Anita Pratap is the Indian scribe who has been granted the most number of interviews with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader Velupillai Prabakharan.
We reproduce an interview given in 1984. Many of the views expressed provide an insight into the tiger supremo’s mind and are relevant even today:
Velupillai Pirapaharan, leader of the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam, tells Anita Pratap.
Q: What made you opt out of a conventional system and spearhead a liberation movement which you knew would be outlawed?
A: The democratic parliamentary system, or what you refer to as the conventional political system in Sri Lanka, has always tried to impose the will of the majority on the minority. This system not only failed to solve the basic problems of our people but, in fact, aggravated our plight. For decades, the repression by the state has made the life of our people miserable. The non-violent democratic struggles of our people were met with military repression. Our just demands were totally ignored, and the oppression continued on such a scale as to threaten the very survival of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It was these circumstances which led me to form our liberation movement. I felt that an armed struggle was the only alternative left to our people, not only to ensure our survival but ultimately to free’ ourselves from the Sinhala oppression. I have always been aware that our movement would be outlawed. It is for this reason that we organized our movement as a clandestine underground structure from its inception.
Q: Could you elaborate on some of your personal experiences that compelled you to believe that an armed struggle was the only solution for the Tamils of Sri Lanka? Were you, your family members and friends, directly victimized by the discriminatory policy of the Sri Lankan government?
A: The shocking events of the 1958 racial riots had a profound impact on me when I was a schoolboy. I heard of horrifying incidents of how our people had been mercilessly and brutally put to death by Sinhala racists. Once I met a widowed mother, a friend of my family, who related to me her agonizing personal experience of this racial holocaust. During the riots, a Sinhala mob attacked her house in Colombo. The rioters set fire to the house and murdered her husband. She and her children escaped with severe burn injuries. I was deeply shocked when I saw the scars on her body. I also heard stories of how young babies were roasted alive in boiling tar. When I heard such stories of cruelty, I felt a deep sense of sympathy and love for my people. A great passion overwhelmed me to redeem my people from this racist system. I strongly felt that armed struggle was the only way to confront a system which employs armed might against unarmed, innocent people.
Q: At what point of time did you lose faith in the parliamentary system? What precipitated this disillusionment?
A: I entered politics at a time-in the early Seventies-when the younger generation had already lost faith in parliamentary politics. I entered politics as an armed revolutionary. What precipitated the disillusionment in parliamentary politics was the total disregard and callousness of the successive governments towards the pathetic plight of our people.
Q: How did you come to start the Liberation Tiger movement?
A: I originally formed the movement with a group of dedicated youths who sincerely believed that armed struggle was the only way to liberate our people.
Q: What was the reason for identifying yourselves as ‘Tigers’?
A: I named the movement ‘Liberation Tigers’ since the tiger emblem had deep roots in the political history of the Tamils, symbolizing Tamil patriotic resurgence. The tiger symbol also depicts the mode of our guerrilla warfare.
Q: When you decided to form the ‘Liberation Tigers’, what was the reaction of your family members and those close to you?
A: As soon as the Tiger movement was formed, I went underground and lost contact with my family.
Q: When did you last meet your family members? Are they reconciled to your outlawed existence?
A: I have not seen my family members for the last 11 years. I do not think they regard me as an ordinary person leading an ordinary life. They are reconciled to my existence as a guerrilla fighter.
Q: After 14 years of struggle, do you think you are any closer to achieving your goal?
A: After all these years of struggle I feel that we are advancing towards our goal. The ‘83 July holocaust has united all sections of the Tamil masses. There is a massive support for the armed liberation program of our movement. This is certainly a step towards our goal.
Q: On what way have the experiences of the past 12 years changed you as a person?
A: These years of struggle have strengthened my determination and sharpened my vision.
Q: Till now what has been your most rewarding experiences?
A: It is difficult for me to identify a particular experience as rewarding. The life of a guerrilla fighter is full of experience: experiences of sorrow, happiness, frustration: each of which brings its own rewards.
“Nature is my friend. Life my philosopher and history is my guide.”
Q: The experience over the years must have changed your outlook. What are some of the dominant impressions and convictions that you gained by virtue of this experience? Moreover, your experiences would have convinced you of the inefficacy of certain principles and theories in practical situations, while at the same time bringing home the validity of yet others. Can you pinpoint some of them?
A: Twelve years of experience has convinced me beyond doubt that the armed revolutionary path we undertook was the correct one. The other liberation groups who criticized our armed strategy as terrorism have now realized that armed struggle is the only way out for the emancipation of our oppressed people. Moreover, the guerrilla warfare has been an effective form of struggle. Several successful guerrilla raids have convinced our people that the Sinhala forces can be defeated and freedom can be won.
Q: Who is your friend, philosopher, and guide?
A: Nature is my friend. Life my philosopher and history is my guide.
Q: How does it feel to be the most wanted man in Sri Lanka today?
A: An Irish leader once remarked that when the British indict a person as a terrorist it implied that he was a true Irish patriot. Similarly, when the Sri Lanka government refers to me as the most wanted man it means that I am a true Tamil patriot. Hence, I feel proud to beindicted as a wanted man.
Q: Which was your most frustrating moment of your life?
A: I cannot pinpoint such a moment in my life. But the most frustrating aspect has been the betrayal of some of my trusted friends: those who pretended to be sincere to the cause. But turned out to be self-seeking opportunists.
Q: How did the split between you and Uma Maheshwaran come about?
A: I do not approve the formulation of the question In fact, the issue should not be viewed as a conflict or split between me and Uma Maheshwaran. It was a problem between an individual and the Tiger movement. I am in no way responsible for the problem. It was Maheshwaran who created the issue. A leader of a revolutionary movement should commit himself totally to the discipline of the organization. If a leader violates the basic rules and principles then there will be chaos and the organization will crumble. Uma Maheshwaran violated the rules of our movement and as a disciplinary action he was expelled by the central committee. Being the founder of the movement and the person who appointed Maheshwaran as the chairman, I had no other alternative but to uphold the decision of the central committee.
Q: Today one finds that there are several Eelam liberation groups. Invariably they work at cross-purposes. When the goal is the same, should not there be a unification process? After all, there is more to be gained by using your combined strength against the common enemy. In principle, are you opposed to the rival groups uniting?
A: I have clearly and explicitly stated that I am in favor of such unity moves. I even wrote to these groups on 5 September 1982 welcoming the idea and suggested that we all be prepared to form a united front of all other liberation groups, shed our differences and work out a common program of action. But. unfortunately, these groups failed to formulate a common working program. Instead, at every unity meeting they fought against each other and fell apart. The tragedy is that these groups have no sincere intentions to unite and there is a wide gap between their words and their deeds. I sincerely feel that these groups should set an example by forging unity among themselves rather than blaming the Tigers for their disunity. Once they unite, we are prepared to join hands with them.
“I am not alone. I lead a powerful national movement and a wide section of the Tamil masses support me.”
Q: Spokesmen of rival groups have told me that all except you are open to the idea of uniting. Is this true?
A: This is absolutely untrue. It is only a propaganda by other groups to undermine our movement.
Q: Are you alone in the struggle?
A: I am not alone. I lead a powerful national movement and a wide section of the Tamil masses support me.
Q: Do you experience moments of loneliness? And if you do. how do you combat it?
A: I have never felt lonely at any point of time. Loneliness is only a problem with those who are buried in their own individual egos. A true revolutionary transcends individuality and develops a collective, social consciousness. I live and struggle for a common collective cause.
Q: Do you have any regrets about not leading a normal life?
A: There are millions who, as you put it, lead a normal, ordinary existence. But we are fighting for a cause, for a noble ideal which gives us a profound spiritual satisfaction.
Q: Are you worried over the fact that most Tamil youths face a bleak future in Sri Lanka?
A: The youths are fighting a battle for freedom. I foresee a bright future for them.
Q: Is it true that more and more Tamil youths are taking part in the liberation struggle?
A: Yes, more and more youths are joining the revolution under our leadership since they have realized that armed struggle is the only way to redeem themselves and their society.
Q: How would you defend your movement from being called a “separatist” one. and that you all are not freedom fighters but “terrorists”?
A: It is wrong to call our movement “separatist”. We are fighting for independence based on the right to national self-determination of our people. Our struggle is for self-determination, for the restoration of our sovereignty in our homeland. We are not fighting for a division or separation of a country but rather, we are fighting to uphold the sacred right to live in freedom and dignity. In this sense, we are freedom fighters not terrorists.
Q: Would you rather die than be caught by the Sinhalese army?
A: I would prefer to die in honour rather than being caught alive by the enemy.
