Tag Archive | "Sri Lanka"

Syria. Could intervention by peacemakers help?


DJ responds to my recent post about not intervening in Syria (promoted from the comments.) He helped broker peace in the vicious Sri Lanka civil war. Could the same process happen in Syria?

It bothers me that the idea of this post is to sit back and let people kill each other – or rather, let a handful of combatants kill tens of thousands of civilians. I’m not advocating military involvement, but rather “conflict resolution” involvement – and our government may not be the best tool for that job, since it seems to exacerbate conflict wherever it goes.

I’ve been listening to NPR commentators asking why the U.S. Government doesn’t have more people on the ground in Syria. My question is, why don’t peacemaking organizations have more people on the ground? (Or am I missing something?) We had them in Iraq – and some of them died for their work (think Christian Peacemakers, who were Mennonites espousing peace, not Christianity). In Sri Lanka, I was one of those folks on the ground. Our group took a conflict that no one seemed to understand, made sense of it, and eventually helped bring about a four-year cease-fire, the longest in that thirty-year war. Yes, conflicts CAN be intervened in and resolved – but generally not with guns.

We as human beings are obligated to prevent the killing of innocents where we can. Failing to do so is immoral. Yet it is equally immoral to rely on our government as a surrogate for our own efforts. It is a poor substitute, with goals that are often not in the interest of real peace.

Outside powers don’t appear to care much about what happens to the people of Syria, most of whom probably just want to get on with what once was their lives. Some urban dwellers in Syria are now living in caves, for God’s sake. And their economy is now a shambles.

Would a peacemaking group even be safe in Syria now? In Sri Lanka the sides were obvious and clear. There were also safe areas where combat wasn’t happening. I’m not sure if any of that exists in Syria.Who would peacemakers talk to? There are dozens of militias, rebel groups, and by now, probably war lords. The opposition doesn’t have a singkle identifiable leader. Also, who would protect the peacemakers?

I’m not comfortable with letting innocents die either. But even the most seasoned UN peacekeeping missions have had no luck. Worse, the conflict is spilling across borders into Lebanon, and possibly Turkey, Israel, and Jordan too.

Posted in Anti-war

The fundamentals of radical, transnational counterinsurgency

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

There’s a lot of hate speech floating around out there. You’re used to it by now. The President is a black Muslim Nazi, LGBT destroy families, immigrants are disease-ridden criminals. It’s not just that these lies are offensive, though, is it? It’s that they hint at something darker, more wicked underneath. The argument isn’t that immigrants have diseases (they don’t), so let’s try to help them. It’s that they have diseases, so they’re filthy and must be hunted down and annihilated. The folks who spread this hate speech are not lying out of altruism or compassion, they’re lying as an expression of the dangerous, sociopathic capacities they possess. We know this from our foreign policy as well. It’s not just that the overt anti-semitism of terrorist videos will double you over with vomit, it’s the psycho undercurrent of suicide bombings that really keeps us awake at night.

I thought about this when I read Steve Hynd’s “COIN is like Soviet Communism?,” wherein he exposes counterinsurgency not as a strategy, but an ideology. He’s right, but it’s not just that counterinsurgency is a demented ideology, that it propagates vicious lies like obliterating a houseful of Afghan civilians is “protecting the population.” It’s that COIN is a symptom of an idea more primeval and dangerous: violence is the solution. The fundamental idea behind counterinsurgency is that war is the right tool for the job. It may look different and sound different, but it’s still war, still violently brutalizing a population, us and them, for isolated and selfish political ends. Continue Reading

Posted in Anti-war

How am I?

Flashing back from a card game, I reflect on some of the things I’ve seen. How am I compared to what?

Posted in News

Handful of Sri Lanka refugees allowed home

BBC headline trumpets, “Tamil refugees are allowed home.”   But read the article.  In fact, only 4,000 of the hundreds of thousands of Tamil refugees got to leave the camps this week.

How many refugees are there?  The number commonly cited is 300,000– yet BBC says Vavuniya-adjacent Menik Camp alone holds 300,000 displaced people.  Anecdotal reports suggest there may be more than half a million refugees in camps throughout northern Sri Lanka.

