Friday, February 15, 2013


Sinhalese – Tamil Relations in Lanka:







The Role of the Youth

Edited by Gnana Robinson


Kanyakumari Justice and Peace Publications (KJPP)

Communal Harmony Series 5

High Ground, Kanyakumari 629 702, South India

September 2009

The same republished as a separate book under the title

The Tamils of Lanka
Their Struggle for Justice and Equality with Dignity

Kanyakumari Justice and Peace Publications (KJPP)
Communal Harmony Series 7
High Ground, Kanyakumari 629 702, South India
April 2010


Peace Trust, Kanyakumari organized an International Conference on Conflict Resolution and Peace in October13-15, 2006 and invited papers from scholars hailing from the different conflict situations in Asia and the Middle East. Though we had a speaker from Sri Lanka, who briefly explained the situation in the country, he could not give us a paper. Hence on the recommendation of friends from Sri Lanka, we approached Mr. Santasilan Kadirgamar, an old friend of mine, a Tamil from Jaffna, who lives through the struggle of the Tamils of Sri Lanka right from its beginning.

Santasilan Kadirgamar is an objective thinker, who has taken utmost care to present only historical facts regarding the struggle the Tamils of Sri Lanka had been going through. His only objective is to see that the Tamils are able to live in that beautiful island country as citizens with justice and equality with dignity. I am sure, readers and researchers will find this book very useful.

This is an excerpt from the seminar publications Working for Peace in a Conflict ridden world: The Role of the Youths (pp.22-105, KJPP, 2009). A Tamil version of this book is to come out soon. I thank the author for his scholarly work.

Revd. Gnana Robinson,
General Editor,
Kanyakumari Justice and Peace Publications,
Peace Trust Kanyakumari, April 19, 2010.

Sinhalese – Tamil Relations in Lanka:

Santasilan Kadirgamar [1]


It is now 61 years since the British withdrew from Lanka. (1) This island was under European colonial domination for 450 years. The Portuguese, the Dutch and finally the English conquered the two Sinhalese kingdoms in the south and the Tamil Kingdom in the north existing during this period. The British having conquered most of the country from the Dutch in 1796 and the Kingdom of Kandy in 1815 administratively unified the country. A subsistence agricultural economy was transformed into a plantation economy initially exporting coffee, later tea, rubber and coconut and set Lanka (then Ceylon) on its path of modernization. When the British were forced to quit India, Lanka also became free. But decolonisation left a legacy of problems some of which became acute within a decade of independence. One of these was the problem of minorities. Since 1948 several acts of discrimination against the Tamils by successive governments controlled by the majority Sinhalese set in motion events that have today placed the country in a tragic situation. The fundamental problem in the country today is that of devolution and sharing of power. 

Tens of thousands of Tamils have been killed from 1958. Estimates vary from a minimum of 70,000. The figure could be much higher. Hundreds of thousands lost their homes, and have been internally displaced, while waves of migration to several countries took place from 1958. It is estimated that between 800,000 to a million Tamils from Lanka now live abroad (including refugees in South India). After 1983 when the country drifted to war between Tamil militant groups and the state, hundreds of Muslims and Sinhalese have also been killed. The expulsion of the whole Muslim community from Jaffna and the rest of the Northern Province by the LTTE in 1991 constitutes a glaring violation of human rights by a minority fighting for its own rights. 

Indian military intervention in 1987 was followed by a militant Sinhalese uprising against the government, which resulted in the massacre of over fifty thousand Sinhalese youth. By the late 1990s this conflict in Lanka had become the ‘forgotten war’, or ‘the boring war’ to the major international news agencies, foreign journalists and the great powers including India. In fact a ‘Sri Lanka Fatigue” was observable. For India, as one commentator put it, the war in the country became “a strategic irritant” more than a threat. The rapid advances made by the Sri Lankan forces into territory once controlled by the LTTE in 2008, the shrinking territory under the LTTE at the time of writing and the frightening predicament of about 200,000 (estimates varied in this period) Tamil civilians trapped in the Vanni once again drew international attention to the conflict in Lanka.

It is attempted here to trace the causes and underlying factors that have led to this conflict. This paper begins with a discussion of ethnicity and nationalism in its Lankan context. The acts of’ discrimination enacted against the Tamils, and resistance by the Tamils to these acts are explained. Tamil political demands and the growth of Tamil militant movements are traced, Indian intervention and its failure to resolve the problem, the several phases of the war and the factors that have led to the present impasse are discussed.

Ethnicity and Nationalism

In the decade before Indian independence the Muslim League evolved the ‘two-nation’ theory and demanded a separate state. The Indian National Congress, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru made a valiant effort to preserve Indian unity placing emphasis on and educating the people on the broad underlying unity, based on the cultural legacies of history. Linguistic and religious diversity and the pluralistic nature of Indian society were recognized during the long struggle for freedom. In Pakistan and Sri Lanka the ethnic problem or the problem of nationalities and communities became a major issue in the very first decade after independence. India appears to have contained centrifugal tendencies. In Lanka there never was a struggle for independence. In the 1920s and 30s The Jaffna Youth Congress and the subsequent Lanka Sama Samaja Party (socialist) defied British imperialism. But in scale, size and mass participation these were in no way comparable to what happened in India. The unifying forces of a freedom struggle were notably absent in Lanka.

The emerging minute Ceylonese capitalist class and the English educated elites, both Sinhalese and Tamil, were the ideal comprador bourgeoisie. They were the “Brown Sahibs” (to use a term coined by a distinguished journalist of that time) who imitated the English in their life style, divorced from the languages, religions and culture of the masses. It was to this class that peaceful transfer of power from the British took place. No attention was given to ‘nation-building’. On the contrary in the very first year of independence itself nation-destroying policies were set in motion.

Until the late 1970s it was customary in Lanka to discuss what we have called the national question or the ethnic problem as one of ‘communities’ and ‘communalism’. ‘Chauvinism’ and ‘communalism’ were commonly used in a derogatory sense. It soon became evident that one man’s nationalist was another’s ‘communalist’ or ‘chauvinist’. The left or socialist movement addressed this issue using the well-known Marxist-Leninist term the “national question”. In the 1980s, the preferred term that gained currency was ‘ethnicity’. It is beyond the scope of this paper to go into a full discussion on ethnicity per se. A considerable amount of writing and discussion is now taking place on this subject. But some kind of definition is necessary in the context of the problem in Lanka. Here ethnic identity is marked by four factors: language, religion, homeland and history, including shared experiences, memories and beliefs, and often legends and myths relating to the past. One may add another factor that promotes a collective consciousness — discrimination and oppression.

The Tamil nationalism and the Sinhala nationalism prevalent today is a twentieth century post-colonial phenomenon, But Sinhala identity, particularly Sinhala-Buddhist identity, and Tamil identity have strong roots in the past. However in defining Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic identities one has to categorically and in unmistaken terms assert that the Sinhalese and Tamil do not constitute two separate races. Racially they belong to one stock that emerged in the sub-continent of India through the mixing of diverse peoples more than two millenniums ago. The terms Aryans and Dravidians have frequently been used to indicate two major ‘races’ in India. This race concept has now been rejected. But it remains a powerful myth generating divisive forces. What we do have in reality are an Aryan group of languages (in the north) and a Dravidian group of languages (in the south) in India. Sinhalese belongs to the former and Tamil to the latter. The people are racially, and by which we mean colour of the skin, physical stature, etc. one race. A visitor to Lanka will not be able to distinguish between Sinhalese and Tamil, by looking at the physical appearances of the people. Even Sinhalese and Tamils often cannot see the difference though they can make a reasonable guess by observing mannerisms, customs, some differences in dress especially among women, and religious symbols such as the white holy ash on the forehead of both Hindu men and women.  The moment people begin to speak their ethnic identity is easily confirmed. Even the way in which English is spoken is often different. A fair number of Tamils residing in the Sinhalese areas can speak Sinhalese. But most would do so with a Tamil accent. During the anti-Tamil riots of 1958, 1977 and 1983 the identities of Tamils in buses and trains (before they were brutally assaulted or murdered by Sinhalese mobs), were established by demanding that passengers read a Sinhalese newspaper. English once occupied a dominant position as a link language for political, administrative and educational purposes. This is no longer so. Lanka is today very much a monolingual society.

From over two thousand years ago there were two religions, Hinduism and Buddhism later Islam and Christianity came. There took place through the centuries the peaceful evolution of three culturally interacting major religio–linguistic groups: (l) the Sinhalese mostly Buddhists. (2) The Tamils mostly Hindus, and (3) the Muslims. Christians constitute about seven per cent of the total population. There are both Sinhalese and Tamil Christians

The Nation-State in Crisis

In many parts of the world the fourth quarter of the twentieth century witnessed the nation-state in a state of crisis. When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated President Bush made a much publicised remark “What’s the world coming to,” In CNN’s programme Crossfire’ Senator Daniel P. Moynihan, former U.S. Ambassador to India commenting on the above said, “This is what the world is coming to. In the aftermath of the cold war we are going to see more of this breaking of frequently artificial conglomerates of peoples ... race, religion and region are so fundamental. This is what we are going to see more of and learning to control it, and learning about it is going to be a large exercise.”  With the end of Stalinist Communism the crisis in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe became acute. The world witnessed the violence ridden break-up of Yugoslavia. Most states are multi-national or multi-ethnic in character. Majority ethnic groups have seized control of the institutions of self-government, have dominated and in several cases oppressed minority ethnic communities. The nation-state model evolved in Western Europe was imposed on Asian and African countries to suit the imperial interests of the European colonial masters. Borders of states and provincial boundaries within states were arbitrarily drawn. The mobility that went with changes in the mode of production, such as the development of the plantation sector in Lanka, enabled millions of people to move from one part of a region to another. Notable examples are workers of Indian origin in Lanka and Malaysia and the Chinese in several Southeast Asian countries.

Having achieved political independence the states of Asia and Africa have failed to evolve structures of government based on their past historical experiences taking into account the rich cultural and ethnic diversity that prevails in each one of these countries. Instead, these states slavishly followed the European model of the nation-state. With the exception of India, many of these states did not provide constitutional safeguards for minorities. The nation-state model, its consequent nationalisms and the passions it arouses, had been the cause for nearly four centuries of inter-state wars in Europe culminating with the horrors of the Second World War. These wars resulted in the slaughter of millions including acts of genocide against six million Jews. This period also witnessed imperialist wars in Asia and Africa by several European powers. Imperialism was rooted in extreme nationalism or jingoism as was evident in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century. In contemporary times we have witnessed the atrocities committed by the United States of America in Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and Afghanistan in the pursuit of what was perceived as its ‘national interest’, with the slogan “God Bless America.” In the colonial period treaties made in Europe demarcated the boundaries of colonial territories. These colonial entities became the new states of Asia and Africa. One major cause for today’s conflicts is the way in which the European colonial masters laid down the borders of the newly independent states of Asia. The Indo-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir, the Sino-Indian border war of 1962, the question of East Timor and Indonesia (now resolved), the plight of the Karens in Burma, the Kurds in West Asia and that of the Moros in the Philippines are all similar legacies of colonial rule and the state system that was created and left behind.

The states of Asia and Africa now appear destined to repeat this violent history of Europe, its nationalisms, the idolatry of nation-states inclusive of the powerful myth of national interest, security and sovereignty, leading to oppressions of ethnic minorities including genocide. Unlike India most of these states did not call a constituent assembly to determine their respective constitutions. In unquestioningly accepting the European model of the nation-state, these states appear condemned to repeat the history of Europe in never ending internal and inter-state conflicts that have imposed severe hardships and sufferings on the people in these countries.

The nation-state and the so-called territorial integrity of the state has taken precedence over the rights and welfare of peoples, their languages, religions, cultures and way of life, in short their human security, democratic and human rights. Nationalisms and national-interests have become synonymous with the interests of the numerically dominant ethnic group. Symbols of national identity such as the national anthem and the national flag reflect the identity and aspirations of the dominant ethnic group. Minorities have been relegated to second-class status, suffering discrimination and in some cases conscious assimilation. When minority ethnic groups have sought to resist, or to win their rights, brutal oppression has been the answer leading to prolonged ethnic conflict and civil wars and that ill-defined term ‘terrorist’ tagged to all forms of dissent. The tragedy of it all is that oppressed minority ethnic groups in seeking to liberate themselves have once again adopted the nation-state model in formulating their demands, and have sought to oppress other minorities among them.

The conflict in Lanka provides a useful case study of the failure of the nation-state model in Asia. The decades after decolonisation have witnessed the emergence of Sinhala and Tamil nationalisms in Lanka. The Tamils have demanded the right to self-determination including secession. This in turn has led to an interminable conflict that has resulted in unprecedented massacre and destruction in this once relatively peaceful land.


The Soulbury (1947) constitution under which the British gave independence to the country provided no safeguards to the minorities. There was just one clause in the constitution that was supposed to give protection to the minorities. Under section 29(2) parliament’s power to make laws was restricted so that

No such law shall: (b) make persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities or religions are not made liable: or (c) confer on persons of any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is not conferred on persons of other communities or religions. (2)

This in practice provided no safeguards. All the major acts, which the Tamils viewed as discriminatory occurred under this constitution. It must be said in fairness to the vast majority of the Sinhalese people that they were being used as pawns in a sordid game of opportunistic power politics by the two major political parties, the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, that have dominated Lankan politics from 1948. The vast majority of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims shared a common poverty in a typical third world setting, plagued by unemployment, including graduate unemployment, spiralling cost of living, electricity and petrol today one of the highest in the third world, inflation, inadequate housing, poor public transportation, ill-equipped schools and scarcity of consumer goods. Some of these acts of discrimination were consciously adopted to divert the attentions of the Sinhalese masses from pressing everyday problems. From 1948 to 1972 there were five major issues that eventually led to hardening of attitudes among the Tamils. These were (I) Citizenship rights, (2) Language rights (3) State sponsored settlement of Sinhalese in Tamil majority areas. (4) Economic Development and (5) Education and Employment.


In 1948, the Ceylon Citizenship Act No. 18 of 1948 and the Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act of 1949 were enacted. The former laid down the law and prescribed qualifications necessary for persons to become citizens of the country. Any Tamil could have been called upon to prove his or her citizenship, though the Act was primarily directed at excluding from citizenship the descendants of Tamil immigrant labour that had been brought into Ceylon by the British in the nineteenth century from South India, to work initially on the coffee plantations and later on the tea and rubber plantations. The latter provided an opportunity to these people to obtain “citizenship by registration” but the procedure was made cumbersome requiring documentary evidence that practically made it impossible for most of these people to become citizens.  The Ceylon Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act No.48 of 1949, deprived non-citizens of their right to vote, thereby effectively disenfranchising a whole community of mostly Tamil plantation workers. These people had exercised their right to vote in 1931 and 1936, and in 1947 had elected eight Tamil members to parliament. Their votes were decisive in electing Lanka Sama Samaja Party (Trotskyite Socialist) and Communist Party members elsewhere, all Sinhalese to parliament. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India refused to accept these people as Indian citizens and declared that they belonged to Ceylon by virtue of their long period of residence in the country, many of them longer than nineteenth century migrants to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S.A. There were at this time several countries of the former British Empire in which sizeable communities of Indians and Chinese lived. Tamils of Indian origin today constitute large communities in Malaysia and Singapore. In Ceylon these Tamils became “stateless” people.

For decades both the Sinhalese and the Ceylon Tamils benefited from the surplus generated through the exploitation of the labour of these people in the tea plantations and their tragic history is a slur on both communities in Lanka. The Ceylon Tamils made only token gestures of support but never launched a major struggle on their behalf. They were the poorest among the poor and the most exploited among the exploited. As the distinguished theologian the Rev. Dr. D. T. Niles once asserted in the 1950s, there would be no salvation for this country until justice is done to these people.

Soon after Nehru died the government of India consequent to the border war with China and hence in search of friendly states in the region reversed the Nehruvian policy. Under the terms of the Srimavo Bandaranaike - Shastri Agreement of 1966 and Srimavo Bandaranaike-Indira Gandhi Agreement of 1974 it was agreed that roughly fifty per cent of the stateless Tamils from the plantations would be repatriated to South India and the balance were to be granted Lankan citizenship.  These agreements were arrived at without consultations with the people concerned or their trade union and political leaders. According to human rights activists in India, in the process of repatriation and arrival in South India these people were exploited and their conditions in India were far worse than in Lanka. 

The process of granting citizenship to those remaining in the country took several years and thanks to the efforts of the late Mr. Thondaman and the Ceylon Workers’ Congress the process was completed in the 1990s. The eventual granting of citizenship rights was partly due to the fears on the part of the Sinhalese leaders that these people of “Indian origin” without Lankan citizenship rights could he used by India whenever it suited its interests to intervene militarily in Sri Lanka. Their numbers considerably diminished, the Hill Country Tamils have been able to send a few representatives to parliament. Educationally and in terms of their socio-economic conditions, they remain one of the most backward in the country. 

By depriving the Hill Country Tamils (Malai Naattu Thamilar is the preferred term used by Tamils, though they are often referred to as Tamils of Indian Origin) of their citizenship rights and effectively disenfranchising them the United National Party government led by D. S. Senanayake struck a double blow. The working class based socialist movement in the country was permanently weakened and Tamil representation in parliament was considerably reduced.

Sinhalese Declared the Only Official language

Before independence and immediately after it was expected that English would be gradually replaced with Sinhalese and Tamil as the languages of administration. This pledge given to the Tamils by Sinhalese leaders was broken in 1956. Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike had come to power on a wave of Sinhala Buddhist nationalist fervour. He had formed a broad front called the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (Peoples United Front) committed to a mixed programme which included socialist objectives but also the demand that Sinhalese be made the only Official Language. This came as a great shock to the Tamil people and was regarded as a gross betrayal by all sections of Tamil society.

1956 marks the birth of a militant Sinhala nationalism. But Sinhala nationalism at that time had a progressive content. The restoration of the Sinhalese and Tamil languages to their rightful place in the social, economic and political life of the country was desirable. This meant replacing English and all that it stood for, in terms of power, influence, jobs and status. English had been a symbol of superiority. But it was more than a symbol. It was regarded as a powerful weapon in the hands of the privileged English educated elite composed of Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors and Burghers. The vast majority who spoke only Sinhalese or Tamil occupied humbler positions in society.