Q: The Liberation Tigers ofTamil Eelam (LTTE) staged the 23 July 1983 ambush in which 13 Sinhalese soldiers were killed. The ambush was allegedly the reason for the Sinhalese retaliation on innocent Tamils. Did you expect such a massive retaliation?
A: The July violence should not be assessed simply as a Sinhala retaliation for the guerrilla ambush. This view is a gross oversimplification of the event. The island has been plagued with anti-Tamil racial violence which erupts periodically over the years. There were violent racial holocausts even before the emergence of our movement. Violent riots erupted in Trincomalee a couple of weeks before the ambush. Therefore, the phenomenon of anti-Tamil racial violence cannot be traced to a single event. We are engaged in a protracted guerrilla warfare. There have been several guerrilla raids, several ambushes, and we have killed several Sinhala soldiers and policemen The July ambush was only a part of the warfare we are engaged in. It is incorrect to assume that one particular military operation has precipitated the entire violence. The July riots, you would have certainly observed, was not only aimed at the physical extermination of our people but it was also aimed the destruction of the economic power base of the Tamils in Colombo. Our view is that the July holocaust was a pre-planned. well-orchestrate genocidal pogrom against the Tamils, carried out by the racial elements of the ruling party. Initially, these racist elements did attempt to put the whole blame on the Tiger. Then, suddenly they blamed the left parties for the riots. But in actual fact, it is the racist leaders of the present government who should be held responsible for this tragic loss of life and property of our people.
Q: Why did you stage the July ambush? There are various versions afloat. According to some, it was an act of reprisal as four Tamil women had been raped. Based on my investigations I felt that, you had to prove a point to the Sinhalese army who were jubilant over the death of your close associate, Charles Anthony, leader of the military wing on 15 July. The point I guess that you had to assert was that the LTTE despite the loss of one of its ablest leaders was still strong and capable of taking on the Sinhalese army. Is this theory correct?
A: There is an element of truth your findings about Charles Anthony and the ambush. The attack was partly a retaliation, a punishment of the Sinhala army. But still we feel that the lives of 13 soldiers cannot compensate the life of a great revolutionary and freedom fighter like Charles. The ambush was also a part of the guerrilla warfare directed against the enemy.
Q: Do you think that the round table negotiations will lead to the formulation of a permanent settlement?
A: I am of the opinion that the round table conferences will not bring about a permanent settlement to the Tamil issue. Our view is based on the experience of several decades. The Sinhala leaders never made a sincere attempt to resolve the Tamil issue. The present negotiations will also meet the same fate All the major Sinhala parties and the Buddhist organisations are opposed to granting any form of regional autonomy to the Tamils. They are even opposed to giving minor concessions. Hence nothing substantial will emerge from this conference.
Q: Do you hold the TULF (Tamil United Liberation Front) leaders responsible for retarding the liberation struggle? Do you view them a betrayers?
A: It is true that the opportunistic politics of the TULFare retarding the liberation struggle. They have never taken any concrete steps to further the struggle. On the contrary, they give false hopes, create illusions, and try to keep our people in perpetual bondage. They entered politics only to further their selfish ends. They never had any sincere intentions to liberate our oppressed people, nor did they ever put forward any concrete programme of political action. They never expected that they would be caught in the storm of a liberation struggle. The flame of a revolution is fast spreading all over Tamil Eelam. But the TULF leaders are trying their best to smother the fire. In this sense you can term the TULF leaders as betrayers.
“I think that the government of India should recognise the fair and legitimate demands of our people and accept our right to self determination.”
Q: Is it true that the TULF leaders are afraid to go to their hometown and stay there not because of the Sinhalese but because of the Tigers?
A: They are frightened not of the Tigers, but of the fury of the people who voted them to power on the promise of an independent state for the Tamils.
Q: Do you think that India’s good offices will result in anything tangible?
A: India’s efforts have given a positive hope to our people. But I do not think that the Sinhala racist government will utilize India’s offer to resolve the problems of the Tamils.
Q: Ideally, what should India do in such a situation to help the Tamils?
A: I think that the government of India should recognize the fair and legitimate demands of our people and accept our right to self-determination.
Q: Would you suggest military intervention?
A: We have the courage, confidence and determination to fight and win our freedom. We should fight and free ourselves. But we do need India’s support and sympathy.
Q: What is your personal assessment of President Jayewardene?
A: If Jayewardene was a true Buddhist, I would not be carrying a gun.
Q: What do you think is Jayewardene’s intention behind holding these negotiations? Is he buying time?
A: There are several reasons behind holding these peace negotiations. Firstly, Jayewardene wants to appease the Indians. Secondly, he wants to restore the colossal damage the riots have done to the image of the country. Thirdly, it would help him to seek financial aid from western agencies. Fourthly, the President wants to buy time to build up the Sinhala military machine.
Q: Is President Jayewardene a prisoner in the hands of the hawks in his cabinet or is he acting on his own? Is he being pressurized by the Buddhist clergy?
A: Jayewardene is acting on his own. He has supreme powers. The hawks in the cabinet and the Buddhist clergy are behind him.
Q: What is the role of the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka?
A: The Buddhist clergy has played a dominant role in shaping the political trends in Sri Lanka. They have played a crucial role in whipping up anti-Tamil feelings among the Sinhala people.
Q: Do you think that the Buddhist clergy is well on its way to establishing Sri Lanka as a Sinhala Buddhist nation?
A: Sri Lanka is already a Sinhala Buddhist nation and the Buddhist clergy has contributed a lot for this cause.
Q: Is it the result of the Buddhist clergy’s chauvinism or is it the result of a natural alignment following the Catholic clergy’s association with the Tamil?
A: The Buddhist clergy’s chauvinism has played a significant role in the establishment of a racist state system. Sections of the Tamil Catholic clergy has sympathies with the Tamil cause but the Sinhala Catholic clergy displays strong Sinhala national chauvinism and is opposed to the Tamil demands.
Q: Do you have ties with other liberation movements of the world? Which are the organizations who provide training and arms to the LTTE?
A: We have ties with other world liberation movements. I cannot answer the second part of your question.
Q: Which country in the world has proved to be most sympathetic to your cause?
A: I do not wish to comment on this matter.
Q: What is your ideological commitment?
A: Revolutionary socialism.
Q: Do you expect attacks on the Tamils in the future?
A: Yes, I do. The forces of racism and fascism are actively working against the Tamils in Trincomalee and Vavuniya. Tamils will never be safe until they establish an independent state of Tamil Eelam with a powerful patriotic army to protect their life and property.
Q: Is it true that Israelis are training Sinhalese army men on the techniques of anti-guerrilla warfare?
A: So far, we haven’t got any confirmed reports about the presence of Israeli military experts in Sri Lanka. If the reports are true, I won’t be surprised. Sri Lanka is turning into a base for US imperialism and its agents. Whoever the trainers are or whatever their expertise maybe, the Sinhala army cannot crush the will and determination of the Tigers. We have a great moral power, a supreme sense of sacrifice, and a noble cause.
Q: What is your reaction to the alleged heavy induction of arms and ammunition from the United States to Sri Lanka?
A: Induction of US arms is not only a threat to the Tamil freedom movement but also to India’s national security. America’s objective, as you will certainly be aware, is not simply confined to helping the Sri Lankan army to crush the Tamil liberation struggle. Their ultimate aim is to secure a naval base at Trincomalee. Such a happening will convert the Indian Ocean into a war zone, and will increase the tension prevalent in the region.
Q: If and when Eelam is achieved what sort of a nation do you conceive it to be?
A: Tamil Eelam will be a socialist state. By socialism I mean an egalitarian society where human freedom and individual liberties will be guaranteed, where all forms of oppression and exploitation will be abolished. It will be a free society where our people will have maximum opportunity to develop their economy and promote their culture. Tamil Eelam will be a neutral state, committed to non-alignment and friendly to India, respecting her regional policies, particularly the policy of making the Indian Ocean a zone of peace.
Q: In your estimate how long will it take to achieve this Eelam?
A: There cannot be a blueprint or a time limit for a freedom struggle. Everything depends on the situation in our homeland and happenings on the international scene.
The Free Media Movement (FMM) is both surprised and disturbed to learn that the CID has taken into custody a computer used by Dr. Rama Mani, the former Executive Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES), to check for “controversial” correspondence, as reported by The Sunday Times on 24th February 2008.
The events leading up to and surrounding Dr. Mani’s forced and hurried departure from Sri Lanka and other matters of organisational administration internal to ICES are not our concern here. Our interest is to strengthen the open exchange of competing ideas that we strongly believe and affirm are a cornerstone of a vibrant democracy. Dr. Mani had an inalienable right to hold her own opinions and ideas, to articulate them, to promote them and discuss them with friends, colleagues and associates in Sri Lanka and internationally. This is fundamentally the freedom of expression.
