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Should security forces fight LTTE to the finish?

The government and the security forces are under tremendous pressure from most western nations and the pr-LTTE ING0s, local NG0s and Mr. Kumar David (in The Sunday Island, 17th Aug.) to stop the current campaign against the LTTE and start negotiations, despite the fact that all previous negotiations have been futile, and only helped the LTTE to rearm, reorganise and re-launch vicious attacks on our security forces and the civilians. In this context, the question above is pertinent and requires deeper analysis taking into account the prevailing thinking on war and how a war should be conducted against a sub-state terrorist outfit.

Let me start by admitting, war is horrible. In addition to horrific deaths and ghastly injuries to human beings, it causes the devastation of the environment and leaves in its wake psychological trauma that would linger for years to come. Indeed I do agree with every word of the American civil war General William Tecumenseh Sherman, who was reported to have said, "I am sad and tired of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell". Yet this same General carried out a scorched earth campaign during his infamous march through Georgia, because he wanted to expedite the end to the civil war.

The current campaign against the LTTE is justifiable and ought to be fought to the finish. My reasons are based on the just war theory of Jus ad Bellum (JAB) coming down to us from St. Augustine, Aquinas, Suarez, Hugo Grotius, Michael Walzer and others. The LTTE’s "aggression is morally as well as physically coercive - it is singular and undifferentiated crime because in all its forms, it challenges rights that are worth dying for" (UN General Assembly Ruling on Aggression 331411974). Legitimate violent defence against aggression by a democratic government should, take into account and fulfil many stringent conditions before embarking on lethal defence to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. A terrorist gang will, of course, ignore all conditions. Let us examine these conditions below.

(1) "Only a legitimate authority should declare and wage war". Despite certain shortcomings in our brand of democracy, it is quite evident that our government is one elected by the people and is therefore legitimate. It has not formally declared war because it is not fighting another country. It is against a terrorist outfit that has subjugated a section of the people and gained control over some territory, and is an imminent threat to all the citizens and the country. This condition therefore has been fully complied with by the government and our security forces.

Vellupilai Pirabakaran (VP) has no legitimacy whatsoever. Therefore all his actions as well as that of his cadres are illegal, criminal and totally unacceptable and ought to be resisted.

(2) "There must be just causes for going to war". The government has plenty of reasons for going to war. Separatism and possible bifurcation of the country would goad any country to take up arms to defend its territorial integrity. Just look at what is happening in Kashmir and the north- eastern states of India and the recent happenings in, Ossetia. In addition to this threat, our country suffered terrorism and physical attacks on non-combatants on a vast scale, all over the country. Mavil Aru was the turning point. Its closure by the LTTE denied water to thousands of people. Any government would have taken the necessary measures to restore the water supply and save its people, from dire suffering. This was the immediate just cause that led to the present conflict.

VP violated both Human Rights and Humanitarian laws by deliberately depriving the people of water and access to water. He stands guilty of attempting mass murder of those farmers who could not have lived long without life giving water.

(3) "War must be the last resort". This present military campaign was indeed the last resort of this government. It did attempt peace talks in Geneva. The LTTE simply walked out of negotiations. The government did tolerate vicious mortal attacks on its security: forces, the Army Chief, Secretary for Defence and civilians working in the paddy-fields, sleeping at home and travelling in buses. War was imposed on the government by the LTTE.

VP had been mollycoddled by the previous UNP government, some Western nations and their envoys in Colombo, and the NG0s. VP had come to assume that he could with impunity commit murder and mayhem anywhere in the country. He arrogantly assumed that he was invincible and that his cadres were superior to the armed forces in combat. He was itching for battle to prove this point and win Eelam by inflicting a resounding defeat on the army. Whither his overweening pride today?

(4) "There must be reasonable prospect of success". This condition needs no explanation. Success was achieved by the security forces in the Eastern Province. Today the government forces have achieved considerable success in their forward march towards Killinochchi and Mulleitivu the sanctum sanatorium of the LTTE. A word of caution is necessary here. In many of my previous articles I have alerted the country to the possibility of the use of crude WMD (weapons of mass destruction) by the LTTE. This was based on the fact that many highly qualified, Chemist’s and Bio-Chemists in many western Universities are covert LTTE supporters and took the opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka during the infamous CFA. At the same time there were TV programmes in many western countries of the possibility of crude WMD attacks on major cities. Now that Karuna Amman too has referred to this possibility, one hopes that the army too has taken account of this and has counter measures at hand.