In addition, the 1956 upsurge sought to demolish cultural colonialism that had bred a slavish mentality among Ceylonese elites in relation to the western colonizing powers. The positive and constructive dimensions of the 1956 upsurge were lost when the slogan became SINHALA ONLY. The ruling class manipulated a genuine movement for national revival and the search for a national identity among the Sinhalese masses into a degenerate anti-Tamil chauvinism.

In the perception of the Sinhalese masses the restoration of Sinhalese to its rightful place was something more than facilitating administration in the Sinhalese language. They perceived it as a major step forward in the evolution of an egalitarian society. Such high expectations were not realised. The 1971 insurrection in which 10,000 Sinhalese youth lost their lives was an attempt, though a misguided one, to regain what had been promised but never given in 1956. It was directed against the Sinhala ruling class and not against the Tamils.1956 marked a major turning point in the country’s history.

Prior to 1956 the leading schools in the Tamil north voluntarily taught Sinhalese as a third language. The Tamils’ conscious of their minority status, were getting ready for integration. It was in their interests to study Sinhalese and they did so voluntarily. By 1956 several students were taking examinations in the Sinhalese language in addition to the Tamil and English languages at the grade ten Senior School Certificate examinations. If this process had continued many Tamils would have become trilingual. But ‘Sinhala only’ in l956 ended that process. Deeply hurt and humiliated, Tamil public opinion called for a halt to the teaching of Sinhalese to Tamil students as part of the resistance. The headmasters of the leading Tamil schools jointly made a decision to terminate the teaching of Sinhalese in all schools in the Tamil areas.

The language controversy left a lasting impact on the country. The credibility of the Lankan state and its Sinhalese political leadership became a major issue which inevitably made Ceylon a ‘divided nation’. Powerful emotions were stirred by ignoring the ‘primordialness of languages’. Benedict Anderson claims, “What the eye is to the lover, language is to the patriot. Through that language, encountered at mother’s knee and parted with only at the grave, pasts are restored, fellowships are imagined, and futures dreamed.” (3)

Land Development and Settlement

‘Sinhala Only’ in 1956 brought to the forefront growing fears among the Tamils regarding the state sponsored land settlement schemes, which the Tamils referred to as ‘colonisation’ that were taking place in the Eastern province on a large scale and to a lesser extent in the Northern province. The outbreak of anti-Tamil violence in one of the districts in the Eastern province consequent to the communal tensions unleashed by ‘Sinhala Only’ in 1956 aggravated these fears. In 1921 in the Eastern province Sinhalese constituted 4.5%, the Tamils 53.5% and the Moors 39.42%. By 1953 the Sinhalese had increased to 13.1%, the Tamils reduced to 47.3% and the Moors 38.1%. This process of consciously changing the ethnic composition of a once Tamil and Moors (both Tamil-speaking) majority area took place rapidly in the 1950s. Fertile lands, with abundant water resources, were available in the Eastern province. At close proximity to these lands were Tamil and Muslim villagers. These lands using Official Development Assistance from the developed countries were developed often with Tamil engineers and technicians responsible for the execution of these projects. Once developed with the necessary infrastructure Sinhalese people from other provinces were settled on these lands. As a result one whole district Amparai had become a Sinhalese majority area and a section of the Trincomalee district was also being rapidly converted into a Sinhalese majority area.

This generated legitimate fears among the Tamils that they could eventually be reduced to a minority in the eastern province. In order to counter this danger the Federal party came out strongly with the ‘traditional homeland’ principle that has led to severe controversy. The Tamils have claimed that the Eastern Province, including the district of Trincomalee with its strategically located harbour, should constitute together with the Northern Province one single unit entitled to autonomy within the framework of a Federal Constitution. This has become the key issue on which every attempt at a political solution has failed, beginning with the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact in 1957 (see below for a discussion of this pact). The contrary view expressed by notable Sinhalese scholars is that the Eastern Province was arbitrarily created as an administrative unit by the British and that it has always had substantial Sinhalese villages and that large chunks of territory came under the Kandyan kingdom which fell to the British in 1815.

Economic Development

With the exception of three industries set up as state corporations (a cement factory, a paper factory and a chemical factory) there has been no state sponsored industrialization in the Tamil north and east. All the industrialisation and much of it with foreign aid, was in the Sinhalese areas. The fishing industry in the Tamil provinces also remained largely undeveloped. Tamil entrepreneurs who wished to establish private industries were pressurized to establish their industries in the Sinhalese areas. This was done through an elaborate system of control exercised by government departments and bureaucrats over the import of machinery and raw materials, in conformity to policies laid down by the government. The infrastructure consisting of roads, railways, bridges, ports and telecommunications remained largely in the condition in which they were in the l940s. The Tamil people resident in the north and east in the 1970s and 80s received nothing of the Official Development Assistance that the country was getting both under bilateral and multilateral aid from the Developed Countries including Japan, the largest aid giver.

Education and Employment

One of the beneficial legacies of British rule was the development of a reasonably good educational system in the country, though primarily confined to urban areas. The constitutional changes granted in 1931 gave every person over the age of 21 the right to vote and a fair degree of self-government to the country, education and health ministries among others being held by Ceylonese. The left movement and affiliated trade unions acted as pressure groups forcing the leaders of the land-owning wealthy classes who monopolised political power to implement social welfare services patterned on the British model. Two of these were free health services and free and compulsory education. These were fully effective in the 1940s and laid the foundation in making Lanka by the 1970s into a model Third World country with high literacy rates (85%), low infant mortality rates and life expectancy reaching between 65 and 70 years. The Physical Quality of Life Index ranked it in 1979 (at 82 on a scale of 0- 100) as the third highest among developing countries of Asia after Singapore and Taiwan, in spite of the country’s low ranking by the more conventional GNP index. Keeping military expenditure to a bare minimum facilitated this achievement. In the first two decades after independence defence expenditure in Lanka was one of the lowest in Asia and below one per cent of GDP, and far below expenditure on education and health services.

But these achievements in education and the health services had results that aggravated ethnic tensions. Population had doubled from six million in 1946 to over 12 million in the 1970s. There was widespread unemployment and at the same time an increasing demand for university education. At the time of independence the percentage of Tamils in certain sectors of employment was well over their percentage in the population. These were in high-income professions such as medicine, engineering, law, banking and accountancy. In the civil service and lower rungs of government service also the Tamils were highly visible. But the Tamils who enjoyed these advantages came primarily from the Jaffna and Colombo districts, where there was a well-developed educational system. The American missionaries had established good schools in the Jaffna Peninsula in the nineteenth century, and the quality of English education imparted was of a very high order. English literacy during the colonial period was relatively high in Jaffna, second only to Colombo the capital city though never more than ten per cent were literate in English. The Tamils in the other parts of the country, particularly in the plantation sector, the Vanni and Mannar districts and much of the Eastern Province were as poor as the majority of the Sinhalese peasants and workers. In fact a careful analysis of the figures suggests that the advantages the Jaffna Tamils enjoyed was not at the expense of the Sinhalese. The Tamil-speaking peoples including Lankan Tamils of Indian origin and the Muslims constituted 28 per cent of the population. The Jaffna Tamils enjoyed approximately that number of jobs and did so at the expense of the other two Tamil-speaking communities those were educationally the most backward. However the advantages enjoyed by the Jaffna Tamils prior to independence irritated the English educated Sinhalese middle class. In addition, by the mid-1950s a large number of educated Sinhalese youth were seeking jobs in an economy that had remained stagnant. One of the aims of the advocates of ‘Sinhala only’ in 1956 was to respond to this pressure from Sinhalese youth. The implementation of the new language policy led rapidly to a drastic reduction of the number of Tamils employed in the state sector. Tamils were required within three years to pass a proficiency examination in Sinhalese in order to retain their jobs in the public sector and to earn their annual salary increments. This was the beginning of the Tamil diaspora. Highly qualified Tamil professionals quit their jobs and migrated to Britain, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and to several countries of the Commonwealth in Asia and Africa, where they could work using the English language. These Tamils were later to play a major role in internationalising the plight of the Tamils, when ethnic conflict escalated in the 1980s. In the first twenty-five years after independence Tamils employed in the public sector dropped from between 20 and 30 per cent to under 10 per cent and today even much less. In the security forces there are hardly any Tamils, a mere handful in the police.

There was however no discrimination in the educational system until 1971. Tamils had the right to have all their education in Tamil in the same way as the Sinhalese. In this respect the position of the Tamils was much better than that of ethnic minorities in Malaysia. Most schools were owned and managed by the state. The Tamils, especially in Jaffna, gave tremendous importance to education, which was the very ethos of the community. What the state could not or would not do, the community did, equipping the schools with adequate classrooms, laboratories and libraries. After school hours students went to ‘tutories’. Education became the main ‘industry’. In the rain starved and arid but highly populated Jaffna district resources were scarce and there had been hardly any industrial development. Hence education flourished and provided the main avenue to move up the social ladder.

By 1971 there were only five universities in the country, all state universities. There was no affiliated College system as in India. Private universities are not allowed in Sri Lanka. Less than one per cent of students who had completed 12 years of schooling were able to enter university. University entrance examinations are highly competitive. Competition is stiff in the sciences leading to a degree in medicine, engineering, dentistry, veterinary science, agriculture, mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. An entry into one of these faculties assures immediate employment after graduation, and if not in the country jobs were often available abroad. Sri Lankan universities of that era maintained high standards, especially in the sciences including a high proficiency in the English language. Their degrees were therefore recognised in many countries of the commonwealth.

For many years prior to 1971 the admission of Tamil students to the faculties of medicine, engineering and science was percentage-wise higher in relation to their ratio in the population. This again created a lot of heart burning among the Sinhalese with elitist aspirations. In 1971 the number of Tamil students qualifying for admission to the faculty of engineering reached an unprecedented figure of over 40 per cent. The figures for medicine were also high. Mrs. Bandaranaike’s government, which was in power, evolved a scheme that was openly discriminative. Tamil students were required to get more marks (approximately 25 points more) than Sinhalese students to enter these highly competitive faculties. This was open and blatant discrimination, and was the final blow that radicalised Tamil youth, and marked the beginnings of Tamil youth militancy.

The university admission scheme was revised, and a district quota scheme became effective after 1977, giving special weightage to backward areas. But this change in the context of prevailing ethnic tensions did little to remedy the situation. Tamil students continued to compete and entered universities though in reduced numbers. The more politically motivated quit schools and entered the armed struggle.

Political Demands

From the very beginning in1948 Tamil political leaders had demonstrated willingness to compromise. The Tamil Congress split into two when the faction led by G.G. Ponnambalam decided to accept office under the United National Party Government led by D.S. Senanayake. Ponnambalam, held the prestigious post of Minister of Industries and was instrumental in establishing the three major industries (all seriously damaged in the present war) ever established in the north and east.

The task of mobilizing Tamil public opinion against the Citizenship Acts fell to the other faction led by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, who founded the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (Federal Party) in 1949. Chelvanayakam made the prophetic assertion that the discriminatory acts against the Hills Country Tamils (the deprivations of their citizenship right) was a sign of what was in store for the Ceylon Tamils. The F.P. made the categorical assertion that the Tamils were a distinct nation. The first National Convention held in Trincomalee in 1951 adopted the following resolution:

“Inasmuch as it is the inalienable right of every nation to enjoy full political freedom without which its spiritual, cultural and moral stature must degenerate, and inasmuch as the Tamil-speaking people in Ceylon constitute a nation distinct from that of the Sinhalese by every fundamental test of nationhood, firstly, that of a separate historical past in this Island at least as ancient and as glorious as that of the Sinhalese by every fundamental test of nationhood, secondly, by the fact of their being a linguistic entity entirely different from that of the Sinhalese, with an unsurpassed classical heritage and a modern developed language which makes Tamil fully adequate for all present day needs, and finally by reason of their territorial habitation of definite areas which constitute over one-third of this Island, this first National Convention of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi demands for the Tamil-speaking nation in Ceylon their inalienable right to political autonomy and calls for a plebiscite to determine the boundaries of the linguistic states in consonance with the fundamental and unchallengeable principle of self-determination.”

The resolution further stated:

“The I.T.A.K. recommends to the Tamil-speaking people the feasibility and desirability of establishing the autonomous Tamil linguistic state within the framework of a Federal Union of Ceylon, as the rational and natural culmination of centuries of close association between these two nations in this their common motherland and with a view to promoting and maintaining national goodwill and close co-operation with the Sinhalese people.”(4)

In the period after 1956 The Federal Party commanded the support of most Tamils. The four major demands of the F. P. were: (I) A Federal Constitution, (2) Sinhalese and Tamil to be Official Languages (3) An end to the state sponsored colonization of Tamil areas, and (4) Citizenship Rights to all Hill Country Tamils.

From the very beginning the party demonstrated willingness to compromise and accept a certain degree of autonomy within the framework of an united Lanka, without yielding on the principle that the Tamil-speaking people constituted a nation. The party remained committed to non-violent forms of struggle adopting the Gandhian method of satyagraha and civil disobedience.

The two major Sinhalese parties, the UNP and the SLFP, rejected these demands. The LSSP and CP both parties with a multi-ethnic membership and a following all over the island accepted the language and citizenship demands, but rejected the other two. But Sinhalese leaders like Bandaranaike (SLFP) in 1956 and Dudley Senanayake (UNP) in 1966 knew that injustice had been done to the Tamils. They were aware that there would be no peace and stability unless some of the demands of the Tamils were met. But having stirred up powerful nationalist/chauvinist sentiments among the Sinhalese people they were not able to concede the just demands of the Tamils. When one party tried to arrive at a settlement the other blocked it to win electoral support among the Sinhalese people. Sections of the powerful and influential Buddhist priesthood prevented a peaceful settlement. The Federal Party organized several non-violent campaigns between 1956 and 1976. The major non-violent struggles were in 1956, 1957, 1961, and 1976 when the leaders of the party courted arrest.

The Bandaranaike - Chelvanayakam Pact

In 1957 Prime Minister Bandaranaike anxious to resolve the Tamil issue, made an agreement with FP leader Chelvanayakam. The B-C Pact, as it came to be known, was a timely and appropriate compromise. In providing for Regional Councils with a fair degree of autonomy acceptable to the Tamils and making possible the amalgamation of the northern and eastern provinces under one council it could have laid the foundations for a peaceful solution to the emerging problem. Land settlement schemes were placed within the jurisdiction of the regional councils and thereby guaranteed that residents of the district will be given first preference. Tamil was recognized as the language of a national minority, which in practice would make it the language of administration in the northern and eastern provinces. This pact became the model when every subsequent attempt was made to arrive at a compromise within the framework of an United Lanka, and still provides a viable basis for a political solution.

But Bandaranaike’s opponents wrecked the agreement by stirring-up powerful anti-Tamil passions among the Sinhalese people. Prominent among these opponents was J. R. Jayewardene, who later became President, and his United National Party. Hundreds of Buddhist monks demonstrated opposite Bandaranaike’s residence forcing him to withdraw the agreement. The degree of autonomy and the unit of devolution that was conceded in the B-C pact figured prominently in the lndo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 1987, and constitute the main issue on which both sides are unable to arrive at an agreement in the present crisis.

Anti-Tamil Violence and Civil Disobedience

The B - C Pact, its abrogation and subsequent events led to the first major anti-Tamil violence in 1958. This brutal episode left permanent scars on Tamil society. Pirapakaran, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, has stated in his interviews that it was childhood memories of atrocities committed in 1958 against Tamils, including members of his family that largely influenced his resort to armed struggle.

Following the riots of 1958, the Bandaranaike government, having placed the Tamil leaders under detention, enacted The Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act No.28 of 1958 giving some language rights to the Tamils. Bandaranaike was assassinated by a Buddhist monk in 1959 and was succeeded by his widow Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Mrs. Bandaranaike came to power without any political experience and had nothing of the liberal education or values of her husband. During her two terms in power (1960-65 and 1970-77) she totally ignored, in fact aggravated, the grievances of the Tamils. The seeds of Tamil separatism took root in her period in office.

In 1961 the Federal party launched its prolonged and most successful civil disobedience campaign. It was a mass campaign involving students, trade unions, farmers and workers and the general public. Civil administration came to a standstill in the north and east. Mrs. Bandaranaike’s government responded, with a massive show of force. Tamil leaders were arrested. A forty-eight hour curfew was imposed followed with an all night curfew for several weeks. There were several incidents of the armed forces robbing, looting and assaulting Tamils. Here were the early beginnings of what the Tamils perceived as ‘state terrorism’, which was to become pronounced and frequent in the 1980s and thereafter.

But Lanka at this time was a lively parliamentary democracy. The violation of human rights and the sufferings of the Tamils were raised in parliament by Sinhalese members of the LSSP and the CP. Though there was a rigid press censorship, parliamentary privilege was upheld and the newspapers were required to report speeches made in parliament. The revelations made in parliament, forced the government to halt this phase in the repression of the Tamil people. But the fundamental grievances of the Tamil people remained without a solution.

Coalition Politics

The 1965 general elections resulted with no party having an absolute majority, the kind of result that the FP looked forward to. The FP preferred a coalition with the UNP. The Dudley Senanayake - Chelvanayakam Pact was an attempt to revive the B-C pact, which the UNP had opposed in 1957. The coalition lasted until 1968. The SLFP now found that it was in its interests to oppose the Dudley - Chelvanayakam Pact. The SLFP with its socialist allies, the LSSP and CP, organized a massive demonstration in Colombo opposing the Dudley - Chelvanayakam Pact. It was a repetition of 1957, this time the parties involved were on opposite sides. This became the sordid game played by Sinhalese leaders in office and their main opposition. The Tamils became the football to be kicked around.

The mid-1960s saw a major change in the political situation. The socialist left consisting of the LSSP and CP after having championed the rights of the Tamils for over three decades gave up their principled support for the Tamils. The leaders of these parties were not Sinhala chauvinists. They were adopting the time honoured centrist tactic of allying with the centrist SLFP to defeat the capitalist UNP. In doing this they were prepared for tactical reasons to give up their support for the Tamils. The results, which we are able to see today, were disastrous both for the left movement, the Tamils and the country as a whole. The parties of the left were the only unifying force in the country. One may add the Christian churches, but the church was not an active player in the political field. The left leaders, in parliament and through their publications, set a political climate that helped to contain the violence. Island wide, the left movement had a following among all ethnic communities.