Further, the FMM has for years called for Right to Information legislation that holds all public bodies, including NGOs, accountable for their actions and transparent in their initiatives. Sadly, this regime has clearly indicated that it will not countenance such legislation because it would place it in a spot of bother if the public were allowed scrutiny into its familial workings. Given the absence of such legislation and that even “controversial” ideas fall under the rubric of democracy, we find the confiscation of Dr. Mani’s PC by the CID to be entirely absurd and an action that can only be interpreted as a thinly veiled tactic to intimidate civil society in Sri Lanka.
We are also concerned by the reporter’s point that “initial investigations into the files contained in all the other computers at ICES have not found any reference to R2P and hence the CID has now taken Dr. Mani’s computer into its custody.” This peculiar reasoning raises the question as to whether mere reference to R2P is now enough in Sri Lanka for the CID to interrogate members of civil society? By extension, we are compelled to believe that media and civil society can no longer openly debate and promote issues related to the concept of R2P or other “controversial” ideas, lest the CID confiscates all PCs, mobile phones and notepads belonging to them.
We note with deep regret and concern that Sri Lanka today is the third most dangerous country in the world for media personnel and journalists. It is the worst ranking Sri Lanka has received to date on not one, but many press freedom rankings. There is no media freedom left to speak of. With total impunity, the Government openly names and shames journalists and civil society activists as traitors and terrorists and openly calls for tighter State censorship. Physical violence against media personnel and journalists occurs with total impunity. Tragically, the Sri Lankan Police themselves have been implicated in attempts to abduct senior journalists and are themselves responsible for undermining media freedom. Government MPs who run amok in media institutions go scot free, while journalists who courageously stand up in the face of intimidation are violently attacked, threatened and are subject interrogation by Police.
In such a context, the confiscation of equipment on the incredible basis of searching for references to “controversial policies” smacks of the worst kind of overt State censorship-control by fear and violent intimidation. Dr. Mani’s case joins the astonishing number of other incidents, documented by the FMM and other local and international rights groups, related to journalists, civil rights and media trade union activists and others who have been systematically and repeatedly threatened, attacked and silenced over the past two years. The regime’s unwillingness to listen to and acknowledge these significant concerns is a clear indication of a disturbing and continuing complicity in the significant erosion of the freedom of expression, media freedom and democratic governance in Sri Lanka.
It is in this light that the FMM expresses its serious concern that the action by the CID to take into custody Dr. Mani’s computer is an indicator of a vicious witch-hunt against those who hold, articulate and promote ideas contrary to those sanctioned by a regime uninterested in democratic governance and the freedom of expression.
The mainland area in the north – western district of Mannar has become the primary theatre of war in recent times. The Island of Mannar from which the district derives its name is totally under Government control.
Though the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) maintains a clandestine presence in Mannar island, the tigers have never established territorial control over it .
This is mainly due to the naval installations at Thalaimannar and the military base in Thalladdy. It would be difficult to retain territory and function openly in the Mannar Island.
The intense fighting going on now is in the hinterland areas of Mannar district and along border areas of adjacent Vavuniya district.
The 57th and 58th divisions of the army are deployed in the arena of conflict to defeat and dislodge the LTTE from their positions.
There are two short – term and two long – term strategic objectives for the Armed forces in Mannar.
These fall within the overall aim of establishing full control over the entire Mannar district and then the entire Northern mainland known as Wanni.
In terms of landmass the LTTE controls the greater part of Mannar district now.
The two long – term objectives of the army arel one to destroy the sea tiger bases in the coastal areas of Vidathaltheevu and Naachikudaa ; and two to establish full control of the littoral along Mannar – Pooneryn road.
If and when the armed forces manage to eradicate LTTE sea power off the shores of Mannar district and take over the Mannar – Pooneryn road and littoral areas several advantages would be gained.
Firstly the maritime supply route from Tamil Nadu could be restricted if not stopped altogether.. Presently the LTTE gets most of its fuel, medicine , dry ration food and materials for explosive devices etc from India.
Secondly it would be possible to establish a land – based route to Jaffna peninsula. Transport could be along the Mannar – Pooneryn road and from there by the short – distance ferry between Sangupiddy and Keratheevu.
Thirdly Government writ over the Mannar littoral would facilitate off – shore exploration for oil in the Mannar gulf basin.
Fourthly taking control of Pooneryn can eliminate the threat to Jaffna peninsula from the LTTE artillery battery located in the Kalmunai – Nagathevanthurai areas of Pooneryn. The tigers are able to target even the Palaly base from Pooneryn.
Fifthly the armed forces can use Pooneryn as a launching pad for further ground movements into tiger territory.
If troops move east and reach Paranthan they have three further options.
1)Move further east by south – east along the axis of Paranthan – Mullaitheevu road;
2)move up north towards Elephant Pass;
3) move down south towards Kilinochchi.
If abolishing sea tiger bases in Vidathaltheevu – Naachikudaa and acquiring the Mannar – Pooneryn road are the two long – term goals the two short – term targets are Adampan and Maruthamadhu known generally as Madhu.
Adampan is of military importance while Madhu has political significance
[Madhu Church-pic by Mahesh]
Madhu is a magnet due to the famous Catholic Church dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. It is called Sebamalai Matha Thevaalayam or Madhu Maatha koyil in Tamil.
President Mahinda Rajapakse is a devout Buddhist but the first lady Shiranthi Rajapakse is a Catholic.
Shortly before his Presidential election campaign in 2005 Rajapakse wished to go to Madhu church with his wife.
Since Madhu church is in LTTE controlled territory “permission” was sought from the tigers for the visit. Rajapakse was Prime Minister then.
The LTTE laid down the condition that once inside LTTE territory, Rajapakse should dispense with his security detail and rely only on tiger escort.
This was unacceptable and the idea of a Madhu visit was aborted.
The issue however rankled in Mahinda’s mind. During his election campaign he often referred to the fact that though he was Prime Minister he was not allowed to visit some parts of the Country.
After assuming the Presidency one of Rajapakse’s accomplishments was to visit the Vatican with the first lady and have an audience with his Holiness Pope Benedict.
The question of Madhu church transpired during the Papal audience. It was emphasised that the Church should not come to any harm during the on going war.
It may be recalled that the shelling of Madhu Church when Chandrika Kumaratunga was president created an international controversy. Both the tigers and army blamed each other for the damage caused to the church.
President Rajapakse had to explain in Vatican that the Madhu church was not under Government writ. He gave an assurance that no harm would come either to the Church or pilgrims while military operations were in progress.
Military activity in Mannar district escalated after the entire Eastern Province was captured in July last year. Several skirmishes and limited “pushes” occurred.
A noteworthy aspect of the fighting in Mannar was the ostensible focus on the area surrounding Madhu Church.
The security forces conducted several operations to infiltrate tiger territory and encircle the areas surrounding Madhu church. The tigers were expected to fade away in such a situation thus avoiding harm to the Madhu church.
The security forces to their credit have been taking much precautionary measures to avoid any damage to Madhu church. One reason for the slow progress by the armed forces in taking Madhu is due to this excessive caution.
This has provided the LTTE with an “unfair” advantage of sorts as the tigers remain in the vicinity of the Church though not on actual Church premises.
There were nearly eight thousand internally displaced persons housed in the Madhu church environs last year.
Of these more than a thousand were young men and women who wanted to escape conscription at the hands of the LTTE.
The Church authorities extended protection but the tigers were very angry.
The priest in charge of Madhu church Fr. Emilanuspillai was threatened. Even Mannar Bishop Joseph Rayappu was addressed disrespectfully by tiger cadres.
The LTTE also restricted food and water supply to the Madhu church IDP’s.
They also had vehicles in the vicinity and stealthily abducted youths whenever possible.
Finally Church authorities gave in. The IDP’s had to leave Madhu and go to nearby Thetchanamaeuthamadhu. Thereafter the LTTE had a field day forcibly recruiting the youths.
The military gain in capturing Madhu does not seem to be much but the political and symbolical value is great. Besides members of the first family many Southern Catholics would love to do pilgrimage and worship at Madhu.
The Madhu victory was played up during an election campaign in President Kumaratunga’s time. If Southern pilgrims are able to visit Madhu safely in large numbers it would no doubt enhance President Rajapakse’s prestige further.
If Madhu is politically significant for these reasons then Adampan is important militarily due to other considerations.
[The Adampan creeper (Ipomoea pes caprae), photographed at Kalmadunakar, Vanni-Photo:TamilNet]
The name Adampan is derived from Adampu (Ipomoea pes-caprae or Ipomoea biloba) a creeper bearing deep green leaves and rose, violet or blue flowers.
