Terrorists versus Civilians
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP)23rd March 2009
It seems as though every man and his dog is worried about Sri Lankan civilians. Opening a newspaper without running into a statement expressing concern at their fate is almost impossible now, and not only in this country. Our civilians are on the minds of the entire world community, apparently from Great Danes to Yorkshire Terriers, and words of concern just keep flooding out of their mouths.
Sadly, most of the interjections achieve no such thing. They call on both sides to make sure we are adhering to international law on safeguarding civilians during wars, sometimes denouncing particular acts as obviously wrong. For example, many agencies and individuals have now condemned the LTTE for holding civilians against their will, for child recruitment and for suicide bombings. Such denunciations are useful. But the writers and speakers of the pious words of advice fairly often say, or sometimes just imply, that there isn’t much of a difference between the Government and the LTTE, and that the plight of civilians is effectively the fault of both sides.
This is nonsense, as we have said on occasions too numerous to count. And the facts back us up.
It certainly makes a difference to the legitimacy of the struggle. The Government has been elected to look after the country and its citizens, and that includes protecting them from terrorism. This is a responsibility that we take seriously. The LTTE, on the other hand, doesn’t represent anybody. It has lost the majority of the support it once enjoyed, precisely because it treats people with contempt.
Furthermore, there are plenty of good reasons for comparing tactics. War crimes are the responsibility of individuals. Whether the person committing them is a terrorist or a democratically elected politician makes no difference when they come to be judged for their actions. Hitler would not have been handled any differently on the basis that he turned Germany into a one party state, because more relevant was the fact that he gassed six million Jews. It would be unthinkable to suggest that we couldn’t have expected any better from him, given that he was a dictator. Similarly, terrorists ought not to be let off the hook just because they don’t hold any official positions.
The LTTE thinks nothing of killing civilians, as we know only too well. It has deliberately targeted countless numbers, sending in dozens of brainwashed individuals, including children, to blow themselves up amongst the innocent. They have struck in buses and trains, amongst worshippers of different faiths, at political rallies and a lot more. Even the people the LTTE claims to be liberating are not exempt from its barbarism, as has become very obvious in recent days with hundreds of civilians being shot for attempting to escape to Government controlled areas.
Tactics are devious too, and this is where observers have tended to lose their way of late. The LTTE does everything possible to make sure that civilians are thrust in between its cadres and the Army. Its decision to stop civilians leaving the Vanni was designed to create such a buffer. But less obvious strategies are being used too. Bunkers are dug in the middle of civilian dwellings, while concealed artillery positions are put up alongside. Military hardware is kept nearby. The LTTE launches shells from among civilians, actually hoping to draw return fire. It has even fired its own heavy weapons into civilian areas, presumably just to be able to say that the Army has targeted them.
The difference in approach is obvious. The Army doesn’t try to use civilians to protect its soldiers, most importantly because it is committed to international humanitarian law, but also practically because it knows that the LTTE wouldn’t hesitate to shoot through the civilians. Contrariwise, the LTTE knows that the Army does stop and think when civilians get in the way, indeed that its operations are severely curtailed as a result.
The LTTE is completely focused on propaganda these days. It knows that the battle will be lost if outside support isn't forthcoming, so it is directing all its efforts to the diaspora, and through them to the rest of the world. The LTTE is desperate to create the impression that a lot of people are dying, and it is willing to kill civilians itself when it can’t fool the Army into doing it by mistake. Only if the LTTE does this effectively is there a chance that other countries will try to intervene in the war.
This is rather crass, of course. Such people can’t be allowed to do as they wish. When the LTTE was sitting pretty in Kilinochchi, with thousands of square kilometres under its control and no military operations to bother it, it was still killing people. Furthermore, it was busy constructing defences, acquiring planes, boats and submarines, making bombs and forcing people to learn how to explode them. The LTTE was preparing to kill an awful lot more people, in other words.
In the circumstances, options are limited. The Government is doing whatever possible to save the lives and relieve the suffering of the civilians trapped in the conflict zone by the LTTE. Officials work continuously to get food and medicines in, despite logistical problems. Military operations are going on carefully, while air strikes and the use of heavy weapons have been curtailed. The Government can't ensure that no more civilians will die, at least not while the LTTE is still in business, but we are doing our best. Sometimes nothing more is possible.
Disclaimer: The comments contained
within this website are personal reflection only and do not necessarily
reflect the views of the LankaWeb. LankaWeb.com offers the contents
of this website without charge, but does not necessarily endorse the
views and opinions expressed within. Neither the LankaWeb nor the individual
authors of any material on this Web site accept responsibility for any
loss or damage, however caused (including through negligence), which
you may directly or indirectly suffer arising out of your use of or
reliance on information contained on or accessed through this Web site.
© 1997-2004 www.lankaweb.ComAll