The existence at a strong left movement committed to Tamil rights gave a sense of security to the Tamils. In allying with the SLFP and in opposing the Dudley - Chelvanayakam Pact, these parties lost the confidence of the Tamil people and consequently a substantial working class and electoral base in the Tamil areas. The Tamils found themselves politically isolated and drifted to separatist politics in the 1970s.

In 1970 the coalition of the SLFP-LSSP-CP swept the polls and formed a United Front Government on a radical program of economic and social reform. The United Front government did nothing to remedy the grievances of the Tamils. In fact the enactment of the 1972 Republican Constitution aggravated the situation and was felt by the Tamils to be a total betrayal.

The 1972 Constitution

One of the first acts of the United Front Government was to alter the system of admissions to the universities as indicated above. Twenty-five years of discrimination with regard to citizenship rights, language rights, land settlement, economic development, employment and now university education naturally created great discontent among Tamil youth. It must be however stressed that the economic conditions under which large masses of the Sinhalese people lived were in many ways no better. But the Tamils had the additional grievance of being discriminated against, humiliated and finding themselves reduced to a second-class status in their own country on ethnic grounds. Among the few jobs available, the Tamils were not getting their share. Tamil professionals and intellectuals frankly believed that given their share of foreign aid and other resources they could have developed their part of the country rapidly. The issue therefore by the early 1970s became one of self-determination with the right to the highest degree of autonomy possible.

The enactment of the 1972 Republican Constitution with the left in power marked the turning point in Tamil consciousness. The failure to consider the provision of regional autonomy resulted in Tamil representatives in the constituent assembly staging a walkout. Far from meeting the aspirations of the Tamils, the constitution made things worse by enshrining Sinhala Only as the official language in the constitution. In addition an entirely new provision was written into the constitution giving Buddhism a special place in the state.
The country’s name was officially changed from ‘Ceylon” to “Sri Lanka”. The circumstances under which the name change was made earned the contempt of Tamil youth who, in particular, have rejected a Sri Lankan identity. The Tamils rejected this new constitution. Tamil youth in an open defiance of the government set fire to copies of the constitution resulting in the arrest, detention and torture of several youth. In 1974 when the final day’s sessions of the International Association for Tamil Research culminated with a massive public meeting in Jaffna, incidents involving the police resulted in the death of eight persons. Incidents of this nature made the political atmosphere in the Tamil areas one of defiance and hostility to the government.

Self-Determination and the Secessionist Demand

Facing almost total isolation and with negligible support within the dominant Sinhala nation the Tamils drifted towards a declaration in favour of secession. The FP and the TC had finally come together to form the Tamil United Liberation Front. The TULF at its first National Convention held at Pannakam, Vaddukoddai on the 14th of May 1976 declared that:
“The Tamils of Ceylon by virtue of their great language, their religions, their separate culture and heritage, their history of independent existence as a separate state over a distinct territory for several centuries until they were conquered by the armed might of the European invaders and, above all, by their will to exist as a separate entity ruling themselves in their own territory are a nation distinct and apart from the Sinhalese and this convention announces to the world that the Republican Constitution of 1972 has made the Tamils a slave nation ruled by the new colonial masters, the Sinhalese, who are using the power they have wrongly usurped to deprive the Tamil nation of its territory, language, citizenship, economic life, opportunities of employment and education, thereby depriving all the attributes of nationhood of the Tamil people.”

The Convention further resolved that:

“the restoration and recognition of the Free, sovereign, secular, socialist State of Tamil Eelam based on the right of self-determination inherent to every nation, has become inevitable in order to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil Nation in this country”.(5) 

The tone and content of the above suggests that this resolution was framed more in anger and frustration rather than after rational thought weighing all the possible consequences of such an extremist demand. The federal demand in stressing autonomy within the framework of one state was the correct demand. In making a demand for a separate state the TULF committed a major political blunder. This could not be achieved through democratic and parliamentary means or through armed struggle that has now been going on for more than thirty years. The demand for a sovereign state made it impossible for the TULF and the Tamil groups involved in armed struggle thereafter to withdraw this demand with self-respect and without earning the tag ‘traitor’.

In making the demand inadequate attention had been paid to the experience in the Indian subcontinent. The creation of Pakistan and subsequently Bangladesh has not resolved the pressing problems of any one of those peoples. On the contrary Pakistan and Bangladesh have often remained militaristic and authoritarian states with serious violations of human rights within both states. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh spend substantial amounts on defence diverting valuable resources that should go to improve the quality of life of the people. Any attempt to divide Lanka into two sovereign states would have created more problems than those that were sought to be resolved, and there is already enough evidence to suggest that the people would not have enjoyed democratic rights and that secession would have led inevitably to highly authoritarian fascistic regimes on both sides. Both Sinhalese and Tamils have lost much of their democratic rights and freedoms, and have now become victims of grave violations of human rights - the Sinhalese under their own government and the Tamils under both the government and the several Tamil armed organizations.

State Violence and Counter-Violence

Prior to 1977 most of the anti-Tamil violence was in the Sinhalese areas, though there were some exceptions. In and after 1977 the violence was more systematic and well planned. In 1977 a major target for attack had been helpless and unorganized plantation workers, who were later evacuated to the Vavuniya district (in the Tamil northern province) by non-governmental Tamil refugee organizations. Equally important was that in 1977 began the systematic attack on unarmed Tamil civilians by the security forces. This first occurred in Jaffna when acts of arson destroying the market occurred allegedly by the police. This sparked off the anti-Tamil violence in several parts of the country. The event that has been best documented and received worldwide publicity was the burning of the city of Jaffna for three consecutive nights, including the public library with its 95,000 volumes, again allegedly by the police in 1981. These acts of ‘state terrorism’ as some commentators have labelled it effectively internationalised the issue, which had now become one of systematic oppression of the Tamils.

In July 1977 the UNP under the leadership of J. R. Jayewardene was returned to power defeating Mrs. Bandaranaike. Ironically Jayewardene assumed power with the slogans ‘Saviour of the Nation’ and highly publicized promises of a ‘Just and Righteous Society’. Far from saving the ‘nation’ his twelve years in power saw the final destruction of what could still have been a united Lanka. He came to power with substantial support from the Tamils resident in the predominantly Sinhalese provinces. These people trusted Jayewardene and believed that he would find a solution to the problems they faced. He had promised an all party Round Table Conference. The new 1978 Constitution failed to resolve the problem. Instead, sporadic acts of’ violence by Tamil groups labelled “terrorism” by the state became the excuse for increasing repression through the enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the provisions of which were indiscriminately used, leading to widespread violations of human rights that further pushed Tamil youth in the direction of secession.

The Tamils had been a docile people who from 1956 to 1977 did not fight back. When attacked in the Sinhalese areas they ran for their lives, sought protection in refugee camps and returned to the safety of their own homelands in the north and east. The Sinhala dominated state provided no compensation for loss of lives or property. Hurt, humiliated and discriminated against for two decades they began to lose faith in democratic processes and the futile attempts made to seek solutions through negotiations. The result was the growth of Tamil militant movements.

The Tamil Armed Organisations

Known as Tamil militant movements these had their origins in the early 1970s. The main groups by the 1980s were:

(I) The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
(2) The Peoples’ Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE)
(3) The Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF)
(4) The Eelam Revolutionary Organization (EROS)
(5) The Tamil Eelam Liberation Front (TELO)
(6) The Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF)

The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), which won the 1977 elections, remained the only unarmed group that was a significant player in the political scene for the next ten years.

Some of these groups had common origins, others evolved separately. There were several splits and regroupings in later years. In terms of ideology and programme it is difficult to label them because of the changing positions they have taken from time to time. The EPRLF and EROS were initially at least theoretically committed to a Marxist programme, and significantly did not use the name Tamil Eelam. Eelam and Ilankai are names in Tamil for the whole Island of Lanka. Tamil Eelam meant the Tamil part of Eelam or Lanka. This distinction is important. The LTTE emerged as the most powerful of the groups and eventually exercised control over the Tamil areas. In the early years in some of its statements it adopted a Marxist stance (obviously an input by its theoretician Balasingam) apparently to establish a radical image, but soon revealed its true colours as Tamil nationalist and secessionist. Until Indian military intervention in 1987 they were all committed in varying degrees to the establishment of the State of Tamil Eelam, either separate and sovereign or within a Federal Union. The absence of inner party democracy (the EPRLF and EROS have claimed some degree of collective leadership and inner party democracy) and the prevalence of a personality cult have made these groups highly authoritarian. But they have survived and retained popular support because of oppression and indiscriminate killings and detention of Tamils by the state’s security forces.

Kumar David giving in 1987 a characterisation of the most important groups lists the following general features they have in common. They are:

1. A programmatic commitment to a separate Tamil State called Eelam.
2. An internal mix of Tamil nationalist, Marxist and broad democratic currents, with wide differences in the ‘ratios’ of the mix.
3. A membership almost wholly in the under- 40 age group; most leaders being in their mid-30s, while the cadres are younger and include many teenagers.
4. Armed units and a commitment to armed struggle and a mix between the methods of ‘terrorism’ and ‘liberation war’.
5. Relationships with the central government in Delhi and the State government in Tamil Nadu and with Indian political parties, especially in South India, (this was largely true until Indian military intervention in 1987)
6. Financial support from the expatriate Tamil community in the US, Europe and elsewhere; links with Palestinians and other liberation organizations (in the early stages) and certain states. (6)

All the groups began primarily with a student and youth base. Their history has been marked with internecine conflicts resulting in the massacre of hundreds of Tamil youth by rival organisations. The leaders of TELO (in 1985) and EPRLF (1990) were assassinated by the LTTE. The PLOTE leader (in 1989) was also killed by hitherto unidentified men. The Indian state in the period 1983 to 1987 is known to have assisted some of these groups through its intelligence agents. Political leaders in the state of Tamil Nadu are suspected of having given assistance. From 1990 Sri Lankan government sources appear to have either financed or supplied with arms Tamil groups cooperating with the state.

All the groups have been committed towards-liberating’ the Tamil people and until 1987 had a common enemy - the Sri Lankan state and its armed forces. But since 1987 they have been involved in naked power struggles switching allies as and when it suited their interests. In 1987 when India intervened with the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord all the groups accepted the accord including the LTTE, which was pressurised by the Indian government to do so. Within two months the LTTE was at war with the Indian forces. The other groups co-operated with India in fighting against the LTTE. In 1989 the LTTE established close relations with the government of Sri Lanka then led by President Premadasa and called for the withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF). In June 1990 the brief honeymoon ended and the LTTE was once again at war with the Sri Lankan forces. Some of the other groups co-operated with the Sri Lankan security forces in a ruthless war against the LTTE.

Tamils not involved in armed struggle but politically involved have been liquidated by the LTTE. The leader of the TULF A. Amirthalingam, widely respected and most senior among Tamil politicians, was assassinated by the LTTE in July 1989 together with the popular former member of parliament for Jaffna V. Yogeswaran, who in the 1970s and early 80s risked his life in safeguarding militant Tamil youth. Several other politicians of the TULF have been killed. Human rights activists, members of the socialist parties, administrative service officials, university teachers and others have been killed or have disappeared, all victims of Tamil armed organizations. What began as a struggle for democratic and human rights for the Tamils has now degenerated into indiscriminate violence in which Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims have become victims. The wiping out of the un-armed Tamil democratic leadership by Tamil Armed Organisations has created a vacuum in Tamil society and prospects of building up a democratic leadership remain bleak at the present juncture. This is a major crisis facing Tamil society today.

The Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement

In July 1983 in retaliation for the killing of thirteen Sinhalese soldiers by the LTTE massive violence described as a holocaust was unleashed against the Tamils in which thousands lost their lives and many more their homes, livelihood and property. Thousands of Tamils including leading politicians fled to South India. Tamil refugees found refuge in several European countries as well. Mrs. Gandhi, prime minister of India effectively intervened expressing grave concern on behalf of the Indian government. From then onwards the government of India became actively involved in bringing about a solution. Several proposals were put forward and attempts were made to bring all the major Tamil groups and the Government of Sri Lanka to the negotiating table. In 1985 Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi succeeded in getting the parties concerned to meet in Thimpu, Bhutan. The talks failed. Further efforts continued through 1986. In July 1987 somewhat hastily and without adequate preparations and consultation with the Tamil groups the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement was announced. President Jayewardene and Rajiv Gandhi signed the agreement in Colombo, on July 29, 1987. The Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF), landed in the north and east of Lanka.

The main features of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement to establish peace and normalcy in Sri Lanka were as follows:

1. To preserve the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka;
2. Acknowledged that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual plural society consisting inter alia, of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims (Moors) and Burghers;
3. Recognised that the Northern and the Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamil speaking Peoples.
4. Subject to a referendum the Northern and Eastern Provinces will form one administrative unit, having one elected Provincial Council.
5. The official language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala. Tamil and English will also be official languages.

The agreement further provided for the surrender of arms by the Tamil militant groups to the IPKF, and the confinement of the Sri Lankan security forces to barracks. A general amnesty was declared for all political prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and Emergency Laws. India will ensure that Indian territory is not used for activities prejudicial to the unity, integrity and security of Sri Lanka. The repatriation of those Hill Country Tamils rendered stateless Tamils in 1948 and subject to the Indo- Lanka agreements to India will be expedited concurrently with the repatriation of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees from Tamil Nadu. The Governments of Sri Lanka and India will co-operate in ensuring the security and safety of all communities inhabiting the northern and eastern provinces.

Welcomed by world opinion and internationally acclaimed the provisions of the agreement were seen by many Tamils, the left movement and human rights organizations as a major step forward in resolving the ethnic conflict. Several international human rights groups and NGO’s concerned shared similar sentiments. The Indian troops received a warm welcome in the north and east. The LTTE was not happy about the agreement from the very beginning, but accepted it under Indian pressure, The LTTE for sometime had been making the claim that it should he recognised as the sole representative of the Tamil people. This was not acceptable to the other Tamil groups and the Governments of Sri Lanka and India, both countries with a long tradition of multi-party democratic systems. A series of incidents consciously planned or otherwise led to armed confrontation between the Indian army and the ITTE. Full scale fighting broke out in October 1987. The Indian armed forces under orders to disarm the LTTE now found themselves doing exactly what they had come to prevent - killing Tamil civilians.

The whole story of what happened is a sad and tragic episode in the history of the Tamils and their friendly relations with India. It became India’s longest war as noted by Indian writer Rajesh Kandian in a penetrating analysis of “India’s Sri Lanka Fiasco”. He adds that in effect, specialised troops and equipment of about ten divisions were committed to Sri Lanka. This meant that about 30% of the specialists and about 10% of the total manpower of the fourth largest army in the world was in two provinces of the island of Sri Lanka. At one time the ratio between uniformed Indians to the Tamil civilians was about 1:30. (7) Some two to three thousand Tamil civilians (estimates vary) were killed by the protector (IPKF) turned ruler. Both the Indian government and its armed forces discredited themselves. They either did not have the necessary intelligence services or skill, or did not have the will to fight the LTTE, which has been known for its tight internal discipline, tactics of guerrilla warfare, and suicidal attacks on the enemy. Two Indian army officers Major Shankar Bhaduri and Major General Afsir Karim have commented that the weaknesses of Indian policy were marked by a lack of diplomatic finesse, lack of a coherent response, a frequent drift in policies due to inadequate background study or a well-defined foreign policy.” In addition they are of the opinion that relevant paragraphs of the agreement suggest a degree of ambiguity in the military- oriented clauses. They state that Indian army contingents landed in Sri Lanka quite unprepared for the intricate nature of their politico-military task, and that there was an “absence of clear-cut directions and policy instructions”. (8)

There is some truth to the claim made that the Indians were fighting a war with one hand tied behind their backs. Questions have been raised as to whether the Indian army was under orders not to destroy the LTTE totally. This could have been possible in deference to public opinion in Tamil Nadu. It is also possible that India was keeping its options open for the future in the light of the hostile attitude of Sri Lankan governmental leaders, particularly that of the later President Premadasa (Prime Minister in the 1987-88 period). The fact that in an unprecedented move the Indian army brought detained LTTE leaders and cadres from South India and set them free in northern Lanka lends credence to this view. The Indian State, the Lankan State and the LTTE and the other Tamil organizations, especially the EPRLF drifted into a game of power politics, for influence and hegemony at the expense of the lives of innocent and helpless civilians. This power struggle did not serve the national interests of either India or Lanka, or the vital interests of the Tamil people.

India however succeeded in getting the Sri Lankan government to honour some of its commitments made under the agreement. Under the Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution elections were held (though under conditions of continuing violence) for the provincial councils and a provincial administration as set up under the EPRLF and other Tamil groups that co-operated with India. The northern and eastern provinces were combined into one unit providing the framework for autonomy. Parliament enacted laws to make Tamil and English official languages together with Sinhalese. Several of the grievances that had led to conflict were at least institutionally and legally resolved. But the credibility of the Lankan state remained low among the Tamils. Though provincial councils had been established devolution of power and allocation of financial resources did not take place. However, the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 1987, carrying forward the basic principles enunciated in the failed Bandaranaike – Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957, became the minimum framework within which future attempts at solutions were approached. To that extent it marks a major step forward.

Meanwhile in the Sinhalese provinces the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (Peoples Liberation Front) was carrying on a war against the ruling party and all other political groups that had supported the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement. The state retaliated with brutality. People, especially youth, disappeared by the thousands. What had begun as a conflict in which Sinhalese soldiers killed Tamils and Tamil armed organizations killed Sinhalese soldiers, and at times civilians, had now become one in which Sinhalese killed Sinhalese and Tamils killed Tamils and Indians killed Tamils. It is now estimated that over sixty thousand people, mostly Sinhalese, died in the two years from 1987 to 1989.