It is known as Bin – tampuru or Muhudu – bin – tambara in Sinhala and Beach Morning Glory or Goat’s Foot Creeper.
The Adampu plant and its flower “Adumpan poo” are widely referred to in classical Tamil poetry of the Sangham vintage.
Adampan kodiyum thira’ndaal midukku’ (even the fragile Adampan creeper is strong when the growth is dense) is a popular saying in Tamil to mean ‘unity is strength’.
There are many Tamil place – names in the North and East called Adampan or a related name. There are many places like kattai Adampan, Sinna Adampan etc in the North – East.
In the Gomarankadawela AGA division in Trincomalee there is a place named Adampana in Sinhala.This is a Sinhalaised version of the Tamil Adampan.
Whatever its origins the name Adampan has become well – known in recent times due to constant references about it in news reports of the war.
Earlier Uyilankulam was the entry – exit point into LTTE controlled territory from Govt controlled territory in Mannar district. It is now closed.
Adampan is about 10 km to the north of Uyilankulam. Adampan is to the north of the Mannar – Vavuniya road or A – 14 highway; it is to the East of the Mannar – Pooneryn road or A – 32 highway
Adampan is not a big place but it is the premier town in the Manthai West AGA division of Mannar. Apart from the AGA office and divisional secretariat there is also in Adampan a base hospital.
Adampan’s militaristic value stems from the fact that it is a key junction. Though not highways ,the two roads criss – crossing through Adampan junction are of a certain strategic importance.
One road is between Periyamadhu on the Mannar – Pooneryn road and Uyilankulam on the Mannar – Vavuniya road. (This Periyamadhu is different from the place with the same name in the north – west of Madhu.)
The other begins from Manthai – Thirukketheeswaram and proceeds eastwards through Adampan , Aandaankulam, Aatkaativeli etc to Maruthamadhu or Madhu.
Though Adampan and its junction are within reach of the army’s artillery , physical occupation of the area would provide two military gains.
One is that Adampan could be a significant stepping stone or first phase in the inevitable ground – based drive towards the LTTE sea tiger base in Vidathaltheevu.
The other is that it would help to interdict the easiest supply route to LTTE cadres stationed to the South of Madhu and the North and East of Kattujjaraikulam or Giants Tank.
The fall of Adampan will not prevent supply to the LTTE frontlines but can certainly curtail it to some extent.
Before intensive ground – based offensives there was heavy artillery bombardment of the Manthai west AGA division areas. Thousands of people were displaced.
The tigers prevented these people from seeking a safe haven at the Madhu Church.
Instead the displaced people were sent further north to the Iluppaikkadavai – Mulankavil areas.
The 58th division commanded by Brig. Shavindra de Silva is targeting Adampan in a three – pronged military push.
The 58 – 1 brigade started off from Uyilankulam and proceeded via the west and north – west of Kattukkaraikulam (Yodha – Ela) and has reached Parappaankandal. Presently the 58 – 1 brigade is about 1. 5 km to the south – east of Adampan.
The 58-2 brigade commenced its push from Manthai to the west of Adampan.It has moved forward through villages like Narikkulam, Setrukulam, Vannankulam etc and is now at Viathaankulam which is roughly about 800 – 1000 metres away from Adampan junction.
The 58 – 3 brigade also started out from Uyilankulam. Troops moved along an axis to the west of the Uyilankulam – Adampan road and took the village of Neelachenai first and then Paalaiootru which is two km to the west of Adampan.
Just as the 58th division is advancing towards Adampan in three directions the 57th division targeting Madhu is also engaged in tri-partite movement.
The 57th division commanded by Brig. Jagath Dias is staging operations in the Vavuniya West – Mannar East areas.
The 57 – 1 brigade started out from Iranaiiluppaikulam and has Palampitty to the north of Madhu as its primary objective. Some of the tiger artillery is located in Palampitty.
On the road to Palampitty, the 57 – 1 has taken Mullikulam (different to Mullikulam on the Mannar – Puttalam border) and is located there now. I am not sure of how far it is from Madhu..
From the South of Madhu , the 57 – 2 brigade has progressed to some extent. The 57 – 2 has taken Thambanai, Periyathambanai and is now at Periya pandivirichaan. This is about 4 km away from Madhu.
In another north – bound push the 57 – 3 brigade has taken Vilaathikulam. It is now trying to go further north towards Madhu. Again I do not know the distance from Vilaathikulam to Madhu
The fighting has been intense and ground positions have see – sawed. The gains made by the armed forces have come after protracted fighting for many months.
The “Rana Ghosa” operations during the Kumaratunga regime succeeded in capturing more tiger territory in Mannar district including Madhu within a very short time
The publicity glitz attached to “Rana Ghosha” gains was minimal compared to the media – hype surrounding current military activity.
The tigers have put in much men and material to conduct a defensive war. Top tiger leaders like Bhanu, Jeyam, Sornam, Ramesh, Amithab, Vidusha, Letchumanan and Velavan are in the front.
Cadres of the Charles Anthony and Jeyanthan infantry divisions along with those of the Sothiya womans brigade, Kittu artillery corps and Ponnamman mining unit are actively involved.
Fighting has been fierce in areas around Adampan, Kattukkaraikulam, Paalaikuli, Palamottai, Periyathambanai, Mullikulam, Vilaathikulam etc
The tigers have relied mainly on artillery, sniping and extensive mining to keep the army at bay.
The media center for national security (MCNS) dishes out fantastic claims of tiger casualties running into thousands. While the tigers have certainly incurred casualties the figures given by Colombo are highly exaggerated.
On the other hand the Government releases very low figures about security force casualties.
It is alleged that bodies of many killed in the fighting are disposed of and classified as missing in action.
Most of the injured are treated at military hospitals and outstation hospitals. Only a small number are brought to Colombo hospitals it is said.
Meanwhile the war for Adampan and Madhu goes on with clashes occurring almost daily.
So far the LTTE has offered stiff resistance and the army’s gains are only marginal.
The large – scale induction of the newly formed mechanized infantry brigade by the army into the Mannar theatre of war is expected to turn the tide soon.
Despite the dogged determination of the LTTE , in fighting a full – fledged defensive war, overwhelming superiority is enjoyed by the security forces in terms of positional warfare.
All things being constant it is only a matter of time before the inexorable drive of the armed forces reaches its destination.
As for now , the 58 and 57 division brigades are within a comparatively short distance of Adampan and Madhu but the fierce resistance proferred by the LTTE so far, has made it a case of “so near and yet so far”.
[Desserted Arippu-Mannar South-Pic by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai]
The main focus of this article is on the external aspect of the Rama Mani case, more specifically on the damage that it can do to our foreign relations. But it is relevant for my purposes to begin with a brief observation on its internal aspect. Reportedly Ms Mani had received a letter dismissing her with immediate effect from the post of Director at the ICES. Apparently no opportunity was given to her to defend herself against any charges prior to the issue of that letter, which can therefore be taken as outraging the norms of natural justice. However, she was reinstated in her post by a further letter and asked to continue for the full term for which she had contracted. Worth emphasising is that she had received strong support from the ICES staff, who had given her a grand send-off even though it was known that she was being ordered out of the country by the Government.
There is in humanity a deep love of justice. There is also in humanity a deep love of injustice. Otherwise we cannot explain why injustices are committed all over the world practically all the time, and at the same time injustices are corrected. In order to maintain ourselves in a tolerably civilised condition we have to see somehow that injustices are quickly corrected, and that on the whole justice clearly prevails. This seems to be an uphill task in the world of Sri Lankan cricket. Exchanging notes with an exceptionally knowledgeable cricket aficionado I find that more cricketing careers have been blighted through injustice in Sri Lanka than in any other test-playing country. Our NGOs have not been famous for a deep love of injustice, so that it is not surprising that what looked like an aberrant case of monstrous injustice towards Rama Mani was quickly corrected. We must now see that what looks like monstrous injustice towards her at the level of the State is also corrected.
At this point I must make some observations about the State and injustice. The State concentrates far more power in its hands than any other institution, such as for instance in Sri Lanka the NGO network or Sri Lanka Cricket. We must bear in mind also the fact that the modern state concentrates far more power than the typical pre-modern state, and that that power is exercised ubiquitously. Consequently in the Western democracies, or in India, countervailing power is brought into play in the form of a separation of powers within the state structure, the opposition political parties, and above all a vibrant civil society. However, all those institutions can be in place and all of them can somehow come to be in a somnambulistic condition. That happened under the 1977 Government, which is why it became possible for Sri Lankans such as myself to say that far and away the most impressive feature of the 1977 Government was the depth of its dedication to injustice. Things have improved greatly of course, but we have to be wary.
