Fighting is heating up in Sri Lanka as the government wages what the U.N. says may be a “final confrontation” with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who are now cornered in a small piece of coastal territory — along with 100,000 civilians.
The Tamil Tigers have long fought for an independent state for Sri Lanka’s Tamil ethnic minority.
Maura R. O’Connor of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting writes that regardless of the outcome of the battle with the Tigers, peace may not be in Sri Lanka’s future. She explains the tensions between Sri Lanka’s various paramilitary groups and the impact of military operations in the north.
Sri Lanka: Paramilitary Politics
Driving through the narrow streets of towns in the east it begins to seem like every concrete surface, telephone pole, or fence is plastered with political posters or covered in spray painted acronyms: “TMVP,” “SLFP,” “UNP,” “SLMC,” “TURLF,” “EROS,” “UPFA,” “TDNA,” “TELO.”
To an outsider, some of the graffiti is just cryptic code. No one except a local who lived through last May’s volatile elections would know that the image of an apple followed by an “X” is the faded remnant of a political alliance between the Ealam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), Ealam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), and the People’s Liberation Organization for Tamil Ealam (PLOTE).
These last three political parties have also acted as paramilitary forces in the north and east of the country for decades.
PLOTE, for instance, split with the LTTE in the early 1980s and aligned itself with government security forces who gave them weapons, and helped to run counter-insurgency operations by identifying and targeting LTTE members and sympathizers within the Tamil community. By many accounts, their practices were horrendous, especially in the northern town of Vavuniya. Throughout the 1990s and until a few years ago, they were accused of running torture camps, committing abductions, and conscripting children, much like the LTTE forces they claimed to be an alternative to.[…]
Today, PLOTE has about 1,500 permanent cadres in the north and east. But the group fervently denies being a government paramilitary organization and instead argues that it is a pro-democratic, independent political party, which, as reported in Sri Lanka’s government owned newspaper The Daily News, “entered mainstream politics over two decades ago and are presently involved in helping people overcome problems through accepted democratic norms.” […]
I went to a PLOTE office a few days ago to meet with a member of their political wing. The only guns to be seen were those held by two government army soldiers who reclined in chairs within the perimeter of the compound. But inside, the group’s violent history was on display in the form of walls covered by dozens of photographs of slain PLOTE leaders. Garlands of marigolds were carefully strung across some of the photographs and electric “candles” attached to the walls burned in silent memorial. Most of the men in the pictures had been killed by LTTE bombs or assassins bullets.
My conversation with the PLOTE member took on an unexpected turn within minutes. I had fully prepared myself to listen to extensive hyperbole about the political aims of the group, the many ways in which they were benefiting the community, and future plans to win the hearts and minds of the people in alliance with the Sri Lankan government. Instead, he laid out a picture of the current situation in the east that was so despairing I left an hour and a half later with an unshakeable sense of gloom.
He began by saying that things are “almost worse than they were before” when the LTTE controlled the east. Today, he said, there is a feeling of absolute censorship and fear among political leaders and community members and even local police who are terrified of crossing Eastern Province Chief Minister Pillayan’s forces or his rival Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (alias: Karuna). Both Pillayan and Karuna were former LTTE members but split from the group in 2004 to create the government backed party called the TMVP.
“If we want to even travel somewhere, than the TMVP cadres will ask us, ‘Why are you coming here?’” he said. “We will have the police with us and they ask the police also! ‘Why are you coming here?’ A lot of people are missing, it’s still happening. Last week, a six-year-old child was kidnapped and murdered… Everyone knows it was TMVP. But those accused in the case were killed right away. These people were killed because if they are alive, a lot of people will be implicated if the inquiry went anywhere. This is the example of what is happening.”
Did he think that Pillayan had genuinely given up his arms, as reported in the newspapers last month? “Officially, they say they have handed some weapons,” he said. “But if you go to a camp anywhere, still they have weapons. There are all sorts of things going on. We cannot express ourselves openly because there is no security.”
He went on to describe the widespread helplessness the community in the east is experiencing as they hear about thousands of fellow Tamils being killed from the current military operations in the north. “Our people are all tired, they are fed up,” he said. “They need a peaceful life. Ok, you have to defeat terrorists. We accept that. We will help to defeat the LTTE. But people who are suffering wounds, people who are in camps in Vavuniya, we have to help them too. These people lived under LTTE because they didn’t have any choice, if they didn’t they wouldn’t have survived.”
To read more, see the original post.
The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.