federal governments of shaky coalitions even more difficulties by intimidating the regional Tamil ethnic political parties in India on which they often depend for their parliamentary majorities.

What looks to be the final chapter in this grim epic started just a year ago. The Colombo government, in effect, told their Norwegian mediators to pack it up and go home. It withdrew from a cease fire agreement which had repeatedly been violated by both sides, but particularly by the LTTE, arranged by the Norwegians. [The Norwegian efforts are a part of Oslo’s long history of well meaning but disastrously naïve aid and political meddling in South Asia].

Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka promised – with howls not only from the Tigers’ spokesmen but from peace groups all over the world — to be in the LTTE capital before the end of the year. He has been only a day or so late.

The argument that the Tamil minority genuinely supports the Tigers has been refuted, at least in part, by this military success which depended to a considerable degree as always in guerrilla warfare on the cooperation of the peasantry and critical intelligence. As many have argued for years, the ITTE’s “support” was as much as anything its brutal and unconscionable terror campaign against its own people as exploitation of the very real Colombo discrimination against their impoverished if virile minority..

It is true, of course, that the Sri Lankan Army [SLA] has been here before. The LTTE first took control of Kilinochchi in 1990, when the SLA withdrew its garrison after the departure of the Indian Peace Keeping Force. The Indians had come to Colombo’s aid against the rebellion but pulled out after a military and political disaster which some have called ‘India’s Vietnam”. A back and forth continued. And, in fact, the government, despite its predictions, might have been surprised this time at its relatively easy success, with both sides claiming they were inhibited – largely bogus for the LTTE – in their effort to try to spare the lives of the civilian population in the fighting.

The government troops are continuing to push north into the areas stretching toward the shallow straits separating the Island from the Indian subcontinent. Despite the fragile coalition now governing India [which faces elections in a few weeks] and its sensitivity to the support of the Tamil regional parties, and their exposure, in turn, to Tamil ethnic loyalties and LTTE intimidation, New Delhi seems to be drawing the strings tighter on logistics from overseas that operate through its territory.

It is unlikely, of course that there is a quick pulling of the deep roots [read "basic causes”] of the LTTE in the Sri Lankan political landscape. The LTTE has responded to the government’s success with new individual terrorist acts in the Sri Lankan capital and elsewhere. And it may continue to do that for months, even years to come. [The continuing campaign of the ETA, the Basque terrorist separatist movement, long after its political clout has vanished in the Spanish context, may be something of a parallel.]

More improtant, this is the moment, of course, when the Sri Lankans must grab the political initiative by meeting the longstanding legitimate and bitter grievances of its Tamil population against discrimination and exclusion. That will not be easy. Sri Lanka, since independence a half century ago, has been one of those countries [Argentina comes to mind] that has all the makings — natural resources and even the people skills — to become a modern, exemplary prosperous democratic state except for the perversity of its ethnic and religious demagogues.

But there is every reason to believe, at the moment, that a military victory is leading to the long anticipated end to the worst of the Sri Lankan nightmare.

Hamas is Hamas, Palestine [and Israel] are as unique as is Sri Lanka.

But the parallels are not completely untoward.

And military suppression of the world's most "professional" and brutal terrorist entity, if not in its entirety, nor in its origins, may be be closer than the pessimists [and the naïve] imagine.

Sol W. Sanders, (, is an Asian specialist with more than 25 years in the region, and a former correspondent for Business Week, U.S. News & World Report and United Press International. He writes weekly for World and

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