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The Tamil-Sinhala Conflict in Sri Lanka

The Tamil-Sinhala Conflict in Sri Lanka. Part One. Table of Contents. Images of the conflict (slide 3) Summary of events since 2002 (slides Current state of the problem (slides 4-7) Basic data (slides 8-9) What the conflict is all about (slides 10-14) Chronology of the conflict (slide 15)

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The Tamil-Sinhala Conflict in Sri Lanka

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  1. The Tamil-Sinhala Conflict in Sri Lanka Part One

  2. Table of Contents • Images of the conflict (slide 3) • Summary of events since 2002 (slides • Current state of the problem (slides 4-7) • Basic data (slides 8-9) • What the conflict is all about (slides 10-14) • Chronology of the conflict (slide 15) • Historical antecedents (slides 16-17) • Beginning of the conflict (slides 18-20) • Escalation of the conflict (slide 20-23) • Ceasefire and its aftermath (slides 24-26)

  3. Images of the Conflict • Price of war for women • Future without hope • Fighting for rights or adventure? • Displacement • Culture of fear • Suicide bombers • Is there any hope?

  4. Summary of Events since 2002 • Ceasefire agreement since December 2002 • Reduced tensions • Ushered a degree of peace and normalcy • Violations of ceasefire, mostly by the LTTE, since the ceasefire • Tensions have increased since Mahinda Rajapakse became the president in November 2005 • Several major provocations by the LTTE • August 2005: Lakshman Kadiragamar was assassinated • April 2006: a suicide bomber attack the main military compound in Colombo. The military launched air strikes on Tamil Tiger targets • May 2006: Tamil Tiger attack a naval convoy near Jaffna, a “gross violation” of the ceasefire agreement • May 2006: the LTTE is declared a terrorist organization by the EU • June 2006: Oviliamadu massacre 'firing practice' for child cadres

  5. Current State of the Game: Different Views • War in all but name • Imperium in imperio • Tales from the front line • After the bomb – fuel of fear and hate • Axe falls • Curbing the support of diaspora? • Sabre rattling • The spectre of Sinhala nationalist terrorism • Bin Laden, George Washington and V. Prabhakaran • Solutions • Death of a Thousand Cuts • Devolution of power

  6. The Problem • The LTTE is engaged in an armed conflict with the government of Sri Lanka to gain a separate state for the Tamils since 1971 • An issue of minority rights involving the Sinhalese vs. the Tamils since independence (1948) • Mass violence against the Tamils in areas outside the northern and eastern parts of the island (1956, 1977 and 1983) • Ethnic cleansing in the northern and eastern parts of the island by the LTTE as a means to achieve its goal • Regular acts of violence committed by the LTTE • Acts of oppression and intimidation of Tamils in the northern and eastern parts of the island committed or condoned by the state • Strong opposition to separatism on the part of some extremist groups among the Sinhalese (JVP) • A marked reluctance to arrive at a compromise solution by both parties

  7. Mea Culpa • The present state of the conflict is the cumulative outcome of • Perceived rights and prejudices • Political greed and irresponsibility • Desire for greater political power • Intolerance of any other political view • Making use of any ideological weapon at hand to acquire and strengthen political power • Action-reaction syndrome • Effects of globalization • Diaspora and the conflict • Funding the LTTE • Technology comes to the aid • NGO’s and the conflict • International invention – for what purpose?