In 1988 presidential elections were held. Mr. Premadasa was elected President in a closely fought election defeating Mrs. Bandaranaike. In the NE province the conditions were not conducive for free and fair elections. Parliamentary elections followed resulting in the UNP getting a majority. President Premadasa’s government succeeded in destroying the leadership of the JVP and put a stop to its violent activities. He began a dialogue with the LTTE and succeeded in getting their co-operation in demanding the withdrawal of the IPKF. Meanwhile Rajiv Gandhi lost the elections in India and V.P Singh’s government complied with the demands made by the Lankan government and the LTTE. The last of the IPKF personnel left the country by the end of March 1990. By June of the same year the LTTE and the Sri Lankan forces were at war again. Merciless bombing raids on civilian targets in the north and east now became part of this vicious war.

Without sympathy and support in India, and without the kind of support they received from international human rights and non-governmental organizations (prior to the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement) the Tamils became totally isolated and at the mercy of the Sri Lankan state on the one hand and the LTTE on the other as they engaged in a brutal war. The credibility of the LTTE and other Tamil armed organizations became low among foreign governments and international human rights organizations because of their own extensive violations of human rights of the Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslim people.

Premadasa Government and the post-IPKF period

“From Indo-Lanka Accord onwards, the LTTE has been the main impediment to a negotiated peace and a political solution to the ethnic problem; had Mr. Pirapakaran been a little less intransigent, the war could have ended if not in 1987, definitely in 1989 or 1994 or 2002. The other impediment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, Sinhala supremacism, was not dominant within the polity or society during this period and it was Tiger maximalism which kept the country and the Tamils locked in a war benefiting neither”(9)

The above comment, made by a reputed Sinhalese journalist known for the stand she has taken in favour of justice to the Tamils sums up what happened in the two decades after the Indo-Lanka Accord. The lost opportunities loom large as Sinhala supremacism gained ground in the last three years, which together with other factors have placed the Tamils in the hitherto unprecedented predicament they are in today.

Premadasa, an opponent of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, was elected President in 1988. He and the LTTE having become uneasy allies called for the withdrawal of the Indian forces. Talks between the Premadasa Government and the LTTE began in May 1989 and lasted until June 1990. The Premadasa government supplied arms to the LTTE to fight the IPKF and the Tamil organizations that collaborated with the IPKF. In March 1990 the IPKF finally withdrew.

The negotiations lasted from May 1989 to June 1990. The final withdrawal of the IPKF took place in March 1990. The LTTE overnight took over several of the camps and centres installed by the IPKF and established its control over large areas once controlled by the IPKF.

The Sri Lankan Security forces and the LTTE were at war again. This phase of the war has been referred to as Eelam War II. It became a brutal war .

Hundreds (estimates vary) of Sinhalese and Muslim policemen were killed after they had surrendered. The government placed an embargo on food and medicine entering the Jaffna Peninsula and all LTTE controlled territories. The air force bombed LTTE targets in the area. The LTTE in turn attacked Sinhalese villagers. In the east the LTTE massacred over a hundred Muslims – an incident that became notorious creating a great deal of heart burning among the Muslims.

          Government forces retaliated. Along roadsides burning bodies became a common sight. Government or paramilitary death squads kidnapped or killed Sinhalese or Tamil youth suspected of being JVP or LTTE sympathizers.

In what became a major blunder in October 1990, the LTTE expelled all the Muslims residing in Jaffna. This amounted to a total of 28,000 Muslims (again estimates vary depending on which side one is on) were forced to leave their homes leaving behind all their possessions.

In one of the largest battles of the war in July 1991, the LTTE attempted to take without success the Elephant Pass base, which controlled access to the Jaffna peninsula. More than 2,000 died on both sides in a battle that lasted a month.

In February 1992, a series of government offensives failed to capture Jaffna. Lt. General Denzil Kobbekaduwa and other top ranking officers were killed in August, 1992 due to a land mine blast. This was a severe setback to the security forces. In November 1993 the LTTE succeeded in taking Pooneryn another gateway to the Jaffna Peninsula in a significant battle.

The security forces this time bombed and shelled Tamil areas resulting in heavy casualties. Supplies and essential items like petrol, vital consumer goods, medicines etc. were scarce in Jaffna, and when available the prices were exorbitant compared to the rest of the country. The bicycle became the chief mode of transport. A Colombo-Jaffna trip by train or bus that took six to ten hours now lasted several days by devious routes, using primitive and risky means of transportation by land and sea. The one time Jaffna based University Teachers for Human Rights, living in exile from 1989 following the assassination of one of their members Dr. Rajini Thiranagama by the LTTE, documented several facets to this war and referred to the Tamils as a “trapped people.” 

Internecine conflict among the Tamils led to the assassination of prominent Tamils. These include Amithalingam leader of the TULF, Yogeswaran one time popular M.P for Jaffna, Tamil and Muslim (Tamil-speaking) civil servants and administrative officers, businessmen, political party officials, former parliamentarians, human rights activists, educationists, students and ordinary workers were killed or disappeared. EPRLF leader Padmanaba and the entire leadership of this party were killed in South India.

Most publicized was the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. This had enormous consequences for the LTTE and more than any other single act eventually sealed its fate. India was alienated. Without Indian support the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils could not be won leave alone the nationalist aspirations of the Tamils as articulated by the LTTE. High profile assassinations among Sinhalese leaders included minister of defence Ranjan Wijeratne, who had been involved in negotiations with the LTTE, and Lalith Athulathmudali, the former minister of defence. President Premadasa himself became the victim of a suicide bomber in May 1993. Presidential candidate of the UNP, Gamini Dissanaike, generally believed to have been politically close to India, was assassinated during the election campaign in 1994. The LTTE has been accused of perpetrating these acts.

Meanwhile hundreds of Tamil Youth languished in state prisons under the draconian regulations of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and frequent Emergency rule, which gave extra-ordinary powers to the state’s security forces. The LTTE in the post IPKF period had consolidated its rule over large chunks of territory in the North and East. They had effectively established an administration of their own, especially over the Jaffna Peninsula, the centre of Tamil culture and civilization, with its famous schools. These schools and the University of Jaffna established in 1975 functioned free of interference by the LTTE, but with a kind of tacit allegiance to it whether voluntary or forced. Trapped between two heavily armed adversaries the average Tamil had to do a great deal of tight rope walking in order to survive. In the perception of the security forces any Tamil, especially youth, was a suspected “terrorist” a much over worked and abused pejorative term until he or she proved himself/herself innocent. Tens of thousands fled the country. Several states in Europe, Australia and Canada in particular granted refugee status to Tamils on arrival. Most liberal was Canada so much so that by the end of the 1990s Toronto alone had over two hundred thousand Tamils, these figures exceeding that of the city of Jaffna within municipal limits at its heyday in the 1970s. Globally the Tamil diaspora had become a force to contend with. A veteran Tamil journalist in 1977 wrote, “Tamil Eelam is a state of mind.” In this sense Tamil Eelam had become a reality in Toronto!

Where the institutions of government were concerned including the service sector such as hospitals, schools, banks, the meagre bus services etc run by the state, a dual administration prevailed. The flow of basic goods was maintained by the state, and when the land route was closed by sea. The railway services to Jaffna, the longest and most lucrative line in the country ceased to function by the mid 1980s, was rebuilt by the IPKF and once again disrupted when the war resumed in 1990. A dedicated band of Tamil administrative officials at the local level kept vital supplies moving in the Tamil homeland. These men and women served at great personal risk to their lives saddled with the unenviable task of serving two masters. Some of them paid for these services with their own lives caught in the crossfire and in some cases were assassinated. The salaries of all government employees, including pensions were paid by the state. But these same employees were subject to the dictates of the LTTE as and when they found it necessary.

The Peoples’ Alliance Government of 1994

It was in this scenario that a major political change took place in the country. The UNP after a rule of 17 years was defeated and the Peoples’ Alliance (primary constituent was the SLFP) under the leadership of Ms. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge was swept to power at the parliamentary general elections of August 1994. She also won the presidential election that followed in November.  The new government came to power with substantial mass support and with an unprecedented support of diverse smaller political parties including that of the Tamils and the Muslims.

Never had a government come to power with such goodwill and hope. The TULF independent of the LTTE welcomed this new government and immediately initiated a dialogue. In fact the Tamil people at large looked upon this government with favour. The LTTE issued a statement welcoming the election and as a gesture of goodwill declared a weeklong unilateral cease-fire on 12 November 1994, the date on which Ms. Kumaratunge took oaths as President.

Talks began in October 1994. In negotiating with a tough and battle-hardened adversary the new government’s approach was marked by an absence of professionalism bordering on amateurism, failure to lay down a clear conceptual framework, and what appears in retrospect a lack of commitment, the talks came to a disastrous end. The hopes evoked were frittered away within one year. In April 1995 the LTTE unilaterally withdrew from the talks. With the resumption of hostilities the government launched a major offensive. In a much publicised incident in August 1995, Air Force jets bombed St. Peter's church at Navali in Jaffna. Tamil sources alleged that, several refugees were killed and wounded. This phase of the war was dubbed Eelam War III.

After seven weeks of heavy fighting Jaffna was brought under government control for the first time in nearly a decade. In a high profile ceremony, smacking of triumphalism and reminiscent of a feudal age and certainly hurtful to Tamil sentiment the Sri Lankan Defense Minister Anurudda Ratwatte raised the Sri Lankan Lion flag inside the Jaffna Fort on December 5, 1995. The deaths and casualties among the fighting cadres on both sides were high.

Facing defeat in Jaffna and on retreat the LTTE issued orders that all civilians move to the South across the lagoon, to the Vanni in the mainland. This came to be known as the ‘Exodus’. People moved in large convoys in whatever vehicles and bicycles that were available and mostly on foot. An estimated 350,000 were on the move. Many crossed the shallow waters at the Kilali crossing in makeshift rafts to the mainland. Unable to cope with the suffering tens of thousands turned back and returned to their homes. Several thousands of those that crossed over returned to the Jaffna Peninsula when some normalcy was restored there. Life in the Vanni largely under-developed was always harsh and the service sector was weak and backward compared to that in the Jaffna Peninsula.

The battle front moved to the Vanni. The LTTE launched the Operation Unceasing Waves and took control of Mullaitivu in July 1990. In May  1997, 20,000 government troops tried to open the A9 road that linked Jaffna to Colombo through the LTTE controlled Vanni. This failed but casualties among civilians and fighting cadres on both sides were high.

Meanwhile attacks continued allegedly by the LTTE using suicide cadres and time bombs in the city of Colombo and in other areas in the south of the country targeting prominent places and public transport, killing hundreds of civilians.

In January 1996, took place the attack on the Central Bank in Colombo, killing 90 and injuring 1,400, sending shock waves to the professional and upper middle classes in Colombo. For the latter life had been normal remaining insulated and insensitive to the death and suffering in the war zone. Most of the victims in the war had been the poor in the rural areas. It was the children of the poor from both among the Sinhalese and the Tamils that were being sent to the frontlines to be massacred. Victims in the above Central Bank attack belonged to all communities.

The Sri Lankan World Trade Centre in Colombo was attacked in October 1997. In January 1998, the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, one of the famous and holy Buddhist sites for pilgrimages in the country was damaged by a truck bomb attack by the LTTE. The Sri Lankan government proscribed the LTTE and launched a campaign among several governments especially in the western world to do so. A primary aim was to freeze fundraising among the Tamils abroad.

On September 27, 1998 the LTTE launched the Operation Unceasing Waves II and captured Kilinochchi which thereafter became the capital of LTTE controlled territories in the North until its fall in January 2009. In March 1999 the government tried once again to regain territory in the Vanni, but without much success.

With the Operation Unceasing Waves III in 1999 the LTTE rapidly gained control of nearly the entire Vanni region. The LTTE launched several successful attacks in the region which culminated in the overrunning of the Paranthan Chemicals Factory base. Thousands were killed in the fighting. They also began their advance north towards Elephant Pass and Jaffna.

In December 1999 the LTTE attempted to assassinate President Chandrika Kumaratunga in a suicide attack at an election rally. She lost one eye, among other injuries, but was able to defeat opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in the Presidential election and was re-elected for her second term in office.

In April 2000 the Elephant Pass military complex fell to the LTTE. The Elephant Pass causeway was the vital narrow strip, which had separated the Jaffna peninsula from the Vanni in the mainland. The fall of this vital base was a significant victory for the LTTE. From the 1970s this transit point with its check points and detention camps was more than a nuisance to the Tamils as they travelled between Jaffna and the rest of the country. It was approached with fear and trepidation, and had become symbol of intense humiliation to the Tamils.

The army then launched an operation to take back the southern Jaffna Peninsula, but sustained losses. The LTTE continued to press towards Jaffna, and many feared it would fall to the LTTE, but the military repulsed LTTE offensives and was able to maintain control of the city and substantial parts of the Peninsula. The year 2000 marked the total destruction of the once thriving town of Chavakachcheri, the second largest urban centre in Jaffna, with three major schools and a thriving market. Almost all its inhabitants were rendered homeless and refugees. Heavy artillery including multiple barrel guns was used, targeting a densely populated area.

In the Vanni the LTTE eventually established its impregnable quasi-state of ‘Tamil Eelam’, with its own administration, judiciary, police force and taxation system. In developing sea power and a mini-air force the LTTE had the distinction of being the first and only guerrilla movement in the world to have developed these attributes of statehood. Having lost large sections of the historic Jaffna Peninsula the LTTE consolidated its position in the districts of Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, large chunks in the Mannar district and portions of the Vavuniya district. In the East it held substantial portions in the Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts. In terms of territory controlled the LTTE reached its highest point in the post 1996 period, which lasted until 2007.   

Cease Fire 2001

Leader of the UNP Ranil Wickremasinghe had campaigned on a platform for peace and a negotiated settlement. Some years earlier Thondaman senior had suggested that the LTTE be given ipso facto power over areas under their control for ten years in exchange for cessation of hostilities. Both President Chandrika Kumaratunga Bandaranaike and Ranil Wickremasinghe had also expressed similar sentiments on different occasions. In fact Premadasa had at one time stated in Tamil “Ellam Tharalam” (all can be given, Ellam sounding like Eelam!) The message was that the essence of power as perceived in the status quo, short of secession, could be conceded through a compromise that did not dictate a constitutional settlement.

How serious these leaders were about such feelers to the LTTE is open to question. They were constantly involved in a sordid game of power politics. But beneath the everyday humdrum of politics was a brutal reality that this war at that point in time was not winnable, and if at all possible would have to be at tremendous cost in lives, resources, and loss of international goodwill.

Ideally the leaders of the two major parties the PA (SLFP) and the UNP should have arrived at an agreement with a maximum consensus to be offered to the LTTE in particular and the Tamil people at large. Such a compromise was arrived at in 2000 for the first time in fifty years when the two parties sat down for six months and drafted a constitution. Known as the 2000 constitution it remains the single substantial document to be tabled in parliament providing for a federal form of government. Short of just three provisions that failed to satisfy the TULF, it provided the basis for a solution. The LTTE ignored this exercise since they were not consulted. But when the bill came before parliament Ranil Wickremasinghe and the UNP betrayed the whole process. It was a stab in the back for Chandrika Kumaratunga. The whole process broke down. Nor did the frontline leadership of Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government, with the rare exception of a few speakers, back this on the floor of parliament. Nevertheless this draft constitution still remains the basis, which with suitable amendments can provide a constitutional settlement that satisfies Tamil aspirations.   

Why did this attempt fail? For fifty years party rivalry, marked by family bandyism, nepotism, patronage and the consequent corruption prevailed. In short political opportunism that sacrificed long term gains for short term interests dominated the politics of both parties. The national question did not receive priority. Neither of these two parties in fifty years had ever held a party conference to debate the national question and evolve a consensus within their own parties. And this was the most important issue that was tearing the country apart. To that extent there was no internal democracy or informed and rational policy making.

This was unfortunate since Sinhalese majoritarianism and ultra nationalism had toned down in the post 1994 period. The JVP and the Sihala Urumaya (Sinhala Heritage) that stood to the far right opposing any devolution of power were weak at this point in time. The press had become relatively free after seventeen years of authoritarian rule ( including an extension of the life of parliament elected in 1977 through a referendum held in 1982) by the UNP. Human rights groups and civil society had regained a new lease of life. These positive dimensions that emerged were frittered away by the Chandrika Kumaratunga government and the Ranil Wickremasinghe opposition, primarily occupied with their petty squabbles and personality clashes.

Meanwhile a multiplicity of factors led to the ceasefire and subsequent talks. War fatigue had taken its toll with both sides having reached a stalemate. The ruthless battles of the year 2000, and the impunity with which the LTTE were able to inflict substantial damage in a tight security zone such as the Bandaranaike International Airport, had created for both the government and the LTTE the need for some  breathing space and hence the cessation of hostilities. A well known and highly respected left theoretician Hector Abhayavardhana as early as in the 1960s remarked that Lanka’s capitalist class lacked self-confidence. One may add they lacked patriotism and loyalty to the country in contrast to their counter-parts in several Asian countries such as in India, China, Japan and notably Singapore. Some members of this weak and pliant class for the first time raised their voices in protest and called for peace. Globally a new era of “anti-Terrorism” with the  9/11 attacks in the USA had emerged. This new international climate had a profound impact and expedited the process. Several states had offered their good offices to act as facilitators. The government of Sri Lanka chose Norway to facilitate negotiations.

The dissolution of parliament and the ensuing parliamentary elections resulted in the rival UNF (the UNP with dissident members of the PA who crossed over and formed an alliance named the United National Front) forming the government in December 2001. The LTTE declared their willingness to explore measures for a peaceful settlement to the conflict.

As a result of efforts made by Norway, on December 19, 2001 the LTTE announced a thirty day ceasefire. The new government welcomed the move. The long standing economic embargo on LTTE controlled territory was lifted.

Memorandum of Understanding

The two sides formalized a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on 22 February, 2002 and signed a permanent ceasefire agreement (CFA). Norway was named facilitator, and together with the other Nordic countries agreed to monitor the ceasefire.

Commercial air flights to Jaffna began and the LTTE opened the A9 highway, allowing civilian traffic through the Vanni region.  A tax on all vehicles was levied by the LTTE. Ambassadors and diplomatic delegations with the exception of India and the USA, NGOs and INGOs, journalists, peace and human rights activists, politicians from several parties and religious leaders visited the LTTE peace secretariat in Kilinochchi.

