by H. Fields
A national liberated territory several thousand square miles smaller than the state of Maryland. A guerilla force with its own innovatively run and amply equipped Army, Air Force and Navy. The pioneers and originators of the suicide bombing techniques and tactics that would later be copied by freedom fighters – or terrorists, depending on one’s desired parlance – in the Middle East and become known worldwide. Led by an enigmatic man who professes to take inspiration from the American action films of Clint Eastwood and who has instituted vastly successful women’s combat divisions in a very conservative cultural environment.
On the opposing side a racist state bent on genocide led by a robed leader who garners its funds by producing lingerie for most of the capitalist world, advised by throngs of extremist shaven-headed Buddhists clerics and whose tactics include random kidnappings of civilians suspected to be members of the resistance who are snatched off the streets and pushed into black vans to face an undetermined period of torture and incarceration in various police prisons and concentration camps, liberally scattered across an island bearing an ancient history.
This may sound like a sypnosis of an action novel but it is in fact the reality in the small island nation of Sri Lanka, a place renknown throughout the Hindu world due to it being a crucial setting in the epic of the Ramayana as the kingdom of Ravana, located in the tumultuous waters of the Indian ocean beneath the southern tip of India. It’s population is divided ethnically into a majority Sinhalese and a minority Tamil population, the latter which have suffered institutionalized policies of racism and genocide since the country became free from British rule.
On May 17th, 2009 officials of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (தமிழீழ விடுதலைப் புலிகள்) faced military defeat at the hands of the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) assisted by troops of the North Indian Army and Pakistani Air Force and equipped with ordnance, vehicles and equipment from the United States, Israel and other nations. On the northern coast of the island, known as the Vanni region, over 50,000 Tamils were systematically murdered between May 16-18 2009 after being advised to move into “safe-zones” by the Sri Lankan Army to avoid being caught in the crossfire between the SLA and the dwindling troops of the LTTE. All media was banned access to the combat zone.
After the massacre, Tamil civilians were rounded up and sent into huge concentration camps for internment in an explicit effort to stamp out any suspected LTTE cadres within their midst and with a implicit agenda to immobilize individuals with any potential to carry on the resistance of the Tamil people, who have carried on a fierce fight against national obliteration since 1983. This genocide of the Tamil minority in the north has been called the “unseen war” and the “war without witness” both due to the fact that media has been banned from the Vanni region during and after the fighting and it is allowed at present only under strict supervision – “war without witness” also is testament to the fact that the events in Sri Lanka have been ignored by most western media (there are some key exceptions such as the United Kingdom’s Channel Four documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” which is available online in it’s entirety.)
Despite forced media blackout in terms of official footage during the active combat period the profusion of video capability on mobile phones has produced chilling footage taken both from Tamils inside the alleged “safe-zones” showing the bombing of hospitals, civilians, etc. as well as “souvenir” footage taken by the soldiers of the SLA (Sri Lankan Army) showing executions, torture, bodies of female combatants that had been stripped naked and violated, dead bodies draped with blood-covered flags of the LTTE and many other atrocities. Besides a very few media outlets this evidence of war crimes on the island have also been ignored.
So what then is the political reason behind the blackout? Why does violent oppression in some countries met with global reaction and tacitly ignored in other cases? One of the reasons behind the political avoidance of the war for the independence of Tamil Eelam (the name given to certain regions of Sri Lanka under LTTE governance and which is the aspiration and goal of the freedom fighters) has to deal with the concept of the “War on Terror” and the ability of the developing world to cash in on the trend started by U.S. imperialism. When the United States decided to “even the score” and deal with all of its opponents by brute military force in the name of “fighting terrorism” countries in southeast Asia were listening, if the United States could do it, why not us?
The military defeat of the LTTE and the mass genocide of Tamil civilians in the Vanni has been done by the Rajapaksa regime in Colombo under the explicit concept of “War on Terror.” As the United States showed with grand flourish that it could do what it wanted in terms of “taking the gloves off” i.e. CIA black-sites for torture abroad, sweeping military campaigning, etc. Sri Lanka decided that if the United States could get away with cluster bombs, occupation and torture centers to fight the alleged terrorist groups in the Middle East then certainly they could do the same with the diadem example of guerrilla organizations that existed on the island which is exactly what they did. The defeat of the LTTE is now being touted in southeast Asia as one of the great “victories” in the war on terror and neighbors such as India are anxious to use the precedent of the SLA-LTTE conflict to wipe out their own internal enemy combatants and their supporters using the “new method.”
India, who assisted Sri Lanka in taking out the LTTE militarily, is now testing these methods against the Maoist guerrillas on the subcontinent while Sri Lanka hosts meet-and-greets with foreign military officials and dignitaries, eager to instruct them on how they were successful by using “extreme options” and how they too can deal with their own resistance. The SLA-LTTE conflict and the bloody finale has changed the way in which governments deal with guerrilla organizations and the United States has assisted the global shift in paradigm from “fighter” to “terrorist” with grave implications for everyone. Political-minded readers are therefore encouraged to examine the precedent which has been set.