Every one of those refugees must be “screened,” says the government, “to root out anyone associated with the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels.”

Given that many of these folks lived under the LTTE administration for the last few years, some of them could have been “associated” in administrative ways.  Often, the LTTE forcibly drafted at least one son or daughter from every family.  What happens to those draftees?  To the families who gave them up?

The fighting may have stopped, but the humanitarian crisis is far from over in Sri Lanka.

Posted in Anti-war

Sri Lanka photos


Boston.com offers a stunning series of photos from the last days of the Sri Lankan conflict.  Some of them are gruesome.  Others are astoundingly beautiful.

Posted in Anti-war

Sharif Abdullah: Sri Lanka is a humanitarian disaster

Are the Tamils safe in Sri Lankan concentration camps? by aquaview.Sharif Abdullah writes:

I continue to monitor the lack of progress in Sri Lanka since the end of the war. Now, months after the crushing defeat of the Tamil Tigers as a military force, there are still hundreds of thousands of innocent Tamil civilians locked in detention camps, with no relief in sight.

Today, the trustworthy and independent International Crisis Group, quoting the International Herald Tribune, stated in part:

The guns have fallen silent in Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, but the deep wounds of ethnic animosity have not even begun to heal. An estimated 300,000 Tamil civilians remain essentially prisoners in internment camps run by a Sinhalese-dominated government.

To begin easing the deep mistrust between the communities, donor countries will have to pressure the government to be as serious about securing a just peace as it was earlier this year about winning the war.

(To read the entire article, click here.)

The promises of the Sri Lanka government to close the prison camps can now be seen for what they are: empty gestures to mollify the Sinhalese people into complacency. The government is not listening to the international community, donor countries, international NGO’s… the Rajapakse government is only listening to the sound of its own voice.)

(Believe me, if the Tamil Tigers still existed, I would be just as critical of them for using the innocent Tamil civilians as “human shields.” But, they don’t exist — the government has wiped them out. In a perverse way, the brutality of the Tigers acted as a check on the brutality of the SL Government.)

What is needed in Sri Lanka is the same thing that is needed in a dozen other countries with out of control governments (and/or out of control insurgent groups like the FARC, Taleban, etc)… in these situations, the people need a voice that is independent of the government and insurgents, one that is aligned with the deepest values of all of the people. People in the Sudan, in Zimbabwe, in Burma and in Sri Lanka need a nonviolent way to hold their violent rulers in check.

Stay tuned… I predict this situation will get much worse before it gets better…

(Sharif and I surmised that the government had no interest in peace.  Sadly, we were proven right.  Once again, the hopes of the Sri Lankan people have been dashed.)

Posted in Anti-war

LTTE surrendered, then was killed. UTHR(J)


For those unfamiliar with UTHR(J), they are a group of former professors, Tamils all, which has been critical of both sides in the Sri Lanka conflict– one of the few relatively unbiased sources of information and analysis on the conflict.  They have strongly criticized both LTTE and GOSL, resulting in the assassination of one of their founding members by the LTTE in 1989.  They have lived in hiding since then in fear for their lives.

Rajan Hoole, leader of the group, is the author of The Broken Palmyra (available for viewing online) which is, along with Sinhalese author T. D. S. A. Dissanayaka’s War or Peace in Sri Lanka (Volume II), one of the finest books on the origins of the conflict.

Now UTHR(J) has released a report on the closing days of the war based on interviews with witnnesses.  It includes this disturbing report:

“Desperate attempts to surrender by Nadesan and Pulidevan of the LTTE’s political wing have been documented by Andrew Buncombe [3] in the Independent (19th May 09) and by Marie Colvin[4] in Timesonline (24th May 09). They involved contacts between the LTTE’s international support group, Chandra Nehru Jr. MP, the UN, ICRC, Norway’s Environment Minister Eric Solheim and from the Government, President Rajapakse, his brother Basil and Secretary to the Foreign Ministry, Dr. Palitha Kohona. It was agreed that they would be safe if they hoisted a white flag, walked towards the Army and surrendered. Nadesan had said he had 300 people with him, some of them injured… After speaking to Chandra Nehru about 6.20 AM on the 18th, the party went with a white flag in a group of about a dozen men and women. Colvin quoted a source, who said, the army started firing machineguns at them. Nadesan’s wife, a Sinhalese, yelled in Sinhalese at the soldiers: “He is trying to surrender and you are shooting him.” She was also shot down. All in the group were reportedly killed.” (1.4.1)