Ranil Wickremasinghe gave a major press conference striking an optimistic note, but in spite of repeated questions refused to commit himself to an overall constitutional settlement. But continuously pressed for an answer he was driven to drop a hint at the end of the conference. The constitutional settlement he admitted was already there. Obviously he meant the provisions of the 2000 constitution which his own party had sabotaged for narrow political gains.

Pirapakaran, leader of the LTTE, in one of his extremely rare public appearances and under tight security, held a much-anticipated international press conference in Kilinochchi on April 10, 2002. Balasingam functioned as the interpreter but in reality turned out to be more spokesperson than interpreter. Pirapakaran spoke in Tamil, and by no means a person with oratorical skills, he faltered and looked up to his long time associate. A two-sentence answer by Pirapakaran was paraphrased and expanded into a lengthier piece by Balasingam, who was carried away by the event and his enhanced status. Experienced observers and analysts were aware that what Balasingam said did not count. But Pirapakaran said little of significance and he gave away nothing. The press conference proved to be a major disappointment,

There was, however, a new mood in the country as tens of thousands of Tamils both from within the country and abroad took this opportunity to visit Jaffna after a lapse of two decades. For many, who had become reconciled to the thought that they will never return to see Jaffna again, it was an emotion filled moment with grief and intense sadness as they stepped off the plane, to see the cherished homeland devastated with miles and miles of high security zones in the once thickly populated, and productive red soil region surrounding the Palali airport. But it had its moments of intense joy, in being able to return home and set foot on one’s own soil with cherished memories of pre-war days especially that of childhood and student days. Visiting relatives and friends who had been through all the privations and sufferings of war, including the loss of family members, was particularly moving. Not to be missed was a return to worship in the historic and hallowed temples and churches. A return to the schools and colleges was in particular reassuring, one sign of hope in a bleak scenario. These schools and colleges, and the University of Jaffna, were the pride of Jaffna, the institutions that made it possible for the Tamils to reach heights of educational and professional advancement. They were still intact and functioning with a depleted and often a less competent staff, though some terribly damaged. It has been repeatedly asserted by visitors to Jaffna that its very ethos was education and it is a tribute to the teachers, principals, other employees, parents and students that they never gave up on this treasured heritage. In the totally devastated areas such as Chavakachcheri, the people who had fled were gradually returning and picking up their lives once again.

People who returned or went on a visit Jaffna broadly fell into four categories. (1) Those who for all practical purposes had been refugees in the Western Province renovated their destroyed or damaged houses and returned to live in Jaffna, where under conditions of normalcy the cost of living was much less than in Colombo and the quality of life, though simple but better. House rents in Colombo were exorbitantly high. (2) Families, especially that of the professional and wealthier classes that had left Jaffna lock, stock and barrel, grand-parents and all, returned for a last farewell having decided to break links that lasted generations, and also disposed of their properties. (3) Some sold their properties and invested in flats in Colombo. (4) Another category kept long term options open retaining properties and contacts in Jaffna hoping to return someday.

Land values that had hit rock-bottom at the height of the war, skyrocketed. A lacham of land (2,227 sq. ft:  that is 16 lachams equaling one acre) on the outskirts of the Jaffna Municipal limits went up from SL Rs.100,000 in 1999 to Rs.300,000 in 2002 and hit a high of Rs.1.5 million by 2003- 04. Obviously speculators and contractors were involved.

Trade and tourism flourished. Even Sinhalese people visited Jaffna in large numbers, some for sightseeing and out of curiosity, but most went on pilgrimage to the famous Buddhist temple in Nagadeepa (Nainativu in Tamil, an island off the Jaffna Peninsula). During the ceasefire period Jaffna’s stagnant economy showed signs of revival as the GDP went up. The much relished Jaffna fruits and vegetables were once again available in Colombo, and a variety of consumer items hardly available in the war years filled the shops in Jaffna and the Vanni. Naturally optimism grew that an end to the long conflict was in sight.

Peace Talks

The LTTE was de-proscribed on September 6, 2002 and the way was laid open for direct negotiations with the LTTE. Talks consisted of six rounds from September 2002 to March 2003. They were (1) Sattahip. Thailand  September 16-19, 2002. (2) Bangkok, Thailand October 31–November 03, 2002. (3) Oslo, Norway Dec. 2-5, 2002. (4) Bangkok, Thailand January 06-09, 2003 (5) Berlin, Germany February 7- 8, 2005 (6) Hakone, Tokyo March 18-21, 2003.

The GoSL team consisted of Ministers G.L.Peiris, Milinda Moragoda, Rauf Hakeem and Peace Secretariat head Bernard Goonatilleke. The LTTE was represented by Anton Balasingam, S .P. Tamilselvam, Adel Balasingam, V. Rudrakumaran, Jay Maheswaran and Vinayagamoorthy Muralidaran (Karuna Amman)

A fundamental weakness in the whole process was that the Executive President of the State, Chandrika Kumaratunga was excluded from the process. The 1978 constitution drafted by the Jayawardene government, it has often been remarked, was tailor made for the then incumbent president, politically a deeply insecure man who had to fight all his life to reach the position at the apex which he finally reached in his seventies. With undated letters of resignation from every one of his MPs in his possession he drafted a constitution that gave extra-ordinary powers to the executive president. He abolished the old Westminster style parliamentary system and introduced an executive presidency and an elected parliament that was effectively devalued under his regime. The system worked as long as the same party controlled the presidency and parliament. In her election campaign Chandrika Kumaratunga had promised to abolish the executive presidency. Neither she nor her successor did so. Once in power no incumbent president is likely to divest herself or himself of the extra-ordinary powers invested in this presidential system.

2001 was a rare instance when the chances for cohabitation emerged with the president belonging to one party and the PM to another. But it did not work. This became one vital reason why the peace process broke down.

Internal Self-Determination

As Sumanasiri Liyanage has commented: “The most significant and noteworthy development at the third round of talks was the agreement … to explore the possibility of a federal solution to the national conflict. The statement issued by the Royal Norwegian Government on December 5, 2002 has the following:

‘Responding to a proposal by the leadership of the LTTE, the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka.

As a means of achieving the above, it was agreed to initiate discussion on substantive political issues including: (a) Power sharing between the centre and region as well as within the centre. (b) geographical region (c) human rights protection (d) political and administrative mechanism (e) public finance and (f) law and order’

Conflicting interpretations have been given to the above agreement. It was immediately perceived as a step forward. On the other hand it was perceived as too good to be true, that the LTTE would drop its secessionist demand. Balasingam in his book “War and Peace” later explained that the LTTE always include both the internal and external aspects when it talked about the right of self-determination, and was quick to add that “if this element of self-determination is blocked or denied and the demand for self rule is rejected we have no alternative other than to secede and form an independent state.” (10)

The Talks Break Down

The Tigers had expected to be participants in the Washington donor meeting held on April 14 –15, 2003. Listed as a prohibited organisation in the USA there was no way in which an official delegation from the LTTE could have participated at a meeting in the USA. Nor could the USA have lifted the proscription at short notice, bound by its laws and processes. The question has therefore been rightly asked why then was any such talks scheduled in the USA by Norway and the UNF negotiators, knowing very well that the LTTE would be excluded. The whole episode smacked of bad faith or deliberate scheming. While engaged in talks with the LTTE, it later became evident, that the UNF government had evolved an “international safety network” obviously with the USA and possibly Japan (often known to act as proxy for the USA in Asia) and other powers as key actors. 

          Nor were the full economic rewards of peace reaching the LTTE. The LTTE’s position was that progress had to be made on the ground before the settlement proceeded.

On April 21, 2003 the LTTE unilaterally withdrew from the peace talks. Though invited to the Tokyo Donor Conference on June 5, 2003, the LTTE refused to participate. This was in spite of repeated appeals by the Japanese negotiator Yasushi Akashi who was a frequent visitor to Kilinochchi in this period. Though the negotiations failed and cease-fire held. 

The Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA)

On October 31, the LTTE announced its own peace proposal, calling for an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA). This was the first time in twenty years of war and peace talks that the LTTE submitted a comprehensive document. The preamble consisting of 26 paragraphs and the 23 clauses were couched in moderate language. The tone was by no means belligerent. Of the 23 clauses 13 were more or less conceded under the provincial councils system established under the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. Seven clauses were grey areas that given good will could have been negotiated. Three clauses in particular were red areas that any Sri Lankan government would have found it difficult to concede.

These were clause 1.The Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA( shall be  established comprising of the eight districts namely Amparai, Batticaloa, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu, Trincomalee, and Vavuniya in the Northeast, until final negotiated settlement is reached and implemented. This in the Sinhalese perception was asking for too much territory – the one major stumbling block in all negotiations. Tamil Eelam maps published by the LTTE claimed more than these territories covered by these eight districts. Sinhalese spokespersons were of the view that the Ceylon or Ilankai Tamils constituted just about 12 per cent of the Islands population, and a fair number were living in the other provinces.

The extent of territory claimed must be seen in the context of the composition of the ISGA proposed by the LTTE. This was to be composed of 2.2 a. Members appointed by the LTTE.  2.2 b. members appointed by the GOSL, and 2.2 c. members appointed by the Muslim Community in the Northeast. The number of members will be determined to ensure 2.3.a. an absolute majority of the LTTE appointees in the ISGA. 2.2.b. Subject to (a) above, the Muslim and Sinhala Communities in the North East shall have representations in the ISGA.

Most controversial was article 18. Marine and off-shore resources. The ISGA shall have control over the maritime and offshore resources of the adjacent seas and the power to regulate access thereto. This, from the point of the view of the government, challenged the very sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state. No Sinhalese government could have conceded the latter.

The ISGA did not receive the political response it deserved from the either of the major parties. But it has been commented upon by some of the leading analysts in the country. Here we give the gist of comments by three Sinhalese long-time academics.

Uyangoda was of the view that “many of these proposals do not fall within the framework limits as set out in Sri Lanka’s existing constitution … the LTTE was biased towards “self rule” as opposed to “shared rule” ... and went far beyond ... the existing understanding of federalism as shared rule…That proposition was based on the LTTE’s nationalist commitment to sharing state sovereignty. (11)

Sumanasiri commented that for Uyangoda “the LTTE is not a conventional counter-state military actor. He in fact sees the LTTE as an organisation whose core characteristics are guided by its quest for political legitimacy, political dignity and political parity.. and that Uyangoda calls for a state restructuring framework … a confederal type of state within which the LTTE’s present military structure can be accommodated. Sumanasiri added that the ISGA went beyond an “administrative arrangement” and was in fact closer to a final settlement. It sought to go beyond what is called internal self-determination.

Dayan Jayatileke’s main focus, says Sumanasiri, is not the content of the ISGA proposal and the powers the LTTE seeks, but the core characteristics of the LTTE. He wrote: “the ISGA plus the Tiger army and navy equals a separate state“. The ISGA minus the Tiger army and navy is something that can be accommodated with modifications. So, it isn’t the ISGA problem: i.e., “interim self rule” for the Tamils, that’s the real problem: it’s the Tigers, their suicide bombers, artillery, and navy with its kamikaze boats potentially capable of perforating the artery of strategic commerce between the Straits of Hormuz and the Straits of Malacca. (12)

Sumansiri added that Dayan Jayatileke preferred an internationally supervised decommissioning as part of any deal on the ISGA and that he stands for self rule with substantial powers conditioned on decommissioning the LTTE.

Pro-LTTE analysts have asserted that the ISGA was put forward for negotiations. Proposals after a prolonged war are pitched high. The Government of Sri Lanka instead of inviting the LTTE for negotiations and finding the space for a negotiated agreement turned down the proposals. This strengthened the perception among the Tamils that neither Ranil Wickremasinghe nor Chandrika Kumaratunga had the will for a negotiated settlement. The LTTE by demanding that they alone were the sole representatives of the Tamil people played into the hands of the state. There were several dissenting groups among the Tamils that had rejected the sole representative status for the LTTE. 

The Ceasefire, and the consequent ISGA proposals provoked a strong backlash among the hard-line elements in the South, who accused Prime Minister Wickremasinghe of handing the North and East to the LTTE.  Chandrika Kumaratunga ever waiting for an opportunity to regain power declared a state of emergency and took three key government ministries, the Ministry of Mass Media, the Interior Ministry and the crucial Defence Ministry. She then formed an alliance with the JVP. This was named the United People's Freedom Alliance. The JVP was opposed to any talks with the LTTE advocating a harder line and called for fresh elections.

The parliamentary elections, held on April 8, 2004, resulted in victory for the UPFA. Mahinda Rajapakse was appointed Prime Minister. But the new government expressed its desire to continue the peace process and find a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

Split in the LTTE

2004 marked a turning point in the history of the conflict. Two developments in 2004 weakened the LTTE, paving the way for the 2009 debacle. The first was the breakaway of the Eastern Province wing of the LTTE. The second was the Tsunami of December 2004

Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, better known as Karuna Amman, had led the LTTE in several spectacular battles against the armed forces  Hailing from the Eastern Province he had his own base and following in this region. Friction occurred between his wing and the primarily Jaffna based leadership in the Vanni. There had all along been a separate local identity among eastern Tamils within the larger Tamil identity. Under the tactful and statesmanlike leadership of Chelvanayakam these differences were overcome and a broad political unity of the Tamils established. Chelvanayakam demonstrated a willingness to share power, position and leadership with leaders from the east within the FP and the subsequent TULF. Dormant tensions resurfaced after his demise. Rajadurai, MP for Batticaloa from 1956, a long standing and eloquent platform speaker for the FP, following dissension within the party accepted a ministership in the Jayewardene government of 1977. This marked the first major rift among the evolving Tamil Eelam nationalists.

This time it was Pirapaharan's trusted battle hardened lieutenant Karuna, who pulled out an estimated four to five thousand eastern cadres from the LTTE. It is generally believed that a power struggle had surfaced and that Karuna alleged that insufficient resources and power were being given to Tamils of the east. The LTTE made counter accusations.

Sometime after the talks with President Premadasa had failed, charges of treason were made against Mahattaya, the deputy leader of the LTTE. He with hundreds of cadres loyal to him had surrendered to the leadership. They were detained and eventually Mahattaya and several of his cadres were executed. Karuna obviously aware of the fate that awaited him did not respond when summoned to the headquarters in the Vanni.

The loss of large chunks of territory in the Eastern Province had an adverse effect on the LTTE. In the course of time this became a major factor that led to the decline of the LTTE. The east had been a fertile recruiting ground. By 1996 the LTTE had lost large parts of Jaffna and hence access to youth and children in that district. The Vanni area compared to Jaffna and the east was sparsely populated.

The LTTE pilot Rooben, of the plane that crashed in Colombo in February 2009, left a hand written message to the Tamils that spoke volumes. He compared the Tamil struggle to that of the Jews for a homeland and said “We (LTTE) have enough armaments. What we need is man-power.” (13)

Mao compared guerrillas to fish in the sea. With the loss of the East the LTTE had ceased to control a substantial segment of the ‘sea’ in which the guerrillas thrived. A large number of the Tamils fleeing from the war zone had found fresh ‘waters’ that no doubt were inhospitable and insecure. But decisions were made not by choice but by necessity as they moved to the Western Province. From here there was a continuous flow to the several countries where the Tamil diaspora had established itself.

The Tamil diaspora had internationalized the issue. Characterized by organizational expertise and commitment these Tamils marched by the thousands with banners held high, on the streets of the major cities in Europe, North America and Australia. They were the source of funding to the LTTE. Paradoxically in attracting more and more Tamils, especially youth to these lands, this same diaspora unwittingly weakened the Tamil nationalist struggle at home. Many Tamil youth waited with passport in hand to leave the country at the earliest opportunity. In order to contain this, the LTTE imposed a strict permit system. Families were not permitted to collectively leave LTTE controlled territory, thereby making it obligatory for every single resident to return to his or her family if and when one of them left on visits to other parts of the island or abroad.      

A major civil war among the two factions of the LTTE seemed imminent. But after some clashes Karuna disbanded his forces, and initiated a process of co-operating with the state, a process consolidated in 2008. Soon another split occurred within the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (Tamil Peoples Liberation Tigers) that Karuna had founded. His deputy Pillayan took control of the movement. But both Karuna and Pillayan have separately linked themselves with the state.

The LTTE was not able to regain its domination in those areas in the east that it once controlled. The TMVP contested the provincial council elections held in the Eastern Province together with the ruling UPFA and today Pillayan is chief minister of the province. The mayor of Batticaloa also hails from his party.    

The Tsunami of 2004

On December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean Tsunami hit Sri Lanka, killing more than 30,000 people, and leaving many more homeless. Most affected was the sea-coast on the East of the Island inhabited mostly by Tamils and Muslims. Both LTTE controlled territory and government controlled coastline had been devastated.  Disagreements arose instantly over how aid from abroad should be distributed to the Tamil regions under LTTE control.

In June 2005 the government and LTTE agreed on the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS). The Tsunami obviously was a setback to any preparations for a resumption of war by both sides. Attention now focused on the disbursement of funds flowing in from abroad. The Norwegians had facilitated the P-TOMS Agreement, which was once again acknowledged as opening some space for the state and the LTTE to work together, having been brought together by an unprecedented natural disaster. One of the drawbacks of the above agreement was that the Muslims had been excluded from this agreement. The Muslims in the east had been among the worst affected.

The failure of the above arrangement demonstrated how deep rooted, animosity and suspicions were in the country. The JVP filed a petition in the Supreme Court and a stay order was issued by the courts on some provisions of the P-TOMS. The whole episode brought to the surface the reluctance of powerful forces within Sinhalese society that rejected any reforms in the direction of power sharing even at an administrative level, leave alone through constitutional reforms.

