By Nipunika O.Lecamwasam
The third anniversary of the military defeat of the formidable Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was on 18th May 2012. After three decades of a protracted armed conflict and its invariable legacy of polarized mindsets in the parties involved, Sri Lanka now finds herself arguably in a more difficult position than in times of war, with the abundant opinions and interpretations of her various ethnic entities disturbing that precarious balance of affairs unique to a post-war context.
The problem here is the commonly catered misconception that the armed conflict was between Sinhalese and Tamils. This distorted version cloaks the reality of the conflict being between the government and a terrorist organization. Some fragments of the Tamil diaspora seem to be promoting the former view and consistently vitalizing their campaign through the promise of a separate Tamil state within the sovereign boundaries of Sri Lanka. The fierce response of the misguided Sinhalese majority to these claims has only added legitimacy to the accusations of the diaspora about discrimination against the minority in the island. Sri Lanka’s diplomatic war of unifying the country in its truest sense has only now begun.
Idea of a Tamil Eelam
Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), led by Vishvanathan Rudrakumaran, is one of the two chief LTTE Fronts – the other being the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) – that have taken it upon themselves to revive the dream of a Tamil Eelam within Sri Lanka. In its mission statement it is plainly vocal about its desire to establish a separate state for Tamils as set out by the Vaddukoddai resolution. The movement is founded on the basis of nationhood, a homeland and the right to self determination of the Sri Lankan Tamil community. Though TGTE views itself as a democratic experiment, in actual terms its activities in the realization of its goals indicate otherwise. The very idea of a separate state as their ultimate goal blocks any space left for healthy compromise and negotiation to work out a politically comfortable and satisfactory arrangement for all Sri Lankan communities.
Association with the LTTE
The selective memory of the TGTE that refuses to acknowledge the atrocities committed by the LTTE and concentrates exclusively on the alleged crimes carried out by the Sri Lankan armed forces, hints a dangerous bias for the infamous terrorist organization and also the failure to relate to the suffering of all Sri Lankans regardless of their ethnicity. The rather alarming recognition of the LTTE as the force that gave Tamils (or more specifically, the TGTE) the dignity and strength to fight should be seen as a warning signal. According to TGTE the de facto state created by the LTTE and its military power provided Tamils with a political space for the realization of the right to self-determination. Their inability to disassociate themselves with the LTTE therefore poses serious questions regarding their democratic bona fides. Their veneration of the LTTE carries a potential threat of resurrecting it, or at least its ideals for a start.
In light of the fact that grassroots reconciliation is still struggling to survive its infancy through the plague of decades of mutual mistrust between Sinhalese and Tamils fostered by false propaganda and lapses of control on both parts, the promise of a separate state might hold special appeal to the Tamils. As such, psychological reconciliation has to be taken seriously to make Sri Lanka a good enough place for everyone – especially Tamils – so that they would not covet a separate land. The possibility of an Eelam within Sri Lanka does not concern the territorial integrity of the country, but the security of part of her people by entrusting them to an extremist faction such as the TGTE.
As Raj Gonsalkorale correctly points out, the TGTE, in a sense, is a rebranded manifestation of the LTTE overseas structure. It is the result of a network of influential LTTE sympathizers of the global Tamil diaspora. TGTE’s Philadelphia summit was an apt illustration of its LTTE affiliation. At the summit LTTE flags were waved in abundance, despite the fact that the LTTE is a banned foreign terrorist organization in the US.
Fund Raising and Propaganda
‘Tamils for Obama’, a US based group that supports TGTE states “One of our duties will be financial support of the TGTE. We suggested that each diaspora Tamil should make a monthly contribution of $25 to the TGTE after the election when the TGTE is able to accept and use the money. Tamils should consider this a voluntary tax. The TGTE is going to need the money for all of the things of any national government does. For the TGTE these tasks will include maintaining a think tank to advise them on how to advance the goal of Tamil Eelam.”
This quite sharply mirrors LTTE fund raising schemes. Though being in its initial stages it is called a voluntary tax, as it gradually develops muscle, it exhibits the potential of reviving the LTTE style of fund raising, either by hook or by crook. Given the firm stance of the Sri Lankan government about not cooperating with the notion of an Eelam, there is no guarantee of democracy in the TGTE’s quest for its ultimate goal. If they resort to military means these funds would provide prosperous channels of weapons.
Though chances of a resurgence of separatist military activity are not imminent, the propaganda campaigns of the TGTE and other extremist diaspora factions are steadily securing more solidarity for the LTTE cause on a global scale. This development has to be countered immediately and effectively through diplomatic missions aimed at their most attentive audiences, namely the diaspora, the West and Tamil Nadu.
The dreadful eruptions of violence in the 1983 communal riots forced many Tamils out of the country to seek refuge abroad, a development that ultimately resulted in the creation of the Tamil diaspora. As such, Tamils abroad are naturally inclined to be receptive to charges against Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan army, which they seem to mistakenly appreciate as exclusively Sinhalese. This mishap, for want of a better word, on the part of the Sinhalese cost the loyalty of generations of Sri Lankan Tamils to come. The situation has been cleverly manipulated by the TGTE who project a twisted version of affairs especially targeting the diaspora youth, and this propaganda work has resulted in increased radicalization of the collective mindset of the diaspora in which they view Eelam as the only solution.
