The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon Part 7
Julian West’s ‘Passage to Jaffna’
I should mention that what motivated me to send my letter of protest to the Lanka Guardian in March 1991, regarding the Valveddithurai bombing was a sympathetic travelogue-essay of Julian West, published in the Asiaweek magazine of March 8, 1991. It was entitled, ‘Passage to Jaffna’.
Since the then Asiaweek’s correspondent in Colombo had described how he felt about visiting Jaffna in 1991, after a lapse of 17 years, and how it had been transformed by the war and the rise of LTTE among Eelam Tamils, I feel that it has to be placed for record in entirety in the web. I’m pretty sure that many Tamils would have missed this essay when it first appeared.
For comparative purposes, one should also note that Pirabhakaran didn’t receive any mention when Robert Holmes chronicled the Eelam society in his Jaffna 1980 book. [See also, American Ambassadors in Eelam – part 2, Jan. 3, 2001] When Holmes was preparing his manuscript in Jaffna, Pirabhakaran was 25 years old. Writing about the Jaffna scene in 1979, Holmes had stated, “Support for Eelam in the original sense of an independent homeland for the Tamils has declined. In early 1979 the head of the TULF [Amirthalingam] announced the willingness of his party to consider proposals for regional autonomy.” (p.299). A few sentences on Tamil Tigers, written by Holmes state,
“…Tigers, of which almost nothing is known for certain but about which a vast amount has been speculated. Credited with all sorts of crimes in 1977 and 1978, especially the assassination of police officers and witnesses who helped the police, the Tigers in 1979 were blamed for the death of further policemen and witnesses. The Tigers were credited with enforcing a belief in the absolute desirability of Tamil Eelam in 1977 and 1978, but faith in Eelam certainly waned in 1979 in favour of local autonomy…” (p.304).
Reporting a little over ten years later, Julian West provided a well-balanced portrayal of how Pirabhakaran’s influence on Eelam Tamils had taken root, especially among the younger generation. His eyewitness report of January 1991 bombing raids in Valvettithurai and how Eelam Tamils were terrorized by aerial bombing also provide indirectly the motive for the incorporation of suicide bombers by Pirabhakaran. It also included thumbnail sketches of Malini and Nishanti, ‘the Tigresses, [who] represent the new Jaffna woman.’
Here is Julian West’s essay in entirety.
“I crawl into a sandy hole in the ground, preceded by a small boy. Hardly able to breathe inside the concrete-walled bunker, sand trickling through the palm-trunk supports above my head, I try to imagine what it must have been like – pressed in here with 30 or 40 frightened people – during the Sri Lankan Air Force bombing raids three weeks earlier.
People sometimes stuff their ears with cotton wool to deaden the sounds of bombardment – described as one of the most frightening aspects of a raid – although the bunkers are almost sound-proof. Barely a few paces away the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean lap noiselessly, sole reminder of the once-timeless beauty of Valveddithurai on Sri Lanka’s northern shore.
At mid-day on Jan.20 an airforce helicopter flew over the town, dropping leaflets warning people to move out within 48 hours. Three hours later, as people cowered in bunkers, the first bombers arrived. They were accompanied by helicopter gunships and shelling from Palali military base, 10km away. That night, flares from naval vessels offshore lit up the town. Four days of continuous bombardment later, after more than 250 bombs had been dropped, Valveddithurai was virtually reduced to rubble.
Emerging from the bunker, I am greeted by the same desolate scene that shocked survivors. Whole streets are destroyed. Barely a house is left undamaged. Valveddithurai, birthplace of Tiger guerilla leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and a well known smuggling area, has been bombed several times during this seven-year war. In the last attack, 500 houses and two large schools were demolished and more than 100 other buildings, including two historic Hindu temples, were irreparably damaged. A Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) camp less than a kilometre away was untouched.
Valveddithurai was one of the most densely populated towns in Sri Lanka. Ten thousand people lived in a 1.6km coastal strip. The tightly packed houses collapsed onto each other like a pack of cards. Miraculously, only ten people were killed and 20 seriously injured. Forewarned by the leaflets and the first round of attacks, 90% of the population left for neighbouring villages. The rest hid in bunkers. Almost every house in Jaffna peninsula has one, which accounts for the relatively low mortality rate in recent bombings.