The details that have been publicised about Ms Mani’s ejection from Sri Lanka are as follows. Though she was reinstalled in her post, her visa was cancelled and she was given notice of just a few days to leave Sri Lanka, apparently as a consequence of a CID inquiry. It is surmised that her involvement with Gareth Evans’ Responsibility to Protect project was the major reason for the visa cancellation. On an ICES appeal she was allowed a few additional days of grace, but it was thought prudent to pack her off straightaway as apparently there was a threat to her life and that of her son. According to one report her house was to have been searched by the security authorities, but that did not happen because of the influence wielded by the Indian High Commission. Finally she left for the airport in a French Embassy vehicle, she being a French citizen. In Parliament an assurance was given by the Prime Minister to a JVP member that her visa would not be renewed.
I cannot vouch for the veracity of the details given above. I have not sought to check on them because I am writing this article in the capacity of a concerned citizen with a background of foreign relations experience, and not as an investigative journalist. But I must say that those details ring true. Some readers may wonder whether there really were serious death threats against Ms Mani and her son. I must ask them to remember that some years ago the Bollywood idol Shah Rukh Khan and some other members of his troupe narrowly escaped being bomb-killed in Colombo. That showed the irrational murderousness of our ultra-nationalist super-patriots. The death threat in the present case had to be taken seriously.
I will now make a few observations on the Rama Mani case in relation to her status as a non-national, the image of our NGOs as hot-beds of subversion, and the Responsibility to Protect project. It may be that the Government cannot be faulted on technical or legal grounds for having cancelled Ms Mani’s visa and packing her off with just a few days notice as she is a foreign national. Most states, probably all, claim the absolute sovereign right to deny visas or cancel them without giving any reasons at all. However, it is generally acknowledged that law gets its sanctification or legitimation in terms of its moral underpinnings, which is why the notion of equity figures so prominently in jurisprudence. A foreign national does not have all the rights of a Sri Lanka national – and quite rightly so – but he/she has rights as a human being, the so-called human rights. I would go even further and say that all human beings have an absolute right to decent, fair, just treatment, irrespective of what may or may not be included in all the human rights declarations and covenants.
In Sri Lanka there seems to be a readiness to assume that foreign nationals have no business to be here in the first place – except to the extent that we are prepared to tolerate them – and therefore they have no rights. It is meet and proper to treat them like dirt, should it suit our interests to do so. Some years ago foreign spouses of local nationals who went to get their visas renewed found that the fees had been increased – without the slightest forewarning – by a colossal proportion. I wrote an article about it, more than one Minister to my knowledge was against that increase, and wiser counsels soon prevailed. I must recall also the Bracegirdle case of the 1930s, in which an Australian national regarded as a Marxist subversive by the then colonial government was to be deported, Our LSSP struck a mighty blow for justice by fighting a successful court case against that deportation.
According to the details available to the public Ms Mani seems to have been given very shabby treatment at the level of the state, part of the explanation for which might be found in the negative Sri Lankan mind-set about foreigners that I have outlined above. A more important part of the explanation is the fairly widespread notion that our NGOs are hot-beds of subversion. Unfortunately Ms Mani was the Director of the Colombo ICES which has somehow acquired notoriety for subversion more than any other NGO.
Since my retirement in 1989 I have interacted a great deal with our NGOs, including with the ICES, except during the last few years. I have been at a loss to understand how this notion of subversive NGOs has acquired such wide currency. The idea seems to be that anyone who holds certain views – most importantly the view that the ethnic problem can only be solved by a wide measure of devolution amounting to federalism – is covertly a subversive. The time has come to point out some hard facts. The LTTE has hated the idea of devolution to the extent of wanting to kill any influential person who has tried to promote it, such as Kumaratunga, Lakshman Kadirgamar, and Neelan Tiruchelvam. The Sinhalese hardliners, chauvinists, racists, also hate the idea of a peaceful solution through devolution. Therefore I am on one side of the barricades with other peaceniks in wanting devolution, while the Sinhalese racists are on the other side of the barricades together with the LTTE Tamil racists in preventing devolution. The LTTE I am sure would say that the Sinhalese racists are “objectively” – whatever may be their subjective intentions – serving the separatist purpose of the LTTE. We must stop this nonsense about certain ideas being inherently subversive.
Most readers probably have wrong notions about what goes on in NGOs like the ICES. It functions as an intellectual forum holding film shows, lectures, and seminars, most of which are meagerly attended and are quite dull. The intellectual stimulation provided by most of them is nil. That has surely to be expected because most of the people involved in such institutions, here and all over the world, have to consist of ordinary humanity, that is to say of decent and well-meaning people who above all are dull conformists with nothing subversive about them. Its major focus is on research projects, and doubtless some excellent work has been done, but the papers are not available on the internet and their circulation must be very limited. It is difficult to see how they can possibly constitute a significant subversive force. I am not in the least surprised that although charges about NGO subversion have been made for over fifteen years, not one iota of evidence has been unearthed to show it. Behind it all is enviousness, intolerance, and a rage for totalitarian control.
The above sets out the background to the ejection of Ms Mani from Sri Lanka. The ejection itself was reportedly precipitated by some injudicious action on the part of Ms Mani arising out of her close connection with the former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and the R2P project. She had apparently proposed that the ICES be brought into some sort of association with the Global Centre of the R2P in New York, and that had been brought to the notice of the Government which for some time had already been suffering from convulsions over that project. The ejection by an alarmed Government quickly followed.
As everyone knows the Neelan Tiruchelvam lecture on the R2P has proved to be highly controversial. Notably there has been a negative critique by Minister G.L. Peiris and a counter-critique by Tisse Jayatileke, but I have the impression – perhaps mistakenly – that the core problem has not been properly addressed. Certainly a serious problem is that the R2P can be misused for neo-imperialist domination by the strong against weak countries such as Sri Lanka. But the core problem is that the idea that the international community has the responsibility of intervening to protect a people irrespective of the wishes of governments arises out of the revolutionary upsurge of the masses and their demand for protection and a better life. R2P has behind it far more than neo-imperialist strategy. The core problem therefore is how to protect state sovereignty while allowing for the international community’s responsibility to protect the people when that becomes necessary.
Not long after the Evans lecture I happened to visit the ICES. I asked an officer there to convey to the Director that it would be useful to hold a seminar on R2P. Had one of my late friends Neelan or Regi Siriwardene been there I believe that such a seminar would have been held because they would have recognized that a lecture sponsored by the ICES had set off a political storm and therefore the ICES had some measure of responsibility to try to quell that storm. Had that seminar been held the core problem could have been addressed, some useful clarifications since made by Ms Mani could have been ventilated, and some measure of balanced thinking about R2P might have been brought about.
The failure to hold such a seminar seems instructive. I have remarked above that the research products of the ICES have very small circulation, something that is certainly true of almost all the NGOs, which does not seem to bother them in the least. There seems to be something that is precious, elitist, hermetic, an ethos that spawns coteries, in NGOs like the ICES – which is not of course to deny that some useful work has been done by them. It is an ethos that is favorable to the ambitious go-getter, the intellectual mediocrity, who wants to secure places in academia, the UN system, and so on. It is not at all surprising therefore that the Rama Mani case has shown that the ICES had practically immured itself from the political currents swirling all around it. Otherwise it is not possible to explain her astounding political naivety in proposing some sort of affiliation of the ICES with the R2P Global Centre in New York.
The intemperate reaction of the Government in summarily packing off Ms Mani may be understandable, but it does not seem justifiable. Surely that affiliation she allegedly proposed could have been prevented through the intervention of people like Professor Kingsley de Silva and Bradman Weerakoon. That packing off has almost certainly worsened the already poor international image of the Government, which should therefore justify its action. Alternatively, it could offer to renew her visa. Whether she should actually return is another question. A mob of citizens could clamor for injustice.
“An independent Kosovo, recognised by major Western powers, is in effect the first major fruit of the ideas behind R2P..Appropriately Kosovo’s emergence coincided with the establishment in New York of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protest..backed by the Canadian, British and Dutch governments, among others..The Organisation’s mission is the spread of R2P principles…An R2P generation is coming. The prising open of the world is slow work, but from Kosovo to Cuba it continues.”-Roger Cohen, International Herald Tribune, Feb 21, 2008, p.6
The Kosovo debate contains a microcosm of all that is right and wrong about Sri Lankan society. Some argue that in order to avoid a Kosovo outcome, all it takes is to “Just Say No” to the West and the outside world in general, while the others contend that what is needed is to “Just Say Yes”, or in a more nuanced variant, “Never Say Never” to the West (especially to the Big Boys) and the outside world. The two responses correspond to the political antipodes of the xenophobes and the appeasers.