TGTE has also been successful in winning western support, a fact clearly demonstrated at the recently concluded UN Geneva Human Rights session. The US backed resolution provided the TGTE with an ideal opportunity to ally itself with the West. The faction joined Channel 4 and Amnesty International in a demonstration as a response against the alleged war crimes of the Sri Lankan armed forces. TGTE’s hands-on strategy with Western power pockets too played a determining role in Sri Lanka’s defeat at this session. Their next declared aim is to urge the UN to investigate war crimes allegations leveled against Sri Lanka. According to their provocative propaganda with a decided bias; “Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) is launching a signature campaign to urge the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki -Moon to refer Sri Lanka to ICC Prosecutor and also to appoint a Commission of inquiry to investigate War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide. TGTE Members of Parliament will spearhead the collection of these signatures in their respective constituencies around the world. This initiative is a tribute to those who were killed and raped simply because they belong to the Tamil community.” The government has to swiftly and diplomatically counter the promotion of such falsehoods.
Close ties with the highest circles of decision-making in Tamil Nadu enabled the TGTE to sway the asserted neutrality of Delhi who, with profuse apologies and explanations, voted against Sri Lanka.
Their plans to start a radio broadcast to Si Lanka to communicate misinformation of a genocide is a dangerous signal of the first step towards a hate culture whose sustenance would draw on nothing short of claiming lives, a move that would negate any hope of reconciliation and a truly unified Sri Lanka.
Connection with GTF and other diaspora groups
TGTE’s growing connections with the Global Tamil Forum and other extremist diaspora groups such as ‘Tamils for Obama’ who share the same Eelam sentiments is a dangerous development in the sense that such collaboration would project the collective body of these extremist groups as the sole representative of Tamils to fill the dent made by the demise of the extensive and highly organized global network of the LTTE. The legitimacy of the perceived Eelam was partially acknowledged by two occurrences; Firstly the ANC invitation to GTF to attend one of its meetings in the capacity of a state representative and secondly the Southern Sudanese invitation to TGTE to open an embassy there. Despite the fact that the Eelam is yet to come into existence and the GTF and TGTE are not actual organs of a legitimate government, these two invitations renewed hope for a physically real State of Eelam.
The TGTE even attended last year’s South Sudan’s independence ceremony as representatives of Tamil Eelam, an act that in their thinking accorded them with the same level of recognition as that of the Sri Lankan government, thus bringing them on par with GOSL as representatives of Tamils. This is an important political development that signifies the growing support and recognition of the international community for their cause of a Tamil Eelam. As TGTE has clearly pointed out it does not expect the public endorsement of the international community, but general acceptance demonstrated through actions. Such acceptance has a high probability of developing into endorsement and the justification of the ultimate goal of a Tamil Eelam. Their sympathy for the LTTE and endorsement of their atrocities as actions committed for the betterment of Tamils pose serious questions about their democratic character. This stance justifies the conclusion that once given a foothold in Sri Lanka, the tendency of their activities turning military is very high.
Myth of Elections
The myth of the so-called democratic representation of Tamils is evident when studying TGTE’s voting base. Their voters consist only of Tamils living abroad whereas the Tamils in the North and East who lived through the war for almost three decades have a better claim to elect the representatives of the so-called government for obvious reasons. While it is granted that the reason for the diaspora to be formed in the first place was founded on very concrete fears indeed, the fact that the future of Tamils living in Sri Lanka should not be determined by ones who did not personally experience the horrors of war cannot be negated. Like mentioned earlier TGTE’s failure to acknowledge LTTE brutality and the false information it communicates to the diaspora consistently promote the same false precept that has cost thousands of lives for three decades – the uncompromising call for a Tamil Eelam.
The military victory over the LTTE should not be inflated to block from view the looming possibility of a separate State of Eelam that is being progressively more accommodated in the collective mindset of the Tamil diaspora, specifically LTTE fronts and their increasingly fierce call for endorsement of this cause.
Also the potential threat of the TGTE emerging as a military power in the event they are given footage in Sri Lanka should be seriously entertained by the government so as to take necessary preemptive measures to prevent violence in general and terrorism in particular from engulfing the country yet again. The absolute firmness with which the government is denying accommodation of the notion of a Tamil Eelam should not, by any means, imply that space for negotiation on a political solution is blocked. Genuine fraternity can only be fostered where there is a genuine commitment to understand and address actual grievances. Such a bona fide approach would discourage the local Tamil populace from pledging their allegiance to extremist foreign factions.
It is the responsibility of the government to prepare a new generation of Tamil leaders who are committed to reconciliation and peaceful co-existence. Also tactfully negotiating an arrangement on power-sharing with radical factions like the TGTE would help facilitate a middle path in which both Sinhalese and Tamils could tread hand in hand without compromising the security of the country.
It is therefore pivotal to counteract false propaganda by TGTE and other radical elements while being committed to true reconciliation that would acknowledge and address the deep rooted grievances of Tamils and bring forth a political solution satisfactory to all communities. It would quash any excuse the TGTE and its allies may produce to resurrect the Phoenix from ashes.
Nipunika O. Lecamwasam is a final year undergraduate of International Relations at the University of Colombo. She holds a Diploma in Professional Diplomacy and World Affairs and has completed a Certificate Course in Diplomacy and International Relations at the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute, Sri Lanka. Her areas of interest are in conflict theory, conflict resolution and peace studies for which she took courses at the University. At the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies, she organized two conferences on reconciliation. She currently writes on post-war reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
1. Gonsalkorale, Raj. “LTTE down, but not out; Tamil Diaspora keeps them alive .” asiantribune.com. June 21, 2010. http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2010/06/21/ltte-down-not-out-tamil-diaspora-keeps-them-alive (accessed June 12, 2012).
2. “Tamils for Obama Says ‘We should all Vote in the TGTE Election’ and Tells Why .” sangam.org. April 12, 2010. http://www.sangam.org/2010/04/TfO_TGTE_Election.php?uid=3919 (accessed June 10, 2012).
3. “TGTE Launches Signature Campaign for Sri Lanka Genocide Investigation .” prweb.com. April 24, 2011. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/04/prweb5264674.htm (accessed June 9, 2012).