The fact that the Tsunami could not bring the divergent political leaders together demonstrated how divisive the country had become not merely on the basis of ethnic identities but also through adversarial politics among the Sinhalese themselves.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, while expressing their concerns separately, were not able to come together to act unitedly when a natural disaster of such proportions hit the country. Victims belonged to all ethnic groups and political affiliations, and often came from the poorer classes. Presidents Bush Sr. and Clinton, who had fought a bitter election in 1992 in the USA, did make a joint visit to the Asian countries hit by the tsunami including Lanka. This was a classic case of political adversaries coming together on humanitarian grounds. But the leaders of this country were so obsessed with their petty party conflicts that they lacked the wisdom and humane impulses to act together to demonstrate compassion and support to the afflicted. It is therefore not surprising that this leadership was never able to come together to resolve the National Question. 

Violence ceased for a few months in the immediate aftermath of the Tsunami only to re-emerge with a vengeance in the course of time. Several high profile assassinations took place in 2005 and thereafter.

In November 2005 the presidential election took place. Mahinda Rajapakse was the candidate of the UPFA. He formed a broad alliance with the JHU and the JVP, both ultra-nationalists and hardliners on the National Question. Rajapakse compromised on a fundamental principle that now made a negotiated solution almost impossible. Until this point in time Sri Lankan leaders affirmed their commitment to provide devolution within the framework of a United Sri Lanka. The word federalism was discreetly avoided. Now the JHU and JVP insisted that a solution be found within a Unitary Sri Lanka. This was totally unacceptable to the Tamils.

The election was a hard fought one. For a hitherto unexplained reason the LTTE ordered a boycott of the polls in territories under its control and called upon the Tamils elsewhere not to vote. It was expected that given a free choice most Tamils would have voted for the UNF candidate Ranil Wickremasinghe. With the Sinhalese and Muslim vote evenly balanced in seven provinces, the failure of the Tamils to vote in the North in particular and in the east to some extent made it possible for Mahinda Rajapakse to win by a small margin.

Drift to War

Sporadic acts of violence gradually led to all out war. Technically the ceasefire was still on. But with the president committed to a unitary constitution there ceased to be any hope whatsoever of a negotiated solution. India and other powers made repeated statements that war was not a viable option. They advocated a negotiated solution providing devolution within a United Lanka preserving the sovereignty, integrity and security of the Sri Lankan state. 

President Rajapakse announced the convening of an All Parties Conference. Professor Tissa Vitharna, leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, a constituent member of the UPFA was appointed chairman. The LSSP and the CP were committed to devolution. A broad based Experts Committee consisting of seventeen members and reflecting divergent views was appointed to study in depth and report on a constitutional settlement. The UNF and JVP boycotted the APC proceedings. The TNA which represented the LTTE’s position was not invited.

The LTTE ignored this whole exercise. Unable to arrive at a consensus three separate reports were submitted. The majority report was signed by eleven members and included all the Tamil and Muslim members of the committee. This report received a favourable response among concerned citizens from all communities. This was reflected in an open letter to the eleven members by a cross section of academics and activists, who noted that this report will go down as a historic document breaking new ground in the country is path to peace. But the report was not acted upon. Instead the government watered down the provisions of this report and placed it before the APC.
The final report of the APC is still pending.

Meanwhile over a hundred concerned Tamil and Muslim academics and activists within and outside the country signed a petition calling upon the government to find a solution by desisting from using the word Unitary.

References are made to these two interventions by members of civil society to place in perspective that there was a considerable body of opinion among Lankans within and outside the country rising above the communal divide, consistently grappling with the issues of devolution and sharing of power, while the larger and headlines grabbing conflict between the state and the LTTE was on.

Numerous seminars and consultations were held by a variety of high profile NGOs and civil society organisations, especially during the ceasefire period. Several studies were published on issues of federalism and devolution. These seminars attracted the participation of several distinguished scholars, and activists among whom were one time high ranking administrative and Foreign Service officers of the Government of India and retired officers of the Indian Security Forces, some of whom had served with the IPKF in Lanka. This was a new and welcome feature in the search for a just peace. In the midst of the four phases of the long war and several attempts at cessation of hostilities, ceasefire and peace talks, there was a parallel process of discussions and debates taking place in the country. This was a sign of hope and was in consonance with a long history of democratic processes and representative government ushered in with the Donoughmore reforms in 1931, seventeen years before independence. Some observers have remarked that in spite of the unresolved National Question and the long war and its consequent devastation in at least one-third of the country, civic institutions outside the war zone were intact, though parliament itself had become devalued. 

The challenge by 2006 was to preserve the integrity of these civic institutions, the freedom of the press and to broaden the democratic structure that assures full democracy, devolution and sharing of power. This had to be acceptable to all communities, especially the North-eastern Tamils, the Muslims and the Hill Country Tamils.

2006 to 2009 – The Final War

Much is being written, discussed and will continue to be so for years to come on the concluding stages of the war and the silencing of the guns that occurred on May 18 2009.
Here we give a brief summary of the main stages that led to the end of hostilities.

Events leading to the final war and the end of fighting in May 2009 began in August 2006. Beginning in December 2005, there was increased guerrilla activity to the northeast and clashes had occurred. The killings of well-known personalities leaning towards the LTTE, indicated the emergence of a hard line against the LTTE. These included Sivaram (Taraki) pro-LTTE journalist, senior TNA parliamentarian from Batticaloa Joseph Pararajasingam and Raviraj the young and popular TNA MP who was frequently on the channels of Sinhalese TV stations participating in discussion programmes that drew the attention of an increasing number of Sinhalese. His funeral was one of the biggest in Colombo attended by a large number of Sinhalese. His family paid a glowing tribute to the Sinhalese police officer who was his bodyguard and died with him. The Raviraj factor and the attention he drew indicated a missed opportunity by the Tamils. The Tamils for decades had not made an attempt to reach out to the Sinhalese masses in their own language. What Raviraj attempted came too late, and even at this juncture it is widely believed that his life was taken because his was a name that had to be contended with.

High profile killings allegedly by the LTTE included Subathiran, a leading figure from the EPRLF, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kethis Loganathan, an outstanding Tamil intellectual and peace activist, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, a senior minister in the government, and Maheswary Velayutham long time Tamil woman activist who came into prominence in the 1980s when she ran the Tamil Information Centre in Madurai.  Resuming her legal practice in Colombo she appeared for Tamil youth detainees. The assassinations of Keethis Loganathan and Maheswary Velayutham were acts of cowardice, since both did not seek security from the state. Maheswary was an outstanding social worker having helped several Tamil youth. She was associated with the Social Welfare Ministry of Douglas Devananda, but can in no way be categorised as anti-Tamil. She was visiting her ailing mother in Jaffna when the assailants struck. She had declined any form of security. It must be noted that all the pro-LTTE TNA MPs living in Colombo were under tight security provided by the state, some of them never visiting their constituencies especially in the East. This was one of the contradictions in the on-going conflict.

Mention is made of the above to underline the terrible price Tamil society continued to pay depriving it of leadership, at the hands of both the LTTE and anti-LTTE Tamil para-military groups with or without backing by some elements in the state.

In addition wide scale kidnappings became commonplace. Tamil businessmen fled the country for months. The ransom demanded ran into tens of millions of rupees. What was particularly alarming was the kidnapping of men from the lower classes who obviously had no funds at their disposal. The LTTE had a history of kidnappings and ransom demands, but in the post 2006 period the kidnappings were done by other players who were never identified or brought to book. A climate of fear engulfed the country and that of the Tamils in particular. Some were acts of extortion by nondescript criminal elements taking advantage of an environment in which the law enforcement agencies looked the other way. 

Meanwhile attacks on civilian targets allegedly by the LTTE, including buses and trains increased. In light of this violence, the co-chairs of the Donor conference called on both parties to return to the negotiating table. The co-chairs, United States in particular, were heavily critical of the violence perpetrated by the LTTE. US officials, as well as the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, gave warnings to the Tigers claiming a return to hostilities would mean that the Tigers would face a "more capable and more determined" Sri Lankan military.

In a last-minute effort to salvage an agreement between the parties, the Norwegian special envoy and the LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingam arrived in the island. Both parties agreed that new talks could be held. At these both the government and the LTTE agreed to curb the violence. On April 20, 2006, the LTTE officially pulled out of peace talks indefinitely.

Violence continued to escalate. The LTTE launched a suicide assault on a naval convoy in which 18 sailors died, The Allaipiddy massacre of May 2006 happened in which 13 Tamil civilians were killed in separate incidents in three villages in Kayts in northern Lanka. An attempted assassination was made against the commander of the Sri Lanka Army, Lieutenant General Fonseka within the army headquarters in the capital. Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, brother of President Rajapakse also narrowly escaped an attempted assassination. These events naturally led to a hardening of attitudes.

Soon after an unsuccessful attack against a naval vessel carrying 710 unarmed security force personnel on holiday, (Delete), the European Union decided to proscribe the LTTE as a terrorist organisation in May, 2006. This resulted in the freezing of LTTE assets in the member nations of the EU, crippling its efforts to raise funds. In a statement, the European Parliament said that the LTTE did not represent all the Tamils and called on it to "allow for political pluralism and alternate democratic voices in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka". This action by the European parliament is seen as a major factor that marked the beginning of the eventual defeat of the LTTE.

For the first time since the 2001 ceasefire, the Sri Lanka Air Force carried out aerial assaults on rebel positions in the north-eastern part of the island nation in retaliation for the attack. In June, 2006 the LTTE attacked a bus killing at least 64 Sinhalese civilians and prompting more air strikes by the Air Force. Meanwhile the assassination of Sri Lanka’s third highest-ranking army officer and Deputy Chief of Staff General Paramu Kulatunga took place in June by an LTTE suicide bomber. These sporadic acts of violence marked a return to the extreme violence marked by the period prior to the cease-fire, and paved the way for the final offensive.

Mavil Aru Water Dispute

A major development leading to the first large-scale fighting since signing of the ceasefire occurred when the LTTE closed the Mavil Aru sluice gates supplying water to villages in government controlled areas. After initial negotiations and efforts by the SLMM to open the gates failed, the Air Force attacked LTTE positions and ground troops began an operation to open the gate.

The sluice gates were eventually reopened with conflicting reports as to who actually opened them. A government spokesman said that "utilities could not be used as bargaining tools".  The security forces launched fresh attacks on LTTE positions around the reservoir. This confrontation marked the beginning of the final phase of the war.

Without going into the pros and cons of the Mavil Aru crisis wherein allegations and counter allegations were made suffice it to say that following heavy fighting with the LTTE, government troops soon gained full control of the Mavil Aru reservoir.

Fighting escalated in adjoining territories in the Trincomalee district of the Eastern Province. Once again thousands of residents were displaced as Muttur became the focus of attacks and counter attacks. Eventually the military re-established control over the town of Muttur. In a much publicized incident seventeen persons working for the International French charity were killed.

These murders evoked widespread international condemnation. The Air Force carried out an air strike against a facility in the rebel held Mullaitivu area, The Chencholai air strike resulted in the killing of several. The LTTE claimed that the facility was an orphanage and that the victims were school girls attending a course on first aid. The government alleged that this was an LTTE training facility and that the children were child soldiers.

In a queer and unprecedented event a convoy carrying the High Commissioner for Pakistan to Sri Lanka was attacked by a bomb concealed within a three wheeler. The High Commissioner escaped unhurt, but some people were killed and several injured in the blast. The Sri Lankan government blamed the LTTE. The High Commissioner claimed that India was strongly believed to have carried out the attack. It was widely alleged at that time that Pakistan was one of the main suppliers of military equipment to the Sri Lankan government.

 Fall of Sampur

Since the resumption of violence, concerns were mounting among the military establishment that the strategically crucial Sri Lanka Navy base in Trinconmalee was under grave threat from LTTE gun positions located in and around Sampur, which lies across the Bay from Trincomalee. Following the clashes in Mavil Aru and Muttur, the LTTE had intensified attacks targeting the naval base in Trincomalee. The Lankan military launched an assault to retake the LTTE camps in Sampur and the adjoining areas. LTTE admitted defeat and stated their cadres made a strategic withdrawal this important town.

Just days later, a suspected solitary LTTE suicide bomber in Habarana, in the centre of the country killed about 100 sailors who were returning home on leave. It was the deadliest suicide attack in the history of the conflict.

Two days later, LTTE Sea Tiger cadres launched an attack against a naval base in the southern port city of Galle. It was the farthest south any major LTTE attack had taken place, and involved LTTE cadres who arrived in five suicide boats. The attack was repulsed by the government, and the damage to the naval base was minimal. All fifteen LTTE cadres are believed to have died in the attack.

Despite these incidents, both parties agreed to unconditionally attend peace talks in Geneva on October 28-29. However the peace talks broke down due to disagreements over the reopening of the key A9 highway, which is the link between Jaffna and government controlled areas in the south. While the LTTE wanted the highway, which was closed following fierce battles in August, to be reopened, the government refused, stating the LTTE would use it to collect tax from people passing through and would use it to launch further offenses against government troops.

In December 2006, the Commander of the Army and other senior government officials expressed their plans to initially drive the LTTE out of the East, and then use the full strength of the military to defeat the LTTE in the North of the country. Subsequently, the Army began an offensive against the LTTE in the Batticaloa district with the objective of taking the principal stronghold of the LTTE in the East

Over the next few weeks, an estimated 20,000 civilians fled from Vakarai to Government controlled areas fearing the imminent assault. The Army launched a new offensive, and Vakarai fell to the advancing troops in January 2007. The loss of Vakarai cut off supply routes of the northern Tigers to their cadres in the East, thus weakening the Tigers' already diminishing grip on the East.

Special Forces and Commando units began a new operation in February to clear the last remaining LTTE cadres from the Eastern Province.  Troops captured a key LTTE base in March and the strategic A5 highway in April bringing the entire highway under government control for the first time in 15 years. This meant the LTTE's presence in the East was reduced to a piece of jungle land in the Thoppigala area north-west of Batticaloa. With the fall of this area the LTTE was confined to isolated units in the deep jungles.

Final Battles in the North

The largest piece of territory the LTTE controlled was in the Northern Province consisting of the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts and large portions of the Mannar district.  Some observers treated the loss of the east as a strategic retreat by the LTTE. Expectations were high that major battles would take place in the north, where in the past fifteen years the government had failed to dislodge the LTTE.  The A9 highway to Jaffna ran through this territory. It was still open up to a point for people in these areas to move out towards the south and to Colombo, but a pass system made it incumbent on residents within LTTE controlled territory to return. However the entry to Jaffna was closed. People there had to come to Colombo by air, which was expensive, or by boat to Trincomalee and then by train or buses to Colombo.

Early in 2008 the army began to gradually attack frontline defences of the LTTE in the Mannar district, while pressure was exercised on all fronts. This time the LTTE confronted a determined army, superior in numbers and powerful weapons. Air strikes were frequent. The air force admitted at the end of hostilities that they had carried out three thousand sorties in this phase of the war. By May-November 2008 the armed forces gained control of the north-western coast, severely weakening LTTE supply lines by sea and any links it may have had with South India. Late 2008 witnessed the fall of the vital gateway to the Jaffna peninsula when Poonery and eventually Elephant Pass came under army control. In early January after a prolonged battle the strategic Paranthan junction fell to the government’s security forces.  The LTTE abandoned Kilinochchi and withdrew further East. Kilinochchi had for several years been the capital of the short-lived state of Tamil Eelam that the LTTE had established. It had become a show piece centre with its offices and restaurants that caught the public eye during the 2002 to 2005 ceasefire, standing as it was on the A9 route to Jaffna that had been frequented by thousands of travellers. Its fall was celebrated by several Sinhalese in the south. The Tamils remained silent observers many finding it difficult to believe that Kilinochchi finally fell.  

Mercifully civilian casualties were minimal throughout 2008. The LTTE had ordered civilians to move east of the A9 highway. Tens of thousands moved further and further to the East until they were finally trapped between the sea and a small strip of land that constituted the final bastion of the LTTE in Puthukudiyiruppu. They left behind all their possessions. How much in terms of property movable and immovable was lost is unknown. A study of the losses would be revealing. But the primary concern turned to saving lives. No one seemed to know the exact number of civilians trapped. It is now known that the figure was close upon 300,000. Government administrators who had worked in these areas should have known but for obvious reasons they remained silent. 

Then in late January Mullaitivu town regarded, as the military headquarters of the LTTE was captured, At this point international pressure mounted calling upon both the GoSL and the LTTE to declare a ceasefire and resume talks. The GoSL categorically refused calling upon the LTTE to lay down arms, before any talks resumed. The LTTE going by its past history refused to lay down arms. The GoSL smelling final victory even though it would be at tremendous cost in casualties was in no mood to accept anything short of surrender.

The army declared a no fire zone in the region. Initially civilians were inhibited from moving out. But by mid-February what began as a trickle eventually led to thousands fleeing LTTE held territory. By April nearly 200,000 had moved into government-controlled territory. The war yet to be over attention shifted to the welfare and future of the IDPs now detained in army controlled camps. As the territory under LTTE control diminished, there was a lull of a few weeks and deep concern was expressed locally as well as internationally about those still trapped in the war zone. It was generally believed that no major offensive would take place until the results of the Indian elections were announced on 16 May 2009. Within two days the trapped civilians probably realized that it was all over and came out by the tens of thousands totalling some seventy thousand. The true figures with regard to civilian deaths, is now a highly controversial issue contributing towards a great deal of bitterness among the Tamils. Will the truth come out someday? How many of the LTTE cadres laid down their lives in the 2008 to 2009 fight to the end are facts that have not been revealed to date. The state has admitted that over six thousand members of the security forces lost their lives and that 29,000 were injured in this final phase of this war. The credibility of the state on such matters has always been low on these matters throughout the twenty-five years of war. Understandable at times and expected at times of war, but someday the people of this country are entitled to the full facts from both sides.            

          The full story of what happened in the last three years, especially the war in the north will someday have to be told, free from propagandist embellishments and twisting of facts. Tamil public opinion has not yet come to terms with the losses incurred. It was without doubt a tragic end with whole of the LTTE leadership wiped out including its second rung and third rung leaders as revealed by the media. This marked the end of an era. Where the country goes from here is the challenge that has to be faced.
But one must say categorically that though the guns have gone silent, the root causes that led to this ruthless war remain. How the state conducts itself and the path that what is left of Tamil democratic leadership will take is now a matter for a great deal of concern and speculation.    

