The American Agenda for Sri Lanka’s National Issues, 1970s-2014

Daya Gamage, former US State Department Political Specialist ….. with the pictures being acts of editorial license that are informed by some of the central contentions in this essay: namely, that in early May 2009 USA wished to mount a rescue operation off the coast of north-east Sri Lanka that would save the remaining mass of Tamil civilians as well as the disarmed Tamil Tigers, inclusive of the LTTE leaders so that the LTTE would survive and persist as a pressure group. These objectives were guided by policies fashioned by staff within the American embassy in Colombo in the 1980s and 1990s in collaboration with officials in the State Department at  Washington who oversaw South Asian Affairs. TIMELINES have also been inserted by the author& Editor so as to assist readers — Editor’s Note.

CAVALRY CHARE FREDERICK remington_charge-300x174 US cavalry charge forward – symbolizing their role in the conquest of the West from Native American hands

PART I. The Emergence of this Agenda, 1980-95

The shaping of the United States policy toward Sri Lanka’s ‘national issue’ since the 1970s has been influenced by a number of factors: namely (1) the Sinhalese domination of Sri Lanka’s polity, (2) the visible decline of the (Jaffna) Tamil influence in the areas of education, trade, commerce and state sector employment since Independence, (3) the ‘awakening’ of Sinhalese nationalism seen from 1956, a movement and a process that was an explicit challenge to the disproportionate Tamil stake in the areas referred to above; (4) the race riots of 1977 and 1983 and finally (5) the emergence of Prabhakaran’s Tamil Tigers. These developments intensified the debate in US government circles and heightened their concerns about the status of the Tamil minority, 12% of the population in a polarized society. The goal of safeguarding Tamil people and their rights was juxtaposed alongside a desire to defeat “Tiger terrorism”. This dual track was aptly reflected more recently in Robert O. Blake’s address to the University of Madras in Chennai in May 2008.

Mr. Blake, who was addressing the University in his capacity as an official of South and Central Asian Affairs in the State Department, and who had formerly been his country’s deputy ambassador in New Delhi and ambassador to Sri Lanka, summarized the “carefully developed” American policy toward Sri Lanka’s National Issue in this manner: One reason for the lack of recent progress on a consensus APRC (All Party Representative Committee) document is that some in Sri Lanka believe that the Government should first defeat the LTTE and then proceed with a political solution. The U.S. view is that the Government could further isolate and weaken the LTTE if it articulates now its vision for a political solution.”

This note in recent times was adhering to a long-standing United States perspective as to what status the minority Tamils needed to achieve in Sri Lankan society and how the largely Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan polity should help them to achieve that status (or gain a lost status). This approach believed that the political/administrative structure required re-arrangements so that the two ethnic groups could share a commitment to work towards the overall national development of Sri Lanka in ways that emphasizedthe rule of law, good governance and civil liberties. It was a line of policy that was initially developed in the early eighties at the American Embassy in Colombo at the initiative of a youthful Foreign Service Officer, Kenneth M. Scott, who was chief of the political office.

Daya Profile Pix This writer, as the sole Foreign Service National (FSN) with a mid-level security clearance in a crowded Political Section occupied by U.S. Foreign Service Officers (FSO) — directly working with the Chief of Mission — at the American Embassy in Colombo as its political specialist for public diplomacy and strategic communication, research, investigation and analyses, very closely witnessed the shaping of this American perspective toward Sri Lanka’s domestic issues – especially race relations, ethnic tensions, minority rights and increasingly Sinhalese dominated polity – how the FSOs undertook in-depth study to get a comprehensive and multifarious understanding of those domestic issues. Having had such a role to play during a volatile early period of Sri Lanka’s history the writer was privy to sensitive discourse taking place within the diplomatic mission. This enabled him to acquire insights into the American thinking and values — to their mind-set. By the time this writer left the service in 1995 this bundle of issues had emerged as a critical national problem within a context dominated by the Tamil Tigers and heir threat to the Sri Lankan polity. By then, moreover, the protracted internal debates within Colombo’s American Embassy during the fifteen years 1980-95 had culminated in a settled American policy toward the critical national problems Sri Lanka faced.

By 1995, the U.S. State Department had already developed a very clear understanding of what should be the ‘outline’ of its “Sri Lanka policy” towards the “Tamil issue.” It is this self-same reading that now governs the conversations within the State Department and their official public pronouncements since the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009.

Significantly, during these fifteen (1980 through 1995) years’ experience fromone group of (US) Foreign Service Officers to another, not forgetting the change of ambassadors every two to three years, there was no lacuna in the development of this perspective. The policy toward the “National Issue” retained uninterrupted continuity. While questioning some aspects of these discussions as an underling, this writer witnessed the development and consolidation of its pillars during this formative period.

Attached to the embassy as a Foreign Service National (FSN) this writer witnessed the unfolding and shaping of the ‘American perspective toward Sri Lanka’s National Issue’, as USA termed it, at close quarters. In the debating traditions sustained in-service he often contributed towards the overall policy by challenging some of the concepts that the FSOs endeavored to incorporate in the overall policy agenda.

Since the Forefathers drafted its Constitution and its most vital amendments, the United States has adopted a system of allowing its subjects and officers to challenge the status quo. It provides space for the emergence of new ideas and concepts in its efforts to formulate a policy agenda for issues that it faces. This writer enjoyed that broad and valued freedom within the State Department.

This analysis is an attempt to place the United States policy toward Sri Lanka in a proper perspective. Sri Lanka needs to understand why the U.S. holds certain views about her on issues that have led to misunderstandings between the two nations. In dealing with the U.S., Sri Lanka and her close observers need to know why the U.S. takes particular positions on many issues interpreted by American Foreign Service Officers and officials in Washington — positions that these personnel believed would further the relations between the two nations while introducing to the Sri Lankan world the core American values that have shaped the American nation.

This is an insider’s view that may help Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka watchers to have a better understanding of U.S. positions, why it adopts such positions some of which are politically offensive to Sri Lanka and somewhat opposed to the populist politics that has dominated the nation since the mid-fifties. An important observation that this insider noticed since the formulation of American policy toward Sri Lanka’s “National Issue” from the era of Kenneth Scott (1981) into the next fifteen years (1995) was how the State Department FSOs stationed in Colombo and the Department officials who visited this South Asian nation from time to time succumbed to the tales of outrages presented by the Tamil lobby. This scenario can be neatly summarized by using a pronouncement by the popular American circus entrepreneur of the 1800s P.T. Barnum who said: There’s a sucker born every minute: There’s no such thing as bad publicity, and the more outrages you claim the more people that will notice you and buy a ticket to your show.”

