is independent. A single province has broken away from an
established state without prior agreement, and it has been
recognised by many of the most powerful countries in the world.
Such a thing has never happened before.
Some people have celebrated it as a major
victory for the right to self-determination, while others have
mourned what they fear is the beginning of the end for national
sovereignty, but everybody seems to agree that it sets a
precedent for secessionist movements elsewhere. Prabhakaran
might well be getting excited.
The LTTE is fighting for a separate state for
Tamils in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, just as the KLA
took up arms against the Serbian state on behalf of Albanians in
Kosovo. Both have cited discrimination against a minority group,
and both have claimed that no political deal with the majority
community is possible.
The KLA attacked civilian as well as military
targets, and it was once regarded as a terrorist organisation in
Kosovo Albanians who didnít obey its orders were
also eliminated to some degree by the KLA.
The LTTE has certainly achieved rather more
spectacular results with its terrorism, like blowing up a
president and storming the international airport, but it is not
fundamentally different in character to the KLA. In fact, the
advantage in these efforts towards secession has always appeared
to be with Prabhakaran.
The LTTE is considerably more organised and
The KLA was a collection of many different
factions that proved very difficult to coordinate, while its
cadres were often inexperienced and largely unschooled in the
tactics of guerrilla warfare. Serbian forces pushed much of the
KLA out of Kosovo in its offensives leading up to the ceasefire
that Western governments pressed on Serbia in October 1998.
The LTTE is also much better equipped.
The KLA found it impossible to hold territory
for long periods because it had very few heavy weapons,
depending for much of its campaign on a collection of old guns
from the disintegrating regime in Albania.
After October 1998, the KLA did get its hands on
a lot of new hardware thanks to significant diaspora funding and
the blind eyes of friendly neighbours, but this definitely
wouldnít have matched the resources that have been accumulated
by the LTTE. Prabhakaran should perhaps reflect on why he has
failed where his rivals have now so clearly triumphed.
The LTTE has been active since the early 1980s,
while the KLA could still fairly convincingly be described by a
Kosovo Albanian leader as a fabrication of the Serbian secret
services as late as 1995.
Kosovo has become independent within little more
than a decade, and one of the KLA bosses is now Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, Prabhakaran has spent more than a
quarter of a century dodging death in the Vanni, yet there is
still no sign of Eelam. The West is the answer, of course.
In March 1999, Western governments started
bombing Serbia under the cover of NATO.
Slobodan Milosevic was called a dictator, and
the world was told that hundreds of thousands of Kosovo
Albanians were missing and presumed massacred by Serbian forces.
Tony Blair likened the operation to Britainís struggle against
Hitler in World War II, while Bill Clinton spoke with anguish
about what he eagerly called a genocide going on in Kosovo.
NATO had taken out a good deal of Serbiaís
infrastructure and was preparing for a ground invasion when
Slobodan Milosevic finally agreed to withdraw Serbian forces
from Kosovo. The United Nations then stepped in to run the
province with the help of NATO troops, and the United States
promptly set up one of its biggest military bases anywhere in
Independence for Kosovo had to wait for the
pretence of talks to be completed, but it has been inevitable
since that day in June 1999.
Serbia could do nothing about it, even after
dumping Slobodan Milosevic and electing a pro-Western President.
Secession was simply the end desired by the
West. Prabhakaran seems to think that this scenario can be
replicated in Sri Lanka.
The LTTE is working hard to make life as bad as
possible for as many ordinary people as it can, assuming that
the existence of a dire humanitarian situation would convince
the West to come and save Sri Lankans from their Government.
Eelam would then presumably emerge and
Prabhakaran would thereby be delivered from his fate, just as
the KLA was rescued in Kosovo.
Buses, shops and temples are being bombed, and
Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese are dying.
The Government will obviously be blamed for
committing excesses in response to such attacks, but it can
almost equally easily be reproached for not preventing
atrocities by the LTTE.
Deaths and displacements are what matters to the
West, according to Prabhakaran. Kosovo, however, has another
After October 1998, the West had ceasefire
monitors all over the province, so we know exactly what was
going on in the lead up to the bombing in March 1999.
NGOs were there too.
They all agree on a number of important points.
The KLA forced the breakdown of the ceasefire
with a spate of abductions and murders of some hundreds of
Serbian civilians and police from December 1998.
The Serbian Army reacted in a characteristically
brutal manner, but the number killed is reported to be only a
few tens of Kosovo Albanians or KLA.
Serbian troops also engaged KLA fighters on the
border as they attempted to return to Kosovo from training camps
In January 1999, a single massacre of 45 Kosovo
Albanians is said to have occurred at a place called Racak,
although this has since been questioned in the Western
Serbian forces then returned to the same pattern
of retaliating to KLA provocation, admittedly harshly, but still
causing only a relatively small number of deaths, while the KLA
continued its campaign against the police and increased attacks
on Serb civilians and Kosovo Albanian dissenters. The Serbian
Army started the atrocities for which it is better known only
after NATO began bombing in March 1999.
Western investigators later concluded that most
of the Kosovo Albanian deaths and displacements occurred in
areas of KLA activity and along routes that Serbia anticipated
would be used in a NATO invasion.
It is estimated that up to 10,000 Kosovo
Albanians were killed in Serbia. Western leaders actually
created the humanitarian imperative for intervention in Kosovo.
Europe probably just wanted to clear up a mess
on its borders, and everybody remembered the lengthy sufferings
of Bosnia, while nobody liked Slobodan Milosevic.
Meanwhile, the United States was keen to
reassert itself over an increasingly united Europe, and military
intervention was certainly a potent reminder of the need for an
alliance like NATO.
Whatever, we will never be sure of the West's
real motives, although we can be certain that they had nothing
to do with protecting the Kosovo Albanians.
Essentially, the Western establishment had
already reconciled itself to the break-up of Yugoslavia, a
process that it had perhaps inadvertently set in motion through
its efforts to overthrow the socialist regime and introduce
market forces in the 1980s.
Kosovo was seen by many people as just another
stage in a game that had started years earlier. Sri Lanka, of
course, presents a much less tempting prospect.
India is far too close for comfort, and Western
leaders are keen on keeping that rising power as an ally, while
Serbia is quite a long way from its then somewhat down and out
friend Russia. Western governments would also have a
considerably harder time convincing their public that any kind
of military action should be taken in a small island some
thousands of miles away, and one that is quite well known there
for its tea and cricket, especially when the terrorists this
country is fighting employ the now universally abhorred suicide
Serbia was a lot easier to present as a villain,
despite what some commentators have said about the West siding
with Muslim Albanians over Serb Christians, for the Orthodox
Christians of Serbia are as foreign to Western minds as their
Anyway, NATO has got its hands full at the
moment, what with its other so-called humanitarian interventions
still underway in Afghanistan and Iraq, while it hasn't even
managed to stem the killings or prevent the violent expulsions
of some hundreds of thousands of Serbs and Roma after its
occupation of Kosovo in June 1999. Precedents are legal
Independence for Kosovo, however, was only a
matter of power.
Those with power did what they wanted in Kosovo.
The KLA was the incidental beneficiary of their
largesse, but such good fortune is not going to befall the LTTE.
Prabhakaran is on his own, I suggest, and that
means no Eelam.
Let him try to declare independence, and he will
immediately find out how little support the LTTE has in the
Sri Lanka simply need not worry about it.