The Challenges Ahead

The defeat of the LTTE, the consequent plight of the Tamils and the response of the state will without doubt be the subject of analysis and discussion for years to come. Needless to say the primary responsibility at this critical juncture lies with the state and Sinhalese political leadership to initiate constitutional reforms that will satisfy the Tamils, the Muslims and other minorities in the country. The immediate priority is the welfare and settlement of the nearly three hundred thousand displaced persons held in state controlled camps. How they are treated will be the test case by which the state will be judged, and will pave the way for a durable settlement.

In the writers view a return to normalcy must be given as much importance if not more importance than a political solution. The holding of Municipal Council and Provincial Council elections will be meaningless without a return to normalcy. And this must be done expeditiously. Normalcy will require the free movement of the people residing in the North and East and easy access to these areas by people in the rest of the country. This includes Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna. The people of Jaffna have lived under a permanent curfew every night for years. When will this be lifted? When will people from Jaffna be allowed to travel freely out of Jaffna and back home without the prevailing bureaucratic restrictions? When will the government withdraw its troops from the several high security zones in Jaffna and elsewhere, some of which were valued residential areas prior to this war? The rebuilding of the railway line to Jaffna and the opening of the A9 highway will be vital signs of a return to normalcy. 

Need for Self-Criticism

Having raised the above concerns in this concluding section an attempt is made briefly deal with some critical issues. Enough has been said about the failure of Sinhalese political parties and their leadership. Here is an attempt to assess what went wrong with the Tamil struggle that drew global attention. It is important that the fundamental errors committed are not repeated again. This calls for some self-criticism. There is a tendency among Tamils to accuse anyone who calls for self-criticism as anti-Tamil and playing into the hands of Sinhalese extremists. This mental make-up must go. The predicament in which the Tamils are at the president juncture calls for a great deal of study and analysis among the Tamils as a people in the perspective of what happened in the last few decades.

One recalls how Tamil supporters of the left movement demanded that the left parties, the LSSP and CP, do self-criticism after the reversal of their principled politics from 1935 to 1964, and notably after their collaboration with the United Front government of 1970 to 1977, including the enactment of the 1972 constitution. During this period the seeds for secession were sowed. The left to some extent did so and today what remains of the left in the post 1977 period, whether in alliance with the government or in opposition to the government, are all firmly committed to devolution. Therein lay some hope.
The LTTE like its predecessor the TULF got trapped in its secessionist demand. This was a geo-political impossibility given India’s position on the issue. As discussed above the correct demand was federalism (at least the Indian model) or some degree of autonomy. The secessionist demand backed by a formidable armed struggle led to the eruption of paranoid fears in Sinhalese society. So much so that today extremists on the Sinhalese side view with disdain and hostility any devolution proposals, even under the thirteenth amendment achieved through the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement.

The FP and the TULF participated in negotiations from a position of weakness backed only by the number of seats they held in parliament and widespread electoral support among the Tamil people. At times they were pushed to backdoor negotiations, while in public they indulged in the rhetoric of liberation bordering on the demagogic. There is one view that the TULF put forward the secessionist demand for purposes of leverage. At least that is what they attempted to do in practice until 1999. Having made the supreme blunder in making the secessionist demand in 1976, the TULF never officially withdrew the demand.  Nevertheless, they were branded traitors and several paid for this with their lives.

The LTTE having effectively taken control of substantial chunks of territory through the force of arms could have negotiated from a position of strength on substantive issues leading to devolution and autonomy. Unfortunately their leadership, or rather their leader, did not have the capacity for compromise. This required stepping down from the impossible secessionist demand and getting the maximum possible, short of a sovereign state. Part of the blame falls on articulate sections of admirers and supporters of the LTTE leader, especially professionals and academics in the Tamil Diaspora, who perceived virtue in this stubborn uncompromising position.

There were several precedents in armed struggles globally such as that in Northern Ireland, Aceh in Indonesia, and the Maoists in Nepal, where vital compromises were made.

The LTTE and its supporters were carried away by the self-righteousness of their demand without realizing that there are limits to armed struggle. World history testifies to the fact that what is perceived as morally right is more often than not politically unrealizable. They failed to place politics in command. There was in reality no political wing, in what was a purely militarist organisation. What passed off for a political wing was in effect a public relations centre, and the peace secretariat a propaganda unit. The same can be said of the peace secretariat on the side of the state in the last three years under the present regime.

Excessive violence targeting civilians led to the proscription of the LTTE in several states. These were branded as acts of “terrorism” by the Sri Lankan State, repeated ad nauseam by the state controlled and other sections of the media. The whole concept of the ill-defined term “terrorism” and the indiscriminate use of this term was part of the problem, taking into account the sufferings heaped on the Tamil people who were victims of excessive violence.

There was in these years of war, a great deal of international sympathy for the plight of the Tamil people and their legitimate aspirations for the highest degree of autonomy possible within a united Lanka. There was at the same time a great deal of goodwill towards the Sinhalese people and all other minorities in this country. The international community was for a negotiated settlement. The writer participating in numerous conferences and meetings in India, Japan, and several Asian and other countries over four decades has noted the abundance of goodwill prevalent globally to all the peoples of this much loved island.

In declaring itself the sole representatives and ruthlessly destroying all dissent among the Tamils, the LTTE in some ways paved the way for its defeat. It is difficult to assess the degree of support the LTTE actually enjoyed among the Tamil people in the country at any particular juncture. A UTHR report in the 1990s referred to the Tamils as a “trapped people”. The attitude of the average Tamil was conditioned by whose victim he or she had been. The loyalties of the people were conditioned by the objective situation prevalent at a particular time. The further one was away from the war zone the more pro-LTTE he or she became. It was therefore not surprising that the ardent and most passionate supporters of the LTTE and its Tamil Eelam demand were in Europe, UK, USA, Canada and Australia. These people lived in the security and comfort of their adopted lands.

But most Tamils shared partially the political aspirations of the LTTE that is the demand for a degree of self-rule in their homeland. They did not necessarily approve of the methods adopted by the leadership of the LTTE and its one party authoritarian state. This, the Sinhalese leaders never understood or simply refused to come to terms with. There was no way in which most of the Tami people could have distanced themselves or confronted the LTTE, as long as there remained the unresolved problem of the national question, autonomy and equal rights.

The prolonged war and the consequent loss of lives and property could have been avoided if the leaders of the Sri Lankan State and leading political parties had adopted constitutional reforms that were acceptable to the Tamils, the 2000 constitution being the closest that any government came to. Given goodwill, sincere and principled implementation, support for the LTTE would have evaporated over a period of time. In short a degree of autonomy with good governance and guarantee of democratic rights would have solved the problem long ago. Sad to say Sinhalese leadership did not have the statesmanship for such a commitment.     

Change and Continuity in Tamil Politics

The Jaffna Youth Congress committed to full independence and a united Ceylon had led a boycott of the 1931 elections in Jaffna. The JYC considered the constitutional reforms offered by the British in 1931 as not going far enough in the direction of self-government. This was the period when Jaffna was deeply influenced by the Gandhian movement and the politics of the Indian National Congress. Several Sinhalese leaders especially from the left have acknowledged the role of the JYC, especially its non-communal approach to politics and the leadership it gave to the anti-imperialist movement in the country.

In 1934 when elections were held again G. G. Ponnambalam defeated the Hon. K. Balasingam, the outstanding Tamil statesman who had identified himself with the JYC.  Ponnambalam went on to found the Tamil Congress in the 1940s and dominated Tamil politics until 1956. His main demand was for balanced representation, rejected by the Sinhalese. He finally accepted cabinet office. Thereafter the leadership passed to S. J. V. Chelvanayakam in 1956. He had broken away from the TC and founded the Federal Party in 1949. This rift initiated a period of long and bitter rivalry and divisive politics wherein the adherents of the TC and the FP murdered each other with words. The personality cult was nurtured. Leaders were obsessed with the Thani Perum Thalaivar (single great leader) title consciously developed or thrust on them by their followers. The LTTE and other Tamil armed organization followed this practice and evoking fear. The leader could not be challenged. One did this at the at the risk of being branded traitor and physically eliminated. Internal democracy, with the exception of the FP, was rarely practiced. This was true of the dominant Sinhalese parties as well, where dynastic tendencies took root. Fortunately the Tamils were spared dynastic politics.

The two leaders finally in the twilight of their lives came together to form the Tamil United Front, later renamed the Tamil United Liberation Front. This unity was too late. The years from 1949 to 1976 were wasted years in Tamil politics, when Tamil leadership did not speak with one voice, trapped in the politics of parliamentarianism. By 1977 both leaders had died and the leadership passed to Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam. Events moved fast and by 1980 Tamil youth militancy had emerged. Soon power and Pirapakaran and the LTTE consolidated power and leadership.

It is noteworthy that Tamil leadership has changed more or less every twenty-five years from 1934, with some years constituting a transitional phase, a twenty-five year syndrome. But there was an element of continuity, in seeking constitutional safeguards. Sinhalese critics have labelled these exclusive Tamil parties as “communalist” or extremists and more recently as separatists. A large number of Tamils however have perceived these changes as phases in the growth of Tamil nationalism and identity politics.

No doubt they were exclusively Tamil based, though brief attempts made by the FP to incorporate the Muslims never succeeded. Nor were solid links made with the Hill Country Tamils (Malayaha Thamilar), the plantation workers in particular. The Jaffna and Colombo Tamils could not integrate with this vital segment of the Tamil presence in the country. The Tamil struggle had not freed itself from its class and caste character. A major flaw was that no attempt was made to make alliances with Sinhalese who were sympathetic to and stood for justice and equal rights for the Tamils. These came mostly from the left, but there were significant sections among Sinhalese liberals including some Buddhist monks, and Christians.

Tamil spokespersons were obsessed with a purely Tamil struggle and this was clearly visible in the three phases of leadership indicated above. Amirthalingam, leader of the TULF, expressed this mindset at a public meeting in Jaffna to protest the days of arson and burning of the Jaffna public library in 1981. The Jaffna Branch of the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality, an island-wide multi-ethnic movement organized the meeting This writer was involved as president of Jaffna MIRJE. We made special efforts to have among the speakers several Sinhalese from political parties and human rights organizations in the south, including a Buddhist monk who drew the largest applause from the audience present.

Speaking in Tamil and having thanked the friends from the south, Amirthalingan quoted a Tamil proverb to drive home his point, “Aluthalum pillai avale peravendum”, which in translation reads “though she weeps a mother must give birth to her own child.” In saying this he conveyed the oft-repeated message that “the struggle is ultimately ours and it is only we as Tamils who can win our liberation.” 

Problems of Method and Leadership

In the context of the above line of thinking prevalent from 1934, Karalasingam, a distinguished theoretician of the left placed before the Tamil people a valid critique on problems of method and leadership of the Tamils He was a Tamil by birth, but had a strong Ceylonese identity and was an internationalist in the best traditions of the left of that era. Contesting Chelvanayakam, the highly respected and popular leader of the Federal Party, and addressing all his meetings in English having lived abroad for the greater part of his life, he polled a substantial vote in the 1960 elections. The fashionable thing in politics then as today was to don the national dress and speak in Tamil or Sinhalese to establish ones ‘national’ identity and loyalty.

In his chapter titled, “Why have they failed” from his book “The Way Out for the Tamil-speaking People” in its second and revised edition in 1978 he had this to say:

It is worthy to note that all the parties that have hitherto gained the confidence of the Tamil people have done so on the basis of resisting the chauvinism of the majority community and securing for their people their legitimate demands. But the period of the ascendancy of the Tamil Congress and that of the FP has signified to the Tamil people not an increase but a diminution – indeed a sharp and precipitous decline of their fortunes. What heightens their tragedy is that their present plight cannot be attributed either to their apathy or their lack of support to the parties, which at different times spoke for them. Apathy there never was on the question of minority rights. If anything, politics for the last thirty years in the northern and eastern provinces has evolved round precisely this question, to the exclusion of all others. The popular support for the traditional Tamil parties has been so enthusiastic and overwhelming as to incur the envy and jealousy of their rivals. 

We have come against a strange paradox. The Tamil-speaking people have been led in the last decade by an apparently resolute leadership guided by the best intentions receiving not merely, the widest support of the people but also their enthusiastic cooperation and yet the Tamil speaking people find themselves at the lowest ebb in their history. In spite of all their efforts people have suffered one defeat after another, one humiliation after another. How is one to explain the yawning gulf between the strivings of the people and the virtually hopeless impasse in which they find themselves?

The fundamental flaw in the political strategy of the FP is their conception that the fight for the rights of the Tamil speaking people is the responsibility solely of the Tamil-speaking people themselves and that only the Tamils who can wage this fight and that they must do this as Tamils. Therefore it is necessary for the Tamils to build their own exclusive organizations to lead the Tamil people in their fight.

It is high time that the Tamil speaking people paid attention to the problems of method and leadership of their struggle as these are fast becoming the key questions …the present leadership because of its close identification with the past will not encourage any discussion of these fundamental questions – it would rather see the Tamil speaking people burn themselves out in impotent rage and despair against the government than permit a critical examination of its politics.

At a seminar in Colombo in December 1999, the writer commenting on what Karalasingam emphasized as “problems of method and leadership” had this to say:

“Karalasingam’s critique of Tamil political leadership from TC to FP to TULF has proved to be prophetic. Not only have they led the Tamil people into the present predicament, but created the conditions that destroyed them leaving it to another generation to help the Tamil speaking peoples to burn themselves out.” (14)

Karalasingam might have as well written the above piece in 2009. Burn themselves out they did in 2009, with unprecedented civilian deaths and casualties, while the world stood by and watched without a single state in the international arena to come to their help. Problems of method and leadership will take centre stage again, and it is hoped Tamil political leadership will never again commit the errors of the past.    

Take Nation and Nationalism off the Discourse

Too much blood has been shed, and too many people have died in the name of nation and nationalism. It is time that ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’ be taken off the discourse. We have witnessed in the last three decades the evil side of Janus faced nationalism. In the Tamil language there is no appropriate word for nation and nationalism. The words used connote race and country. This is possibly the same in the Sinhalese language and other Asian languages as well. In Japanese the word ‘minzoku’ is used which actually means tribe. No wonder then that the Japanese have problems in understanding and relating to such problems.   

There is far too much of an obsession with narrow national sentiment as demonstrated by waving of flags. This has now reached epidemic proportions at cricket matches, the Olympics and other sports events. In Europe after its centuries of warfare this kind of behaviour is somewhat muted. The USA however is a pretty bad model with their additional “God Bless America” chant. Whose God one may ask, in what is becoming an increasingly pluralistic America. In Japan in the post war decades when the peace movement was strong teachers in schools forbade the flying of the ‘Rising Sun’ national flag and the singing of the national anthem, at school events.   

In the year 2000, the Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives held a major seminar in Colombo with participants from most Asian countries. The theme of the seminar was “Re-imagining Asia.” This is a theme worth pursuing in the quest for peace not only within countries like Lanka but in South, Southeast and East Asia.

National sovereignty, national security and integrity, must give way to Human sovereignty, human security and integrity. Unresolved inter-state relations, often grounded on ethnic, linguistic and religious identities, have soured relationships among peoples in the region for six decades after decolonisation. Several of these states have unresolved problems of minorities and communities within their respective states.

The conflict has often been interpreted and reported as a Sinhalese- Tamil conflict, implying conflict between the people of the two-communities/ nationalities. This is an unfair judgment on the people of Lanka, be they Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims, who in many parts of the country have co-existed, not without tensions and problems but with a great deal of harmony. In its essence what we have witnessed was a struggle for power. The two dominant political parties in the Sinhalese south used the Tamil issue to ride to power. Among the Tamils the LTTE by the 1990s was more concerned about its exclusive monopoly of power rather than the human security of the Tamil people.

In its essence the conflict and the subsequent war were not necessarily between the Sinhalese people and the Tamil people. This distinction is vital. On both sides leaders played on the fears of the people, and used their genuine aspirations for democratic rights and an egalitarian society in a most opportunistic way. Unscrupulous politicians and some journalists gave this a chauvinist twist and turned them against each other. In fact the vast majority of both Sinhalese and Tamils had little to gain in improving their quality of life in socio-economic terms from this conflict. Defence expenditure from, being well below one percent of GDP in the I970s kept going up and up over the last three decades, today exceeding the combined expenditure on education and health care.

At the height of the anti-Tamil pogroms of 1958, 1977 and 1983 several Sinhalese families provided safety and refuge to Tamils. On the other hand it is also true that many did not attempt to help or simply ignored what happened. This kind of behaviour was not surprising taking into account an educational system that perpetuated myths and bred anti-Tamil prejudices. In addition the news media was manipulated in such a way that Sinhalese people were never told the true story of what was happening in the country, especially in the Tamil areas. They were never told, for instance, that until 1982 politically motivated Tamils had (killed not) not killed a single Sinhalese civilian in Jaffna. To this day many of them do not know who set fire to the Jaffna Public Library in 1981. In this context it is worth noting that in 1958, 1977 and 1983 people resident in their immediate neighbourhood rarely attacked Tamils. Most of the attacks came from well-organized thugs and mobs brought from distant places to attack Tamil homes. The propaganda war that the government launched against the Tamils distorted the perceptions of many Sinhalese who were made to see a “terrorist” in most Tamils. Anti-Tamil riots have never been spontaneous, but were well-organized pogroms by powerful politicians.

Another point often overlooked is that the Sinhalese are a minority in the region taking into account the existence of sixty million Tamils in South India and substantial Tamil minority communities in Malaysia and Singapore where the Tamil language is recognised and used. From the post 1956 period waves of migrations took place as Tamils settled down in several European countries, North America and in Australia. This bred a “minority complex” among the Sinhalese and is a cardinal factor that influences their perceptions of the Tamils. It is easy for opportunistic leaders to stir up strong passions, by characterising the Tamils as posing a permanent threat. There is a prevailing opinion that Tamils were intent not only to establish a state in Lanka but had intentions of creating a Tamil homeland that went beyond Sri Lanka, posing a threat to the very existence and preservation of the Sinhalese race, their language, religion and culture. Both Sinhalese and Tamils suffer from a victim consciousness, conveniently forgetting instances in which they had been aggressors.

