Tamil Tigers bow to US as godfather

Published April 17, 2003

BANGKOK: The leader of the Tiger rebels, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, sees himself as the godfather of Tamil politics in Sri Lanka, but he is being forced to learn that the US government revels in having that title when it comes to global politics.

In the next round of peace talks aimed at ending Sri Lanka’s two-decade-old civil conflict, Prabhakaran, the Tamil Tiger supremo, will get an opportunity to reveal if his movement is willing to fall in line with a Washington more determined to shape the world’s political landscape after its conquest of Iraq.

For the moment, the leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are growling with displeasure at Washington’s latest moves on the Sri Lanka peace talks.

From its headquarters in the northern Sri Lankan town of Wanni, the LTTE expressed disappointment at not being invited to participate in a conference hosted by the US government in Washington on Monday.

The Tigers are also threatening to boycott a major international conference in Tokyo in June that will focus on aid, saying its absence from the Washington meeting was a breach of faith.

On Monday, the Sri Lankan government announced that it would need up to $1.3 billion over the next six years to help rebuild the parts of the country damaged by the island’s civil war.

But before that, the LTTE peace negotiators will head to Thailand for the seventh round of peace talks with Colombo’s negotiators. During that round, from April 29 to May 2, the Tigers get an opportunity to clarify how far they are prepared to satisfy the demands of the US government.

Washington asserted at the conference on ‘Sri Lanka’s Reconstruction and Development’ that the LTTE needs to renounce violence if it expects to be welcomed by the US government.

“The United States placed the LTTE on our list of foreign terrorist organizations back in 1997,” said Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state, during the conference. “The LTTE must unequivocally renounce terrorism, in word and deed, if we are to consider withdrawing the designation.”

However, Armitage did welcome the LTTE’s decision to talk peace with Colombo, adding that “an infusion of international support can add an unstoppable force to this momentum of peace”.

In taking the initiative to host the one-day conference, Washington has added more weight to its pledge to help the South Asian island nation strike a peace deal to end a separatist conflict that has claimed close to 64,000 lives.

The tough political lesson Washington is handing down to the LTTE comes five months after Armitage delivered as strong a message to the Tigers’ negotiating team at a meeting of donors in Norway, the peace broker for the Sri Lankan talks.

On that occasion, Anton Balashingham, the LTTE’s chief negotiator at the peace talks, rejected Washington’s position, saying it was “totally unacceptable” for the Tigers to be branded a terrorist organization.

Besides the United States, there were two other countries — Britain and India — who revealed their displeasure towards the LTTE’s violent record at that meeting in the Norwegian capital, Oslo. Furthermore, the Tigers are also a banned organization in Australia and Canada.

Consequently, the rebels were reminded how far they were from the international legitimacy they seek.

Moreover, whatever political space the LTTE had then to stand up to Washington has shrunk significantly in the wake of a post- Saddam Hussein political environment, one that has highlighted the United States’ use of its political and military might as well as unilateralism to achieve its ends.

But signs of Tiger sensitivity toward this shift were evident in the statement it released after the Washington conference. Rather than accuse the US government that hosted the meeting for failing to treat the LTTE as an equal partner in the Sri Lankan peace process, the Tigers directed their fire toward Colombo.

Many now ask if Prabakharan and the Tamil Tigers are ready to learn this lesson and change their ways, as Washington orders.—Dawn/The InterPress News Service.

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