The road was badly savaged and cratered. Bombs, trucks, armoured vehicles and tanks had corroded its surface. We knew intuitively that to step off the apron and go behind the bushes carried great risk. There were landmines everywhere. The government had tried, before opening up the highway, to secure as many of them as possible. But, it had been barely two months since the signing of the ceasefire, so how efficient this operation could have been was in doubt – Padma Rao Sundaraji explained in SRI LANKA: THE NEW COUNTRY the circumstances under which she had moved overland to cover a media conference given by LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran in early 2002.
The LTTE efficiently used mines, including anti-personnel mines, against Sri Lankan security forces as well as the Indian Army (1987-1990).
Nearly nine years after the conclusion of the war, Sri Lanka is still engaged in mine clearing operations, in the northern region, with the backing of a section of the international community. Japan is one of the major donors, with a staggering contribution of USD 32 mn to various NGOs, engaged in mine clearing operations, since 2003.
Sri Lanka, last month, accepted the much touted Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention or Ottawa Convention aka anti-personnel Mine Ban Treaty (MBT). Former Secretary General of Parliament and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Austria, as well as its Permanent Representative in Austria, Priyani Wijesekera, delivered Sri Lanka’s acceptance statement at the 16th meeting of the States Parties to the MBT at the United Nations, Vienna. The four-day meet began on Dec 18, 2017.
Close on the heels of Sri Lanka accepting the MBT, Japan granted US 604,731 (approximately Rs 90mn) for mine clearing NGOs, with the overall objective of achieving mine-free status by 2020.
Interestingly, none of those who had been pushing Sri Lanka to accede to the MBT, never uttered a word when mines were introduced at the onset of the conflict, in the 1980s. The so called international humanitarian disarmament community had been blind to Sri Lanka’s plight and was silent on atrocities committed by terrorists.
The MBT celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. At an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Ottawa Convention, titled ‘A World Free of Landmines’ in New York, recently, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative there, Dr Rohan Perera, declared, “as a full State Party, we look forward to taking our place in the promotion of this Convention, including through capacity-building and mine clearance.”
LTTE terrorists utilized a range of mines against security forces, the police, as well as civilians, with impunity. It would be pertinent to address the use of mines in Sri Lanka without restricting the discussion to anti-personnel mines.
Sri Lanka brought an end to the use of mines, of all kinds, on the morning of May 19, 2009, when LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was shot through his head on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.
In fact, the first major terrorist ambush that had claimed the lives of 13 soldiers at Tinnavely, Jaffna, and plunged the country into chaos, in July 1983, couldn’t have been carried out without the effective use of landmines.
Sri Lankan terrorists received Indian expertise to produce a range of mines in the early ‘80s. The LTTE improved and enhanced its capability and capacity to make mines over the years.
The MBT would have been irrelevant to Sri Lanka had the international community intervened, on behalf of Sri Lanka, when big bully India launched their unprecedented destabilization project in Sri Lanka. India provided the required technology. During the 1983-July 1987 period, Sri Lanka really struggled to cope up with deadly mine attacks. The Army suffered heavily due to mine warfare.
The launch of the second JVP-led insurgency, in the South, in the wake of the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987, led to the Marxist party, too, acquiring the know-how to use mines. The possibility of some members of a Tamil terrorist groups (other than the LTTE) carrying out landmine attacks cannot be ruled out. The JVP mounted several landmine attacks in the South. The writer was the first journalist to visit the scene of a landmine blast at Kapparatota, Weligama, with photographer Jude Denzil Pathiraja.
Having taught the LTTE to effectively use anti-personnel mines, against the Sri Lankan military, India faced the challenging task of countering the threat posed by various types of mines. The Indian Army suffered substantial losses, at the hands of the LTTE, during its deployment here.
The Memorial put up by Sri Lanka, for the Indian Army, in Colombo, is nothing but a reminder of New Delhi’s foolish strategy that caused massive death and destruction in Sri Lanka, claimed the life of one-time Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and almost resulted in the assassination of Maldivian President, Abdul Gayoom, in early Nov. 1988.