Rioters set fire to buildings and attacked the United States Embassy in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, on Thursday, Feb 21-More Pix:NY Times.com]
Both extremes are wrong, in twin senses: their interpretation and application of Kosovo, as well as their recommendation of what is to be done to combat such a danger.
The key to understanding the reality of the world, resides in a debate between two concepts that dates back to the year 1915. In that year, the young Leon Trotsky advocated a visionary slogan of a United States of Europe, perhaps the earliest pre-figuration of today’s European Union. He based this on an understanding of the underlying unity of the capitalist world system, a unity that to his mind superseded its differentiation. The slightly older Lenin replied by emphasising the opposite aspect: though it may be one system, that system is characterised by underlying unevenness, and this unevenness itself develops unevenly, spasmodically. This was his theory of uneven development. Because of uneven development, the processes in each country had a high degree of autonomy, and though the world system was a single chain, that chain had stronger and weaker links.
What is the relevance of all this to Kosovo, and more pressingly, to Sri Lanka? Though the world is indeed globalised, the distribution of power is uneven. Kosovo is located in Europe, and Europe is, and has been for a very long time, among the strongest links in the chain of the world system, which is of course dominated by the USA and its European allies. Sri Lanka is in Asia, and Asia has long been a weaker link in that chain. Today, the geopolitical and economic tendencies towards multi-polarity manifest themselves more in Asia than anywhere else.
We are also aware, at least since Antonio Gramsci, that the state and society are configured differently in the East than in the West. We in Asia collectively perceive our state to have a vastly greater antiquity and continuity, to be more organic, than that of the West. The combination of old and new consciousness – this perception of a living state with an ancient lineage, together with the recent memory of colonial occupation and humiliation – make an Asian society’s attachment to the state and it response to the threat of dismemberment, a far more deeply felt and violently contested affair than in the West. This is why a wise, war weary US General, completely oblivious to Gramsci, came to the conclusion after Korea: “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” The West forgets that lesson at its peril.
What the West can do in Europe it cannot do outside: when it was rolling back insurgents in post-war Greece, it was losing to Communists in China. This is true even today: the Shans and Karens will not have an independent state carved out for them in Myanmar.
Sri Lanka has therefore to engage in classic balancing off of those powers, Asian and European, which stand for a strong sovereign state, against those which strive to weaken the state in a reversion to Wilsonian notions of self-determination. Such a classic, realist balance of power strategy can work because we are located in Asia, not Europe.
However, no outside power can guarantee that which we ourselves are unwilling to protect. Therefore “balance of power” alone will not do, it has to be backed up with a version of “deterrence”. It must be clear that we shall not withdraw our forces, we shall not capitulate, we shall not permit any alien forces upon our soil, and any one who hopes to will face a fight, more unconventional than conventional, from a two hundred thousand strong armed force and many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of radicalised youth.
The problem arises with those who would resort to such strategies of “deterrence” without its concomitant of the “balance of power”. Sri Lanka can leverage its Asian location, balancing off certain powers against Western interventionism, but it cannot balance off the entirety of the outside world, West and East, far away and near, and base itself on a strategy of domestic deterrence, nor can it balance off certain Asian powers against others at the same time that it has to balance off the West!
Let me translate: Sri Lanka must adopt a policy of self–reliance and must not be strategically dependent upon any outside power. Sri Lanka must possess and display the political will to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty “by any means necessary” (as Malcolm X famously said) against anyone who would threaten it. However, Sri Lanka cannot rely on deterrence alone, unlike Cuba in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR. Until the USSR existed, Cuba combined deterrence with balance of power, but after it collapsed, Cuba was safe only because it was far too hard a nut to crack, with an armed people, and hundreds of thousands who had fought successfully against South Africa, in Angola.
Sri Lanka, another island in the tropical sun, can gain inspiration from Cuba but cannot imitate it. The primary reason is the difference in the internal political and economic systems. These differences correspond to the different histories, characteristics and collective consciousness of our respective peoples.
The reality of Sri Lanka is that it is a divided society, with an entrenched multiparty democracy and an open economy. As the fate of the SLFP government of 1977 proves, the electorate will not long tolerate an economic model which makes for public privation. The Sri Lankan electorate is so protean that it also elected in 2001, an appeasing, Chamberlain-like Prime Minister, and gave him a sizeable vote at the last Presidential elections – though recent opinion polls render almost indubitable his defeat at the next one.
One sharp difference between Sri Lanka and Cuba is that the latter does not have an internal war (though it did have to combat counter-revolutionary bands for years), and certainly not an internal war of an ethnic-separatist character. Cuba’s armed forces could concentrate its energies on fighting the external enemy.
If Sri Lanka inevitably has to resist on two fronts, internal and external, so be it. However, it cannot resist on the “internal –external” and “external – external” fronts. In other words, Sri Lanka cannot abandon a policy of balancing some powers against others, in favour of a policy of taking on all comers, far and near! If it is to be argued that in the 1980s Sri Lanka fought cross-border separatist terrorism and eventually retrieved its sovereignty, rolling back a regional intervention, it must be recalled that in the 1980s Sri Lanka was not facing the concerted pressure it is today, from the West.
In the minds of some, the answer would be not merely a regime change, but a system change, which renders Sri Lanka economically “self-sufficient” (actually autarchic), and mobilises its people to fight the separatist enemy, domestic traitors and reactionaries, and all external comers. This strategy, in which patriotic or national liberation struggle and social revolution combine, is but a collapsible fantasy, which overlooks economic and geopolitical reality. Few Sri Lankan ultra-nationalists know that Cuba has more than five hundred foreign companies doing business there (since it is one of the world’s most stable and peaceful investment climates) and also enjoys an inflow of over a million tourists per year. A Hobbesian Sri Lanka, locked in a war of all against all, will be unable to sustain itself. Internal discontent and repression, external isolation and cross-border intervention, will constitute the conditions for Tamil Eelam and its recognition.
Sri Lanka must never take as axiomatic the notion that India will never countenance a Tamil Eelam because it will be a danger to India itself, given the proximity of Tamil Nadu. India helped in the birth of Bangladesh irrespective of any threat of West Bengal breaking away from India to join with Bangladesh! India is rightly confident that no one will want to break away from a quasi-federal economic superpower with a secular state.
Sri Lanka must also understand that there is a limit to the assistance that India can give us, given the fact of 50 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu, and the coalitional-regional character of governments in Delhi.
These two factors mean that Sri Lanka cannot take India for granted, it cannot put all its eggs in the Indian basket, but it cannot afford to antagonise or lose India. At the minimum it has to keep India on a spectrum of supportive to benignly neutral. While being realistic about the possible limits of Indian support, and not acquiescing in any “Dog in the Manger” attitudes from anyone or anywhere, Sri Lanka must strive all the time to maximise the support it can obtain from India.
The Tigers are dug in on their home turf, taking heavily casualties but playing for time, hoping for a mini-July 83 which, in the YouTube age can trigger a Kosovo; hoping to influence the Indian elections; or hoping to influence a possible change in Washington DC, which can indeed transform the entire terrain on which the game is played. Their “home turf” advantages must be offset and their international strategies countered by us. This requires building the broadest possible domestic, regional and international united fronts: coalitions that include anti-Tiger Tamils internally, and India, China, and Russia, externally.
The finest political strategist of modernity, Lenin, concluded at the tail end of his life, in an article published in Pravda on March 4th 1923, that: ” In the last analysis, the outcome of the struggle will be determined by the fact that Russia, India, China etc account for the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe”. This is the decisive weight that Sri Lanka must leverage and bring to bear, to avoid a Kosovo, on behalf of our fighting men and women in the battlefield, and future generations. Neither China nor Russia will support Sri Lanka in a manner and to an extent which runs contrary to the view of India. If it is a choice between India and Sri Lanka, they will choose India, as of course will the USA, and anyone I can think of.
The unravelling of Yugoslavia began with the abolition in the late 1980s by Slobodan Milosevic, under pressure from Serbian ultranationalists, of the autonomy of the Province of Kosovo which had been instituted by Tito in 1974. When Serbia offered the fullest autonomy in the last round of negotiations a few months ago, there was no one accept it. The refusal to defend and retain provincial autonomy resulted in the loss of a whole country (Yugoslavia) and finally, part (Kosovo) of the successor state (Serbia).
The lesson of the break-up of Yugoslavia is clear: federalism along ethnic lines is dangerous but those who reject an autonomous province may contribute to an independent state. Both ethno-federalism and centralised unitarism are dangerously centrifugal, while the most safely centripetal seems to be a unitary state with adequate devolution of powers making for autonomy.