When Tamil national leaders of repute, namely, Amithalingam, Sivasithamparam, Yogeswaran, Sampanthan and Susaithasan, all of whom were primary and valued contacts of the U.S. Embassy, drew the FSOs serious attention to the 1976 Vaddukkodai Resolution the Americans accepted it without realizing that it was only a half-truth. They became convinced that the Tamils had overwhelmingly endorsed the thrust for a separate state at the 1977 parliamentary general election. It was in this frame of mind that the Americans met Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) officials and other civic leaders. Strangely, the GSL was unaware, or did not have the capacity to understand, the emerging mind-set of the FSOs, namely, that the FSOs had a settled opinion that the 12% population of Tamils had endorsed a separate state — even though the 1977 parliamentary election returns in the Northern and Eastern Province, viewed in terms of popular votes, give a different picture. The FSOs also were developing an opinion that the 12% minority Tamils did not enjoy the share it should have enjoyed in many spheres in the Sri Lankan society as a shared commitment with the majority Sinhalese (74%). The statistics anyway showed that the share the Tamils had enjoyed at the time of the country’s independence (1948) had drastically declined by the 1970s. This is what alerted and perturbed the Western diplomats.

But to be fair by the officials in Washington and the FSOs, the United States did not want Sri Lanka to be a nation of the type described by Auberon Herbert: “The career of a politician mainly consists in making one part of the nation do what it does not want to do, in order to please and satisfy the other part of the nation. It is the prolonged sacrifice of the rights of some persons at the bidding and for the satisfaction of the other persons. The ruling idea of the politician – stated rather bluntly – is that those who are opposed to him exist for the purpose of being made to serve his ends, if he can get power enough in his hands to force these ends upon them.”

It is Auberon Herbert’s dictum that formed the basis of the FSO mind from the time of Kenneth M. Scott (1981) and in the next fifteen years which created policy planks formulating the United States attitude toward numerous Sri Lankan issues related to good governance, civil rights, race relations, shared rule at the center and the periphery, and the rule of law.

It is in this context that we need to put the American policies toward Sri Lanka in proper perspective to clear the air for both nations to have a better understanding and fruitful relationship. It is even more important for Sri Lankan officials, even those who at times regard themselves as “diplomatic/foreign policy whiz kids”, to get an erudite understanding of how the American diplomatic mind work., the mind which is taken seriously in Washington, through the constant flow of classified diplomatic cables to which this writer had the privilege to contribute. But what is noticeable is the ignorance of the GSL officials and their inability to even decipher a glimpse of this FSO mind-set. The result: unexplainable contradictory policy decisions by GSL officials.

The FSOs listened to and interacted with both sides: the Sinhalese activists who claimed that the minority Tamils enjoyed privileges beyond their numerical numbers and proportion (12%) in the island; and the representatives of the Tamils who highlighted the separate identity of their ethnic group and canvassed the West to convince them that their rights, status in society and privileges had declined. The latter had a better hearing due to the occurrence of significant incidents which the American diplomatic corps took serious note of.

Nancy Murray, who did extensive research for her 1984 article The State against Tamils, greatly influenced the thinking of American diplomats in Colombo during this initial period. On page 100 she noted:

“And then, on 31 May [1981], an unidentified gunman fired some shots at an [District Development Council] election meeting, and the tense atmosphere exploded into state-sponsored mayhem. With several high-ranking Sinhalese security officers and two cabinet ministers, Cyril Mathew and Gamini Dissanayake (both self-confessed Sinhala supremacists), present in the town, uniformed security men and plainclothes thugs carried out some well-organized acts of destruction. They burned to the ground certain chosen targets – including the Jaffna Public Library, with its 95,000 volumes and priceless manuscripts, a Hindu Temple, the office and machinery of the independent Tamil daily newspaper Eelanadu, the house of the MP of Jaffna, the headquarters of the TULF, and more than 100 shops and markets. Four people were killed outright. No mention of this appeared in the national newspapers, not even the burning of the Library, the symbol of the Tamils’ cultural identity.”

The District Development Council system which the Jayewardene administration (1977-88) put into effect in 1981 as an answer to the Western, mainly the American, pressure to devolve power to the periphery was regarded as an eyewash by the international community. The American diplomats who scrutinized the system concluded it was not the remedy required to meet to the broad-based Tamil agitation for devolution to the periphery; indeed, that it would be a catalyst for a violent uprising by the minority Tamils in the island.

The Jayewardene administration’s failure to immediately declare an island-wide curfew when the Sinhalese mobs started attacking the Tamil household and businesses in July 1983 in Colombo and other cities/towns following the killing of thirteen army soldiers in the Jaffna Peninsula by the Tamil Tigers perturbed the American observers. The declaration by President Jayewardene which described the mob attacks on Tamil properties and Tamils as “an expression of sentiments by the Sinhalese,” shocked the American diplomats in Colombo. The embassy also received credible information that a leading Jayawardene regime political leader in the Kurunegala District in the North Western Province assembled Sinhalese mob elements, transported them by train to Jaffna, and created havoc in the predominantly Tamil district in the Northern Province.

The reports, observations and analyses that went into the diplomatic cables on ethnic disturbances of 1977, 1979 and 1981 and regarding other significant political trends and developments were readily available to every Chief of Mission and FSOs during those fifteen years (1981 thru 1995) for them to digest once serious attention was focused on such issues as race relations, devolution of power to the periphery, governance, civil liberties and rule of law. These reading materials and the embassy officers’ engagements in public diplomacy and strategic communication helped the United States to develop policy planks on critical issues that this South Asian nation confronted.

It is important to understand that policies pursued by the United States in the new millennium were the ones that were developed, shaped and brought forward from the eighties and nineties.

The focus of the American diplomats regarding the status and place of the Tamils in Sri Lankan society was clearly portrayed when the then ambassador James W. Spain confronted the education minister of the 1956 Solomon Bandaranaike regime, Dr. W. Dahanayake, at his Richmond Hill residence in Galle in 1987, in this writer’s presence and asked him why he was responsible for replacing English as a medium of education with a prime place for Sinhala language while marginalizing Tamil education when he himself was English educated …. to which Dahanayake replied that it was not under his watch that the change was made, but during (Mrs.) Sirima Bandaranaike’s 1960 regime.

When Cyril Mathew, a Sinhalese nationalist minister in the Jayewardene regime, died in late 1989 the American ambassador and the chief of political affairs quite rightly refused to pay their last respects to a “Sinhalese chauvinist”, but finally agreed to visit the Mathew residence located in the elite Horton Place in Colombo after discussions which took note of the fact that his son Nanda Mathew was a Minister in the Cabinet and that it was advisable to sustain the cordial contacts with him. That such persuasion was required highlights the sentiments of the American diplomats vis a vis Sri Lanka’s most pressing national issue.

