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Taming the Tamil Tigers
May 31, 2006
In Sri Lanka, the terrorists who first brought suicide bombing to the world are intensifying their reign of terror.
Despite a cease-fire, recent weeks have seen a series of brutal atrocities perpetrated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, popularly known as the Tamil Tigers.
In April, a pregnant suicide bomber blew herself up in the heart of our capital Colombo, killing not only her unborn child but also several civilians. That's typical of the callous disregard for the lives of even our youngest citizens displayed by the Tamil Tigers, which has press-ganged thousands of children into its ranks.
Again and again, they have tried to provoke a civil war between the island's different religious groups. Christians have been assassinated in church during Christmas mass. Good Friday this year was marred by violence. Most recently, the Tamil Tigers attacked a ship carrying 700 unarmed troops together with international cease-fire monitors on May 11, the eve of one of the most sacred dates in our calendar, when Sri Lanka's Buddhist-majority were celebrating the 2,550th anniversary of the birth of Buddha.
The Tamil Tigers' strategy is to take control of the sea off the areas they control in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. Displaying a contemptuous regard for world opinion, the Tamil Tigers even warned the international monitors that they had the right to attack any vessel which passes through their waters.
That alone makes it abundantly clear that the Tamil Tigers are no longer interested in pursuing the peace process. Instead, they seek to foment intercommunal strife through unprovoked acts of aggression, in order to boost their support among the Tamil community and raise further funds from exiles.
But the Tamil Tigers' attempts to foment intercommunal strife have foundered in the face of the tremendous restraint shown by the people of Sri Lanka, including our security forces. We have not fallen into the trap of venting our frustration through reprisals against Tamil civilians. And the May 11 attack, which might have provoked such reprisals if it had led to major loss of life, was successfully repelled by our navy.
That has left the Tamil Tigers resorting to the lamest of excuses to avoid resuming negotiations with my government. Their leaders even accuse us of not disarming their own rebel faction, who recently launched attacks on the Tamil Tigers' leadership. Having initially insisted these divisions were its own internal affair, the embattled Tigers now want the government's help.
Unfortunately the international community has been slow to recognize the seriousness of the situation. Never let it be forgotten that the world's failure to help combat the first suicide bombings in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s and early 1990s allowed the tactic to grow into a popular technique, now copied by other terror groups around the world, which poses a threat to almost every major city.
The Tamil Tigers have long been exporting terror to other countries. They were responsible for assassinating former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, and have been training and supplying terrorists from northern India to Nepal, as well as engaging in gun-running in Thailand. In today's global war on terror, every terrorist is a threat to the world as a whole, and our struggle against the Tamil Tigers should be seen in this context.
While I welcome the condemnations of the Tamil Tigers' recent atrocities from the United States and European Union, as well as our international cease-fire monitors, words alone are not enough. Some countries took far too long to appreciate the true nature of the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organisation, Canada, for instance, only banned the Tamil Tigers earlier this year.
And although the European Union last year imposed a travel ban on Tamil Tigers' leaders, it only this week imposed a full-scale ban. I urge other countries to follow suit, particularly those in the Middle East, where many Tamil expatriates work and are often forced to illegally donate funds to the Tamil Tigers. These citizens are extorted by Tamil Tigers' agents in their workplaces, who beat up workers who refuse to make regular contributions from their wages.
Foreign governments could do more to crackdown on the Tamil Tigers' illegal purchase of weapons from places such as Afghanistan and East European and Central Asian republics, as well as their arms-smuggling operations through Thailand. They could also condemn more strongly the Tamil Tigers' repeated massacres of innocent villagers. The enforcement of proposals already before the UN Security Council for sanctions against organisations such as the Tamil Tigers, that force children to carry arms, would be a good first step.
Despite my critics' attempts to portray me as a hawk, I have shown by my actions since taking office that I am far from a warmonger. My government has shown enormous restraint in the face of these repeated provocations. I am a man of peace. I do not believe in war as a solution to the Sri Lankan situation and I am committed to walk the extra mile to achieve peace.
However I can not accomplish this task alone. So I call on friends of democracy everywhere to do their utmost to assist Sri Lanka's democracy -- and the Tamil people themselves -- to face up to the terrorist threat and advance human rights, dignity and pluralism throughout Sri Lanka.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is the President of Sri Lanka
Reprinted with permission from the Editorial Page of The Wall Street Journal Asia