‘We have been attacked since 1984, so we’re quite used to it’, says Dr. K. Shanmugasunderam, head of the Valveddithurai Citizens Rehabilitation Committee, who recites statistics of destruction from his ‘mobile office’, a straw shopping bag.
Not much is left of Valveddithurai. A family shifts rubble from the ruins of their home. Another couple with a small child attempt to cook a meal on the square-metre patch of floor that remains of their house. I ask the man what they intend to do. ‘We’re hoping some aid organization will help us rebuild. This is our land and though it’s small, we don’t want to leave it.’
The destruction of the historic Sivan Kovil and Muttiramman temples, twin Siva and Shakti temples more than 200 years old, has offended the residents deeply. ‘How would you feel if a temple in your area was destroyed?’ asks Dr. Shanmugasunderam. ‘I cannot express it in words. But I feel it in my heart’. At his insistence we take our shoes off and tiptoe among the broken glass and brick shards carpeting the floor. He informs me that, had a bomb not just desecrated the temple, non-Hindus like myself would not be allowed in.
Valveddithurai people are intensely proud of their seafaring history. They are especially proud of having produced Mr. Prabhakaran, their ‘son’, and are vehemently pro-Tiger. ‘We have not lost our hearts, despite the massive destruction’, says Dr. Shanmugasunderam. ‘We feel we can stand again. We’re fighting for our freedom and we’ll fight till we reach our objective’.Ironically almost the only intact edifice is the town fountain – four brightly painted, cartoon-like tigers rampant.
On Jan.30 air force bombers attacked a crowded market in Pudukudiyiruppu, a village south of Jaffna peninsula with a 90% refugee population, killing 22 people and seriously wounding thirteen. ‘Three Siai Marchetti bombers swooped down on the market at 5.30pm – exactly the time most people are there’, says an observer. ‘A child had to have both legs amputated. Later we found an arm. Pudukudiyiruppu was a very precise target. There were no LTTE nearby’.
Throughout the night patients were relayed to Jaffna General Hospital by the Red Cross and the Tigers, a five-hour journey along cratered dirt roads and by ferry. In the casualty ward, a man with the saddest eyes I have ever seen tells me he has lost his wife in the raid, leaving him with their seven-year-old-son.
The same week a refugee camp housing 40 families in a girls’ school, 10km from Jaffna town was also bombed. Two people were killed and four wounded. A fourteen-year-old girl lost her leg. On the road south, at an ancient shrine to the Hindu elephant god, Ganesh, bombs killed a man, his baby daughter and a ten-year-old boy.
Bombing raids on the north have intensified since Jan.10, the end of a Tiger-proposed ten-day ceasefire. The LTTE was beleaguered by bad weather, adverse international opinion and a crackdown on its activities in India’s Tamil Nadu state. The army, believing the Tigers were weakening, did not want the ceasefire. ‘Strategically that was the time to hit them’, says a colonel in the northern command.
Outside observers believe the intensity of the present campaign signals two things. ‘Under the cover of the Gulf crisis’, says a Tamil lawyer, ‘the armed forces are engaging in military operations of an indiscriminate and reckless nature’. The other indication is that the army is working to a deadline, which some observers think may be June this year. North of Vavuniya, a town 140 km south of Jaffna, Sri Lankan forces hold only Palali air base, Elephant Pass and Kankesanthurai naval base. They have therefore resorted to aerial strikes – most damaging to civilians.
The army claims it only bombs known Tiger targets. But it admits that its aircraft – single-engine Siai Marchetti training planes, adapted to carry two bombs; Chinese Y-8s and Y-12s; and British Avros, small passenger planes from which homemade bombs are pushed out – do not permit accuracy. ‘We do not have the sort of equipment the Americans have’, says an army spokesman. ‘Ours is just look and see operation. However we sometimes wonder if it’s worth killing civilians just to get 20 terrorists’.
The bombs – oil drums filled with gelignite or sometimes flammable gas and rubber tubes, which stick to the skin like napalm – have no ballistic stability. ‘If you look up you can see them twisting and turning as they fall’, says the colonel. ‘Sometimes we ourselves are mortally afraid of where they’re going to land’. The forces accidentally bombed two of their own men recently.
