Sunday, August 14, 2005

Sri Lanka: A Brief History

Lakshman Kadirgamar, one of the best foreign ministers in the world is dead. Shot dead by a hail of bullets in the swimming pool in his home. In his home that was guarded by over 100 armed Sri Lankan security forces. What a loss for Sri Lanka and for the world.

The late Mr. Kadirgamar was a lawyer, a graduate of Oxford University. In fact, he was the president of the Oxford Student Union when he was there. My dad was a fan of Mr. Kadirgamar's.

He was a Tamil, like me. However, he was not a supporter of the LTTE and believed in the concept of a united Sri Lanka, one in which the Sinhalese and the Tamils could co-exist peacefully. He was instrumental in getting the Western world to recognize the LTTE as a terrorist organization.

Firstly, a brief history of Sri Lanka.

The first inhabitants of the country were the "Sinhalese", a group of people who migrated from India in 500 BC. Buddhism became the primary religion of this group of people.

Starting in the the 5th Century AD, a power struggle began between the Sinhalese and the Tamil people of the state of Tamil Nadu in India.

In the 10th Century, the Chola rulers of Tamil Nadu conquered Northern Sri Lanka which was then won back by the Sinhalese rulers. This happened again in the 13th Century. The country went through periods of divison and unity alternately.

Then the Portugese, Dutch and British took turns plundering the country.

Since independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has been rocked by economic crises, the rise of Sinhalese nationalism, and violent waves of revolutionary fervor and Tamil separatism.

In 1959, the Prime Minister SRWD Bandaranaike was shot dead by a Buddhist monk.

His widow, Sirima, became the first woman Prime Minister in the world. She enforced a policy of nationalizing all industries and schools (Sounds like Indira Gandhi's mentor !) She also enforced Sinhalese as the official language.

These policies continued through her second term and continued to antogonize ethnic Tamils.

In 1972, Velupillai Prabhakaran created the Tamil New Tigers, a pre-cursor of the LTTE.

In 1983, in response to the killing of 13 Sinhalese soldiers by the Tigers, 600 Tamilians were killed in Colombo. This sparked the flight of about 100,000 Tamils to India for refuge. Several of them continue to live in India.

In 1987, Rajiv Gandhi, the then Indian PM sent in Indian troops to help maintain the peace. This move spolit India's record of having never invaded a country in all of its history. Initially, the Indians were sent in to help protect the Tamils. However, after some reports of misbehavior on the part of the Indian troops (including allegations of rape), the LTTE turned on the Indian troops as well.

In 1990, the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) withdrew after doing a thoroughly miserable job.

In 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assasinated at a political rally by suicide bombers - One of the prime accused, Nalini recently sought release on humanitarian grounds of having a young daughter - Crazy, she should have thought of that before she got involved in militant activity.

In 1993, Sri Lankan President, Premadasa was assasinated.

In 1994, Chandrika Kumaratunga (the current President) was elected. She is also the daughter of Bandaranaike and Sirimavo.

1995 marked the first truce between the LTTE and the Sinhalese. However, this was broken and till date the country has oscillated between uneasy truces and deadly violence.

For the last couple of years, a truce had held good and it seemed like it would last. However, with the killing of Mr. Kadirgamar in what has all the hallmarks of an LTTE strike (sans the suicide bomber), it looks like Sri Lanka is about to take a giant step backwards and regress back into a bloody war.

So what is the LTTE ?
What does Prabhakaran want ?
How are they funded ?

I will attempt to answer these tomorrow.


Jai said...

Thats a wonderful recap on the history of Sri Lanka.
I am not a Sri lankan or a Tamil.. But yet I do see the LTTEs side of the story as well. LTTE is officially regarded as the best army in the world. They are a well disciplined organisation and inspite of the constant political swings have remained an efficient and a united organisation. The only minor skirmish would be when Karuna seperated from the LTTE on the basis of Northen territorys attitude towards Eastern Tamils.

Terroism is never a solution.
Sample this :

"The Tigers are ruthless and authoritarian but they are not corrupt - they don't tolerate stealing, bribery or rape, things other armies are famous for." ----Marshall R Singer, Ph. D. Professor of International and Intercultural Affairs, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs - University of Pittsburgh --(Statement before US Congress Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Hearing on Sri Lanka November 14,1995)

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Sun Aug 14, 02:28:00 AM EDT  

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