  8. Some Basic Data • Administrative divisions of Sri Lanka • Distribution of the Tamil Population in the Eastern Province • Distribution of the Sinhala and Muslim populations in the Eastern province • Country profile in statistics • Population growth

  9. A Profile of Sri Lanka • Total population: 18.9 million (1999) • Population by ethnicity • Sinhala 74% • Sri Lankan Tamil 13% • Indian Tamil 5% • Muslim 7% • Other 1% • Population by religion • Buddhist 69% • Hindu 15% • Islam 8% • Christian 7% • Other 1% • National languages • Sinhala • Tamil • English

  10. A Conflict of Cultures? • Is it a conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamils with entrenched cultural identities? • There are cultural differences • They are not insurmountable • There is no open conflict involving people at large from both communities • Both communities lived in peace before and since 1956 • Periodic mass violence or the conflict in the north-eastern provinces have not prevented the Tamils and Sinhalese living together

  11. Spectre of Sinhala Nationalism? • Is there a consolidated Sinhala-Buddhist opposition to the Tamils? • The Sinhalese and the Buddhists are not monolithic groups • The Sinhala-Buddhist identity as a political weapon is used by some Sinhala politicians and their followers • The Sinhalese (Buddhists and Christians) are divided over the issue concerning the Tamils and so are the Tamils (Hindus and Christians)

  12. Tamils in the North vs. Sinhalese in the South? • A conflict between “Sinhalese in the south” vs. the “Tamils in the north-east”? • The Tamil population is dispersed • Tamils in Sinhala areas • 1971: 29.2% • 1981: 32.8% • 2001: 34.0% • Sinhalese in the north-east • 1971: 4.5% • 1981: 3.0% • 2001: 0.0% • There are no Sinhalese in the extreme north since 1987 • They have been removed by force by the LTTE • Tamils outside the north and east have been forced to move out temporarily in the aftermath of mass violence in 1959, 1977 and 1983 • But the majority of them moved back once order was restored

  13. Genocide of Tamils? • The LTTE persistently claims of a genocide of Tamils since 1948 • Information has to be carefully scrutinized • More often than not information is misrepresented (example 1 and example 2) • There have been episodes of killing of Tamils, by the security forces, groups of people and, in recent years, by paramilitary groups • But a systematic elimination of Tamils has not taken place • The claims of Tamil genocide looks dubious in view of the fact that more than one-third of all Tamils and all Indian Tamils live outside the north and the east • There is clear evidence of ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Sinhalese in the north and the east (sporadically before 1983)

  14. Not a Simple Case • Neither the state of Sri Lanka nor the LTTE can claim moral high ground of innocent party • The conflict involves the state and the LTTE, which claims it is the sole representative for the Tamils • The LTTE has acquired the reputation of a ruthless political organization to coax the Tamils in the north and the east to its agenda for a separate state • The vast majority of people in the country do not want two separate states • The conflict has become complicated because of external factors • Intransigence on the part of both sides makes a solution difficult

  15. Chronology of the Conflict • A short chronology of events • A detailed chronology of events of the conflict

  16. The Tamils in Sri Lanka • Patterns of settlements of population up to the 12th century • Tamils lived in Sri Lanka from the early years of the Christian era • Periodic Tamil incursions from South India did not last long • The north-eastern part of Sri Lanka did not constitute a “Tamil land” throughout the history of the island • There was a Tamil kingdom in the north for a short period in the 14th century • The Sinhala rulers confined their rule to the area to the south of the northern province after 1500 • The north-eastern parts were administered by the Portuguese and the Dutch (1500-1795) through native intermediaries • The British colonial rule (1795-1948) consolidated an ethnic divide in politics and economy • Eurasians and Tamils were the majority of educated and state-employed elite well into the 1940s • Tamils enjoyed a proportion of education (and concomitant power) vis-à-vis the Sinhalese before 1956

  17. Ethnic Composition of Population, 1946-1981

  18. Beginning of the Conflict • The Tamils enjoyed a greater degree of privileges than the Sinhalese under the British colonial rule (1795-1948) • Tamil community was uneasy with the provisions for minority groups in independent Sri Lanka (1948) • Universal suffrage and electoral system under a unitary state • The Tamil community unsuccessfully tried to retain its position to secure its place in the country (1948-1956) • The majority of Sinhalese did not benefit from political independence • Medium of education, administration and employment was English