Infiltration of the Tigers among civilians also creates inevitable casualties. ‘The LTTE has taken over so many houses, if the Sri Lankan government wants to bomb them, it will have to bomb the whole peninsula’, says an exiled Tamil MP in Colombo. Deputy Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne told a recent press conference: ‘We don’t want to harm civilians. But they must understand that it is dangerous to live in those areas where the LTTE are operating. They must use their common sense and move out of Jaffna’.
I have come to Jaffna by accident – perhaps the best word to describe a 280 km journey across battle lines and through a free-fire zone. I had intended to branch off westward. But once through the Sri Lankan army checkpoint, I keep going up the long road north. To deter attacks from helicopter gunships or stray bombers, I paste a banner reading PRESS in large letters across the roof of the car. And hope for the best. Journalists have no permission to visit Jaffna.
Past the Sri Lankan army checkpoint at Vavuniya, I enter a 1.6 km no-man’s land before the Tiger checkpoint. About 3,000 people are waiting in line, bound for Colombo. Many have waited five or six days. It is mid-day. There is no shade. The temperature is in the 30s.
Each morning around 8.30 people run from the Tiger checkpoint to queue at the army checkpoint. Each afternoon most are sent back. I am told the army is processing an average of ten people a day. Meanwhile these people, who have already made an arduous two- or three-day journey to Vavuniya, have to sleep out or under trucks, sometimes in the rain. They have no food and are at the mercy of bicycle vendors selling rice packets at four times the normal price. There is no water, no lavatory. ‘Now you see what we, as a minority, have to go through’, says a salesman.
‘Conditions here are inhuman’, says Mr. Kulasekeram, a thin, middle-aged clerk in the Land Commission Department, returning home from a visit to his family. He whispers to me: ‘Some ladies have not urinated for two or three days’. A man with throat cancer is going to hospital in Colombo. Later, I discover, a heart patient who waited at the checkpoint for five days has died.
I last visited Jaffna seventeen years ago. Then, as now, it seemed another country – separated from the rest of Sri Lanka not only by a causeway across a lagoon, but by language, culture, religion and vegetation. Jaffna is an arid, hot, sandy spit of land where brittle Palmyra trees stand sentinel against a burning sky, like huge fans. At night, in the dry atmosphere, the sky is brilliant with stars.
Jaffna people – Tamil-speaking Hindus – have been conditioned by their sparse environment. They are hardworking and thrifty, with a high percentage of doctors, lawyers and engineers. Geographically and culturally the people of Jaffna are closer to south India. Valveddithurai is only 30 km from Tamil Nadu, half the distance to the nearest Sinhalese town. Their isolation from the mainly Buddhist south was entrenched by a Sinhala-only language policy, introduced in the 1950s, designed to favour a Sinhalese workforce. That confirmed their minority status – they comprise 18% of the island’s 17-million population – and germinated the present separatist war.
As a Jaffna religious leader explains: ‘Under the British we were all equal. They found Tamils hard-working and dependable, which is why there were so many English schools in Jaffna – for employment. After the British left, our youth found no avenue of employment. The only work here is coastal fishing or farming.’
Then, Jaffna society seemed conservative and strict, caste-bound and enclosed. Young people were brought up to study. Girls were kept indoors, in the kitchen, until marriage.
I find Jaffna changed forever. The Palmyra trees and sandy wastes are still here. But in the last seven months an estimated 20,000 buildings in the peninsula have been wholly or partly destroyed. The walls of those left standing are cracked, ceilings have collapsed, barely a window pane remains.
A shortage of petrol and its prohibitive cost – $10 a litre, thirteen times more than in the south – has grounded the black Austin A-40s and Morris Minors that once chugged solidly down the Jaffna lanes. Now a relay of bicycles ferries kerosene and other essentials the 280 km round trip from Vavuniya. Women, dressed as if for a wedding in astonishing red and gold saris, perch on the crossbars of bicycles, like birds of paradise, bound for destinations kilometers away. Only the Tigers drive vehicles.
After sunset most houses are in darkness. Kerosene costs ten times the Colombo price and matches are unavailable. ‘We have been in the dark for the last ten months’, says Mr. Kulasekaram. ‘Our children can’t study anymore’. There is no firewood or gas for cooking. Cash is short: banks receive insufficient money for their needs. Telephone lines were cut long ago.
