Editorial in The Island, 16 November 2015
French President Francois Hollande has declared war on terror. ‘France will be merciless’ in responding to ‘barbarians’ who carried out the recent terror strikes which left about 130 people dead and more than 350 others injured in Paris, he has vowed. His consternation is understandable. The civilised world has condemned Friday’s cowardly attacks on civilians unreservedly. The barbarians responsible for them must be hunted down. The attacks have jolted Britain into taking all precautions. Special Forces have been deployed in the streets of London to face any eventuality, we are told.
The right of any country, big or small, to respond to terrorism with might and main must be recognised if the scourge of mindless violence against civilians in the name of various causes is to be eliminated, root and branch. But, unfortunately, France and Britain have become havens for terrorists of all sorts who pose a threat to other countries; these nations have a history of seeking to save terrorists responsible for far worse attacks elsewhere than those in Paris on Friday. The way these two countries reacted to Sri Lanka’s efforts to rid itself of terror is a case in point.
France rushed no less a person than its Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner here while the war against the LTTE was in its final stages in April 2009 with the trapped LTTE leaders frantically calling for an international intervention to rescue them. Kouchner landed in Colombo in the company of his British counterpart David Miliband.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also sought to join Miliband and Kouchner to crank up pressure on Colombo to halt its military campaign, but the Rajapaksa government denied him entry, triggering a bitter diplomatic row.
If Miliband and Kouchner had succeeded in coercing the Rajapaksa government into allowing them to visit the LTTE-held areas and getting ‘trapped’ there voluntarily the war would have had a different ending; the government would have come under western pressure to declare a truce to ensure the safety of the visiting foreign ministers. And, that opportunity would have been seized by those who were all out to rescue the Tiger leaders.
The LTTE built a huge airstrip capable of taking even big aircraft. The Tigers kept repairing it even at the height of fighting. Speculation was rife among state intelligence officials and political bigwigs that some foreign governments sympathetic to the LTTE were looking for the slightest opportunity to carry out a rescue operation by sending a plane to the Vanni to remove the cornered Tiger leaders to safety. The Rajapaksa government did not give in and the rest is history.
Terrorism has emerged so strong as to threaten the entire world because big powers have been playing politics with it. Miliband later admitted, according to a diplomatic cable disclosed by Wikileaks, that he had sought to stop Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE because his party was dependent on the votes of LTTE sympathisers in the UK. He did not mind people being killed in this country so long as he and his party could win elections at home! Ironically, in July 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown tried to justify people being killed in a bloody war in Afghanistan. He said the military campaign in Afghanistan was a ‘patriotic duty’ to keep the streets of Britain safe from terrorism. The streets of London are far from safe today!
If France, Britain and their allies had succeeded in stopping the Vanni war there would have been no peace in this country; it would have continued to be plagued by frequent terror strikes. Nobody would have been safe. Today, democracy has been rekindled in the former war zone and, most of all, they are free to exercise their franchise. Children go to school without fear of being abducted by terrorists to be turned into cannon fodder.
There are lessons to be drawn from the Paris attacks. It behoves the government leaders here not to lower their guard though there have been no terror attacks since the end of the war in May 2009. National security must not be compromised for political expediency though draconian measures that infringe upon the democratic rights of people in peacetime are certainly not called for. The government does not seem to have got its priorities right; it has removed checkpoints in the former war zone but retained the one at Pamankada (in Colombo), where random checks are conducted on vehicles entering the city! (There are no checkpoints at other entry/exit points!) During the closing stages of the war when the troops could not make progress on the Kilinochchi front due to stiff resistance offered by the LTTE a UNP big gun said in Parliament that the then government did not seem to know Kilinochchi from Medawachchi and Alimankada (Elephant Pass) from Pamankada. Has the present administration mistaken Pamankada for Alimankada?
Paris has been home to many terror groups and they have put in place terrorist infrastructure over the years to co-ordinate their criminal operations elsewhere. Now, some terrorists have turned on France! The same goes for other European countries. The world will continue to be a dangerous place unless the practice of handling terrorists with kid gloves is abandoned and a global effort is made to eliminate terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Will France take the lead?
- “France launches air strikes on ISIS stronghold in Syria” = http://www.torontosun.com/2015/11/15/france-launches-air-strikes-on-isis-stronghold-in-syria
COMMENT: “Watching TV and listening as the tales of the attacks in Paris were relayed, I heard Francois Hollande speak and like Prabath Sahabandu of The Island was immediately struck by the import of his determination when he said “We shall be merciless.” This response and the fact that the French in many places who assembled formally to mark the moment in patriotic spirit sang “La Marseillaise” — that most wonderful of all national anthems — marked an irony that would have struck so many Sri Lankans. It would appear that there is one law for the Western nations and another for the Sri Lankan authorities. What did the West think the various governments of Sri Lanka (warts and all) from the year 1990/91 were doing? What happened during the ceasefire periods and the attempts at appeasement? By 2006 was there any alternative to war and hopefully a final victory? Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts: “Where In-fighting generates Fervour & Power: ISIS Today, LTTE yesterday,” 21 July 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/where-in-fighting-generates-fervour-power-isis-today-ltte-yesterda/
Alan Dupont: “ISIS as Fascist and Totalitarian,” 29 September 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/isis-as-fascist-and-totalitarian/