This was at a time when Cyril Mathew’s special assistant had been inquiring why the American embassy was so interested in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs and had raised questions whether the United States was supporting the Tamil separatist agenda.

The great journalist Mervyn de Silva in the May 15, 1990 edition of Lanka Guardian writing an eulogy to Sri Lanka (EPRLF) parliamentarian Sam Tambimuttu, who was assassinated by the LTTE hit squad in front of the Canadian High Commission in Colombo said:

“…Right through the ‘war’ in the east, before and after the arrival of the Indian Peace Keeping Forces ( IPKF), Sam Thambimuttu was the reporter’s first choice for what in the professional patois is called a ‘check’ and a ‘double check’…There was the more exacting professional demand rooted in the very character of a highly competitive profession. Beat your rival. Get the story out first.”

For the foreign correspondent’ (the foreign-foreign, or the local stringer) the source is vital. So is the ready access to the source. But most of all, reliability. And credibility. Since this is not a personal, but a professional’s tribute to Sam Thambimuttu, I have had to break an old established rule not to reveal the source. In this case, however, Sam’s assistance to the International press was hardly a secret. His name has been mentioned a hundred times.”

It was to Sam Thambimuttu that this writer often turned from the early eighties to get interpretations on the events and developments in the East and North of Sri Lanka. Tambimuttu became a valuable source of information. The last occasion this writer met Sam was a little before his brutal assassination by a Tamil Tiger hit squad opposite the Canadian High Commission. This meeting took place immediately after his audience with the political counselor of the American Embassy at the Chancery building in Colombo. At that meeting Thambimuttu was posed with this question by the political counselor : “How had the LTTE managed to become so powerful and placed themselves in a position that could dictate the agenda for Sri Lanka?” Sam told this writer that in reply he analyzed the situation in the country vis-à-vis Tamil Tigers, terrorism, ethnic issue, Tamil grievances and devolution of power to the periphery. But he told the State Department official in his Chancery office that there has to be a big power behind the LTTE for the latter, an illegitimate rebel movement, to achieve the status which enabled them to dictate terms to the legitimate administration of Sri Lanka and to influence its national agenda.

While munching Indian cuisine at the well-known Indian restaurant Greenlands in Colombo Sri Lanka, Sam Thambimuttu finally disclosed to this writer what he failed to disclose when he met the political counselor of the American Embassy: that the United States was morally behind the LTTE and that this act of moral encouragement from the State Department was extended through numerous maneuvers, methods and deeds; and that such measures had served the LTTE well and enabled it to become what it was. Mr. Thambimuttu was of the opinion that the United States has already given legitimacy to the Tamil Tigers in its pronouncements and actions.

The United States was convinced that successive Sri Lankan administrations had erred in many of its measures and placed the minority Tamils in difficulty; and that these measures and the failure to remedy their impact by the governments over time was due to pressure from Sinhalese nationalist elements.

Quite strikingly, the U.S. saw the political agenda for the Tamils professed by the LTTE as something that had a clear resemblance to what the Federal Party (Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi or Lanka Tamil-State Party)had demanded since its inception in 1951 (the recognition of Tamils as a distinct nationality, Tamil homeland, self-determination of the Tamil people etc) and the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) professed throughout the years for its Foreign Service Officers to consider that the LTTE manifested the aspirations of the 12% Tamils in the island for the U.S. to give some legitimacy to it short of recognition to its main demand – a separate independent Tamil nation — but instead force the hand of the Sri Lankan administration to rearrange the polity to award self-rule to a predominantly Tamil north and east.

PART II. Policy Planks

The U.S. State Department first designated the LTTE as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in1997 under the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. In 2003, the Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage reiterated that if the LTTE could move beyond the terror tactics of the past and make a convincing case through its conduct and its actual actions that it is committed to a political solution and to peace, the United States would certainly consider removing the LTTE from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations as well as any other terrorism-related designations.

It should be borne in mind that the decisions taken at the highest level in the State Department and policy planks made known to Sri Lanka through promulgations by senior officials in Washington at all times have direct links to what the U.S. Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) in Colombo learn, understand, comprehend, analyze, investigate and research. Despite the United States Government denouncingthe terrorist tactics/maneuvers of the Tamil Tigers, the USG/State Department and Deputy Secretary Armitage were convinced that the Tigershad a significant role to play in the resolution of the ethnic/Tamil issues and that the Tigers could be used as a pressure group to persuade the GSL to be flexible enough to move away from, what the Americans believed, the Sinhalese chauvinistic posture.

How and why the Americans believed in the invincibility of the LTTE and the outfit’s usefulness in their agenda, one directed towards changing the structure of the government, is a central aspect of the US mind-set.

The legal criteria for designation of the LTTE as a Foreign Terrorist Organization are as follows:

  1. It must be a foreign organization.
  2. The organization must engage in terrorist activity, as defined in section 212 (a)(3)(B) of the INA (8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(3)(B)), or terrorism, as defined in section 140(d)(2) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1988 and 1989 (22 U.S.C. § 2656f(d)(2)), or retain the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism.
  3. The organization’s terrorist activity or terrorism must threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security (national defense, foreign relations, or the economic interests) of the United States.

Throughout the existence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) it had never been a threat to the United States, the latter’s national security or to its national defense or its foreign relations or economic interests. In developing a stable policy toward Sri Lanka’s ethnic and related issues the FSOs of the U.S. State Department were aware of this salient fact. It therefore viewed Sri Lankan issues in a different perspective.

In May 2007 in a paper presented at the Asia Foundation in Colombo, one entitled The U.S. Role in Sri Lanka Peace Process 2002-2006: US Interests and Engagement in Sri Lanka. Jeffrey Lunstead, former American ambassador to Sri Lanka, clarified theU.S. views on LTTE terrorism and Al Qaeda terrorism thus:

[Since 9/11/01] the U.S. Treasury experts on terrorism financing visited Sri Lanka several times to work with the government on strengthening the Sri Lanka financial system’s ability to cut off terrorist financing flows. While this might be considered a strategic (US) interest, it was also limited by the fact that the LTTE is essentially a local Sri Lankan phenomenon with no clear ties to other terrorist groups with a world-wide reach. The U.S. opposes all terrorist groups, but all such groups are not equal in the extent to which they threaten U.S. interests directly.”

In brief, the State Department considered the LTTE to an integral part of the Sri Lankan solution and not connected whatsoever to America’s Global War on Terrorism.

Again, what assistant secretary Robert Blake stated during his visit to Sri Lanka at his press conference on 04 May 2011 is no different to what the Deputy Secretary of the State Department, Richard Boucher, declared in May 2007 during his visit to the island, and reiterated inhis subsequent testimony before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee in August 2007. Let me quote Blake first before proceeding to Boucher. Mr. Blake said:

“The United States attaches great importance to the dialogue that is now taking place between the government and the Tamil National Alliance. And as I said in my statement, we hope that that dialogue will result in a comprehensive agreement on all of the issues of concern to the Tamils.