Less than a third of the food needed by Jaffna arrives. Lorries are detained at Vavuniya for months, waiting for transport permits. An official says only 3% of food intended for the area has been delivered in the past three months. ‘People are on the brink of starvation’, he says. ‘They’re dying in silence’. Food sent by the government from Colombo by ship, under the Red Cross flag, often returns unloaded because of high seas or attacks around the military camp at Palali.
Once the ship arrived packed with sanitary towels. ‘There were thousands of sanitary towels in Jaffna’, confided a nun. ‘We don’t need sanitary towels, we need food. People are living on one meal a day’.
In the airy, rambling Jaffna General Hospital, a doctor tells me they lack essential drugs, dressings and surgical instruments. ‘Operations are often delayed because of lack of oxygen’, he says. ‘Also, we don’t have enough oxygen for follow-ups, so some people die’. Half the 1,015 beds cannot be used because of bomb damage.
The face of society, too, has changed. Most of the middle class and professionals have emigrated to Canada or Australia. Since last June 125,000 refugees have gone to Tamil Nadu – swelling the number there to 200,000. More Tamils now live in Greater London – 60,000 – than in Colombo. In the peninsula 250,000 are displaced.
Most astonishing of all to some older Tamils is the emergence of a young guerilla movement – the Tigers. ‘No one was as shocked as we were when our boys went to war’, says a Tamil government servant. ‘The traditional set-up of our society has changed’. Notes a Tamil lawyer in Colombo: ‘The under-35s now constitute the ruling class’. As Mr.Anton Balasingham, the LTTE’s amiable political spokesman, says: ‘We are running the law and order here. We are the civil administration’.
At the LTTE’s administrative offices, people wait to have domestic and land disputes settled and to get exit permits to leave the north. Armed cadres stroll in and out, but the atmosphere is relaxed. Small uniformed boys run errands, though the office is also staffed by dedicated civilians. ‘It’s very difficult for us to live now’, says Sarojini, a 38-year old woman in a blue sari, who works as a translator and whose fourteen-year-old son is a cadre. ‘But we don’t care about the food. We want freedom’.
In a real sense, the LTTE is like a large family. Many Jaffna people have relatives in the Tigers, and call them ‘our boys’. Their monkish disciplines are admirable, if austere: no smoking, no drinking, no marriage until a certain age and number of years of service. They have revolutionized the role of women in Jaffna, giving them equality, as fighters, and striving to eliminate dowry and caste systems.
Malini and Nishanti, tiny but stocky Tigresses, represent the new Jaffna woman. Wearing combat fatigues, their hair tied up in braids – the regulation Tigress hairstyle – the two area leaders giggle, hold hands and clasp each other’s knees as we wheel down the road in a trishaw. They are shy of me – although they are the ones with the T-81 Chinese assault rifle.
Both have received military training and fought the Sri Lankan army in several battles. Initially, they explain, girls were involved in political work, but six years ago they insisted women be allowed to fight. They were first given AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles. Later they carried heavy weapons like rocket-propelled grenade launchers, bazookas and machine guns.
Malini says she and fourteen other women halted the advance of Indian Peacekeeping Force troops on Jaffna town in October 1987. ‘We didn’t have uniforms then, so we were wearing skirts and blouses. The Indians didn’t notice us, although we were carrying guns. They thought we were just a group of young girls. I ordered the girls to lie down and from there we started firing’.
Malini, 28, is postponing marriage. ‘Getting married and having children is not a problem. But so many of my sisters have died so I have a responsibility to continue the struggle’. So far 106 women Tigers have died in the war.
Nishanti, 22, joined the LTTE in 1987. Like many Tigresses she ran away from home to join, knowing her parents would stop her. They had hoped she would go to university. ‘I joined not to fight against the enemy but to liberate myself’, says Nishanti. ‘I’m opposed to the dowry system. Now I wouldn’t accept a man who wanted a dowry. Although Tamil women can choose to work and be free, all these aspirations come to nothing in the end. Women are enslaved by traditional systems and male chauvinism’. As women guerillas, they experience unheard-of freedom.
Yet the Tiger’s domination of Jaffna society, often through fear – real or imagined – gives them a sinister complexion. More than once I’m told I cannot photograph a poster or a hospital ward without ‘permission’. Jaffna now has no political parties, no trade unions, no non-governmental organizations. Newspapers are controlled. ‘It has become a society with no political freedom’, says a Colombo Tamil professor. ‘The intelligentsia, formerly an important component of society, has been subjugated.’
