By Shivanthi Ranasinghe
When a foreign delegate lands in Sri Lanka, the Tamil National Alliance wastes no time in lamenting to them about the delay in installing the new Constitution. When Prince Edward, the Earl of Essex, came on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II for the 70th Independence celebrations, it was no different.
TNA spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran whined about the snail’s pace at which the “problems of our people” are being sorted by the “lethargic” Government. Prince Edward listened very patiently before responding that the Royal Family would support the British Government’s stand. Hence, it would be pertinent to understand the British Government’s stand.
The former British High Commissioner liked to call Britain, Sri Lanka’s traditional friend. Queen Elizabeth’s message, too, articulated her hope that the relationship between the UK and Sri Lanka “continue to flourish in the years to come”. History however disagrees that Britain has ever been Sri Lanka’s friend.
One need not travel all the way to the 1815 great betrayal by Great Britain or the Uva-Wellassa freedom fight that was inhumanly suppressed by the British. One need not even visit the systematic censure of our language, culture and heritage to the point where our own country’s name and our national flag were almost erased from our memory. The UK’s conduct in the last decade is enough to understand what kind of friend Britain has been to us.
In 2009, when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were about to be decapitated, the British Government brought immense pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to back off. The then British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, came in person with his French counterpart Bernard Kounchner. Eventually, the war time President Mahinda Rajapaksa had to remind the duo that Sri Lanka is no longer a British colony.
Had they succeeded in halting the military efforts, it would have given the LTTE much needed respite to recuperate from the severe beating they were getting. Then, would Sri Lanka have ever experienced peace as we do now since 2009? This is extremely doubtful. Had the LTTE survived as the British Government intended, how many lives would have been destroyed from that point onwards? After all the 1987 Indian misadventure offers a real life example.
When Rajiv Gandhi interfered and twisted the then Sri Lanka Government’s arm into halting the military operations, the only purpose it served was to give the LTTE another two decades of life. The controversial 13th Amendment that the Indian Government twisted the Sri Lanka Government’s arm into accepting has been an absolute white elephant. When the British government sent their foreign secretary on his despicable mission, did they understand the consequences they were asking us to bear?
Indeed, during the last 30 years of terrorism, the successive British Governments simply turned a Nelson’s eye to the LTTE atrocities and their blatant crimes against humanity. Except for the occasional mild condemnation, Britain remained stubbornly oblivious to the ever increasing atrocities of the LTTE against hapless Sri Lankan civilians. Though the LTTE became a proscribed organization, its key leaders, such as Sri Lankan born Anton Balasingham and his Australian wife Adele, continued to retain their British citizenship.
Even to date, Adele, who has extensively documented and published her role in the LTTE, is living in Britain free from any persecution. This at a time when the British Government has joined the lead forces of the international community demanding accountability from the political and military hierarchy who gave decisive leadership to end terrorism in Sri Lanka.
This is deeply shameful conduct by the British Government. As revealed by Lord Naseby in 2017 in British Parliament, Sri Lanka forces did not turn the warfront into a killing field. They had in fact absorbed far more casualties than they ought to have, so as to maximize civilians’ survival. His source was the dispatches sent from the British High Commission in Sri Lanka by its defense attaché Lt. Col. Anton Gash during this volatile period. When cross checked with other reliable sources, he found Gash’s assertions correct.
It is whilst having this information in hand that the former British Premier David Cameron turned his visit to Sri Lanka in 2013 into a media freak show. He came as a delegate of the 23rd Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that was held in Colombo.
He broke all protocol expected from a State Head as he ran to Jaffna and back. What he actually achieved from this orchestrated circus is anyone’s guess.
It is interesting that during the three decades of terrorism, the ones who suffered the most were the Tamils caught in the terrorist-infested areas. At one time, it was estimated that over 5,000 children – some as young as eight-nine – were held forcibly for combat purposes. During LTTE’s time, abductions were rampant of youngsters, opponents and those who failed to comply with the LTTE. Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, who played a crucial role in the war, recalls the daily oppression ordinary Tamils in these areas suffered. He explained that all Tamils without exception had to pay daily “taxes” to the LTTE. If they failed, the punishment was so harsh that many opted to commit suicide than face the LTTE’s wrath.
At a recent interview with an international media channel, a former terrorist belonging to a rival group of the LTTE charged that the LTTE is responsible for the disappearances of more than 30,000 Tamils. He challenged whether the LTTE ex-cadres can account for at least 30 of them.
The LTTE is also responsible for wiping out almost the entire Tamil political leadership. Today, all that remains are the likes of R. Sambanthan and Sumanthiran. They were so intimidated by the LTTE that they accepted the terrorist organization as the Tamil’s sole representative, whilst becoming its political proxy. Sumanthiran who complained bitterly to Prince Edward about the PTA prisoners, involuntarily disappeared persons and land acquisitions never uttered a word when the LTTE committed all these sins.
Interestingly, it was not only the Tamils in these areas that suffered. Even those living in countries like the UK were caught in the extremists’ tentacles. They were regularly forced to fund the terror machine with arms, propaganda and to buy legislators.Though of Sri Lankan origin, they have since become British subjects and yet the British Government failed to protect them — the basic obligation of any Government. Had they executed their responsibility, they would have withered a terror network long before 2009, and would have saved so many lives.
Ironically, as Sri Lanka celebrated ridding British occupation, in London a raucous group carrying the LTTE flag, shouted slogans such as that Prabakaran was their leader. The Sri Lanka defence attaché Brigadier Priyanka Fernando was seen reacting to the hooligans by drawing his finger across his throat. The two British MPs, Labour Party MP, Siobhain McDonagh and Joan Ryan, formerly of the Labour Party parliamentary group, current policy advisor to UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum lost no time in condemning him and asking for his expulsion.
They claim the Tamil community congregated peacefully outside the Sri Lanka High Commission to protest the on-going persecution of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Brigadier Fernando’s gesture was intimidating and therefore inappropriate and unacceptable. Curiously, they leave out the fact that this “peaceful” group was carrying the LTTE flag — a group proscribed by the British Government. The British Police just stood and watched. Prabakaran was a psychopath who destroyed an entire nation for three decades. Claiming him as their leader is nothing less than provocation. How come these two do not find these inappropriate and unacceptable?
Furthermore, they claim that the Tamils are being persecuted in Sri Lanka. When Prabakaran was alive, Tamil children were forced into slavery and to becoming cannon fodder. Now they go to school. Is there a better example to show life for Tamils with and without the LTTE?
Sumanthiran need not worry. The Earl of Essex, as a guest of the Sri Lanka Government, had to be diplomatic. Hence, his cryptic message that the Royal Family would support the British Government’s stand. In other words, Sumanthiran has the support of the Royal Family.