Implement CFA, or quit Jaffna
By: J. S. Tissainayagam
Ever since the LTTE’s Batticaloa-Amparai commander, Karuna, decided
to raise the flag of mutiny in March-April 2004, the east has witnessed an
orgy of killing. A contest that began by intelligence agents of the two sides
– the Sri Lanka military and the LTTE – targeting each other, escalated till
any member of the rival’s forces was fair game for the others’ assassins.
Today however, the exchanges have taken on a totally new dimension
with the murder of Batticaloa District’s TNA parliamentarian, Joseph
There was however a distinct change in the nature of the violence as well
as its theatre of operation after the recent presidential elections. On the
one hand, the nature of the violence took on a qualitatively different form
with the Tigers using claymore mines to target the government’s forces on
land, while in the waters they surrounded a navy vessel and attacked it.
Second, the venue for the most intense skirmishes shifted from the east
to the north.
It has been stated before that the most important lesson arising from the
nearly 100% boycott of the polls by the Tamil people of the north, is not
that it was an undemocratic exercise, but that it was a very powerful
demonstration by the LTTE of its determination to enforce its will on the
civilian population three years after the ceasefire was declared and at a
time when there was complacence, both in the south and within the
international community, of war-weariness emerging among the Tamils.
It is also interesting to note that the boycott was enforced by various
organisations that called themselves civic bodies, but which the south and
the international community interpret as front organisations of the Tigers.
The almost 25 years of combat has led to certain patterns emerging in the
way the government and LTTE engage each other: the LTTE attacks the
military, and the military goes for the civilians. This has led to the build-up
of a great deal of frustration and anger in the civilian population over the
past three years, which is today at boiling point.
Against this background, the emerging battle plan appears to be: (1)
urban guerrilla operations where the Tigers ambush vehicles transporting
military personnel using mines, or assassinate them selectively and (2)
civilian-based protests through strikes and other acts of civil disobedience
that paralyse the government in the northeast.
What we are also witnessing in the northeast today is a consequence of
another pattern that has etched itself in the Tamil mind over the past
quarter century of war: the only language the south understands is
violence. And if something needs to be said unequivocally to the regime in
Colombo, it has t be accompanied by violence.
With successive governments baulking on implementing the contents of
the CFA, this column has consistently argued for transforming the
struggle to one which emphasises community participation through
strikes, shut-downs, boycotts and picketing so that governance in the
northeast would be paralysed. The logic of this is while it would not be an
outright violation of the CFA it brings sufficient pressure to bear upon the
government to understand the gravity of undermining the ceasefire.
In the September-October 2004 issue of The Northeastern Monthly this
column said, “…Sustained non-cooperation, such as the hartals in the
northeast have rendered dividends in the past. They could be tried out,
especially if it affects communities other than the Tamils…” and in the
November issue of the same year, “Meanwhile, concerted political action
could be taken to disrupt the smooth functioning of government in areas
of the northeast, especially nerve centres like Vavuniya and Trincomalee.
Hartals have paralysed provincial towns before. Not only will it paralyse
administration but the commercial interests that use the northeast to make
Clashes between students of the University of Jaffna and the military on
two successive days in December were compared to the Intifada of the
Palestinians that was launched in the late 1980s. The Intifada was the
consequence of Israel’s disinterest in implementing the Camp David
accords of 1978. Among the accord’s provisions was establishing a
transitional government in the areas occupied by Israel since the 1967
war and implementing a plan for self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip. But when Israel reneged on its commitments, backing it with severe
repression and terrorising the civilian population in the area, it resulted in
a popular outburst of violence that lasted years with civilians stoning and
lobbing Molotov cocktails at the Israeli army positions.
What is also important to note is that the Hamas was formed in 1987 as a
consequence of the Intifada that has since continued to target the Israeli
army and use suicide bombing as one of its main weapons of waging war.
Another model that could be compared with profit is the struggle in South
Africa. Quoted below is an extract from this column on the black struggle
against the apartheid regime that appeared in the September-October
2004 issue of The Northeastern Monthly: “An example of this is the ‘rolling
demonstrations’ is South Africa. The violence unleashed by sections of
the ANC was supported and enhanced by the civil disobedience and non-
cooperation campaigns carried out by the blacks against their white
masters. Strikes, pickets, go-slows and other actions crippled industry,
agriculture, administration and normal, day-to-day life. Though the South
African state responded to the campaign conventionally at first by using
the law, police, prisons and the armed forces to overcome the resistance,
it was no avail.
“This was because the South African economy and political institutions
could not function due to the widespread civil disobedience and selective
violence. The ruling classes were further retarded by the economic
sanctions. Collectively, these measures took a terrible toll on the stability
of the state. The pressure, assisted no doubt by the presence of Nelson
Mandela, led to President F. W. de Klerk to agree to begin negotiations.”
It has to be said that Jaffna and the northeast in general do not form Sri
Lanka’s commercial hub and sustained civil disobedience will not achieve
the results it did in South Africa. But on the other hand, if shutdowns,
boycotts, strikes etc. paralyse any part of a country, the governance,
human rights and business related issues they throw up can be of great
consequence to Colombo.
Concerted non-cooperation in the northeast has to be also seen in the
context of agitation in Tamil Nadu against the Sri Lanka government. It
could be said that for the first time since India became physically
entangled in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict by sending the IPKF, followed by
the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi has there been such vocal
denunciation of a regime in Colombo. It seemed to transport one back to
the early 1980s, when political parties in Tamil Nadu competed with each
other to express opprobrium at the Sri Lanka government.
But while violence and agitation have been upped to make the LTTE’s
message to Colombo sharper, the question is: what is the reason for the
The LTTE has stated ever since the CFA was signed in 2002 that it
wanted all the clauses of the CFA implemented thoroughly. After the
Karuna rebellion, the emphasis shifted to a particular section of the CFA –
Clause 1.8 of the document, on the disarmament of paramilitary groups,
but there was no change in the overall objective of implementing the CFA
But the latest increase in violence has been accompanied by a significant
change in the demands attached to it. There have been rounds of
handbills, signed by shadowy organisations, calling for the Sri Lankan
military to quit Jaffna. In other words, the violence is not to tell the
government that the consequences of not implementing the CFA would be
bloodshed and mayhem. It is that if the CFA is not implemented the army
would be forced to leave Jaffna.
Let us not forget that after 25 years of war, the maximum the Rajapakse
government is willing to offer (devolution within a unitary state) is no
different from what was promised in the Indo-Lanka Accord, which the
LTTE rejected and fought on without a compromise for a separate state.
A compromise was discussed leading to the Oslo Declaration to find a
formula that would ensure internal self-determination through federal
structures within a united Sri Lanka. But that is evidently non-negotiable
as far as Rajapakse and his allies are concerned and hence, inevitably,
the shift in the objectives of the Tigers. [Courtesy: NorthEastern]