While it is the armed forces and youth of Sri Lanka, backing our political will and our sense of a unique historical destiny, that that stand between us and a Kosovo outcome, it is not only those factors that do so. It is also India that stands between us and Kosovo/R2P interventionism, as our outer perimeter. Those Sri Lankan elements which block or delay the minimum degree of devolution on the ground that is needed to make India tilt to the maximum towards us and our military effort, are as unpatriotic and helpful to the cause of Kosovo type interventionism as those elements in the Tamil Diaspora who openly advocate such an outcome.
(The author is Sri Lankas ambassador to the UN in Geneva. This article expresses the strictly personal views of the writer)
Last Sunday (Feb 17th) was a sad day for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as they lost in battle another senior stalwart who had rendered yeoman service to the movement for more than two decades.
Lt. Col Thava or Thavam as he was called was not one widely known to the world like tiger police commissar Suppiah Paramu Thamilselvan. But in his own, quiet way Thava has been responsible for portraying the LTTE in a positive light and projecting the Tiger cause worldwide.
Apart from his combat duties Lt. Col Thava had been functioning since 1990 as the chief cinematographer of the LTTE’s “Nitharsanam” Television station.
In recent times he was also the deputy chief of the tigers film division. In addition Thava also doubled up as LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakharan’s special photographer on important occasions.
Thava’s forte was his fearless videoing on the battlefront. Armed with a camera, Thava waded into the thick of fighting at great risk.. He captured on camera the different dimensions of heated battles. As a result of his labour much of the LTTE’s comparative military history was archived on celluloid.
The battles of Mankulam and Kokkavil in 1990 where the LTTE overran both military camps.; the ill – fated Elephant pass war of 1991. The successful amphibean assault on Pooneryn in 1993 codenamed “operation Thavalai”or frog: several successful phases of “operation unceasing waves” (Oyatha Alaigal) were but some of the historic battles witnessed and recorded by Thava.
The videoing of battles was of great utilitarian value. Apart from being telecast on the “Nitharsanam” TV videos were made and circulated worldwide. This was of much propaganda value and was an incentive for the Tamil Diaspora to contribute lavishly to the cause.
At another level LTTE supremo Prabakharan used to view the raw footage to assess the battlefront situation. It was also used in training camps to motivate new recruits. Also LTTE military strategists used it to do post – mortems on battles fought.
There was a time when the LTTE’s broadcasting service “Voice of Tigers” was attached to “Nitharsanam” as a sub – unit. During this time Thava was involved in broadcasting too in many spheres.
Thava was also involved in making films. He was the cinematographer for the LTTE’s full length feature film “Kaatruveli” ( The windy plains).
Apart from filming Thava also dabbled in acting. He played the role of Major. Kinny in the docu-drama “Innoru Naadu” (Another Country). He also acted in the short features “Muttrugai” (siege) and “Viduthalai Moochu” (breath of liberation).
In recent times Thava was involved in setting up a film archive for the LTTE.
According to LTTE old – timers the tigers were the first among Tamil militant organizations to photograph scenes of battle etc.
However the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) stole a march over the LTTE when it videoed the successful attack on Chavakachcheri police station in 1984.
The video was circulated world – wide and resulted in many diasporic Tamils donating generously to the TELO after being thrilled by the visuals. An annoyed LTTE then plunged into extensive videoing.
Former LTTE Jaffna commander Sathasivampillai Krishnakumar alias Kittu was a man fond of new technology and innovations. He set up a special unit under Bharathan who is now in a Western country.
In those days LTTE chief Prabakharan was in Tamil Nadu and his deputies in North- Eastern Sri Lanka had to report regularly to him.
Kittu hit on the novel idea of sending reports on film to his “thalaiver” (leader). Prabakharan, a film buff, was pleased by this. Soon more and more videos of live action were shot and sent to the tiger supremo.
Jaffna peninsula assumed conditions of a semi – liberated state from mid – 1985 as the security forces were basically confined to barracks.
One interesting development then was the flourishing of a number of small TV stations. These were run by private individuals and telecasts were restricted to specific localities.Subscriptions were solicited from house – holders.
The LTTE began to distribute their action videos and get them on these TV’s. Gradually the LTTE developed its own TV station known as “Nitharsanam”. Bharathan was its head.
In 1987 the Indian army destroyed the Nitharsanam TV tower and made it inoperative.
The LTTE resumed “Nitharsanam” in 1990 after it control of the greater part of the Northern province.
Many of the LTTE battles were shown on “Nitharsanam” TV. Video magazines titled “Nitharsanam” were made and sent abroad. LTTE also made videos for training purposes.
It was during this time that Thava began to shine as a field cinematographer. Thava made his mark , rose to prominence in “Nitharsanam” and caught the eye of Prabakharan.
Prabakharan has also used the capability of Thava and other members of the unit to videograph security installations and troop movements. This data helps the LTTE chief to draw up elaborate battle plans.
Thava hailed from Thiriyai in Trincomalee district. The village was virtually destroyed by the security forces in 1984 and most of the people got dispersed.
Thava in his teens then teamed up with the LTTE. Senior LTTE leader Pulenthiran sent Thava to Jaffna.
Pandithar the tiger chief in Jaffna took Thava under his wing and provided him local training. After Pandithar’s death Kittu became Jaffna commander.
Kittu recognized Thava’s talent for photography and encouraged him. Eventually Thava became chief cinematographer for “Nitharsanam”.
It is said that Thava died in harness at Palamottai in the Vavuniya district.
According to reports he was conducting a field workshop in combat cinematography for new tiger recruits on Feb 17th when an army shell exploded close by.
Lt. Col Thava and Major Pugalmaran were killed.
A joint funeral service was held for both in Kilinochchi. The LTTE’s Kilinochchi zone political wing head Kalaivanan presided. Vavuniya district military commander Velavan lit the ceremonial flame. LTTE political commissar Nadesan delivered the eulogy.
Thava’s mother lit the flame of sacrifice for Thava while his wife garlanded the body. She too is a tiger woman cadre and working in the media division. Pugalmaran’s father lit the flame and garlanded his son’s body.
Lt. Col Thava’s death in action focuses attention towards the continuing strife on the North – Western front. The North – West became the theatre of conflict after the LTTE was ejected from the Eastern province.
In recent times there has been much media attention towards the continuing strife on the North – Western front. The North – West became the theatre of conflict after the LTTE was ejected from the Eastern province.
The Government shifted its focus towards the Mannar district and those parts of Vavuniya district under LTTE control after the fall of the East.
In the first week of September the armed forces took over the Musali AGA division in the South of Mannar district in a swift military manouevre. The tigers retreated without firing a shot. Thousands of civilians both Tamil and Muslim were displaced.
Thereafter the security forces began intensive shelling of some other areas of Mannar district under LTTE control. Frequent aerial bombardment was also conducted.
More than five months have passed since the capture of Musali division but the security forces are yet to show significant gain in acquiring real estate from the LTTE in Mannar district since then.
The hyper – active media center for national security regales us with regular bulletins of significant victories. According to these reports LTTE cadres are being killed in large numbers each day; tiger bases and bunkers are being destroyed frequently.
According to some security – sourced reports more than 2000 tigers have been killed in Mannar since the beginning of this year while the LTTE casualty figures for Vavuniya district for this year exceeds 1000 according to the same reports
Since official Colombo estimates of LTTE strength puts it around 10 – 15, 000 the tiger casualties for this year alone amount to more than 20 % of the total number of tiger cadres. If correct this is a very big achievement. But then there are those two words “If correct”.
We also hear and read many reports about LTTE de – moralisation. We are told of mass desertions; we are told of massive defections; Suddenly young tiger cadres are dying with pathetic letters written to their parents in their pockets.
Another puzzling feature is the regular pattern of official media releases on the ground situation. There are many reports about LTTE positions being overrun and defences destroyed.
There are reports about places being captured and then re- captured and then being re – re – captured.We are not told how this was possible
The official reports about ground positions are also confusing. One day we are told that the security forces are within a few hundred yards of a particular place. On another day we are informed that security forces are a few km away from the same place.
Likewise we are informed officially that the LTTE has been dislodged from a particular place; again we are told in another report that heavy fighting took place in the place taken from the LTTE. In a further report we hear of fighting close to the place where the LTTE was driven away. Only now the tigers are back again
Morale is high among security forces on the war front say official reports. This is certainly true.
Given the overwhelming superiority of the security forces over the tigers in manpower, firepower, airpower etc morale should certainly be high within the security forces . The track record of recent military victories should be a further morale booster.
