Another year has passed since the Sri Lankan Government declaring the end of armed conflict between the government forces and the LTTE, a military organization, which by May 2009 had been categorized as one of the most ruthless terrorist entities in the world. Many countries including the USA, UK, Canada and the European Union had banned the organization by calling it a terrorist group. India was the first country to do so in 1992, six years before Sri Lanka proscribed it in 1998.
Ever since the military defeat of the LTTE, North and South were divided on who has the right to commemorate the dead. While it was banned to hold commemorative events in the North by displaying Tiger Flag of the LTTE or the posters of LTTE Leader V. Prabhakaran since 2009 to 2015 January, the Yahapalana Government slowly adopted a policy of being neutral.
While the celebration of war victory was stopped where the victory parades displayed the military strength of the security forces, fallen heroes are being commemorated solemnly. The Government also remained noncommittal to religious ceremonies and peaceful commemorations held in the North. However, the ban on displaying LTTE flags or posters of Prabhakaran remains unchanged.
While many ordinary people remain unenthusiastic about these commemorations or celebrations beyond simple religious activities, groups with ulterior motives and political agendas continue to capitalize on the dead. One such incident transpired last week when reports circulated about one politician of the Northern Provincial Council moving a resolution to commemorate 18 May as the ‘Tamil Genocide Day’.
This was questioned at the weekly Cabinet media briefing held in Colombo on Thursday (17) when Co-Cabinet Spokesperson Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne announced that the Government will remain neutral with regard to commemoration activities in the North on Friday (18).
The topic led to a heated debate between Dr. Senaratne and several journalists at the weekly Cabinet media briefing. Following are excerpts of the discussion with regard to the Government’s objective on allowing the North mourn the dead.
Journalist (J): Minister, what is the Government’s stance on the request made by a Northern Province politician who wants to commemorate ‘Tamil Massacre Day’ tomorrow?
Minister (M): There is no issue with that. The JVP commemorates their fallen comrades twice every year.
J: But to call it ‘massacre’? And has it been requested that the day be named a national day of mourning?
M: Well, it was a massacre, wasn’t it? It was an ethnic war, not a foreign invasion. You and some others want to portray it as if it was an invasion and that we got rid of some foreigners. Children from both sides died. Is it your problem that it was Tamil people who died? Is it not a problem when Sinhalese were killed in 1988?
J: I don’t have a problem. But the LTTE was a terrorist organization.
M: So? The JVP was branded as a terrorist organization as well. It was even banned. The people who were killed might have been terrorists for us, but for the people who live in the North, they were parents, siblings, children and relatives.
J: When the war ended, we celebrated the war heroes. We held extravagant ceremonies to celebrate it. What are we going to do now when the people in the North are doing the same thing?
M: Even though we celebrated our soldiers, what are we truly celebrating? That celebration of war heroes also celebrated the deaths of everyone who was murdered. That is why we decided to bring about reconciliation.
J: But it was terrorists who were murdered.
M: Was it only terrorists?
J: Are you saying that other people were also murdered?
M: Clearly. People die in wars, not just terrorists. Everyone knows this. Was it only the JVP rebels who died during the 1971 rebellion? What about in 1988? There is no war without casualties.
J: The JVP and the LTTE are two different organizations. One is an international terrorist organization.
M: Could you tell me the difference between what the late LTTE Leader V. Prabhakaran and the late JVP Leader R. Wijeweera did? What were the differences in the crimes they committed? Tell me who was right and who was wrong?
J: Can the Military Spokesman tell us, at a time when the country is facing war crimes allegations against the Sri Lanka Army, are you saying that the Army killed civilians?
M: No one in the Army will tell you that civilians were not killed during the war. No Army in the world will tell you that. It was a war.
J: This question is to the Military Spokesman.
M: Are there any wars that do not have civilian casualties?
J: Is it right that you say this when we have an international investigation against us?
M: The investigation is against extra-judicial killings and not about what you are saying. A war will have casualties.
J: Military Spokesman, do you accept these claims?
Military Spokesman: I don’t want to get into a confrontation here. I don’t think the Minister was implying anything against the Army. What I understood was that during certain incidents in a war, casualties can occur.
M: The war was fought against terrorism not against the Tamils, please remember that. I have always maintained this stance.
J: When they commemorate their dead, does that not mean that they are commemorating the very people who killed our people in the South?
M: The JVP does the same thing. The JVP says that in 1988 there was a massacre; similarly in the North they say there was a massacre. These are just different views.
J: The current Government stopped the ‘Victory Day’ celebrations. They decided thus saying that if we celebrate that, it would be like celebrating the deaths of thousands. But they are now having a day of mourning?
M: Who are ‘they’?