  19. The First Wave of Communal Violence • A major political upheaval in 1956 • The ruling UNP (pro-Western and English educated) lost power to the LSFP (pro-socialist) and supportive of rights for the Sinhala-speaking people • 1956: Sinhala became the medium of education and administration • 1957: higher education in English, Sinhala and Tamil • Tamil politicians opposed changes • 1957: Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact • Sinhalese opposition to the pact and Tamil reaction • 1958: Anti-Tamil riots • 1959: Bandaranaike was assassinated • 1959: Switch-over of administration to “Sinhala only” • Great publicity but little action in most places • But it was a weapon against the Tamils and Eurasians in public service • Tamil public servants were not sacked, but required to learn Sinhala for administrative purposes within a reasonable period of time • Sinhalese re-settlement of the north and north-central provinces gathered momentum

  20. Development of the Conflict, 1960-1983 • 1960-1970: successive governments failed to address the legitimate grievances of Tamils • 1971: emergence of two new political power groups • The JVP (Sinhala) • The LTTE (Tamil) • 1977: second wave of mass violence after the general election (won by UNP) • 1977-1983: low level conflict in the northern part of the island • LTTE vs. the security forces • LTTE killing Sinhalese in the north and east • 1983: third wave of mass violence against the Tamils outside the north and east

  21. Escalation of the Conflict, 1983-2002 • 1980s: both parties were uncompromising • The LTTE increased its brutal killings of civilians • The government increased its reprisals in the north and the east • 1987-1990: Abortive mediation of India • 1993-2001: War and diplomacy • 2002- : Peace of a kind • Oslo conference material • Ceasefire agreement

  22. Ceasefire 2002 • Who agreed with whom? • The UNP-led government with the LTTE • Why ceasefire? • Both parties had been exhausted • The LTTE needs regrouping its forces • The security forces were restrained • The UNP has always been pro-concessions to the Tamils • The UNP is pro-Western and pro-capitalism (with unrestrained access to foreign capital) • A political gain for the UNP vs. SLFP (led by Chandrika Kumaratunga) • International pressure

  23. Ceasefire in Action, 2002-2005 • Ceasefire has been useful for both parties • “Peace merchants” • The LTTE has acquired a degree of freedom of movement to gather its forces • The government has also strengthened its military forces • Ceasefire violations by both parties have increased • LTTE eliminating its opponents among the Tamils as well as Sinhalese and Muslims in the north and east • Security forces acting in retaliation • The wild card: secret killings by paramilitary groups of LTTE dissidents (Col. Karuna)

  24. A New Regime in Power • November 2005: presidential election won by Rajapakse (SLFP) • Rajapakse won largely because of the LTTE made sure that the Tamils in the north and east will not vote for Wickramasinghe (UNP) • But why? • Is the LTTE toying with the idea of military action as the final solution? • Or, does the LTTE think that the UNP is unable to deliver a lasting settlement? • Rajapakse is restrained by coalition with the JVP • The LTTE is reluctant to sit down for negotiation

  25. Status Quo, December 2005 – May 2006 • Open hostility of LTTE • Has become increasingly provocative and large scale • Aimed at provoking the government to retaliate • Even the slightest retaliation is exploited for publicity • Pressure to negotiate • The government is under pressure to pursue a peaceful path (aid and investment as a weapon of persuasion) • The LTTE is banned as a terrorist organization by the EU

  26. What Sustains the Conflict? • The Sinhalese faction • Political pressure among the Sinhalese to stop carving up the island • Fear of the Sinhalese of being involved in a continuous war after separation if it is allowed • Fear of Sri Lanka coming under Indian hegemony • The simple desire to have a greater share of everything that a majority is entitled • The Tamil faction • Reluctance to admit its position as a minority • An overwhelming desire to acquire a greater share of wealth and power than allowed by its numeric strength • Ability to dupe and subjugate the Tamil population to support the cause of a nostalgic homeland • International organizations both formal and informal supporting the Tamil cause for various reasons

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