Sri Lanka: ‘End of war’ stores up major new conflicts

Tamil people must have right to decide own future

The understanding given by the Sri Lankan Army-controlled media that the war is almost finished, and the victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is just a matter of time, is the kind of falsehood practiced in all wars. It is, however, pertinent to emphasise that the LTTE is facing defeat in the present phase of the decades-long civil war.

The claims of the army commanders that the battle zone is restricted to an increasingly small geographical area with the LTTE operations confined to between 30 and 50 square kilometres, is only one interpretation of the reality on the ground. To think that the war with the LTTE – a heavily armed guerrilla force – will come to an end with such strategies is like believing Jehovah’s Witnesses predictions about the end of the world.

The course of events in the Eastern Province of the country, after the so-called victory over the LTTE, is just an indication of the complexity of a war conducted against a guerrilla force fighting a national liberation struggle. The defection of former LTTE leader in that area, Karuna, undoubtedly gave the Sri Lankan Army a huge advantage. The ‘pacification’ of the East, with elections carried through often literally at gunpoint, has contributed to the pushing back of the LTTE in the North.

The powers that be on an international scale want to believe the Sri Lankan Army propaganda in the hope that the “terrorist LTTE” headache will be eliminated and they can get on with doing business here. For the ‘Big Brother’ of the region, India, it is urgent that the war comes to an end because of the explosions within its southern areas especially in Tamil Nadu.

Human disaster

‘Eelam War 4’, as it has been labeled by the Sri Lankan media, is now getting dangerously close to civilians trapped in the war zone. A few days ago, the 55th Division of the SLA claimed the sinking of 10 boats operating under the command of the ’Sea Tiger’ leader, Soosai. This is another indication that the LTTE is prepared to fight on till the bitter end, regardless of civilian casualties. Independent estimates say that there are still nearly 200,000 people living – or rather, waiting to die – in the war zone. They are in the unprecedented situation of having to live amongst the heavy military equipment, such as mortars and other artillery, which the LTTE has housed in the area and which constitutes their last hope.

It is not difficult to understand in this situation why the LTTE is not allowing civilians to go out of the battle zone. Maybe most of the civilians have even decided to stay with the LTTE to the end, as each of the people has lost some of their nearest and dearest in the 30 year bloody war. The choice of going out of the war zone is like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. The fate of people who have gone over to the so-called safe areas controlled by the SLA is like walking into concentration camps. Every Tamil is regarded as an LTTE suspect.

Tension mounts as the JVP and the Sinhala chauvinist government are discussing Sinhala settlers being implanted in the North of Sri Lanka. Already 40,000 villagers in the ’border areas’ of Sri Lanka’s South have been given arms by the government to protect themselves. Such measures are a guarantee of further outbursts of violence and a continuation of the national conflict in Sri Lanka in one form or another.

The euphoria of the envisaged “victory” is already in the air. All the hard-line communal groups are campaigning with a propaganda which says this military victory will be a victory of the Sinhalese over the Tamils. They also describe this as a rare occasion – Sri Lanka being unified by a Sinhalese ruler.

Given the situation on the ground, it cannot be ruled out that the SLA will move in to clear the LTTE-controlled areas sooner rather than later. But the big question remains what happens after that. Even if one can say that the LTTE will be defeated militarily, it is by no means certain that they will be defeated politically, especially with the growing concerns and support that is witnessed in Tamil Nadu and among the Tamil Diaspora around the world.

In the south of the country, the extreme Sinhala nationalist forces are working overtime to thwart any attempt to introduce any substantial devolution of power. The “majoritarian Sinhala Buddhist” campaign will get shriller as the war victory arrives. The pseudo Marxist, Janata Vimukthi Perumuna (People’s Liberation Front – JVP) has already started its gutter-stirring politics by building resistance to any power devolution. It hopes to come back to the limelight using that as its core issue at the present time. A section of the SLA will strongly support this idea.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa will have to ride new rough waters as he prepares to address the post-war situation. What is his offer to the Tamil national minority? He is already under extreme pressure from India and other western powers. Military victory over the LTTE is likely to be short-lived for him as he will open up new political battle zones very soon.