The report also concludes,

“Given also persistent stories of a massacre from within the Army itself, an important task of an inquiry should be to lay bare the fate of those injured in the last week and what really happened from the 17th May evening to the 18th morning when the fighting ended.” (1.4.2)

In Section 1.6, the report notes that even some of the military’s own publicly-released photographs includes evidence of the slaughter:

“Some of the victims [depicted in the photos] had been executed by shooting into the ear. One wonders what made the Defence Ministry take pride in displaying these pictures.”

Previously, GOSL has maintained that victors are always pardoned for their sins. But did the U.S. and the Allies massacre captured soldiers when WWII ended? Or the alleged terrorists it captured in Afghanistan and Iraq? The analogies used by the Rajapakse administration don’t hold water.

This report suggests that GOSL went far, far beyond the bounds of necessity or decency, not only violating the Geneva Conventions and its contract with the Sri Lankan people, but reaffirming its own role as terrorists in Sri Lanka.

Posted in Anti-war, Socialism

Thoughts on the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers

Two problems with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers.

First, the Sri Lankan government has not addressed the lingering grievances of the Tamil minority and has done little to alleviate the systemic and institutional racism in the country. [The government has] won the war, but are fully capable of losing the peace. They must quickly come to the assistance of the tens of thousands of displaced Tamils.

One should not expect [second in command of the LTTE and world class weapons dealer] Pathmanathan to fade quietly into retirement, and gently accept the Sri Lankan rout of the LTTE. He was Prabhakaran’s closest lieutenant. He will remain committed to the Tamil cause. It will take time to rebuild even a small organization. But, in the mean time, there is a new gun (merchant) for hire.

Tamil Tigers Crushed?

It is important to understand what exactly has recently occurred in Sri Lanka. The hierarchical geospatially-bound LTTE network was crashed. However, it’s reason d’etaire as well as its external sources of funding guarantee that the same fight will be rebooted in another form. If current global trends are any indication, it will be faceless, it will be small and agile, and it’s structure will almost be flat.

The Tamil Tiger is far from dead.

The defeat of the Tamil Tigers and waning insurgencies.

For the LTTE, the lasting legacy is pioneering the use of suicide bombers and suicide belts, which have widely been adopted by radical Islamist groups and others. The specially trained and selected Black Tigers, the mystique surrounding them within the organization and the belief in the validity of the tactic have now been widely transferred to other terrorist organizations.

It is, as some theorists like to say, the “atomic weapon of the poor,” and a weapon that is tremendously difficult to defend against, especially when any constraints on killing the civilian population is lifted, as it was for the LTTE, as well as al Qaeda, Hamas and others who learned the lesson well.

Posted in News

A Voice for Peace

BBC photo: Dr. Jehan Perera

BBC photo: Dr. Jehan Perera

“At this time when attention has been focused on the last phase of war and on the humanitarian crisis in the north, there is another less publicised crisis that requires urgent attention. This concerns the breakdown of law and order and the spate of kidnappings, murders and extortions taking place in the east and other parts of the country.” –Dr. Jehan Perera, National Peace Council

Sharif Abdullah writes:

A quick update: according to both Sri Lankan government sources and Tamilnet, the LTTE (also known as the “Tamil Tigers”) have been militarily defeated. Vellupalai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tigers, has been killed, along with all senior LTTE leaders. The government reports that all Tamil civilians formerly used as human shields by the Tigers are under its control (although TamilNet reports many civilians still hiding in bunkers).

For an in-depth analysis, please see the excellent article by my friend Dr. Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka.