A proper appreciation of the history and cultural achievements of the Sinhalese people and vice versa has yet to take place among the peoples of Lanka. Nor have there been political educators of the stature of a Nehru who stressed concepts of unity in diversity. His legacies helped achieve this to a substantial extend in India. Many of the Sinhalese and Tamil professionals and expatriates, having qualified in the sciences leading to medicine, engineering and other professions, never had a broad based education in the humanities and the social sciences. Knowing little about the ancient history of Lanka, or for that matter of neighbouring India, they tend to have a narrow and myopic view of Sinhalese/Tamil culture and civilization at times bordering on denigration, and are inclined to interpret history with their own brand of myths and legends and excessive pride in the cultural legacies of their respective peoples.

Social education of both the Sinhalese and Tamils for a pluralistic multi-ethnic society is a challenge that leaders on both sides have to face. This is the age of the information revolution. These resources can be used for demonic purposes to manipulate, prejudice and promote conflict, or for positive and constructive purposes that assure peaceful relations on the basis of justice, human and democratic rights and mutual appreciation and understanding of cultures, languages and religions.

Ideally there should be a Truth and Reconciliation commission. But then there is neither a Nelson Mandela nor a Desmond Tutu in this country. It is the task of Sinhalese Buddhist society to throw up such leaders, to which hopefully the Tamils will respond. Reconciliation and restoration of peaceful relations are difficult challenges that have to be met. This has to begin with education and shaping public opinion. Time magazine several years ago carried an opinion column titled “Forgiveness to the Injured Doth Belong”.

Equality and Dignity

One may therefore conclude with this quote from the first lengthy report to be released after May 2009.  It comes appropriately from the reputed University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) who were forced to live incognito or in exile for over two decades: 

In his speech, the President thought it a brilliant stroke to abolish the word ‘minority’ from the vocabulary and make everyone equal, as if all it took were a royal proclamation. Along with this he recognized only two kinds of people, those who love their motherland and those who do not, the latter being the lesser. The problem with that, of course is whose idea of a motherland prevails? These sentiments in the speech reflect those who hold to the Sinhalese-Buddhist hegemonic view. This hegemonic rhetoric about motherland accompanied by anti-Tamil violence led to its Tamil version, which at that historical juncture most Tamils believed was forced on them. Thousands of Tamil youth fought in several groups and willingly gave their life, not because they did not love their country fervently, but because they believed their country was Tamil Eelam. They include the majority of LTTE cadres who have died.

Even if one rejects the LTTE leadership as totalitarian, barbaric and utterly self-indulgent, one cannot dismiss the cadres both in the LTTE and from other groups as “terrorists” and traitors against Lanka. The lesson for those of us living is that however much it took hold of us at that time; nationalist rhetoric contained within it the seeds of war, a terrible waste of lives and totalitarianism. We must honour the dead, both militants and soldiers, with a heavy sense of responsibility. In order that the honour we give them are no mere empty words, we have to feel where we all went wrong and do what is needful to prevent a repetition.

The only way those Tamil families and communities that have lost loved ones can find meaning in their loss and begin to think about a future as part of Lanka is if they as a people are granted equality and dignity through a just political process. Making them feel Lankan will be hard work… (15)


Population 1990 (estimated) 17, 200,000
Population 1981 (census) 14,850,001        

                           Linguistic (Ethnic) Population in 1981

Sinhalese                          10,985,666              (73.98%)
Tamils                                2,696,768              (18.16%)
Moors (Muslims)                   1,056,972              (  7.12%)
Malays (Muslims)                       43,378             (  0.29%)
Burghers                                 38,236             (  0.26%)

                                     Tamil-speaking peoples

Ceylon Tamils                      1,871,535              (     12.6%)
Hill Country (INDIAN descent   825,233               (     5.56%)
Moors                                1,056,972              (     7.12%)

          Ceylon Tamils (or Lankan Tamils) live mostly in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and are natives of the country like the Sinhalese. The Hill-country Tamils are descendants of nineteenth century migrants from South India most of whom are workers in the tea plantations located in the central highlands. Though in the 1981 census they numbered 825,233 or 5.6 per cent, in 1969-70 they accounted for 1,162,300 persons constituting 9.4% of the total population. The reduction in their numbers is due to the repatriation of large numbers to India under the Indo-Ceylon Pacts.

          Under the Indo-Ceylon Pacts of 1964 and 1974 it was agreed that Ceylon would repatriate to India over 50 per cent of the Tamil plantation workers made stateless by the Citizenship Acts. Those who remained were to be granted citizenship rights. The leader of the plantation workers Mr. S. Thondaman and his party the Ceylon Workers Congress, in accepting office under the UNP Government have sought to win their rights through co-operation rather than confrontation. Mr. Thondaman has been a minister since 1978.

          Muslim leaders and political parties have always accepted office under either of the two main governing parties the UNP and the SLFP.


Buddhists                          10,292,686                        (69.31%)
Hindus                                2,295,858                       (15.46%)
Muslims                              1,134,556                       (  7.64%)
Christians                            1,111,736                       (  7.49%)
Others                                     15,265                      (  0.10%)

                   Demographic data relating to ethnicity

            Table 1. Northern and Eastern Province – Population by ethnic groups

Year                 All races           Sinhalese         %          Tamils               %       Moors           %
1921                567,650           12,539             2.2       460,0520         81.0     89,087        15.7
1946                758,684           33,058             4.4         596,017         78.6     127,207      16.8   1953                       925,060           60,692             6.6         699,297         75.6     158,555       17.1
1963             1,288,040         129,960           10.1         935,590         72.6     216,510       16.8
1971             1,592,200         174,419           11.0      1,124,660         70.6     287,132       18.0
1981             2,087,943         276,507           13.2      1,432,679         68.6     376,839       17.6

                        Table II. Eastern Province – Population by ethnic groups
Year                 All races           Sinhalese         %          Tamils              %       Moors                %
1921                192,821             8,744               4.5     103,251           53.5     75,992             39.4
1946                279,112           23,456               8.4     146,059           52.3     109,024           39.1
1953                354,410           46,470             13.1     167,898           47.3     135,322           38.1
1963                546,130        1,09,690             20.1     246,120           45.1     185,750           34.0
1971                717,571         148,572             20.7     315,560           43.9     248,567           34.6
1981                976,475         243,358             24.9     409,451           41.9     315,201           32.2

            Table III. Tricomalee District – Population by ethnic groups

Year                 All races           Sinhalese         %          Tamils             %         Moors                %
1827                19158              250                  1.3       15663              81.8     3245                16.9
1881                22197              935                  4.2       14394              64.8     5746                25.9
1891                25745              1109                4.3       17117              66.4     6426                25.0
1901                28441              1203                4.2       17069              60.0     8258                29.0
1911                29755              1138                3.8       17233              57.9     9714                32.6
1921                34112              1501                4.4       18586              54.5     12846              37.7
1946                75926              11606              15.3     33795              44.5     23219              30.6
1953                83917              15296              18.2     37517              44.7     28616              34.1
1963             138220               40950              29.6     54050              39.1     42560              30.8
1971             188245               54744              29.1     71749              38.1     59924              31.8
1981             256790               86341              33.6     93510              36.4     74403              29.0

*The mother tongue of all Moors is Tamil
Source: Department of Census and Statistics, Sri Lanka

            Table IV. Population – Tamils of Indian Origin in Sri Lanka 1911-1981
Year   Western   Sabrag    North   Central   Ulva   North    Northern   Eastern   Southern    Total 
                         Amuwa   Western                   Central                                                            Island

1911    81075    83332     16832    265911    69873   2953   2970        886       7150       530983
1921    91293    98093     23730    283771     82562  4555    4478      1371     12656       602510
1946    90604  122856     13289    395728   127164  3097   8708      4565     14578       780589
1953  106690  145335     17084    489147   166265  3378  17907      5307     22985       974098
1963    97920  170500     18220    560430   210710  1910  28150      6940     29070      1122850
1971    99635  174875     20013     573491  217991    4149  52374  17433     35407     1195368 1981      60746            132308       9391     376055  144959     990  63431   12045     25308       825233              

                        Table V. Population – persons of Indian Origin 1911-1981
                                    (Estate population and working population)

Year    Total                Total       (2) as       Total pop.   (4)as      No. of Indian          % of Indian
            Sri Lanka         Indian       a %        of Indians    a %         workers on         Indian workers
            Population   Population   of (1)      on estates   of (2)         estates                 on estates
               (1)                 (2)              (3)              (4)            (5)               (6)                         (7)

1911    4106350          529712       12.9      457765     86.2                -                           -
1921    4497854          602510       13.4      493944    82.0                 -                           -
1946    6657339          780589                   117       665853    85.3                 -                           -
1953    8097896          974098                  12.0       815000    83.6              580883                71.3
1963    10590060        1122850     10.8       932090   82.5              571852                61.4
1971    12711143        1174606       9.2       951785   81.9              523176                66.0
1981    14850001          025233       6.6       666000   80.7              388000                55.0

Source: Economic Review, March 1980, People’s Bank, Reports on Census of Population, Department of Census and Statistics

Note: The term “Indian origin” refers to persons of recent Indian origin
The tables are reproduced from “The Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka Economic Assets by T. Valluvan, Tamil Information Centre, London, May 1987.


(1) The first part of this article is adapted from three previous publications by the author for the period covered until 1997, published in 1989, 1991 and an unpublished manuscript presented at a symposium in Tokyo in 1997. See bibliography. The rest is based on publications; newspaper and Internet sources and one’s own memory of recent events. The writer is mindful of the fact that comments made and opinions expressed on contemporary history constitute a hazardous venture, in an ever changing and volatile situation. The purpose is to create awareness, and raise questions in the search for peace with justice in a country, where violence has touched many of us, especially the Tamils in a personal way. The writer having lived through these years of “war without mercy” rejects the concepts of just war, and war as politics by other means.  

(2) Soulbury Constitution: named after Lord Soulbury who was chairman of the Special Commission sent in 1944 by the British Government to report on Constitutional Reforms introduced the parliamentary system and responsible government with substantial reserve powers retained by the Governor. With the grant of independence in 1948 the same Constitution was retained, with a mere revocation of the reserve powers of the Governor and the Colonial Secretary. A Constituent Assembly was not called to draft a constitution for independent Ceylon. Lord Soulbury was also the first Governor-General after independence.

(3) Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread 0f Nationalism, Verso, London, 1983, pp.l32 and 140.

(4) Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi, (Federal Party) Silver Jubilee Volume, Jaffna, 1974, Resolutions passed at the First National Convention, Trincomalee. 1951, Section 4, p.l0.

(5) A. Aniirthalingani,  Sri Lanka Leader of the Opposition Analyses the New Constitution, (Text of Speech delivered in the National State Assembly on 3rd August. 1978). Booklet published in Jaffna 1978. 

(6) Kumar David, “Roots and Results of Racism in Sri Lanka, in Ethnicity: Identity Conflict and Crisis, (ed) Kumar David and Santasilan Kadirgamar Arena Press. Hong Kong. 1989. P.233

(7) Rajesh Kandian. India’s Sri Lanka fiasco: Peace Keepers at War, Vision Books, New Delhi, 1990, pp.117 & 118.

(8) Major Shankar Bhaduri and Major General Afsir Karim with Lieutenant General Mathew Thomas (ed), The Sri Lankan Crisis (Lancer paper I), Lancer International, New Delhi. 1990, pp.95, 96, 51& 52.

(9) Tisaranee Gunasekera,  Rampant Rulers, Sunday Island, March 22, 2009

(10) Sumanasiri Liyanage, ‘One Step at a Time’: Reflections on the Peace Process in Sri Lanka 2001-2005, South Asia Peace Institute, Colombo, 2008 p.97-98

(11) Jayadeva Uyangoda, in Sumanasiri Liyanage  op.cit. p 132-133.

(12) Dayan Jayatileke, in Sumanasiri Liyanage  op.cit. p 134.

(13). We are like Jews, says LTTE’s suicide bomber.…citing Tamil net and

(14) V. Karalasingam, The Way out for the Tamil-speaking People” quoted in Santasilan Kadirgamar, “The Left Tradition in Lankan Tamil Politics”, in Sri Lanka: Global Challenges and National Crises: Proceedings of the Hector Abhayavardhana Felicitation Symposium. Edited by Rajan Philips. Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue and Social Scientists’ Association, Colombo 2001

(15) UTHR(J) report titled, ‘A Marred Victory and a Defeat Pregnant with Foreboding’. The report can be found at:

                           Abbreviations with brief explanations

B – C Pact               Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact
C. P.                      Communist Party of Sri Lanka (was pro-Moscow)
C. W. C.                  Ceylon Workers’ Congress (party of the Tamil Plantation
Workers led by Mr. Thondaman.)
E. P. R. L. F             Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front
EROS                      Eelam Revolutionary Organization
F. P.                       Federal Party (known in Tamil as the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi)
GoSL                      Government of Sri Lanka
I. T. A. K.                Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (Ceylon Tamil State Party
l. P. K. F.                Indian Peace Keeping Forces
J. V. P.                             Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (Peoples Liberation Front)
L. S. S. P.               Lanka Sama Samaja Party (Lanka Equal Society Party) oldest political party founded I935, historically Trotsykist and anti-Stalinist)
L. T. T. E.                Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
P. L. O. T. E.            Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam
S. L. F. P.               Sri Lanka Freedom Party (founded by Mr. Bandaranaike in 1951, subsequently led by Mrs. Bandaranaike and then by daughter Chandrika Kumaratunge. Presently led by Mahinda Rajapakse                                            
T. C.                      Tamil Congress
T. E. L. O.               Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization
T. U. L. F.               Tamil United Liberation Front
UNF                       United National Front (main constituent was the UNP)
U. N. P.                  United National Party (founded in 1947)                                            

                                                Select Bibliography

Asanka Welikala, A State of Permanent Crisis: Constitutional Government, Fundamental Rights and States of Emergency in Sri Lanka. Centre for Policy Alternatives, Colombo 2008

Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, 29 July 1987, Comments, Reflections … Logos Volume 26 Nos, 2, 3 & 4, December 1987, Centre for Society and Religion, Colombo, 1988

John Gooneratne, Negotiating with the Tigers (LTTE) – (2002-2005) A View from the Second Row. Stamford Lake (Pvt) Ltd, Colombo, 2007

Kumar Rupesinghe (ed), Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures & Lessons. For International Alert of London, UK, by Gunaratne Offset Ltd., Colombo Sri Lanka, 1998

Kumar Rupesinghe (ed), Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures & Lessons, Volume One, 2nd Edition, Foundation for Co-existence, Colombo, 2006

Kumar Rupesinghe (ed), Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures & Lessons, Volume Two, Foundation for Co-existence, Colombo, 2006

Michael Roberts, Burden of History: Obstacles to Power Sharing in Sri Lanka, A History of Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka: Recollection, Reinterpretation& Reconciliation. Marga Monograph Series on Ethnic Reconciliation, No.21, Marga Institute 2001

Michael Roberts, Primordialist Strands in Contemporary Sinhala Nationalism in Sri Lanka: Urumaya as Ur, A History of Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka: Recollection, Reinterpretation& Reconciliation. Marga Monograph Series on Ethnic Reconciliation, No.20, Marga Institute 2001

Rajan Hoole, Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myths. Decadence and Murder, University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), Wasala Publications, Colombo, 2001.

Reports of the University Teachers for Human Rights, (Jaffna)

Santasilan Kadirgamar, “Lanka: Nationalism, Self-determination and Conflict”, in Ethnicity: Identity Conflict and Crisis, (ed) Kumar David and Santasilan Kadirgamar Arena Press. Hong Kong. 1989.

Santasilan Kadirgamar. “A Sovereign Will to Self-Destruct.” Paper presented at the International Symposium on Human Security in Asia Pacific Region, 21-23 December 1997, Peace Research Institute of Meiji Gakuin University, Tokyo. (Unpublished)

Santasilan Kadirgamar. “Ethnicity, Discrimination and Conflict in Sri Lanka.” Studies in Asian, Vol VII (1991), Wako University, Machida-shi, Tokyo, Japan

Shelton U Kodikara (ed), Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of July 1987, A Publication of the International Relations Programme, University of Colombo, Sridev Printers, Dehiwela, Sri Lanka. 1989

Sri Lanka: Global Challenges and Nation Crises: Proceedings of the Hector Abhayavardhana Felicitation Symposium. (Ed)  Rajan Philips. Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue and Social Scientists’ Association, Colombo 2001

Sumanasiri Liyanage & M.Sinnathamby (ed), A Glimmer of Hope: A New Phase in the Constitutional Reforms of Sri Lanka, South Asia Peace Institute, Colombo, 2007.

Sumanasiri Liyanage, ‘One Step at a Time’: Reflections on the Peace Process in Sri Lanka 2001-2005, South Asia Peace Institute, Colombo, 2008

Tisaranee Gunasekera,  Rampant Rulers, Sunday Island, March 22, 2009
Volume Two, Foundation for Co-existence, Colombo, 2006


The above volume consists of Papers presented at the International Youth Conference on Conflict Resolution and Peace, Organised by the Peace Trust, Kanyakumari, from October 13 to 15, 2006

Silan Kadirgamar did not participate in the above Conference as mentioned in the Foreword above. He wrote this on the repeated request of the editor (having initially declined to write – the war situation in the country being absolutely tense, full of anxiety and distress), as the war in Lanka drew to a close in May 2009.Those final months were traumatic for us Tamils in Lanka, as news filtered in about the suffering, deaths and the final confinement to hastily created detention camps of some 280,000 men, women and children. The writer knew pastors and members of his church trapped in the war zone. Among these was his own 98 year old aunt and her family members who were among the first to successfully leave the war zone. But not before a lady in the convoy of buses was shot dead by sniper fire

This was initially meant to be a chapter of about 6000 words. On reading the first few pages Dr. Robinson requested that it be longer so as to be published as a separate book. His felt that very few people in India knew the actual facts behind the conflict in Lanka. The above draft was completed on June 15 2009.

[1] Santasilan Kadirgamar, a Lankan Tamil, was a founding member of the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality and was the President of the Jaffna Branch. He taught at Jaffna College, the Universities of Colombo and Jaffna  and was later a Research Fellow and  lectured at several universities in Tokyo.

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