Still, support for the Tigers in Jaffna seems genuine, even fierce. Indiscriminate bombings and an economic blockade on the north have inevitably driven people into the Tigers’ arms. ‘Young people are still joining the LTTE’, says the exiled politician. ‘They feel if they are going to die anyway in bombing raids, they might as well fight for their rights’. Adds the lawyer: ‘I don’t see how the government can ever win back the confidence of people who feel so alienated. People from Jaffna feel the government has crossed a certain moral threshold which forfeits its right to claim the allegiance of those citizens’.
Meanwhile combat continues. The week after my visit Minister Wijeratne declared: ‘We’re fighting a war and we’re fighting it to a finish’. Mr.Balasingham claims the LTTE would prefer a ‘political solution to a political problem’. But with its leader, Mr.Prabhakaran, in the role of jungle fighter and hero, and with an entire generation of Tamil youth indoctrinated as guerillas or sympathetic to the Tiger cause, the leap from warfare to politics looks impossible. Mr.Balasingham syas there is ‘now no alternative but to fight for an independent state’.
‘The civilian population is fed up with this war’, says a Tamil observer. ‘But there is no space for them to speak out. There are very few rational voices. The situation is so dismal, one hardly sees any light at the end of the tunnel. It’s like a bad dream’. Replies the army colonel when I ask him how long this war might last: ‘I think foreign correspondents can expect work in Sri Lanka for a long time’.”
Thus ended Julius West’s ‘Passage to Jaffna’. I consider this 3,080 – word essay of West as one of the revealing documents in the history of Eelam Tamils. While hundreds of correspondents were covering the Baghdad bombing of January 1991 coordinated by Goerge Bush, Tamils had one international report on Valveddithurai bombing of January 1991, coordinated by Premadasa-Wijeratne team, due to the efforts of West.
Also, contrary to other reports filed by foreign correspondents, in the travelogue of West, the named Tamil sources (Dr. K. Shanmugasunderam, Mr. Kulasekeram, Mr. Anton Balasingham, Malini and Nishanti) were higher in number than the named Sinhalese source (Minister Ranjan Wijeratne). When it appeared in print, Wijeratne who had bragged, ‘We’re fighting a war and we’re fighting it to a finish’ had also gone to meet his Maker. Probably because of this, there were two critical responses from the Sinhalese readers of the Asiaweek magazine, complaining about bias. These were published in the following month, under the caption ‘Sri Lankan Voices’. I reproduced these two letters.
“Re: Julian West’s ‘Passage to Jaffna’ (March 8): As a Sri Lankan afraid to visit parts of his own country because of terrorist activity, I would like to see another article after the same writer has interviewed government defence authorities, Sri Lankans of other communities – notably Sinhalese and Muslims – and Tamils living in Sinhalese majority areas.
Perhaps Julian West could make a contribution to unity in Sri Lanka by writing a comprehensive and unbiased account of the war. An important point in such an account would be the fact that Tamils live without fear in Sinhalese majority areas while Tamils endure great hardship in areas infested by the Tamil Tigers and Sinhalese cannot exist at all in the north and east.
M. E. Mallawaratchie
Colombo, Sri Lanka”
[Asiaweek, April 19, 1991]
“West’s romantisation savours of a stirring call to the youth of the region to press on. It is strange that the article makes no reference to the comfortable living enjoyed by this ‘oppressed’ minority in the city of Colombo, or the positions of authority they continue to hold in both the public and private sectors, or the gruesome massacres of innocent Sinhalese villagers from time to time by the Tigers, or the repeated peace overtures made to them by President Premadasa, or the continuing intransigence of the Tiger leadership, or the wider ambitions of the LTTE, including the destabilization of neighbouring India. The article would have had more credibility and finesse if it had alluded to a few of those facts.
Colombo, Sri Lanka”
[Asiaweek, April 19, 1991]
My rebuttal to the two letters:
The Asiaweek was kind enough to publish my rebuttal to the above two letters. This rebuttal appeared under the original caption, ‘Passage to Jaffna’.