Canada has been putting pressure on Sri Lanka to accept the Ottawa Convention – even during the war. Successive Canadian governments allowed the LTTE to receive massive sums of money raised there. Canadian funds were used to acquire arms, ammunition and equipment for the benefit of thousands of terrorists, including children. Canada never really pushed the LTTE to stop suicide attacks, or stop forcible recruitment of child combatants, though it relentlessly pursued Sri Lanka to stop using anti-personnel mines. Ottawa conveniently turned a blind eye to Sri Lanka’s security considerations. Instead, Canada wanted its initiative accepted by Sri Lanka, even at Sri Lanka’s expense. As a key member of the Commonwealth, Canada could have intervened on behalf of Sri Lanka when Commonwealth giant India brazenly sponsored six Sri Lankan terrorist groups. Had Canada, and its backers, been genuine in their efforts, India wouldn’t have been able to destabilize its tiny neighbour with impunity. Even if they couldn’t have thwarted the Indian project, Canada, and like-minded nations, could have certainly blocked large scale fund raising operations in their countries. Funds raised over there, and child soldiers, ensured the continuation of the LTTE terror campaign until Sri Lanka brought the war to an end by crushing it militarily. Canada never felt the need to rein in the LTTE, particularly against the backdrop of growing power and influence of Tamil Canadian voters of Sri Lankan origin who certainly exploited major Canadian political parties.
TULF leader V. Anandasangaree’s son, Gary, now a member of Canadian parliament, is a case in point. Gary Anandasangaree, a vociferous critic of Sri Lankan armed forces, had never dared to discuss the LTTE’s culpability for obvious reasons. The likes of Gary Anandasangaree remained silent as long as they felt the LTTE could somehow overwhelm the Sri Lankan military. They obviously had faith in the LTTE’s prowess vis-a-vis the Sri Lankan military.
The bottom line is that Canada surely prolonged the LTTE’s lifespan by ensuring a steady flow of funds.
The MBT was opened for signature, in Ottawa, on Dec. 3, 1997, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency. Canada obviously expected the Kumaratunga administration to sign the treaty though it was at that time struggling on the Vanni front.
Sri Lanka asserted that anti personnel mines were a legitimate defensive weapon and the country couldn’t have accepted the MBT at a time her armed forces had been waging war against the LTTE.
Having launched Sri Lanka’s biggest ever ground offensive, Jayasikurui (victory assured), to open the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road, north of Vavuniya, to Elephant Pass, the then government was not in a mood to engage in a foolish exercise. Signing the MBT would have been the last thing on Kumaratunga’s mind. Within two years, after the Ottawa signing ceremony, Kumaratunga had lost the initiative and was struggling to cope up with the growing LTTE challenge. In Dec. 1999, the LTTE nearly succeeded in assassinating her. An irate Kumaratunga revealed how the LTTE had made an attempt on her life, in spite of her being engaged in secret talks with the LTTE, with Norwegian facilitation.
Those who had been demanding the world to stop using anti-personnel mines, because they maimed civilians, never called for an end to LTTE suicide attacks on civilians. Had Kumaratunga perished in the suicide attack, directed at her on the final day of her presidential polls campaign, she would have been the first female political leader to be eliminated by a suicide bomber.
Having survived a suicide attack, Kumaratunga would have certainly found the Canadian call for Sri Lanka to be a signatory to the MBT ludicrous. Canada, home to the largest population of Sri Lankan Tamils, outside the country, played a pivotal role in the overall LTTE terror project.
Sri Lanka couldn’t have even considered the MBT as long as the LTTE retained a fighting capacity. It would have been foolish on Sri Lanka’s part to give up, even a minute part of her defence, as long as the LTTE retained fighting capability. The amount of funds that had been provided by Canadian taxpayers must have been one of the largest, during the war, if not the biggest, until the very end of the conflict. Undoubtedly, Canadian funds had been utilized to acquire stocks of explosives that were used to manufacture different types of mines, including anti-personnel mines. Can Canada ever absolve herself of responsibility for providing funds that helped the LTTE acquire conventional fighting capability! A comprehensive examination of Canadian funding methods is essential to understand the enormity of the problem.
Although Canada proscribed about 40 groups, including the LTTE, in the wake of 9/11attacks, and in January 2008 banned the World Tamil Movement (WTM), the murderous outfit received both funds and moral support from Canada until it was brought to its knees. Devastating four coordinated Al Qaeda attacks, in 2001, promoted Western powers to take some measures against terrorist groups. The Commonwealth, too, threw its weight behind the US counter attack that lay waste to Afghanistan on the basis Al Qaeda operated there. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know why Western powers gave the LTTE an absolutely free hand before the 9/11 strikes? Except the US, those who had tolerated the LTTE always sought to placate Tamil voters. The UK went out of its way to throw a lifeline to the sinking Tigers, in 2009, for purely domestic political reasons. Thanks to Wiki Leaks, the British intervention to save the LTTE from annihilation, on the Vanni east front, is in public domain. The Canadians, too, engaged in some bizarre efforts to save the LTTE.