The government and the Tamil National Alliance have conducted several rounds of talks with another round scheduled for May 12th. I expressed our hope that these talks can result in a comprehensive agreement that can help Sri Lanka heal the wounds of war and ensure that all Sri Lankans enjoy equal rights and a future of hope and opportunity.”

Thus, at different times the US believed that it could use the Tamil Tigers and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to bring pressure on Sri Lanka to evolve a package toward the resolution of the Tamil issue. The US wanted the GSL to acknowledge “the self-determination of the Tamil people” or “self-rule” as the basis for any resolution of Tamil issues. And, the US has continuously stressed the need for a “negotiated settlement,” either with the Tamil Tigers or with the TNA, that would secure such a situation or condition and would effectively dissolve the notion of a ‘separate state’ from the agenda of Tamil agitation movements.

boucher   Richard Boucher

During a visit to Colombo in May 2007, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher, outlined key U.S. concerns about “the way things have been heading” in Sri Lanka. First among these was the negative impact that the armed ethnic conflict was having on the people, both directly through terrorism and human rights abuses, and indirectly by harming the country’s economy. He conveyed to Sri Lankan political leaders of all stripes the U.S. position that consensus through the All Parties Representative Committee—“a consensus that identifies for the Tamil community their role in the island, their place, their control over various levels of government and their own lives”—represented, in the opinion of the United States, the best basis for future progress toward conflict resolution.

In August 2007, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Boucher said that “Sri Lanka’s long-standing ethnic conflict, fragile peace process, and deteriorating human rights conditions continued to cause concern for the United States and the international community: “Our top policy priorities for Sri Lanka remain restoration of good governance and respect for human rights leading to an eventual negotiated settlement. We believe that finalizing a credible devolution of power proposal, together with ending human rights violations and improving government accountability, are essential steps toward a lasting peace.”

According to the U.S. State Department, a history of cordial U.S.-Sri Lanka relations has been based in large part on shared democratic traditions. In this view, U.S. policy supported efforts to reform Sri

Lanka’s democratic political system in a way that provides for full political participation of all communities; it never endorsed the establishment of another independent state on the island. The U.S. opposed the Tamil Tiger call for a separate state. Throughout, it condemned the LTTE terror tactics, its mass killings of members of all ethnic communities, its autocratic rule in the country’s northern and eastern districts and those practices that made the Tamil residents a captive group with absolutely no democratic and human rights.

On the basis of this writer’s close and personal knowledge of the personnel and discussions during the period when the United States developed its policy planks toward the most pressing issue confronted by Sri Lanka, I have no doubt that that the FSOs at the US Mission in Colombo and their senior State Department officials at all times believed in those policy planks and adhered to them consistently.

The U.S. had no direct dealings with representatives of the Tamil Tigers as it was prohibited under the Federal Law that designated the group as a foreign terrorist organization. In fact, the U.S. refused to provide funding to a GSL-proposed authority that was created to address issues followed by the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami because the Chandrika Bandaranaike government wanted the LTTE representatives incorporated in the central authority called the “Post-Tsunami Operation Mission” or P-TOM. It only extended financial support for post-tsunami rehabilitation when it was learned that the Tamil Tigers would not be a part of the authority.

In his Syracuse, New York WRVO Radio interview for the special program “Campbell Conversations” aired on 28th January 2011, Assistant Secretary Robert Blake very clearly placed the US government’s position towards the LTTE, that separatist organization’s role during the final months of the war in 2009 and the stance taken by the Government of Sri Lanka.

The LTTE, the so-called Tamil Tigers, have been on our terrorist list since 1997. One of the most brutal, lethal terrorist organizations in the world.

As the Sri Lankan army was pushing north into the Tamil areas, the predominantly Tamil areas that were controlled by the LTTE for more than two decades, they displaced, the Sri Lankan army displaced a large number of Tamil civilians and they all began to move northwards. The LTTE systematically refused international efforts to allow those internally displaced persons to move south. To move away from the conflict areas where they could have been given food and shelter and so forth. So they systematically basically refused all efforts and in fact violated international law by not allowing freedom of movement to those civilians. So had the LTTE actually allowed people to move south, none of this would have happened in the first place, so it’s important to make that point. I think that often gets lost in the debate on this.

Secondly, the LTTE often deliberately put its heavy artillery in the midst of civilian encampments, precisely to draw fire so that people would get killed in the hopes that there would then be international outrage and there would be essentially demands on the Sri Lankan government to stop the fighting and [agree to] some sort of negotiated settlement.

The Sri Lankans, not without reason, argued that the LTTE was really never interested in peace and that they had always used ceasefires as a way to regroup and rearm themselves, so they essentially refused any efforts to resume the peace process

BLAKE Robert Blake

Mr. Blake categorically stated: “So we faced this very difficult situation. On the one hand we wanted to see the defeat of a terrible terrorist organization that had been responsible for hundreds if not thousands of civilian casualties. On the other hand we wanted to ensure that there were not going to be civilian casualties as a result of this.”

This writer is confident that throughout its (un)official role in the Sri Lankan conflict the United States maneuvered to secure the following result: ‘it is a defeat’ and ‘not a total annihilation’ of the LTTE. The US policy throughout was guided by the view that that the LTTE was an invincible force and that it was an integral part of the Sri Lankan solution as there were very clear resemblance of its political agenda (except independent Tamil state) to that of other democratic Tamil political movements. This is why Mr. Blake made those remarks.

Thirty months before the January 2011 radio interview, in his address to the University of Madras in Chennai in 2008 Mr. Blake said: “One reason for the lack of recent progress on a consensus APRC document is that some in Sri Lanka believe that the Government should first defeat the LTTE and then proceed with a political solution. The U.S. view is that the Government could further isolate and weaken the LTTE if it articulates now its vision for a political solution.” (All Party Representative Committee was in progress to identify national issues represented by elected Members of Sri Lanka parliament)

It should be borne in mind that the U.S. Government in November 2007 froze the U.S.-held assets of the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization, a ‘charitable’ organization associated with the LTTE, while in February 2009, the U.S. froze the assets of the Maryland-based Tamil Foundation, on suspicion that they were funnelling money to the LTTE.

The LTTE campaigned regularly to be taken off the U.S. State Department’s terrorist list. However, in August 2006, federal authorities arrested and charged eight suspects in New York with attempting to bribe U.S. officials to remove the LTTE from the list. The suspects, said to have close ties with LTTE leaders like Prabhakaran, were also charged with trying to purchase surface-to-air missiles, missile launchers, AK-47s, and other weapons for the LTTE.