“As a Sri Lankan Tamil I appreciate your publishing Julian West’s well balanced ‘Passage to Jaffna’ (March 8). It portrayed the war-ravaged Jaffna peninsula warts and all. In my opinion, readers M.E. Mallawaratchie and Edward Gunawardene (Letters, April 19) are really agonized by the popular support LTTE rebels command among the Tamils of Sri Lanka.
The recurrent attacks on Tamils in 1956, 1958, 1977, 1981 and 1983 prove the falsehood of Mallawaratchie’s claim that ‘Tamils live without fear in Sinhalese majority areas’. This type of aggression was a major factor in the emergence of the LTTE. It is an open secret that since 1971 more than 95% of recruits to the Sri Lankan armed forces have been Sinhalese, though Sinhalese constitute about 75% of the total population. Even Tamils living in Sinhalese-majority areas have little chance of joining the armed forces. So much for the security Tamils enjoy in the Sinhalese majority areas.
Sachi Sri Kantha
[Asiaweek, May 17, 1991]
Violating the Seventh Commandment
While Eelam was being subjected to aerial terror by the Sri Lankan army acting under the orders of the then Commander in Chief – President Premadasa and his second in command, Ranjan Wijeratne, the 41st American President George Bush was splitting hairs on the issue of how to tackle the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Can the US government legally assassinate Saddam Hussein was a prime issue of discussion in the American media. I think that this issue is pertinent to the Eelam scene as well, since Pirabhakaran has been accused by his adversaries for violating the Seventh Commandment, viz. ‘Thou shall not kill’.
I reproduce a one-page commentary [‘Saddam in the Cross Hairs’] of George J. Church which appeared in the Time magazine, before the commencement of Gulf War. It deals with how the US policy makers viewed the situation of ordering a hit on Saddam Hussein.
“ ‘No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination’. That policy has been affirmed by four successive Presidents – Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush – and enshrined in Executive Order 12333, issued in 1981 and still in effect. Within the Executive Branch, that order has the full force of law. So the US government could not legally kill Saddam Hussein, even if the dictator’s death would stave off or shorten a Middle East War.
Or could it? Yes, say some legal experts. In their opinion, a hit on Saddam could be accomplished in ways that did not violate the letter of the order (the spirit is another question). Simple though it seems to be, the order leaves room for argument.
To begin with, what exactly is ‘assassination’? Since the Executive Order offers no definition, presumably standard general concepts would apply. The favorite definition of Russell Bruemmer, former general counsel of the CIA, is ‘the premeditated killing of a specifically targeted individual for political purposes’. He and others contend, however, that such killing is sometimes allowed under international law.
The obvious case is open war, in which anyone exercising command responsibility becomes a legitimate target. As unquestioned commander of the Iraqi armed forces, Saddam Hussein would presumably qualify as much as Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto did, whose plane was shot down by US pilots in 1943 in a premeditated, specifically targeted and quite legal killing.
How about an undeclared war? That raises the problem of the legitimacy of the war itself. Abraham Sofaer, former legal counsel to the State Department, and others advance this argument: Article 51 of the United Nations Charter recognizes the right of self-defense against armed attack, not only for the victim nation but also for others coming to its aid. Kuwait has appealed for help under Article 51, and the UN Security Council has in effect underwritten that appeal by passing resolutions condemning Iraq. Thus the US could legitimately strike Iraq and exercise all the rights of a belligerent, including the right to kill the enemy commander, Saddam.
When General Michael Dugan boasted that if war came, American planes would probably target Saddam, his family and mistress, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney fired him as Air Force Chief of Staff. Cheney told reporters that Dugan’s strategy was ‘potentially a violation’ of the Executive Order. But a senior official in the Pentagon argues that if General Dugan had left Saddam’s family and mistress out of it – better yet, if he had simply said the target was Iraqi command and control – his statements ‘would have been OK’.
Some experts further argue that an indirect hit on Saddam could be justified in situations short of general war. They contend that terrorism can be viewed as a species of armed attack, legitimizing self-defense in the form of military action against terrorists and their sponsors. That was the justification for the 1986 US air raid against Libya, during which planes hit several places where Muammar Gaddafi was known to have lived. Planners insisted that they wee not targeting Gaddafi – that might have been a bit too close to assassination – but aiming at terrorist command-and-control centers. If Gaddafi had happened to be in one – well, too bad.