The EU also went out of its way to support the Canadian project. One-time European Union head of Delegation, Julian Wilson, declared during Eelam war IV that the EU wouldn’t provide further financial assistance to mine clearing operations as Sri Lanka wasn’t a signatory to the Ottawa Convention. The EU hadn’t been concerned about Sri Lanka’s security considerations. Canada, the EU and their friends hadn’t been worried about Sri Lanka’s security needs. Instead, they wanted to twist Sri Lanka’s arm and compel her to accept the Ottawa MBT, while the LTTE mounted attacks on civilian and military targets, with impunity.
Those who had been demanding an immediate end to the use of anti-personnel mines turned the other way when the LTTE carried out claymore a mine attack on an SLTB bus, at Kebitigollewa in the Anuradhapura district, in the run-up to all out fighting in August 2006. The blast, on June 15, 2006, claimed the lives of 68 men, women and children.
While campaigning for the banning of anti-personnel mines, Canada, and some of its allies, allowed the LTTE to receive massive funds. The LTTE had unlimited funds to procure weapons ranging from explosives required to produce anti-personnel mines to China-built long range artillery. In fact, the LTTE acquired a range of Chinese weapons, including mobile anti-aircraft guns as well as ships of Japanese origin. For the LTTE, funds had never been a problem whereas Sri Lanka struggled to equip her armed forces.
Sri Lanka’s refusal to join the Ottawa Convention hadn’t been an issue for the US as the world’s solitary super power it never intended to ban the use of anti-personnel mines. In addition to the US, China, India, Pakistan, Russia, Cuba, Egypt, North Korea and South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam are among nearly 35 non signatories.
Years after the conclusion of the war, Canada, on behalf of the Tamil Diaspora, requested Sri Lanka to do away with the annual Victory Day parade. Canada asserted that such a parade hurt the feelings of the Tamil people. Although, the Rajapaksa administration ignored the Canadian request, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration meekly gave into the Canadian demand. Sri Lanka refrained from holding the annual Victory Day parade in May 2015. However, Canada did absolutely nothing to discourage the LTTE from using the Vanni population as a gigantic human shield, on the Vanni east front. In fact, the EU, in spite of its public concern for the use of anti-personnel mines, never took tangible measures to prevent the LTTE taking cover behind civilians. They did nothing as forcible recruitment of children continued until the very end of the organization militarily. They shed crocodile tears for civilians getting caught in anti-personnel mine blasts while turning a blind eye to thousands trapped in war zone.
LTTE receives overseas funding for mine clearing
Western powers, and some NGOs, acted irresponsibly though they publicly asserted terrorism wouldn’t be tolerated especially in the wake of 9/11. Funnily, a known LTTE front organization – so-called Humanitarian De-Mining Unit (HDU), tasked with mine clearing operations in areas under LTTE control – received significant financial assistance from Norwegian People’s Aid, British Mine Advisory Group, Swiss Foundation for Mine Action and Danish De-Mining Group in the wake of the Norway-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA). The HDU operated as the implementing arm of the LTTE-managed Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) that was under investigation in several countries.
It would be also pertinent to inquire why leading NATO member Canada undertook the high profile project to ban anti-personnel mines after having contributed to many destructive missions. Canada deployed its forces in support of the US led actions, on many occasions, though it refrained from taking part in the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, certainly a proud moment for the Canadians. The Canadian Air Force caused substantial damage during the murderous air campaign, directed against Yugoslavia. Having read William Blum’s Rogue State, the despicable US-led project, that lay waste to Yugoslavia, was nothing but a war crime. The Canadian project, to introduce the anti-personnel mine treaty, can be compared with Norwegian efforts at international peace making meant to win global recognition.
Seeking an international ban on anti-personnel mines while dropping massive bombs weighing from 500 pounds to 2000 pounds on countries is pure hypocrisy at the highest level. Canada is reported to have delivered nearly half million pounds of high explosives in Kosovo and Yugoslavia that took place amidst Canadian efforts to ban anti-personnel mines. Can there be anything as silly as demanding an anti-personnel mines ban while dropping 2,000 pound bombs?
(To be continued on January 10)