The U.S. federal authorities have taken strict measures to prevent Sri Lanka’s LTTE getting material support; while the US Supreme Court gave a landmark judgment declaring that even providing opinion to a designated foreign terrorist organization as providing material support.

Notwithstanding the United States official steps and measures to make it difficult for the LTTE to collect funds on the U.S. soil and prevent the transfer of funds overseas, proscribing organizations that the U.S. Treasury Department discovered after lengthy investigations to be front organizations of the Tamil Tigers giving ‘material support’ which is prohibited under federal laws and the U.S. authorities working with the GSL to strengthen Sri Lanka’s financial system’s ability to cut off terrorist financing flows, the US State officials and FSOs have been advocating a negotiated settlement with the LTTE. On no occasion have they made remarks or taken an official position advocating the complete annihilation of the movement. Instead they urged them to surrender their weapons and help a negotiated settlement relating to the Tamil issue. The US took this position with the full knowledge that the LTTE was totally bent on terrorism and nihilism since its inception in late seventies. However, in private they considered the LTTE as an agitation movement that epitomized the “Tamil national struggle” and as a useful instrument to bring pressure on the GSL and its allied “Sinhalese nationalists” to be more flexible toward “Tamil demands”. The FSOs were careful not to give the impression that the US considered the LTTE as a liberation organization.

When Democratic Party Congressman and leading member of the subcommittee on South Asia in the House Foreign Relations Committee at a hearing on Sri Lanka asked Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department Donald Camp (who was earlier labor and political officer in the diplomatic mission in Colombo) whether the Tamil Tigers could be described as a liberation movement, Mr. Camp’s response was that no movement bent on terrorism should be considered a liberation movement.

Nevertheless, the State Department and the FSOs who served in the Colombo diplomatic mission unofficially believed the LTTE as an organization that stood for long-denied Tamil rights and that the terrorist maneuvers and tactics were used to bring some sense to the Sri Lankan authorities who, in the opinion of the Americans, were too stubborn to accept the reality that there was substance to what the Tamil representative organizations emphasized on Tamil rights and their place in Sri Lankan society.

As much as the United States attributed the emergence of the Tamil Tiger movement to the grievances of the minority Tamil population in Sri Lanka, this fact was openly confirmed by a State Department official two weeks prior to the total defeat of the movement.

At the May 06, 2009 media briefing at the State Department in Washington Mike Owens, Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, was very clear when he said that “legitimate Tamil grievances in fact gave birth to the Tamil Tigers”, a thinking the FSOs at the American Embassy in Colombo in the 80’s and 90’s entertained. And thereafter used as a guiding light to push Sri Lanka, at times through India, for a negotiated settlement.


In fact, Mr. Owens had earlier served in Colombo American embassy’s political section and prior to his position as the deputy assistant secretary he was Director of the State Department’s Office for India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bhutan.

At this State Department media briefing Mike Owens further said “We, of course, have designated the LTTE as a terrorist organization, and we certainly have no sympathy for some of the things that they’ve carried out, but I think you do have to ask a very legitimate question: Why did they have a following in the beginning? And I think it’s because some in the Tamil community do have legitimate grievances, and we need to find — I think it’s imperative for Sri Lankans to find a way to give everyone in the community, all Sri Lankans a legitimate voice in their government. And so we want to support the government of Sri Lanka as they move forward in an effort to do exactly that.”            


2007:                         The United States’ Role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process by former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Jeffrey Lunstead’s submission to Asia      Foundation   —

2008 – Aug. 03:    US-Sri Lanka Relations: State Department Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher in Colombo addressing the media – –                        

2008 – May:         Ambassador Robert Blake’s address at the University of Madras “U.S. Perspective on Sri Lanka” – –                        

2008 – 6 May:     Mike Owens’ briefing to State Department

2008 = May:    “Surrender of top LTTE leadership” – Asian Tribune report,


PART III. A Controlled LTTE not Annihilation

At a small dinner gathering on May 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA attended by several erudite medical surgeons practicing in the U.S. two of whom were Sri Lanka Tamils hailing from the Jaffna Peninsula and were quite knowledgeable about the current situation in their former homeland, this writer had the opportunity of engaging in a discourse with someone who was directly engaged with Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process and who had been ‘commissioned’ to enlighten the Government of Sri Lanka what lessons the nation has learned from ethnic strife and also was part of a group that has been tasked to recommend policy planks to aid the government in a program of conflict resolution.

What was expected of this gentleman during this interaction, one in which the Jaffna Tamil medical personnel were all ears and participated keenly, was to some insight into the degree to which Sri Lanka was conscious of what the U.S. State Department has been signaling, professing, promoting and advocating all these years and taking note of these ideas during its search for a consensus national policy toward conflict resolution at least since the1985 Thimpu Talks. These signals, as indicated earlier in this my essay, related to Sri Lanka’s governance, rule of law, ethnic strife, race relations, minority rights, devolution of power to the periphery etc.

When the issue was placed before him that the intensive scrutiny of a broad spectrum of national issues, and the policy planks developed by the U.S. State Department Foreign Service Officers stationed in Colombo in the 1980’s and 1990’s would be relevant or helpful in the present context, he dismissed the notion.

From what sounded like a very authoritative position, His understanding was that the American Embassy in Colombo had been, until recently, exclusively in conversation, dialogue and contact with Sri Lanka’s elite and that the American diplomatic mission was out of touch of Sri Lanka’s ground situation and out of pace with the country’s trends.

This US-based pedagogue’s contention was that the mind-set that was developed during the 1980’s and 1990’s at the American diplomatic mission in Colombo and in Washington on Sri Lankan issues such as race relations, ethnic strives, devolution, Tamil rights, rule of law, structure of government etc. have no bearing in the present context.

This writer had no evidence at that time whether this gentleman was reflecting the sentiments of the highest echelons of the Government of Sri Lanka or if both =- the highest echelon of the GSL and this interlocutor — had no knowledge whatsoever of the ‘American Mind’. But this writer was aware that this interlocutor was one of many persons commissioned to provide guidelines to Sri Lanka on conflict resolution.

It is significant, therefore, that he seemed to be ignorant of the remarkable ‘link’ between the ‘developed mind-set’ of the eighties/nineties and the post-2009 positions on Sri Lanka pursued by USA. Or may be Sri Lanka had no capacity to understand that ‘link’, even though it is one important lesson it may learn when working towards reconciliation and rearranging the polity.

The American perspective that has emerged since the demise of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009 has in fact emerged out of the initial policy planks developed in those two earlier decades within the portals of the American diplomatic mission with active collaboration of what was then called the “Near East and South Asia (NEA) Bureau of the State Department” (now known as the South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau.

