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What’s the LTTE’s gameplan?

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What’s the LTTE’s gameplan?
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Carnage in the South

Scores of people have been killed in the South just in the past month, most of them Sinhalese civilians. The focus of the LTTE's offensive seems to have shifted from the North-East to the South. This is not just a matter of luring the military away from the North, because there has also been a shift from military targets to civilian ones.

What is most worrying about this change of strategy is that this kind of terrorist attack can continue indefinitely, even if the LTTE is defeated militarily in the North. We may recall the relentless US bombing of the Tora Bora mountains, which decisively wiped it out as a military base and place of shelter for Osama bin Laden. Some people even believe that Osama is dead, and the videos of him that keep appearing are fakes. But whether he is dead or alive, the fact is that Al Qaeda continues to launch deadly terrorist attacks, without having any military base. There is no doubt that the LTTE could do likewise. Sri Lanka is awash with arms and ammunition, which the government is distributing freely in the name of arming Home Guards, and it would be the easiest thing in the world for the LTTE to get hold of it and continue their attacks on civilians. Nowhere in the world has military might been able to stamp out terrorist attacks, and Sri Lanka is no exception.

One possible aim of these attacks is to provoke a backlash against Tamil civilians by Sinhala chauvinists. This is the fear of a group calling itself the 'Vanni United Tamil Association for Peace', which put up posters in Vavuniya appealing to the LTTE to stop killing Sinhalese civilians and thereby endangering the lives of Tamil civilians. Indeed, it is only a matter of time before the goons who believe 'Me rata Sinhala rata' retaliate by staging pogroms against Tamil civilians; they have already attempted to do so on a couple of occasions. Then the LTTE, which is already using the fiasco of the 23 January Rajapaksa-JHU proposals masquerading as APRC proposals to argue that the government is not serious about a political solution to the conflict, can in addition argue that Tamils are not safe in a Sinhala-dominated Sri Lanka, and need a separate state of their own.

If the pogroms against Tamils are serious enough, the Indian government would be forced to act, and the international community might at that point step in to establish a separate state in the North-East. Anyone who doubts that this is possible should take a good hard look at what is happening in Kosovo right now. The Serbian nationalists were just as determined that Kosovo (which was crucially important to their national identity) should remain in Serbia as the Sinhala nationalists are determined that the North-East should remain part of Sri Lanka. But their attacks on Kosovo's ethnic Albanian civilians ensured the opposite outcome. Contrary to the belief of ignorant Sinhala nationalists, sovereignty has an external as well as internal aspect. If the international community is convinced there is a compelling case for a separate state where Sri Lanka's Tamil civilians are safe, they could recognise the sovereignty of such a state.

Punishing the LTTE for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

How can such an outcome be avoided? It is not difficult. The majority of Tamils, horrified and repelled by the LTTE's brutal attacks on civilians, do not accept the LTTE as their representative, and the international community too now recognises that the LTTE does not represent the majority of Tamils. The LTTE's attacks on Sinhalese, Muslim and Tamil civilians are all defined in international law as war crimes or crimes against humanity, for which the LTTE leaders could be tried, convicted and put behind bars for the rest of their lives, their followers disarmed and their conscripts released. That would be the end of the LTTE as a military force and terrorist group: no more war, no more terrorist attacks.

This would require two things. One is collecting enough evidence to convict the LTTE leaders in a court of law. The LTTE denies that it carried out the attacks: how can we prove that they were involved? The failure to convict LTTE operatives even for such high-profile killings as that of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar shows that the investigative capacity of Sri Lankan government agencies is simply not up to the task. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has offered to help by setting up a UN field operation in Sri Lanka to investigate and report on human rights violations. The evidence collected by this mission could certainly be used to convict the LTTE leaders. Moreover, the presence of the mission would help to deter it from intimidating and killing witnesses, as it routinely does. The second requirement is a trial of LTTE leaders for these crimes under international law. This could be done by an International Criminal Tribunal for Sri Lanka set up by the UN Security Council, or, more simply, by Sri Lanka signing and ratifying the Rome Treaty of the International Criminal Court. It would then be the task of the international prosecutor, working with law enforcement agencies in Sri Lanka, to collect evidence, call witnesses, and try those accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. There can be no doubt that there would be enough evidence to put the LTTE leaders behind bars for the rest of their lives. And the entire international community would support the effort.


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