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Bruce Haigh in the Canberra Times

September 1, 2009

The Canberra Times – Terrorists or tomorrow’s allies?
As they say, history is written by the victors. Equally it might be said that commentary and analysis are provided by those with access to power and influence.During negotiations over the formation of Israel, frustrated Zionists, members of an organisation known as the Stern Gang, murdered the British ambassador to Egypt, Lord Moyne.

In 1946 they blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 guests.

Today, at least in the Western media, the role of Zionists in the formation of Israel is not portrayed as terrorism, nor is the role of the Israeli Defence Force in the invasion of Gaza in early January 2009.

The Viet Cong were once referred to as terrorists, but no longer, not since they and the North Vietnamese Army won the war.

Nelson Mandela was convicted of sabotage under white South Africa’s notorious terrorism laws in 1964 and sentenced to life in prison on Robben Island.

A substantial shift in power between white and black South Africans saw Mandela become president of South Africa in 1994.

At Mandela’s trial, known as the Rivonia Trial, a lawyer on the defence team, Harold Hanson, said that a nation’s grievances could not be suppressed people would always find a way to give voice to those grievances.

”It was not their aims which had been criminal, only the means to which they had resorted.”

He pointed out to the judge that the Afrikaner people, to whom both he and the judge belonged, had conducted an armed uprising against British imperialism and had been charged by the British with rebellion and treason.

After the Boer army was defeated by the British in 1900, the Afrikaners conducted guerrilla warfare for a further two years; in fact they invented it in its modern form. Guerrilla warfare to some is another form of terrorism, but that did not worry Western governments in their relations with Afrikaner governments from the 1950s to the mid-1980s.

The struggle in Sri Lanka is a civil war, just as it is in Afghanistan.

Without undertaking a detailed analysis, the Australian government accepted the position of the Bush government and declared both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Taliban terrorists, ignoring that in the case of the latter many were once members of the Mujahideen, supported by the United States in the war to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan. The situation in Afghanistan appears to defy rational analysis now that the Taliban have been branded terrorists and supporters of al-Qaeda.

The civil war in Sri Lanka began with bullying and attacks on Tamils in the north by the majority Sinhalese not long after Sri Lanka gained independence from the British in 1948.

The first act of bastardry was when the Sinhalese Sri Lanka Freedom Party made the demand in 1954 that Sinhala should be the official language. By the election of 1956 it was the dominant political issue.

Under constant and growing pressure, relations between the two communities became worse until in 1977 attacks by members of the Sinhalese community killed 125 Tamils.

From 1983 the conflict between the Sinhalese majority in the south and the northern Tamil minority came to dominate Sri Lankan politics.

And so it continues to this day.

The Sinhalese Government has a monopoly on military power.

The response of the Tamils to this imbalance was similar to the Palestinians and the African National Congress they undertook acts of random terror designed to bolster their limited military resources and create an environment for negotiation.

As with the IRA, secret negotiations with organisations deploying terror as a weapon can take many years, in this case complicated by the fact that the Sinhalese also employed the use of torture and terror. A peace settlement was brokered in 2002 by a representative of the Norwegian government, Erik Solheim.

However, by 2006 it had broken down.

Backed by the Bush administration, who provided military equipment and training in the cause of the war against terror, a revitalised Sri Lankan army launched a massive assault against the Tamil Tigers in the second half of 2008. The result was a massacre of Tamils.

Around 300,000 were rounded up and put into concentration camps where conditions for the occupants remain in violation of UN Human Rights Conventions relating to the treatment of prisoners of war, women and children.

These conditions are a breeding ground for hatred. The Sri Lankan Government argues that it is holding Tamils in detention in order to weed out members of the Tamil Tigers, but the process has taken far too long and looks more like retribution.

The media has been denied access to these camps which, in view of recent clandestine evidence of the extra-judicial killing of Tamil males by the Sri Lankan military, is understandable.

Tragically, Australia has taken sides in the Sri Lankan civil war. Instead of offering humanitarian assistance to those in the camps, it sent the deputy chief of the navy, Rear Admiral Davyd Thomas, to Colombo in June 2009 to urge that young Tamils be prevented from coming to Australia.

His plea amounted to an endorsement of the continued detention of Tamils in appalling conditions. Kevin Rudd supports this position and said as much in an interview with Greg Cary on ABC Brisbane on July 1, 2009.

In the meantime, Sri Lanka has become a military state. Despite the ending of the war, the Sri Lankan army will expand from 200,000 to 300,000 to become an army of occupation in the north and east. The Tamils are the big losers. Hated by the Sinhalese, where will they go? They cannot be held in camps indefinitely, where the child mortality rate is estimated to be in the hundreds each month. Another Australian response has been to give the expanding terrorism industry, driven by an unsophisticated and ill-advised Australian Federal Police, its head.

They continue to pursue through the Supreme Court of Victoria charges of terrorism against three young Tamil men for allegedly being members of the Tamil Tigers and sending funds to that organisation. Why pursue the case when the Sri Lankan Government says that organisation no longer exists? In any case, funds dispatched to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam when it existed could have been used for any purpose, humanitarian, educational as well as military, given that the organisation constituted the governing authority in the north. What a changed nation we are when we send admirals to argue for incarceration of innocents rather than act as a vehicle for humanitarian assistance. We have been railroaded by the needs of the terrorism industry, which has fuelled apprehension and fear, when what is required is a more sophisticated understanding of the causes of terrorism. Dealing with poverty, racism, the disproportionate distribution of power, abuse of power and the debilitating effect of corruption would enable the causes of terrorism to be addressed before violence is embraced as a course of action against injustice.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and former diplomat who served in Sri Lanka.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. other side permalink
    September 17, 2009 6:34 pm

    This unbalanced garbage is the kind of incendiary fuel that stirs people to defend such a deplorable operation as the LTTE. Readers interested in the other side of the story should be responsible and read Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner H.E Senaka Walgampaya’s response to this article, then digest all the facts:

  2. Enrico Pereira permalink
    September 23, 2009 6:25 pm

    Dear Mr.Haigh, This is an insult of the highest order to free, sovereign and independent country. I demand you tender an apology to Sri Lanka and its citizens both living on the island and elsewhere.

    Your depiction of an ‘enslaved’ community within the national flag of my country is a clear indication of your ignorance and arrogance. I do not know how and or who has has misinformed you, but the truth is that more than 55% of the total Tamil population in Sri Lanka live in total freedam outside the former theater of operation during the now concluded war with the most ruthless terrorist organization the world has ever known. Who ever it was that made you an ‘authority’ on other peopel’s business is bloody fool!

    Please get your facts right before making such baseless, fruitless, paper selling articles. It is people like you who give journalism a bad name.

    Look back at your won history and you will see who the real culprits and murders are….. Convicts the lot of you!!!!!

  3. Tharaka permalink
    September 24, 2009 10:17 pm

    Ok You think this all started in 54. You fool do not understand why that action was taken by SLFP even though I believe that was not correct in retrospect. You do not understand British left a island with resource distributed unequally among the races. They deliberately promoted education in Jaffna and Tamils. The were given disproportionate positions in government administrative and professional ranks. Sinhalese were languishing like poor old farmers. So thats fairness you try to promote. Bastardize Sinhalese and Nobalize Tamils. If your stupid diplomatic brain not research these facts go and collect thrash in Sydney garbage dump.


  1. Bruce Haigh article on ABC « Australians for Tamil Justice

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