Given the fact that the LTTE has been forcefully dragooning the Wanni Tamils into being human shields, any use of WMD there would be likely to kill more Tamils civilians than government soldiers. This will not matter to VP as killing is his profession. He is likely to use his planes to drop these chemical biological weapons on civilian towns in the south and put the blame on the army with the help of Sinhala NGO kotiyas.

(5) "There should be proportionality between the defensive violence used and the offensive violence." So far one cannot notice any asymmetry in the campaigns.

LTTE’s air raid’s have been fewer but more spectacular than the air raids of the SLAF. The latter has confined its attacks on specified LTTE war assets, bunkers, boats and assembly points of cadres. All these are legitimate targets in war. The use of crude U-Boats and land mines gave the LTTE an advantage over the army. The land mines will remain a crime against generations of Tamils still to be born as they will be the people who will live in those killing fields and will become the limbless and lifeless victims of these mines.

The allegations against the army of killing civilians in Trincomalee and Sampur still remains to be proved. Public investigation of those incidents points to the intention of punishing, the culprits if proved guilty. Nevertheless, the whole of the Eastern province was captured with the minimum of civilian casualties by the army.

Here I must draw the attention of the reader to the way the Allied forces and the Americans conducted the Second World War, keeping in mind that they are among those who preach Human Rights to us and keep telling us to stop the war and negotiate with the terrorist VP. The Germans keep telling us to stop the war and negotiate with the terrorist VP. The Germans laid siege to Leningrad in Sept. 1941. More than a million, Russians civilians were estimated to have died of starvation and disease by the time the siege ended in 1943. Churchill resorted to the terror bombing of Hamburg, Berlin and Dresden, thousands of civilians (estimated at 800,000) died and a larger number were severely wounded. In the early 1940s Prime Minister Churchill defended his action by proclaiming that "the bombers alone provide the means to victory"( quoted by Walzer in Just and Unjust wars). In March 1945 President Truman ordered a massive incendiary raid on Tokyo which turned the city into an inferno and killed more than 100,000 civilians. He then followed it up in August with the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He defended his action on TV by stating "we have used ‘it to shorten the agony of war". The Japanese too pillaged, murdered and raped the Chinese on a massive scale. This is a raw wound on the side of the Chinese to-date. Our army has not engaged in such war crimes. They in fact exposed themselves to mortal danger in order to safeguard the lives of the citizens in the Eastern province and win the war without any civilian casualties.

(6) "Right intention should motivate the need to wage war". As far as I can see the objectives of the present military campaign are (a) to defeat LTTE’s terrorism for good, (b) to liberate the people and the lands under their control, (c) to restore democratic governance in the K&M districts and (d) to negotiate a long term constitutional settlement to our political problem. All these are in the spirit of the Bhagavad Gita which admonished us to prepare for war with peace in mind". St Augustine wrote that "wars are waged with peace as the object, even when they are waged by those who are concerned to exercise their warlike prowess, either in command or in fighting. Hence it is an established fact that peace is the desired end of war. For every man is in quest of peace, even in waging war, whereas no one is in quest of war when making peace". Hugo Grotius also asserted that "the unabated desire and invariable prospect of peace to be the only end for which hostilities can be lawfully begun". This is what the Sri Lankan nation expects from its security forces. Hopefully this will soon become a reality thanks to the supreme sacrifices of our valiant security forces.

Finally it could be possible that LTTE cadres engaged in the last stages of a hopeless battle would be awaiting a surrender that could never come given the mentality of VP. They should be treated with magnanimity and given hope to live normal lives in a peaceful post LTTE world. Thus negotiations, not with VP, but with other responsible Tamils should take place once the LTTE is substantially defeated and K&M are brought under army’s control. If VP is caught alive, a very unlikely event, he should be tried for war crimes in addition to the many murders he has committed.

[Disclaimer - In case readers conclude that I am a mouthpiece for the government, No, I am not, I do not belong to any political party or any NG0 or ING0. I am a concerned ordinary citizen totally against the LTTE’s brutal terrorism. I do sincerely believe that our Security Forces are doing the right thing for the country and we should all wholeheartedly support them].

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