The Sri Lankan government is engaged in a war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the north of the country. This year marks its 25th anniversary. This war has cost more than 70,000 lives and billions of rupees of the country’s national wealth.
Both sides have had ups and downs in the conflict and no one has emerged victorious. In 2002 the then prime minister, Ranil Wickramasinghe, and the ‘Tigers’ entered into a ceasefire and the war was halted. Though negotiations were started to find a political solution to the problem they broke down amid accusations by both parties of violating the ceasefire. There was no progress towards negotiations to find a political solution to the Tamil national question. The present president, Mahinda Rajapakse, who came to power in November 2005 on a Sinhala nationalist platform, virtually went back on the ceasefire agreement and again started military attacks in late 2006.
The Sri Lankan military was able to capture Tiger-held areas in the East mainly due to the split in the ranks of the Tigers in that province last year. The president formally abrogated the ceasefire agreement in January this year.
Now the government has started a large-scale military offensive in the North to capture the Tiger stronghold in Wanni and Rajapakse has publicly stated that he wants to get Prabhakaran, the elusive leader of Tamil Tigers, “dead or alive”! This points to the thinking of government leaders that they can crush the Tigers by eliminating their leadership.
However, the present offensive which is in its fourth month now has not yielded any significant gains for the government. The president once spoke about a military victory in the North by the Sri Lankan New Year, which was in mid-April, and the military leaders now give deadlines of August and the end of the year, which indicate that the Sri Lankan military is still far away from capturing the Wanni
The government is hell bent on silencing any opposition to its strategy and programmes. Government and military leaders are labelling left party and trade union activists, human rights campaigners, journalists and media organisations and institutions as ‘traitors to the nation’. Physical attacks and threatening calls are carried out to intimidate such people.
Human rights are violated openly and armed groups closely working with the military are abducting people, mainly Tamils, for ransom. Disappearances, abductions and extra-judicial killings are reported almost everyday, however the government or the police have not taken any meaningful steps to alleviate the situation.
At the moment, the government’s main anger is directed towards the journalists who expose corruption involving top government politicians and military leaders. Twelve journalists, the majority of whom are Tamil, have been killed in the last two and a half years and several others physically attacked. The printing press of one newspaper which is critical of the government was set on fire inside a ‘high security zone’, indicating the military involvement therein. People very much suspect that these death squads operate with the connivance of the defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, a brother of the president who has vociferously denounced all those who utter even a word against the war or corruption involving the government and military leaders.
In the mean time, the economy is in dire straits. The war is eating into the state coffers and the government is very very lavish in spending for the war while the ordinary masses are left to fight a loosing battle for their day to day survival. Inflation was around 24% in the last two years and 23.8% in March of this year according to Sri Lanka’s Central Bank. The price of commodities such as rice and milk powder have sky-rocketed during the last six months and the government has not done anything proper to alleviate the suffering of the people.
While the crisis in the world economy and steep rise in the price of oil have contributed to this situation, people are very much angry about it. They blame the rulers as this is mainly due to the inefficiency and mismanagement on the part of the government, comprised of 108 cabinet ministers, probably the biggest in the world. Nevertheless, the main opposition parties and trade union leaders have done nothing against this situation apart from issuing statements. Most of the trade union leaders are allied with the ruling coalition and they do not want to do anything against the government which according to them is engaged in a war to save the country from “terrorism” (of the ‘Tigers’). The working and poor people have been lured to support the war and to believe that the government would make the situation better by ending the war in a very short time.
It is clear, however, that the things are not going to be that easy. At present the government has been able to muster some popular support especially among the majority Sinhalese for its war effort, mainly on the basis of capturing the East and on the promise of the eliminating the Tiger “menace” in the north and the rest of the country within a few months. The Sri Lankan forces seem to be bogged down in a long drawn out war despite their claims of a large number of Tiger casualties. The Air Force has now started bombings in the north even at night. A considerable number of civilians including children have been killed or injured in the past month alone. The LTTE has mounted heavy resistance to the Sri Lankan military offensive in the North and has been almost able to halt the advancing army. While the Tigers undoubtedly have been subjected to heavy attack, causing considerable loss to them, the military is trying in vain to hide the number of casualties among their own ranks, which are not a few by any means.
Unless the government forces are able to gain a significant result within the next two or three months, their support base in the South will begin to evaporate. As the economic burdens get to bear down more and more on them, they will begin to question the wisdom of military leaders hitherto unchallenged by anybody apart from the Left. And people will get war weary. If it were not for the Tigers’ attacks on innocent civilians in the South, such as what seems to have been their work in the bus bombing at Piliyandala on April 25, there would not be much support for the war which is mainly propped up by the ultra-nationalist party of the Buddhist monks (JHU) and the Sinhala nationalist radical petty bourgeois party, the JVP.
The USP is calling for an immediate end to the war and the beginning of negotiations to find a political solution to the national question of the Tamil people - a vestige left behind by the British colonial rulers. We call upon the government and the Tamil Tigers to respect the human rights of all the people, especially the right to life and the right to freedom of expression. While we cannot have any hope in the Sinhalese ruling class, which is very backward and parasitic, we call for the active involvement of representatives of workers and poor in any negotiations. Only through such participation can the true aspirations of the ordinary masses can be taken into consideration.
Srinath Perera, United Socialist Party, CWI Sri Lanka
3 APRIL 2008