It was the initial belief of this interlocutor that Colombo’s American diplomatic mission had changed the techniques it used to monitor the domestic scenario and situation, and as a result was more favorable to Sri Lanka. But subsequent developments — with USA moving resolutions at Geneva’s UNHRC and mounting the pressure associated with these acts — do not match with this interlocutor’s understanding. We should be reminded here once again that this interlocutor was one of those who was ‘commissioned’ by the President of Sri Lanka to ascertain what ‘lessons can be learned’ from Sri Lanka’s long war and recommend the ‘reconciliation’ process to bring healing to the nation.

What was noted in the FIRST PART of this article is three fold:

  1. Ethnic tensions, race relations, Tamil demands and grievances, and their place in a larger Sri Lankan society where the Sinhalese enjoy a numerical strength, the influence of the Tamil political lobby as well as the domestic human rights activists, and the dismal failure of some noted civil society leaders and state officials to intervene in the ongoing dialogue contributed largely towards the development of the mind-set of the American Foreign Service Officers which in turn that saw Washington pursuing a rigid policy toward Sri Lanka.
  2. Because of the failure of Sri Lankan officials — its professionals – to effectively interact with the FSOs and participate in the debate that was taking place within the portals of Colombo’s American diplomatic mission, and the failure of the two principle national political parties, that is the UNP & SLFP, in nurturing their own foreign policy experts one sees that even at present in 2014 the Sri Lankan authorities and the State Department are on different pages. In consequence the Government of Sri Lanka has reacted in an ambiguous manner to the pressures that are being mounted and face discomfort globally.
  3. The outcome has been the emergence of a particular policy that Washington has set its mind upon — a policy that is most uncomfortable for Sri Lanka in the post LTTE era, and saps its capacity to forge a strategic path..

When searching for the path toward national reconciliation TODAY it is imperative for Sri Lanka’s ‘self-proclaimed foreign policy experts’ to link the scenario that developed within the US embassy in Colombo during the 1980s and 1990s, one which created the foundation of ‘American policy toward Sri Lanka in the decade that followed, to the serious attempts of the US State Department to salvage the LTTE supreme leadership in May 2009. Furthermore, it should be borne in mind that this ‘failure’ to get the Tiger hierarchy out of the battle zone and to simultaneously minimize the civilian casualties that led the U.S. State Department to intensify pressure of a different kind since then involving the strategic use of the Tamil Diaspora to effect changes in the island polity. Sri Lanka

To identify that “intense pressure of a different kind” it is vital to ascertain why Washington wanted the “LTTE alive”, what steps it took to “keep it alive” and what path it is taking to bring pressure on Sri Lanka and to then consider whether Sri Lanka can withhold that pressure.

At the outset of this THIRD PART it was noted that the interlocutor with whom this writer had a dialogue at Las Vegas in May 2012 in the company of two Sri Lankan Tamil medical personnel either failed to grasp this larger scenario or was manifesting the sentiments of the hierarchy within GSL, a broadly popular administration which is yet to scrutinize that larger scenario in order to re-establish the cordial and friendly relations that once existed between Colombo and Washington. Eliminating the misunderstanding between the two nations, as US Senator John Kerry said in his Foreign Relations Committee report of late 2009, is for mutual benefit and interest.

And to move away from what former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once famously said: “We Do Not Know What We Do Not Know.”

The LTTE Surrender

On 06 May 2009, exactly 12 days before the total annihilation of the LTTE with its top leadership, in a special media gathering at the State Department in Washington, the USG disclosed its long held notion, notion that was developed and nurtured within the portals of the United Stated Mission in Colombo in the eighties and nineties.

Mike Owens, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs who had previously served as the Political/Labor Officer at the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Colombo, at this (2009) May 06 special media briefing said “We, of course, have designated the LTTE as a terrorist organization, and we certainly have no sympathy for some of the things that they’ve carried out, but I think you do have to ask a very legitimate question: Why did they have a following in the beginning? And I think it’s because some in the Tamil community do have legitimate grievances, and we need to find — I think it’s imperative for Sri Lankans to find a way to give everyone in the community, all Sri Lankans a legitimate voice in their government. And so we want to support the government of Sri Lanka as they move forward in an effort to do exactly that.”

It is the eighties/nineties that the US embassy staff developed a mind-set and policy planks based on the firm belief that the birth of the LTTE was the result of the grievances of the Tamil community. This idea thereafter governed the USG policy and led USA to (1) make the LTTE a legitimate voice of the Tamil grievances by officially encouraging the GSL to accept it as an ‘equal’ partner at the negotiating table; (2) while encouraging measures to drastically control the LTTEs military capability, its fundraising ability and block its arms procurement avenues. So the idea was to maintain it as a pressure group of the Tamil voice so as to force the GSL hand to grant Tamil demands that had been highlighted earlier by the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (Lanka Tamil State Party or Federal Party which was the first Tamil political party to adopt a resolution at its inaugural session in 1951 highlighting a demand for self-determination of the Tamil People), Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF that adopted the separatist resolution in 1976 and even introduced it in the Massachusetts State Assembly in 1979)) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA – a creation of the LTTE). The marginalization of established democratic Tamil political parties as a result of the militarily-powerful- LTTE reducing them as its appendices made the US to (not officially) indirectly recognize the LTTE ‘the sole representative of the Tamil people’ (3) Move the top hierarchy of the already crippled LTTE out of Sri Lanka to invigorate the debate on Tamil rights/grievances. The officials of the State Department were already in a dialogue with several Tamil expatriate organizations based in the U.S for many months or years.

And, one could add a (4) using the post-LTTE developments: forcing the GSL to adopt a policy of accountability and transparency regarding the incidents that occurred from April through 18 May (2009) which are described as violation of International Humanitarian Laws (IHL), crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide to forcibly push the political agenda professed by the FP, TULF and LTTE on Tamil grievances, especially bringing pressure on the GSL to implement more than what is in the Thirteen Amendment of the Constitution which talks of devolution of administrative and political power to the periphery, a main objective of allowing the Tamils in the North and East of Sri Lanka to run their own lives with minimal interference from Colombo, with land and police powers, while maintaining the unitary character of the constitution.

Aircraft_Carriers__TF uss-ranger  iconic examples of US military might and flexibilitysince it appears that the US Pacific Fleet was on standby for a rescue operation in Sri Lanka –thereby preserving the LTTE leadership as a political force

am marines on exercises off phili -AFP  US Marines on exercises in the Pacific

Drawing the attention to notion (3) above, Mike Owens was very clear at the special media briefing 06 May 2009. He was the first US official to reveal that the US government wished to organise the surrender of the whole LTTE corps of fighters, inclusive of its leaders, as one facet of a rescue operation that would ensure the safety of the civilians in the battle zone. We present here the salient pronouncements made by Mr. Owens on behalf of the American administration for the readers to come to their own conclusions.

