poster for the assassinated Foriegn Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar
In the West the Tamil Tigers are often romanticized as freeedom fighters. Anyone who lives here or even does a bit of cursory reading can see that the LTTE – despite very legitimate Tamil grievances – are terrorists. They kill sinhala and muslim villagers, forcibly conscript child soldiers, extort citizens, ethnically cleanse villages, and invented modern suicide bombing. Lakshman Kadirgamar called a spade a spade and got the LTTE classified as a terrorist group – by the US among others. Now they’ve shot him in his swimming pool. He was the Foriegn Minister, exceptionally bright, arrogant, and one of ‘the heavyweights’ in the cabinet. He was also, incidentally, a Tamil.
Sri Lankan Tamils certainly have very legitimate grievances. In 1983 Sri Lankans rioted in the streets and killed peaceable Tamil citizens, with tacit goverment support, or at least inaction. The Sri Lankan Army has disappeared countless numbers of people. More generally, SWRD Bandaranaike and JR simply insulted and disenfranchised Tamils by restricting the use of Tamil language, especially in government service. All of these conditions and the failure of peaceful parlimentary measures led to the rise of militant, terrorist groups like the LTTE. Now the legitimacy of the cause has somehow rubbed off on the LTTE, which it does not deserve. The LTTE is not democratic, it is not diverse, and it is not elected by Tamil people. The were not given power by elections, they took power by process of elimination. You may notice that there isn’t much Tamil opposition, because they’re all dead. For example, A. Amirthalingam (TULF), Sri Sabarathinam (TELO), K. Padmanabha (EPRLF) and Umamaheswaran of the PLOTE. Shot, dragged through the streets behind trucks, etc. One of the most peaceful and loved Sri Lankan intellectuals, Neelan Tiruchelvam was killed as he drove away from his house. That name or any of those names may not mean anything to you. I never knew Neelan Tiruchelvam either, but when I walk by the spot where he died – still covered with fresh chalk doves – it still affects me.
The LTTE is a terrorist group. It doesn’t take a huge stretch of imagination to say that, and Kadiragamar pointed it out the the world. They are also the only negotiating partner, but to act like they are the Tamil cause is disengenous. If Tamils have grievance, those are their grievances. They can vote with them, they can march with them, and they can speak out. Sri Lankan governments have not made it easy – but the LTTE makes it impossible. If you speak out against the LTTE they will kill you. If you try to form a political party they will kill you. If they think you are thinking about speaking out, they will kill you. Whatever the fate of Sri Lankan Tamils is, I think they are better under a democratic Sri Lanka than a facist, corrupt, and terrorist LTTE. But that’s me, here are some quotes from Lakshman Kadirgamar, from LacNet.
I cannot presume to speak for the “vast majority of Tamils” because, quite simply, I do not even represent a Tamil electorate. I am a member of Parliament on the National List. I can only speak for myself and, on occasions, for the SLFP. The vast majority of Tamils, wherever they may live, are law-abiding, hard working, peaceful people. I cannot believe that they condone terrorism, especially the child conscriptions, abduction, killings, extortions that are still being carried out by the LTTE in the North and East, accompanied by the suppression of peaceful dissent. I also believe that the “vast majority of Tamils” would prefer to see, for the future, a united Sri Lanka, rather than two separate States. The concept of devolution of power from the centre to the periphery – some kind of federal structure – is now espoused by the major political parties. But what kind of devolution is a matter for discussion. Within the Tamil community – as indeed within the Sinhala and Muslim communities – there are different views on this question.
There was a time when, for instance, the use of Tamil for official purposes was not recognised and there was discrimination against the Tamil-speaking community in respect of education and employment. The Tamils had grievances. That cannot be denied. The situation is much better now. But since independence the ethnic policy of successive governments has been characterised by a lack of foresight, mismanagement and broken promises – the Bandaranike/Chelvanayakam pact and the Dudley Senanayake/Chelvanayakan pact are examples. President Kumaratunga in her address to the nation on the historic occasion of the 50th anniversary of Independence, spoke courageously as follows: “We must also with humility examine our failures. We have failed in the essential task of nation – building. We have meandered and faltered along the path, whilst our neighbours in Asia and many other countries have forged strong and united nations in which peoples of various communities, of race, religion and language live in harmony”. As for your question whether the Sri Lankan Tamils would have been better off if the LTTE did not drag the country into a bloody civil war, my personal view is that socio-economic and political questions can never be resolved by war. But one must try to understand why a generation of young Tamils who had witnessed unsuccessful satyagraha campaigns and other peaceful attempts to secure redress for their grievances came to the conclusion that there was no alternative but to resort to arms. However, as the armed conflict has progressed it has become increasingly clear that war cannot resolve the problems that led to war in the first place. Many Tamils, even those of a moderate persuasion, hold the view that if the LTTE had not taken up arms the question of a negotiated settlement of the ethnic problem would never have been considered by any government in the South. The same group of moderate Tamils would, I am sure, now say “enough of war”; the armed conflict must end; a solution must be found through negotiations. As for the homeland question I do not think the vast majority of Tamils, whether they presently live in Sri Lanka or abroad, would prefer to live under Mr. Prabhakarn’s rule, rather than in a free, democratic, united Sri Lanka where the rights of minorities are adequately safeguarded.