I want to take a second to acknowledge Jehan for his courageous and consistent voice for peace in the face of the drumbeats of war and violence. Right now in Sri Lanka , people who speak out against the violence have been beaten and killed. (The infamous “white van gangs”, mobile death squads that no one can seem to find, will stop at home or office, beat or kill journalists or other public figures, then speed off. There’s never been an arrest.)

It takes a clear sense of mission and a lot of personal integrity to be a voice for peace and nonviolence. In these times, silence can be construed as complicity. It takes real guts to say not just what is popular or what is politically expedient – to say what is true.

As I think about Jehan, my thoughts go to another Harvard-trained lawyer, this one from Chicago. I think about the Chicago lawyer speaking out for peace at a time when the drumbeats of the Iraqi War drowned out all reason in America . Once Americans woke up from our orgy of violence, once we saw the true costs of the war (in dollars, blood and spirit), we turned to him and made him our President.

So, Jehan, keep speaking out. Stay as safe as possible. “Temple Trees” (the Sri Lankan Presidential residence) awaits.

[For more on Jehan’s work and writings, click here.]

Posted in Anti-war

Benchmarks for Sri Lanka

D.J. Mitchell photo.

D.J. Mitchell photo.

Sharif Abdullah writes:

I shed no tears for the passing of the LTTE or its leader, Prabhakaran.  The goal of the organization was always unrealistic and its methods always brutally violent.  I am not sorry to see them go.

I do lament the orgy of violence, and the bloodlust that still grips the island.  With upwards of 20,000 of their fellow-citizens killed or maimed in the recent fighting, with their country and their economy in tatters, I believe the celebrations in the capital city of Colombo are ill-advised and will be short-lived. I believe the costs of this war will be more than the country can bear.

As bad as things are, I believe the situation is poised to get much worse.  Is it possible for a “failed state” to get “failed-er”?  War crimes, summary executions, extensive use of prison/ concentration camps and the possibility of ethnic cleansing are distinct possibilities.

So, what happens next? It’s anyone’s guess, but here are a few benchmarks or milestones you should pay attention to in the near future:

The next 3-6 days:

  • Are international observers granted access to all former battle areas?
  • Are international observers and international/ independent media granted access to all refugees?

(If not: expect a massive cover-up of war crimes, summary execution of suspected LTTE cadres and sympathizers, and bulldozing the “safe zone” battlefield to conceal the extent of non-combatant deaths.)

The next 3-6 weeks:

  • Are the refugee camps opened and unlocked?  Are people residing in the camps only because they WANT to be there, not because they are FORCED to be there?  (Of course, it is reasonable to restrict people from returning to areas that have not been cleared of landmines or have other health and safety hazards.)
  • Are detention camps for LTTE combatants open to Red Cross inspection?
  • Are the Sri Lankan people given full information on how much the war actually costs, in human lives and in financial expense?  (The government stopped publishing casualty figures months ago, similar to the Bush Administration not allowing photos of flag-draped caskets returning from Iraq .)
  • Has the government initiated and opened a national dialog on the long-term solution of the underlying ethnic issues that gave rise to the LTTE?  Have all parties and constituencies been invited to participate?

(If not: expect summary execution of LTTE combatants and ethnic cleansing.)

The next 3-6 months:

  • Is insurgent violence receding (or eliminated)?
  • Is there a reduction and removal of the police state security apparatus (fewer checkpoints, less population screening, fewer “high security zones” in the North and East)?

(If yes: this would be the first indication that the violence of President Rajapakse’s military offense against LTTE is yielding a non-violent result.)

Next year:

  • Is there a rise in post-traumatic stress related factors (the already astronomical suicide rate goes higher; alcohol and drug use up, domestic violence on the rise)?
  • Is there more violence on the island than in 2003 (the first full year of the Ceasefire Agreement)?
  • Is there a rise in communal violence?

(If not: Sri Lankans can then legitimately celebrate the victory of May, 2009.)

Three years:

  • Is there a meaningful devolution of power that protects the rights of ALL Sri Lankans, including Tamil and Muslim minorities?
  • Has Sri Lanka moved off of the list of “failed states”?

Stay tuned.  The first benchmarks are less than a week away.

Posted in Anti-war


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