Late last year the Justice Department reviewed how the Executive Order might apply to US-supported coups. Its conclusions are secret. But former CIA counsel Bruemmer has publicly voiced an opinion that the order ‘does not prohibit US officials from encouraging and supporting a coup, even when there is a likelihood of violence and a high probability that there will be casualties among opponents of the coup’. So long as the US does not approve specific plans for the killing of individuals, he says, ‘the prohibition against assassination has not been violated’.
Again if the government should determine that these arguments are invalid? Simple: just change the order. That can be done ‘at the whim of the President’, says Michael Glennon, professor of law at the University of California, Davis. Capitol Hill sources assert that President Bush could issue a rewritten order, or, more likely, an ‘exception’ to the standing one, and legally keep it secret. The only way to prevent that would be to write a prohibition against assassinations into law. After Congressional investigations in the 1970s turned up evidence of CIA-sponsored assassination plots, attempts were made to enact such a law. But they failed, says one legislator, because ‘nobody was prepared to say right out that assassination could never be US policy…”
[Time magazine, October 8, 1990, p.29]
From the January 1991 showering of bombs and missiles targeted to Baghdad during the Gulf War, one cannot infer that the American policy makers made valiant efforts to avoid a hit on Saddam Hussein. On the contrary, the wily Iraqi leader escaped death largely due to his protective barriers. Similarly, the physical survival of Pirabhakaran into the 21st century should be attributed to his well-conceived protection protocols. Available records show [see for instance, The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon – part 1] that the Indian army and Sri Lankan army had plotted to hit him fatally. Thus, if Pirabhakaran is accused of violating the Seventh Commandment, one can opine that being a leader of an army trying to protect the Tamils, what he had done with his suicide bombers was to neutralize the command-and control centers of aerial terror.
The critics of Pirabhakaran, due to their ignorance on military knowledge, have failed to study why the use of suicide bombers became an important weapon for Pirabhakaran’s army. Apart from boosting the sagging morale of Tamils suffering from aerial terror, an intelligent military leader would have to interdict the supply routes servicing the adversary’s army. Blocking the land route to Jaffna served this purpose, effectively, but partially. The sea route to Jaffna was available to the Sri Lankan army, in addition to the costlier aerial route. The Eelam leader specifically targeted the sea-route, supplying the armed forces stationed in the Northern region with the suicide bombers.
Until now, I have not cited any LTTE sources, but for confirming this conjecture, I provide details on suicide bombers which appeared in the LTTE publication, Kalhaththil (In the Battle Front) of July 29, 1999, who engaged the Sri Lankan forces between 1987 and 1995. In this eulogy to the LTTE martyrs, it was reported that from July 5, 1987 to May 29, 1999, the number of Black Tigers who had achieved martyrdom stood at 147. Among these 147 individuals, men accounted for 110 and women made up the balance 37. Ninety two of the Black Tigers belonged to the ‘Sea Black Tigers’ and 55 were categorized as ‘Land Black Tigers’.
The dates of military operations as well as the locations and the names of Black Tigers who took part were reported as follows:
1987 July 5: Nelliaddy – Capt.Miller
1990 July 10: Sea Tigers in Valvettithurai – Major Kantharupan, Capt.Colin, Capt.Vinoth
1990 November 23: Mankulam – Lt.Col.Borg
1991 March 19: Silavaththai – Dumbo
1991 May 4: Sea Tigers in Point Pedro – Capt.Jayanthan, Capt.Sithambaram
1993 August 26: Kilali – [cadre not identified]
1993 August 29: Sea Tigers in Point Pedro – Kadalarasan, Pugalarasan
1993 November 11: Poonagari – Major Ganes, Capt.Gobi
1993 November 11: Palali airbase – Kalai Alagan, Mathinilavan, Senkannan, Karikalan, Sivayogan, Nallathambi, Seeralan, Kannan, Senthamil Nambi, Iyannar, Veeramani, Sivaranjan
1994 August 2: Palai airbase – Major Jayanthan, Thilagan, Seran, Capt.Navaratnam, Lt.Reagan
1994 August 10: Sea Tiger operation – Capt.Angaiyarkanni [first woman Black Sea Tiger]