All Tamils, including Tamil-speaking Muslims, in Sri Lanka must be finding it hard to comprehend what the three decades of armed struggle has achieved for them. It is easy to point to the follies and the blind alley of individual terrorism and armed guerrilla tactics in the modern context and the lack of appeal by the ’Tigers’ for mass struggle against the regime. Nevertheless the primary responsibility for the disastrous war must be seen in the inability of the capitalist class to solve the basic issues affecting ordinary working and poor people, including granting the democratic right of Tamils to self-determination. The history of this in Sri Lanka, especially since independence from the British, is glaringly manifested. The early leaders of the Tamils, during the 1950s, asked only for equal rights for the Tamil language. This was not acceptable to the Sinhala capitalist class. At the same time, betrayals by dilly-dallying working class leaders have to be equally condemned for not taking up this issue and linking it with the class struggle against imperialism, local capitalists and landlords.

As socialists, we in the United Socialist Party (CWI in Sri Lanka) have taken a principled stand, from the very inception of our work, to defend the right to self-determination of Tamil people as a major step ton the road towards solving the national question. More concretely, at present we are campaigning first and foremost to stop the biggest human disaster happening to the war trapped civilians in the Mulaittivu jungles. The Sri Lankan government has pushed forward to finish the war; they have promised again and again to end it before the Sri Lankan New Year in April. Nearly 200,000 people lives are at stake. Now the working class internationally must organise their voice against this mass slaughter. Already tremendous support is building among the working class and ordinary people in India through a campaign launched under the name “Stop the Slaughter of Tamils” (See article of 19 March on this site). We appeal to workers and other oppressed sections internationally to join this campaign and fight to end this war immediately. Take up the fight also to win genuine democratic rights for all in Sri Lanka.

Provincial elections

The last provincial council elections were held on14 February in central and north central Sri Lanka. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ‘Sandanaya Alliance’ managed to win easily with nearly 65% of votes cast. Rajapaksa is still popular among the Sinhala voters because of the prospect of a war victory. But it is clear that the majority of Tamil and Muslim voters have not voted for Rajapaksa.

In Kandy district, for example, Sandanaya has not got a singleTamil or Muslim member amongst the 18 councillors they won. In Nuwara Eliya, the unprincipled party of Thondeman claims to represent the super-exploited plantation workers there, but he also supports the Rajapaksa government. It had 7 councillors but this time it has been reduced to three. Another ally of Rajapasa’s, ‘Sandanaya Chandrasekaran’, had three councillors. This time it has been reduced to nil. All this shows the anger against the Rajapaksa regime by ordinary Tamil people who live totally outside the North East.

In these elections the USP contested 3 out of 5 districts. There were two other left parties who also contested. In general in the last many elections the USP has managed to come in 4th place. Similarly, in this election also the USP has come 4th and 5th. This is in spite of having leading candidates on the list held in prison on trumped up charges and only released after the election was over!

In fact, we got more votes than other left organisations. For example, in Nuwara Eliya the USP received 688 votes, the ’Left Front’ (of the Nava Sama Samaja Party) won 118 and the Socialist Equality Party got 98 votes. In Matale district, the Left Front contested alone and they got just 60 votes.

Even though we are not happy contesting elections in a semi-dictatorial situation, because of the lack of a working class and left alternative in the country, we have been compelled to contest the elections again, this time in Western Province (Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara districts) on April 25. The Left Front and the SEP are contesting again but only in the Colombo district.

In this election, the USP is campaigning above all to stop the war but also to defend the right of self-determination of the Tamil people, the freedom to live and to form joint trade union councils to fight against cuts and win the demands of the working class. The recent discussions with the International Monetary Fund about a $1.9 billion hand-out also involved promises of austerity for workers. Big political and class battles could open up quite quickly, given the major difficulties of capitalism locally and internationally.

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March 2009