This post is written for the Colombo Leisure Times
They say a Tiger in the hand is better than one lighting your airport on fire. At the same time, it’s important to understand what you’re dealing with. The LTTE has a history of extortion, child conscription, and terrorism. Most recently they were implicated in the assassination of Foriegn Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. Since this government halted peace negotiations years ago this is only the most visible life to be lost. The heady calm of Colombo life is tenuous without proper negotiations, as the shots on Buller’s Lane could tell you. This is no time to go to war, but it is time to stop pretending that the LTTE doesn’t exist.
Most of the information is this article is drawn from the Point Pedro Institute of Development (pointpedro.org/category/working-papers). Their methodology is literature review and interviews with â€œroughly 60 households in Kervil, Kattaikadu, and Maruthenkerny refugee camps in the LTTE-controlled Jaffna district and Kallaru refugee camp in the Kilinochchi district.â€ The article is well worth reading in its entirety.
The LTTE controls about 50% of the total land area of the North&East Province, but only about 15% of the total population lives there. They have an international reputation for efficiency, as does Al Qaeda. They military wing is (obviously) effective, but their administrative arms are largely parastic – giving orders to the GoSL administration that remains. Furthermore, there are no checks on their power. No cases can be filed against LTTE cadres in their courts. It wouldn’t make a difference, as LTTE cadres are the judges, juries, and attorneys (defense and prosecution).
In distributing aid, villages of strategic importance are often given preferential treatment. Even villages unaffected by the tsunami are given aid as patronage. When this occurs in the rest of Sri Lanka there are legal recourses and protests, but not under the LTTE. In Vadamarachchi it was reported that the LTTE ordered government officials to withold Rs 1,000 out of a Rs 2,500 disbursement for kitchen utensils. Residents of the Kattaikadu refugee camp also complained that they are being deprived of their Rs 200 weekly supply worth of non-food items. They are either offered Rs 75 or 100 worth, or told that items are out of stock. In this way the LTTE is engaging in corruption as a matter of policy.
More perniciously, the LTTE has used the camps to recruit child soldiers. â€œThe United Nations Childrenâ€™s Fund reported on three cases of children recruited from camps for tsunami survivors in Batticaloa and Ampara, on Sri Lankaâ€™s eastern coast. Human Rights Watch has received additional information on LTTE recruitment of children in Trincomalee and Jaffna. At a relief camp in Trincomalee, a 16-year old boy who had been recruited prior to the tsunami and later escaped told credible sources that he recently witnessed the LTTE recruit three girls from the camp. In Jaffna, independent human rights monitors documented LTTE recruitment of two 13-year old boys on January 3 (www.hrw.org).â€
None of this is to suggest a return to war. Tsunami, war, and elections would be the most unholy trinity imaginable. The answer is probably to engage more with the LTTE on a political level, with things like the stalled P-TOMS. However, in addition to beating up on the government, there should be pressure on the LTTE to disarm and become a viable political player like the formerly terrorist JVP and IRA. GoSL and NGOs are also corrupt in their own ways, but democratic Sri Lanka is at least capable of change. In the LTTE corruption is a matter of policy, and policy is enforced by death. As dangerous as it is, more people need to start speaking honestly about the LTTE to move the peace process forward.