Invaders and Liberators

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: Tamil Tribune
| Date: 20001012

By: Muththamma Veerachozhian

Whether an army is an invasion army or a liberation army can be easily determined by the way it conducts its military operations. An invasion army will plan and execute its operations with scant regard for the civilian population in the area. In contrast, a liberation army will plan and execute its operations with due care to limit civilian casualties to a minimum.

Sri Lankan Government and Army often talk of "liberating" Jaffna and other areas of Tamil homeland from the LTTE. Let us examine who is the liberator and who is the invader according to the characterization described in the previous paragraph. When the Sri Lankan army went in to wrestle control of Jaffna from the LTTE in 1995, it shelled and bombed Jaffna City ruthlessly with utter disregard for civilian casualties. When international relief agencies asked the Sri Lankan Government to set up a small "safety zone" where civilians can go for refuge without fear of army or LTTE shelling and bombing, it was the Sri Lankan Government that refused. The way the Sri Lankan army conducted the war for Jaffna in 1995 was typical of an invasion force.

Now let us look at the way the LTEE conducted the war when it made its push into army occupied Jaffna in April-May of 2000. I have read several reports from different sources that the reason LTTE did not blitzkrieg into Jaffna City after its quick thrust into Jaffna peninsula through sparsely populated areas was that LTTE did not want to shell civilian areas in the city. In fact, LTTE tried unsuccessfully to evacuate the people in between their positions and army positions through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Not only did the Sri Lankan army refused to cooperate, one senior army officer, Brigadier Palitha Fernando, told Hindustan Times newspaper that LTTE wants the evacuation to get a clear line of fire on army positions. In other words, LTTE did not want to use relentless mortar attacks on the army because civilians were in the line of fire. The way LTTE conducted the war in April-May onwards in Jaffna City is typical of a liberation army that cares for the local people.

Army, in contrast, had no problem attacking LTTE positions in spite of the civilian presence and the resulting heavy civilian casualties. During the second half of September 2000, the Sri Lankan army launched an offensive to gain control of Columbuthurai and Chavakachcheri in the outskirts of Jaffna City. According to reports in the western media "the Sri Lankan Army devastated Jaffna's Columbuthurai and Ariyalai suburbs and razed Chavakachcheri, Jaffna peninsula's second biggest town". This is typical of an invasion army.

Conquering and holding the land, and not necessarily the people of the land, is more important to an invasion army. It is interesting to note Pakistani dictator General Yahya Khan's comments to his subordinate generals quelling the uprising of the long suffering people of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1971: "I do not want the people, I want the land". Sri Lankan President Mrs. Kumaratunga may as well be saying the same thing to her generals in private, not necessarily in as many words. The way her army conducts the war betrays it.

October 2000 (ID.V10N10A02)