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The Trouble with Tigers

Monday, May 18, 2009

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  • A protestor holds a flag bearing the emblem of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam at a rally in Queen's Park (Photo by Greg Be

    A protestor holds a flag bearing the emblem of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam at a rally in Queen's Park (Photo by Greg Be

Written by Greg Beneteau

Listening to some people, you'd think Sri Lanka put its problems behind it when state troops forced the surrender of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), ending a bloody 25-year civil war.

The Sri Lankan army, which regained control of much of the Tiger-controlled North since a launching military offensive three months ago, struck another major blow over the weekend, killing the group’s influential leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and several of his top deputies.

"We are happy today to see the end of that ruthless terrorist organization and its heartless leader. We can live in peace after this," Lal Hettige, a businessman celebrating in Colombo's outdoor market, told the Associated Press.

Sadly, that's only half true. I agree the LTTE isn’t a candidate for tearful eulogies. Since its formation in 1975 the Tigers have become synonymous with ruthless tactics of terror and intimidation. Human rights groups have repeatedly condemned the LTTE for recruiting child soliders. The Black Tigers wing redefined barbarity when it pioneered the use of suicide bombers against military and civilian targets.

Even in areas under their control, the LTTE behaved like an oppressive dictatorship , conducting forced relocations and ethnic cleansing, refusing to allow elections and assassinating Tamils who spoke out against them. Tamils who fled the fighting have been harassed by LTTE fundraising groups operating in foreign countries, including Canada.

However, I suspect the most difficult battles lie ahead. Now that the Tigers are defeated, the Sri Lankan government will have to confront its own demons if it hopes to turn this military victory in a lasting peace.

At its core, the conflict that left more than 70,000 dead was a battle over ethnic identity and the right of self-determination. The minority Tamils, who are mostly Hindu, have long complained of discrimination at the hands of the mainly Buddhist Sinhala majority in Sri Lanka, including unequal access to employment, citizenship and education. Following independence from Britain in 1948, the Sri Lankan government was accused of trying to weaken the Tamil’s ethnic identity by settling Sinhalese in Tamil communities and suppressing the Tamil language through legislation.

For the past twenty five years, the warring sides have denied civilians the most basic human rights. While the Tigers placed their goal of a Tamil homeland above the sanctity of human life, the Sri Lankan government stood accused of participating in, or at least failing to prevent, deadly pogroms that indiscriminately targeted Tamil civilians. The most notorious of these is known as Black July , 1983 which marked the start of the civil war and lead to a significant boost in the Tigers’ recruitment. Anti-Tamil mobs, angered by a LTTE ambush of a military convoy, went on a rampage, killing between 400 and 3000 people, destroying thousand of homes and businesses and forcing thousands to flee the country.

The Tigers might have been known for killing prisoners of war, but extra-judicial killings and disappearances of young Tamil men in custody of the police or military, continue unchecked. Both the Tigers and the government have intimidated, imprisoned or killed journalists operating in the country.

To top it all off, the final battle between Sri Lankan forces and the Tigers devolved into a bloodbath that claimed an estimated 7,000 innocent lives. The LTTE used its own people as human shields while pushing for a cease-fire, while evidence mounts that the Sri Lankan army attacked no-fire zones reserved for civilians. Neither group can claim the moral high ground in this conflict

Though the fighting has stopped, this legacy of resentment and suffering will not be erased overnight. The international community has a responsibility to help heal the wounds of war and halt Sri Lanka’s ethnic strife. Countries should push for an investigation of atrocities committed by both sides during the recent conflict and assist Sri Lanka with resettling the hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally-displaced persons. If necessary, the UN should employ peacekeeping troops to keep the fractious communities from taking out vendettas each other. Most importantly, the Sri Lankan government should take this opportunity to address the Tamils’ grievances and come up with a political solution to the conflict. That way, the conditions that encouraged the Tigers’ rise to prominence will not be repeated.

The federal Liberals and NDP promised to press the Conservative government to address the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka. Now that the war is over, their work really begins.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon.ca

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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  1. Posted by: George on May 20, 2009 @ 9:23am

    I can complete that title.

    The Trouble with Tigers…they are a terrorist organization and have NO RIGHT protesting Toronto or any other country. They don’t belong here and I am happy that another terrorist group has been eliminated.

    And before you get your panties in a bunch, I’m referring to the Tamil Tigers and not the Tamil people. Tamil people = welcome in Canada (of course!). Tamils who support Tamil Tigers = NOT WELCOME IN CANADA!

  2. Posted by: Drew on May 20, 2009 @ 7:52pm

    Here's a good quote from a fantastic article by John Pilger: "[The Tigers] are the product, not the cause, of an injustice and a war that long pre-date them". For an article that really looks at the background of the conflict and doesn't just put it the terms of the mainstream press which uses the simplistic "terrorism vs. overzealous anti-terrorist gov." frame as an excuse for genocide check out this: http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/features/silent_slaughter

  3. Posted by: George on May 21, 2009 @ 1:13pm

    You're referencing The Morning Star?! Doesn’t thecannon have enough communist/socialist-slanted articles without referencing others?

  4. Posted by: Salacious Crumb on May 21, 2009 @ 6:17pm

    We havent mentioned the role of the Tamil diaspora (most of them live in Canada and UK). They are a huge reason the civil war has gone on for as long as it has. Once they left Lanka, they continued to fund the Tigers, allowing them to buy heavy mechanized weapons, thus maximizing the lethality of the carnage and devastation wrought on Lanka. Part of the reason the Tigers lost was because post 9/11, it became harder for the diaspora to secure funding for the Tiger via legal means, as the Tigers by branded a terrorist group by the West. From my understanding, most Tamils civilians in Lanka were actually open to dialogue and settlement with the Lankan government that would have included more rights for Tamils and perhaps more autonomy in areas heavily populated by Tamils.

  5. Posted by: Salacious Crumb on May 21, 2009 @ 6:17pm

    But the diaspora wanted nothing but revenge and cheered the Tigers when they refused to renew the ceasefire with the Lankan govt in 2002/3. Of course I am sure in hindsight they should have realized that they were not going to have the upper hand anymore.
    What the Lankan govt does in the next few months vis-a-vis the Tamils will determine whether the civil war will truly come to an end. The Lankan govt won partly because a splinter group from the Tigers, led by Col. Karuna, helped the govt by providing them crucial intelligence. And if the govt calls all representatives of leading Tamil organization to the table and negotiates with the as equals, and not as victor and vanquished, assures them full and equal rights for all Tamils in every aspect of Sril Lankan, only then will this civil war will truly be over.

  6. Posted by: Not_My_CSA on May 27, 2009 @ 2:59am

    oh! i was kinda disappointed this article wasn't about real tigers.

    one of the main reasons why the liberals and ndp have promised to 'press' the conservative government is simple: votes. there are 300,000 tamils in canada (or ~1% of the total population) and the liberals and ndp see this as an opportunity to win over voters in that community.

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