“We are trying quietly — and I can’t talk too much about this– but we are trying quietly behind the scene to find a way to bring an end to the fighting. It’s very difficult to see exactly how that’s going to happen, but we think there are a couple of elements that need to be involved, and we need to find a way for the LTTE to surrender arms possibly to a third party in the context of a pause in the fighting, to surrender their arms in exchange for some sort of limited amnesty to at least some members of the LTTE and the beginning of a political process.

“Now, those are pretty vague — that’s a pretty vague outline, and we realize that. It’s going to require a lot of negotiation with the parties involved to bring that to fruition in a really a coherent way, but that is something that is underway behind the scenes to try to find a way to reach that point.

“I just want to emphasize this is what we would like to see happen, but we don’t have any illusions that this is easy to engineer. It’s something that we’ve been working on very hard and quietly behind the scene, because we see — the only potential we see to bring this to an end is to have a package in which we have a pause, and the civilians were allowed to leave. And now it’s very clear that many civilians do want to leave in spite of the fact the LTTE has said earlier they do not want to leave. They do in fact want to leave.

“So what we would like to see is a package, in which there is a pause, and then during that pause, not only do the civilians leave but we also make some arrangements between the government and the LTTE that would involve trading off surrender of arms for a limited amnesty. The government of Sri Lanka has previously offered a limited amnesty. This would be for the lower level LTTE cadre, not the leadership.

“And so I think one of the big questions is what to do about the leadership, and that’s certainly not easy to answer. This is a very complex and very difficult sort of thing to orchestrate. There are many problems, and we are running out of time. We really, literally, have a matter of a couple of days maybe in which we can try to get this finalized.”

“So we are working on it, but I don’t want to raise expectations that we’re close to a comprehensive agreement.”

A segment of the U.S. Embassy Sri Lanka’s classified cable to Washington sent by Ambassador Robert Blake (disclosed by WikiLeaks) gives a glimpse of the  endeavour by the United States to arrange a surrender of the LTTE cadre. This classified cable said: “Ambassador contacted senior GSL officials throughout the day, including Secretary of Defense Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Bogollagama, to urge acceptance of a mediated surrender of the remaining Tigers and maximum restraint on the part of the military to avoid further civilian casualties, particularly after the reports from the Bishop of Mannar of continued high numbers of civilians in the safe zone. Rajapaksa refused to accept mediated surrender on the grounds that the fighting was all but over, but said troops had been instructed to accept anyone who wishes to surrender.”

Intense Pressure of a Different Kind towards Conflict Resolution

In the event of a failure to salvage the top Tamil Tiger leadership, Mike Owens spelt out the USG/State Department policy objective in a post-LTTE scenario which I have noted as point (4): Using the post-LTTE developments: forcing the GSL to adopt a policy of accountability and openness regarding the incidents that occurred from April through 19 May (2009) which have been variously described as violation of International Humanitarian Laws (IHL), crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. These lines of emphasis were designed to forcibly push the political agenda professed by the FP, TULF and LTTE relating to Tamil grievances, thereby bringing pressure to bear on the GSL to implement more than what is in the Thirteen Amendment of the Constitution which talks of devolution of administrative and political power to the periphery.

Mr. Owens said: “I think it’s important that Sri Lanka move toward really a democratic — a strong democratic governance in a multiethnic society in which all groups have a voice in that society. So the devolution of power to the provinces, as envisioned in the 13th Amendment, that’s something that we feel, is very important as the first step, but it needs to go beyond that. There are going to be a lot of civil society challenges in the next several years in dealing with the aftermath of this conflict and making sure that the conflict doesn’t reignite as a result of mistakes that are made now. So we want to work closely with the government in that way.

“And we are going to press for and hope that the government will agree to implement the 13th Amendment as envisioned as quickly as possible.”

About consequences if the government of Sri Lanka does attack the safe zone and large numbers of civilians are killed: Certainly, there would be consequences, and we’ve made it very clear to the leadership of the government of Sri Lanka there would be strong consequences if that occurred. I would not want to sort of tie our hands in terms of specifying exactly what those consequences would be, but we would certainly hold the government of Sri Lanka responsible for the death of a lot of civilians, and we’ve made that very clear to the leadership.

“We hope to see the rise of maybe some new voices in the Tamil community, moderate voices in the North. We think that’s very, very important, and we want to work with the Tamil community, and I think here especially the Diaspora has a very important role to play in helping build a sort of new set of moderate Tamil voices in the North.

“And we are going to press for and hope that the government will agree to implement the 13th Amendment as envisioned as quickly as possible.

“I would emphasize that we believe the Diaspora, the Sri Lankan Diaspora, and particularly the Tamil Diaspora in North America, in Europe, elsewhere, has a very important role to play in this.They should, I hope, be speaking out in terms of what they envisioned for Sri Lanka in a post-conflict scenario. They have an important voice in that process.”

Thus, at a media briefing May 4 (2011) at the American Embassy, Colombo, in his capacity as the Assistant Secretary for South Asia, Robert Blake, exerted pressure on the Sri Lankan government to move towards a sustainable political solution by reiterating the importance of accountability. It is this manner that the U.S. is attempting to resolve the Sinhala-Tamil conflict .Take note of these aspect of Mr. Blake’s announcement: “The United States has continually expressed to the Government of Sri Lanka the importance of implementing a credible and independent process to ensure accountability. Domestic authorities have responsibility to ensure that those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law are held accountable. International mechanisms can become appropriate in cases where states are either unable or unwilling to meet their obligations.”

Thereafter he outlined what the U.S. would like to see:

“The United States attaches great importance to the dialogue that is now taking place between the government and the Tamil National Alliance. And as I said in my statement, we hope that that dialogue will result in a comprehensive agreement on all of the issues of concern to the Tamils. That includes not only the very important issues regarding devolution, but also very sensitive issues like all of those who remain in detention, and a full accounting of who’s in detention, but also a full accounting of the missing, the issuance of death certificates for those who may have died, so that there really can be closure for the families. It involves such issues as land tenure and setting up a process to ensure that there can be fair arbitration for the many disputes about who actually owns some of the lands up in the north.

“So I think there are a great many issues that still need to be addressed, and from what I heard today the Government is committed to doing that and is committed to a sincere dialogue with the TNA. But again, the proof will be in results, not in promises. So we very much hope, again, that this will result in concrete progress towards the issues that I just discussed and the others that are of concern to the Tamils. So this will remain a very high priority for the United States and I hope for the Government as well.”