J: The Northern Provincial Council. Will the Government let them do that?
M: They cannot be taken seriously. When they don’t do enough work, they pass these resolutions, just like the politicians in the South, who use religion and ethnicity to win some votes. Race and religion are strong weapons in the hands of any bankrupt politician.
J: They are saying that they are going to rename roads after fallen LTTE leaders?
M: The Tamil National Alliance will not let that happen.
Even though Minister Senaratne came under severe attack for justifying Northern politicians commemorating LTTE cardres, one really cannot challenge his claim that the surviving parents and children of the dead have a right to mourn.
Political pressure on Government
A day after a commemorative ceremony was held in Mullivaikkal under the patronage of Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, where he called upon the international community to resolve to exert political pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to coax them to fulfil their obligations.
Addressing the memorial event he also said: “The International Community must realize nine years after the war had ended the successive Sri Lankan Governments have continued to keep a determinable group of people, the Tamils under their military control in their area of historical habitation”.
The Chief Minister also read out a six point resolution at the commemorative event in Mullivaikkal which stated;
1. From this year onwards every 18 May in the coming years must be identified as Tamil genocide day.
2. The International Community without delay should set up an International strategic mechanism to ensure justice for the people affected.
3. As we are a group of people who have faced institutional genocide, the International Community must come forward to assure us a sustainable political settlement based on our sovereignty, our homelands and our individuality.
4. Considering the suffering undergone by our community let the International Community identify our suffering as mass disaster situation and arrange the necessary infrastructures to rehabilitate our people by directly helping us.
5. It is our desire that the Armed Forces must withdraw from our areas of traditional habitation. The latest ruse adopted is that the Armed Forces have come forward to shower some facilities and benefits on our people in order to continue to occupy our areas. Let us beware of Trojan gifts.
6. Next year it would be the Tenth anniversary since brutal massacre at Mullivaikkal. Let us dedicate 18 May every year as a day of Mourning and as a symbol of our Unity.
Let us resolve that in the coming years we would bring all interested groups among us together, appoint an appropriate committee devoid of political party affiliations and regional considerations to organize an appropriate day of Remembrance on 18 May in the coming years.
While Wigneswaran and LTTE sympathizers keep on calling it genocide, it remains arguable as it has not yet been proved beyond doubt that the Government had an intention to systematically wipe out Tamils.
However, one thing is clear. That is, Sri Lanka is having a post war scenario where two parties which engaged in an armed war are now in a fully-pledged interpretation war. For nine years, one party interpreted the war as genocide while the other party interprets it as a humanitarian operation. It is also clear that only the extremist groups in the North and the South are involved in this war of interpretations.
Three TNA MPs who took part in the celebration have been sidelined. According to reliable sources, Parliamentarians Mavai Senathirajah, Dr. S. Sivamohan and E. Saravanapavan who were present at the war dead memorial were asked by the organizers to stay away and were not given access to centre stage.
On the other hand, CM Wigneswaran leading the war dead memorial in the absence of prominent Tamil political leaders like Opposition and TNA Leader R. Sampanthan also attests to the fact that even though the moderate Tamil politicians press the Government and International Community to achieve a lasting political solution to the real problems of people in the North and the East, they refrain from activities that promote ideologies and policies of the LTTE. This is quite logical in the present context as anybody who stands for the LTTE will also be liable for the acts of the LTTE in the same manner Sri Lankan Government is liable for the acts of the government forces.
Holding LTTE liable for its activities is a near impossibility as the leaders, and the top hierarchy of the organization, are not amongst the living. The only LTTE leader who is known to be living, Kumaran Pathmanathan, is also under the protective custody. There is also a question whether the real parties to the conflict, other than those who worry about their political future in North and South, have any interest or concerns in these events.
As if to prove this, Army troops serving mullivaikkal areas where the final phase of the humanitarian operations took place in Mullaittivu held a ‘Dansela’ on Friday (18) on behalf of fallen War Heroes and distributed refreshments among all civilians who were mourning their departed ones. The civilians in return, warmly accepted this gesture by the military.
On the directions of Major General Rasika Fernando, General Officer Commanding, 68 Division, troops with the objective of commemorating their fallen ones during the humanitarian operations organized this.
Meanwhile, 12 Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment troops of the 552 Brigade in the 55 Division on the directions of Brigadier Jayantha Gunaratne, General Officer Commanding, 55 Division of the Security Force Headquarters-Jaffna in a ‘Dansela’ offered dairy refreshments to all those returning to Jaffna in vehicles at Iyyakachchi on Friday (18) after memorial events in Vellamullivaikkal and other areas. The event organized to invoke merits to their fallen tri-service comrades had been supported by all ranks serving the 552 Brigade.