The puzzle serves as a backdrop for my argument that the Western nations, both individually and collectively, were complicit in one of the most outstanding acts of political blackmail the world has seen in recent centuries. This was when the LTTE utilised its own people, some 310,000 to 330,000 citizens of Tamileelam as a hostage-bargaining chip that would enable them to pursue their fight another day.
Guided by their well-placed connections in media and other circles in the West, the LTTE had read the international scene well. Strands of secular fundamentalism had secured a prominent place and humanitarian impulses could be persuaded to seek intervention on behalf of the Tamil people. The Tiger act of moral blackmail was only feasible because of this climate of opinion in the West. In consequence, Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), International Crisis Group (ICG), Hilary Clinton, David Miliband, Bernard Kouchner, Robert O’ Blake and others became cats-paws in a grand LTTE strategy. This act of blackmail did not succeed.
Backed by their people (including some Tamils) the Sri Lankan Government defeated the LTTE military machine — principally through its military strategy, albeit assisted in various ways by an assorted cluster of states. Both state and society in Sri Lanka are now paying the price for their success and their refusal to kowtow to Western demands during the last stages of the war.
Faced with diplomatic pressure the Sri Lankan Government declared that their military action was a “humanitarian operation” with “zero casualties.”
No one was fooled by the first claim and the second was sheer absurdity — even as a desired goal. Such idiocy was compounded further when some spokesmen later asserted that there were in fact zero casualties.
The Sri Lankan Government also declared specified areas to be No Fire Zones. This device restricted military flexibility in a context of turbulent battlefield variation. The final NFZ, moreover, was in the coastal strip juxtaposed between the elongated Nandikadal Lagoon and the sea. This was where the remaining brown water craft of the Sea Tigers remained potent. From mid to late April it also housed the LTTE command centre and eventually all its remaining hardware and fighters. How anyone could seriously consider it a NFZ baffles any form of pragmatic logic.
This strip of land, some 13 by 4 kilometres in extent, became a tent city as the remaining Tigers, civilian auxiliaries and true-blue civilians, at a crude estimate of some 200,000 in mid to late April, crammed into this limited space of sandy terrain. The eastern waterline of Nandikadal Lagoon facing west was heavily embanked, fortified and booby-trapped. Some tents in the NFZ hid bunkers and other military installations. The LTTE remained dedicated to its task of defending this space to the last person, while retaining a belief in some miraculous escape.
Sitting in Colombo on April 18, 2009 a massive bloodbath was a distinct prospect and one wondered if a mass act of suicide of the Saipan-Okinawa kind would take place. Then, between April 18 and 23 the Sri Lankan Army breached the defences in an intricate operation which saw numerous Tiger fighters drop their weapons and join a group of some 120,000 people to stream across the lagoon and sandy terrain to the safety of the government lines where they were offered water, food and help in ways that surprised them (as recorded by the Tamil moderates who comprised University Teachers for Human Rights and Narendran Rajasingham). To my eyes this event, highlighted as it was by the scenes on television, was a miracle. A moderate and veteran Tamil news-editor D.B.S. Jeyaraj in Toronto also applauded the moment with an essay “Wretched of the Wanni earth break free of bondage.”
However, some 70,000 Tiger personnel and ‘civilians’ remained in the southern segment and it was not until a final assault mounted from May 9 to May 19 that this force was subdued and the LTTE lay defeated.