Having lost the ‘pressure group’ which was a pillar in its original plans, namely, the LTTE in May 2009 the United States is now in 2014 exerting pressure the GSL to bring a political package that would resolve Tamil grievances. It is strategically forcing this South Asian nation to have accountability and openness. When Mr. Blake pronounces that in the absence of a domestic accountability process the international community may be forced to initiate an accountability process from outside, he is wielding a bargaining hammer. For the United States, “accountability” and “reconciliation” are a combined package but the emphasis is more on reconciliation. In their view this idea includes a political solution that would meet Tamil grievances and aspirations.

The persons who have been entrusted by the Government of Sri Lanka to produce the final document for the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission were entrusted with the task of giving guidance towards the process of reconciliation. They should have been erudite enough to take note of this historic development outlined here which has culminating in the final strategy of UNHRC resolutions serving as a tool of the West. The contention is that neither the LLRC nor the Foreign Ministry has comprehended this line of US-led policy. They have therefore not worked out how to proceed with the whole issue of reconciliation by incorporating “accountability” into their framework of action.This should be the focus if Sri Lanka wishes to work through this difficult time and desires to get the US-Sri Lanka relations unto a footing that will benefit both nations.

The United States, some European Union countries, international rights groups and organizations run by various Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora groups in western nations have accused Sri Lanka of violating International Humanitarian Laws (IHL), committing war crimes and genocidal acts and indiscriminately killing thousands of Tamil civilians at the war zone during the last weeks of the battle in order to bring Sri Lanka under international scrutiny.

This set of allegations has been combined with the reconciliation call, and it is up to the Government of Sri Lanka’s wise counsels to carefully maneuver how to move away from possible pitfalls. So let me end this series with a quotation from Kai Ambos, an internationally renowned expert on international law and human rights who is a professor of criminal law, criminal procedure, international law and comparative law at the University of Gottingen:. “War, i.e. an “armed conflict” under International Humanitarian Law, presents a different legal situation. In such circumstances, people can lawfully be killed when they directly participate in hostilities. The prohibition on killing is suspended in international armed conflicts for combatants and in non-international armed conflicts for so-called fighters or de facto combatants.

These actors can, under specific conditions, also be the subjects of targeted killings. The most important condition is that the principle of proportionality is complied with, i.e. less severe measures (such as arrest) are to be preferred and unnecessary civilian victims must be avoided. If a targeted killing occurs in foreign territory, the territorial state must consent to the operation; otherwise the action amounts to a violation of state sovereignty, prohibited by Public International Law.

A loose and decentralized terrorist network does not fulfil the criteria for classification as a party to a conflict within the context of International Humanitarian Law. It lacks, above all, a centralized and hierarchical military command structure and the control of a defined territory.”

END   ***************

                         TIMELINE: KEY EVENTS

1976 April:     TULF adopted independent Tamil state agendsession

1977 July:       Conservative United National Party forms government in Sri Lanka

1977 August:  Riots directed at Tamils in some of the Sinhala majority areas

1982 Oct:        President J.R. Jayewardene re-elected

1982 Dec.:      National referendum to extend the life of 1977-elected parliament for another five years

1983 July:       Attack on Tamils in many localities in the south the killing of 13 SLA personnel  by the LTTE in Jaffna

1983 July:       Eelam War ONE started

1985 Feb.:      Talks between the GSL, TULF and the leading militant organisations at Thimpu in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan

1987 July:       Indo-Lanka Agreement signed by Sri Lankan and Indian leaders in Colombo

1987 – July 30:           Arrival of Indian Peacekeeping Forces (IPKF) in Northern Province

1990 – June:               Eelam War TWO started – Ended December 1994

1994 – November:    Liberal-Left Chandrika Bandaranaike elected President of Sri Lanka

1995 – April:               Eelam War THREE started – Ended February 2002 with the signing of Norwegian-brokered Peace Agreement  between the GSL and LTTE

2006 – 21 July:     LTTE’s unilateral closure of Mavil Aru sluice gates blocking water to Sinhalese, Muslim and Tamil farmers at  Sampur District south of Trincomalee … while also promising a  potential squeeze on the naval centre

2006 – 27 July:       Sri Lanka military commenced fight back in Sampur which then paved the way for a full blown attack on LTTE in the Eastern Province

2007 August:      LTTE totally ejected from the Eastern Province by Sri Lanka military

2007 – April:       Battles on southern front around Madhu which paved way for SL Army to inch their way north along the north western coast … and then commence a slow west-to-east advance in the face iof the LTTE”s bund-ditch-and-mines defence system

2008 mid-Nov:    Pooneryn captured … completing the slow throttling of the LTTE’s supply lines from India

2008 15 Nov: President Rajapaksa in address to the nation on TV: I very clearly call on Prabhakaran of the LTTE to immediately lay down arms and come to the negotiation table.” …


2008 – late November: SLA advance from west reach a position that threatens Kilinochchi the administrative capital of LTTE territory. While advances from south have also diminished the terrain the Tigers hold

2008 ?                 : Paranthan junction on A9 arterial road captured by SLA

2008 – 30 Dec:      SLA marches into Kilinochchi

20091-3 Jan:     Govt of SL demands an unconditional surrender fro m the LTTE, the first of many such appeals


Daya Gamage was an employee of the U.S. Department of State from 1970 through 1995 as a Foreign Service National (FSN). He was attached to the American Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka, first ten years as a public affairs specialist, and rest of his career for the US government as a Political Specialist working in the areas of public diplomacy, strategic communication, US foreign policy issues related to Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka’s domestic political scene and comprehending its nuances while engaged in research and analyses for Washington’s understanding. He is currently attached to the Online Daily Newspaper ASIAN TRIBUNE as its US National Correspondent covering US foreign policy reach to South Asian region and the region’s reactions to them, US interests in that region taking note of the regions ever changing scenario.


Filed under accountability, american imperialism, centre-periphery relations, citizen journalism, constitutional amendments, historical interpretation, Indian Ocean politics, law of armed conflict, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, nationalism, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, Rajapaksa regime, Tamil migration, Tamil Tiger fighters, terrorism, the imaginary and the real, TNA, UN reports, unusual people, world events & processes

52 responses to “The American Agenda for Sri Lanka’s National Issues, 1970s-2014

  1. Daya Gamage has just caused a tectonic shift in the public knowledge about what went on inside the US embassy Colombo-a weighty assessment of how decisions were made. The explosion would be heard as far away as Washington D.C.– when he quoted renowned legal authority that removed prohibition on killings in armed conflicts. This would become the most debated topic in recent memory. Well-deserved congrats to the editor for carrying the article and Daya for his ability to dig into a topic with such thoroughness. Philip Fernando, Los Angeles

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