RSTV: IN DEPTH- TAMILS OF SRI LANKA
India has once again expressed hope that the new government in Sri Lanka, led by the Rajapaksa brothers, will realise the aspirations of the Tamil community in the island nation. The issue figured prominently during talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa, during the latter’s five-day state visit to India. Following his interaction with the Lankan Prime Minister on the long-pending Tamil issue, Prime Minister Modi said he was confident that the Sri Lankan government will realise expectations of equality, justice, peace and respect of the Tamil people within a united Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan Conflict:
- Sri Lanka, from the early part of the 1980s, was facing an increasingly violent ethnic strife.
- The origins of this conflict can be traced to the independence of the island from Britain in 1948.
- At the time, a Sinhala majority government was instituted which passed legislation that were deemed discriminatory against the substantial Tamil minority population.
- In the 1970s, two major Tamil parties united to form the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) that started agitation for a separate state of Tamil Eelam within the system in a federal structure in the north and eastern Sri Lanka that would grant the Tamils greater autonomy.
- However, enactment of the sixth amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution in August 1983 classified all separatist movements as unconstitutional, effectively rendering the TULF ineffective.
- Outside the TULF, however, factions advocating more radical and militant courses of action soon emerged, and the ethnic divisions started flaring into a violent civil war
Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord:
- The Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord was an accord signed in Colombo on 29 July 1987, between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J. R. Jayewardene.
- The accord was expected to resolve the Sri Lankan Civil War by enabling the thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka and the Provincial Councils Act of 1987.
- Under the terms of the agreement, Colombo agreed to a devolution of power to the provinces, the Sri Lankan troops were to be withdrawn to their barracks in the north and the Tamil rebels were to surrender their arms.
- Importantly however, the Tamil groups, notably the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) (which at the time was one of the strongest Tamil forces), had not been made party to the talks and initially agreed to surrender their arms to the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) only reluctantly.
- Within a few months however, this flared into an active confrontation. The LTTE declared their intent to continue the armed struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam and refused to disarm. The IPKF found itself engaged in a bloody police action against the LTTE. Further complicating the return to peace was a burgeoning Sinhalese insurgency in the south.
- Among the salient points of the agreement, the Sri Lankan Government made a number of concessions to Tamil demands, which included Colombo devolution of power to the provinces, merger (subject to later referendum) of the northern and eastern provinces, and official status for the Tamil language.
- More immediately, Operation Liberation — the successful, ongoing anti-insurgent operation by Sri Lankan forces in the Northern peninsula — was ended.
- Sri Lankan troops were to withdraw to their barracks in the north, the Tamil rebels were to disarm. India agreed to end support for the Tamil separatist movement and recognise the unity of Sri Lanka.
- The Indo-Sri Lanka Accord also underlined the commitment of Indian military assistance on which the IPKF came to be inducted into Sri Lanka.
- In 1990, India withdrew the last of its forces from Sri Lanka, and fighting between the LTTE and the government resumed.
- In January 1995, the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE agreed to a ceasefire as a preliminary step in a government-initiated plan for peace negotiations. After 3 months, however, the LTTE unilaterally resumed hostilities.
- The government of Sri Lanka then adopted a policy of military engagement with the Tigers, with government forces liberating Jaffna from LTTE control by mid-1996 and moving against LTTE positions in the northern part of the country called the Vanni.
- An LTTE counteroffensive, begun in October 1999, reversed most government gains; and by May 2000, threatened government forces in Jaffna. Heavy fighting continued into 2001
- Since all provisions were not implemented, it is called 13- Minus.
- After LTTE defeat, 13th Amendment Plus was promised.
- Assured creation of upper house to parliament to ensure more minority participation.
Post Civil war:
- Tamil issue dominates ties between Sri Lanka and India.
- Sri Lanka- India ties go beyond people, into other domains.
- Sri Lanka a major recipients of development assistance from GoI.
- India’s commitment in Lanka close to $3 bn, $560 mn purely in grants.
- Indian Housing Project is Indian govt’s flagship project of developmental assistance to Sri Lanka war affected people.