1994 October 19: attack on Sagaravardhana ship – Lt.Col. Nalayini, Major Nangai, Capt.Vaaman, Capt.Lakshman
1994 November 8: Vettrilaikerni – [cadre not identified]
1995 April 18: Trincomalee harbor, attack on Ranasuru and Sooraiya ships – Kathiravan, Thanigaimaran, Mathusha, Santha
1995 July 16: Kankesanthurai harbor – Major Thangan, Major Senthaalan, Capt.Thamilini
1995 September 3: Pulmoddai beach – Nagulan, Kannalan
1995 September 10: Kankesanthurai harbor – Aruljothi, Mohan, Kumar
1995 September 20: Kankesanthurai harbor, attack on Lanka Mudhitha ship – four cadres including Kannalan Siva
1995 October 2: Battle at Mullaitivu sea – Major Arumai, Capt.Thanigai
1995 October 17: Trincomalee harbor – Ruban, Sivakami, Sivasunthar
1995 October 29: accident at Alaveddi, on their way to Palali – Govindan, Venudas, Agathi, Bradman, Nilavan, Sasikumar, Kesivan
1995 December 5: Batticaloa, Puthukudiyirupu camp – Major Rangan
The eulogy of Kalhaththil which I studied had listed the Black Tiger operations only upto the end of 1995. It also noted the 1999 May 29 assassination of Razeek (an accomplice of the Sri Lankan army in Batticaloa) by a Black Tiger, Arasappan.
Compliments from Critics
It tickles my funny bone when, even Pirabhakaran’s virulent critics pay him compliments occasionally in a masked manner. I provide just two recent examples, which have appeared in the Island (Colombo) newspaper. In an opinion-piece with the title, ‘Why can’t LTTE be defeated?’, Mr. N.B. Kiriella from Colombo had observed,
“…Our armed forces have been provided with good amount of modern equipment such as guns, high speed gun boats, fighter/unmanned spy planes, trucks, bulldozers, body armour, heavy duty trucks for movement of artillery etc. as opposed to the LTTE who lack most of the terms mentioned above. I have on more than one occasion witnessed on TV news LTTE cadres clad in slippers firing their guns with one hand whilst holding the sarong with the other. I shudder to think what havoc LTTE would have caused if they were in possession of just one fighter plane…” [Island, May 18, 2001]
One can only pity Mr. Kiriella. If what he has seen on the Sri Lankan TV makes him ‘shudder’ [viz. the cavalier fashion in which ‘LTTE cadres clad in slippers firing their guns with one hand whilst holding the sarong with the other’], he should not be dumb to comprehend the martial acumen of Pirabhakaran, who leads these cadres, is of a caliber which is tough to match.
Here is a portion of a recent editorial which appeared in the Island newspaper of June 13, entitled, ‘Bread or Palaces?’ The focus of this editorial was the flawed policies of Chandrika Kumaratunga, the current President.
“…Flogging the UNP for her failure to end the ‘War’ during the last seven years is unlikely to convince even the staunchest of PA supporter. She tried to end it by negotiations and by war but failed in both attempts.
Colossal defence expenditure was incurred, much more than what the UNP spent, during the seven PA years. The military strategies adopted were clearly wrong. The resources available to hold Jaffna-Vavuniya road were not sufficient and military commanders who said so were sidelined and sent into retirement. The policy of holding ‘real estate’ rejected by astute commanders like General Kobbekaduwe was ignored. Deputy Minister General Ratwatte and some of his top commanders who were in command while our forces suffered the greatest defeats are still in key posts.
The negotiated settlement held out by the PA – the draft constitutional amendment – has been a non-starter from the very beginning. Prabhakaran having rejected it outright…” [Island editorial, June 13, 2001]
The only sound inference one can draw from these observations is that if Chandrika’s policies have recorded repeated failures, Pirabhakaran must be doing something flawless with his army.
The much quoted euphemistic comment about ‘holding real estate’ which has been circulating in the Sri Lankan media for the past decade also need some explanation. The Sri Lankan army, with all its resources, has ceded a sizeable portion of land in the Tamil territory of the island beyond its retrieval capacity. Pirabhakaran’s army has captured it outrightly. This development would have surprised the Jaffna chronicler Robert Holmes very much. The moribund Sri Lankan state will never be the same again, as it was 20 years ago.
Sachi Sri Kantha
[19 June 2001]