What is missing in this official narrative is the actual state and condition of the ground situation. If one discards the verbiage and cuts to the chase one factor is clearly visible.
In spite of more than five months of intensive fighting the security forces have not made much headway. Only peripheral gains have been made.The official communiques are more flatulence and less excreta.
It is certainly true that the security forces have not yet launched the long anticipated multi – pronged offensive into tiger territory. That is still on the cards.
But the security forces have been regularly conducting sorties and limited “push ” operations on multiple fronts.
If the unrealistically bloated LTTE casualty figures are taken out of the picture there is very little advantage to show for all this.
The main reason for this situation is the dogged and determined defensive war fought fiercely by the LTTE.
Earlier LTTE defensive preparations saw the tigers erecting three broad defence rings.
One was around all areas controlled by it; the second was around the north – eastern region east of the A – 9 highway; the third was around strategic areas in the Mullaitheevu district.
Against this backdrop the North – Western region to the west of the A – 9 highway or Jaffna – Kandy road was comparatively vulnerable. It was on this premise which the defence authorities based their calculations and launched intensive military activity.
What has happened now seems to be a strategic shift by LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakharan.
Instead of offering limited resistance and then withdrawing as done in the past the tiger supremo seems to be mobilising his resources to fight a full – scale defensive war on the North – Western front itself.
While the Mannar district commander Letchumanan and Vavuniya district commander Velavan are in charge of defences a number of senior tiger commanders are also in the North – Western fray.
Bhanu and Sornam who were both past Mannar district commanders and Jeyam the ex – Vavuniya commander are all involved in the defensive war. They are very familiar with the terrain.
Two other seniors in the field are the commanders of Charles Anthony infantry division , Amithab and Ramesh who is in charge of the Jeyanthan infantry division.
Amithab is from Vavuniya district while Ramesh is the former Eastern regional special commander who succeeded “Col” Karuna.
Two disadvantages suffered by the LTTE was about the motivation and loyalty of some cadres.
The LTTE has conscripted around 12 – 15, 000 cadres in the past 18 months. Since most of them were abducted against their will their loyalty and motivation was suspect. Also they had no battlefront experience.
The protracted warfare on the North – Western front has provided an opportunity for the LTTE to try and test the new cadres. They are being rotated in batches and deployed in the many different battle zones.
Slowly and steadily the new cadres are being “blooded” and by all accounts getting absorbed into regular ranks.
The other problem was the attitude of the Eastern cadres. There are about 4000 eastern cadres in the Wanni right now. Some of them were de – moralised due to the Karuna revolt and its consequences.
A related problem was the question of whether some eastern cadres could be trusted because of regional and personal loyalty to Karuna.
Recent developments have brought about an attitudinal change. The co-option of the Karuna faction as a para – military outfit of the state has dispelled all illusions about Karuna.
The eastern warlord himself languishes in a British jail. Pillaiyan described as a “running dog of (Sinhala) Imperialism is in charge now.
Thus there is no alternative centre of attraction for the eastern cadres. Divided loyalty is becoming a thing of the past. They are being re -integrated into the LTTE and are plunging into battle with clear objectives.
It cannot be forgotten that Eastern cadres under Karuna played a decisive role in the “jayasilkurui” and “oyatha Alaigal” battles in the Wanni.
The presence of Ramesh and deployment of the East – raised Jeyanthan Infantry division demonstrates closing of ranks within the LTTE.
Another development in the situation is the resumption of regular supplies to the LTTE. The success of the navy and air force in destroying some LTTE ships and vessels had caused a serious rupture in procuring military material and supplies.
Arms supply had become a trickle. There was a shortage of fuel too.
This situation according to battlefront reports is now changing.
The LTTE in recent times does not seem to be in short supply.
This is reflected in the way the tigers are now conducting the war. The earlier constraints are diminishing. It os suspected that tiger supply routes are “working “out again.
The LTTE’s defensive war is fundamentally reliant on three things. Firstly its artillery; secondly its landmines; thirdly its sniping.
The Kittu artillery division is actively engaged in firing shells with precision. A plus point for the LTTE is that many of the shells used are home made in the LTTE’s indigenous ordnance factories. One of the lethal artillery shells causing much damage is a new one named “Ragav”.
The Ponnammaan mining unit is also inflicting damage. Ponnamman whose real name is Kugan Yogaratnam is the brother of former LTTE political commissar Naren Yogaratnam alias Yogi.
Ponnamman was killed in the Kaithady explosion of Feb 14th 1987. Yogi who was expelled from the movement is now back as its head of military history division.
The Ponnammaan unit has been layig mines effectively. An innovation in recent times has been a new form of chain mines.
The concealed mines are linked together and form a kind of chain laid out in different formations. When one mine is stepped upon there is a chain reaction causing wide-spread damage.
The third is sniping. It appears that the LTTE has acquired some sophisticated long – range sniper rifles. Well – trained tiger snipers are now putting them to use it seems.
Many casualties among security forces are due to sniping. Recently snipers inflicted heavy damage in the Aatkaattyvely area.
Artillery, mines and sniping are the three main components of the LTTE’s defensive war in the North – Western region.
While the LTTE has been reasonably successful in holding the security forces at bay so far it is indeed a moot point as to whether the tigers can sustan this effort indefinitely.
For one thing the security forces are yet to launch a full – fledged multi – pronged offensive. At one stage the security forces did commence a “push” in ten different places.
These however were essentially “limited offensives”. The decisive moment will be when a concerted operation on a massive scale is launched.
The other point is whether the LTTE can ensure a steady flow of supplies to cadres at the battlefront. Logitics would be a problem if security forces manage to interdict supply routes.
Currently the security forces seem to be having two targets. One is Madhu and the other Adamban. Recent troop movements are conducted with these twin objectives. Madhu is of political significance while Adamban is of military importance.
In trying to take Madhu the security forces are careful to avoid causing any damage to the famous Our Lady of the Rosary catholic shrine.
Thus the forces are trying to encircle the region and make the LTTE vacate the area. This is one reason for the delay in advancing on that front
Adamban is a strategic area where two key roads intersect.If Adamban falls the security forces will be able to progress rapidly in different directions.
Adamban is the gateway and this is its importance. If Adamban falls then the LTTE controlled coastal strip of Vidathaltheevu – Nachikudah will be next
The ultimate objective will be the securing of the littoral along the Mannar – Pooneryn road.
By doing so the artillery bombardment of Jaffna by the LTTE will cease. It can also open up a land – based route to Jaffna via the Sangupiddy – Keratheevu ferry. Oil exploration activity in the Mannar basin will be easy. Also a ground based drive towards Elephant pass is possible.
For all these reasons the coastal stretch of Mannar – Pooneryn road is important. The LTTE knows it too and hence its stiff resistance.
How long can the LTTE hold out in this fierce defensive war on the North – western front is a key question.
Equally important is the question whether the LTTE would be content to continue with this defensive strategy or embark upon some offensive strategy in the near future.
The fledgling state of Kosovo came into being one week ago. It’s 39 year old Prime Minister Hashim Thaci read out the break – away Serbian Province’s declaration of of Independence on February 17th. This was followed by a musilcal rendering of Beethoven’s “ode to joy”. The blue and yellow national flag of the new state was raised .
It was indeed a time of joy for Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians. After decades of non – violent and violent struggle the Kosovars had gained a country of their own.
At a personal level it was a glorious triumph for Prime Minister Thaci. The political commissar of the Kosovo Liberation Army had for long been the driving force behind Kosovo’s quest for independence.
[From Left to Right:
Hashim Thaci, Head of the KLA, Bernard Kouchner, Head of United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in Kosovo (July 1999- January 2001), General Michael Jackson, Commander of KFOR Troops in Kosovo, General Agim Ceku, Military Commander of the KPC, investigated by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) "for alleged war crimes committed against ethnic Serbs in Croatia between 1993 and 1995." ( AFP 13 Oct 1999), General Wesley Clark, NATO Supreme Commander.]
There was a time when Hashim Thaci was perceived as a terrorist. A Serbian court once tried him in absentia and imposed a ten years jail term on him. The elusive Thaci was never caught.
By learning to “bend” before US – UN might at the appropriate time and through hitching the KLA wagon to the NATO star Thaci had realised his objective of Kosovo independence.
The Kosovo Liberation Army is known in Albanian as the Ushtra Chrimtare e Kosoves or UCK. In a sense it is the most successful guerilla movement in recent times because it has accomplished the first of its twin goals namely the secession of Kosovo province from Serbia.
It remains to be seen how far it would advance with regard to its other goal of establishing a greater Albania..
What is remarkable if not commendable about the KLA’s feat is the fact that it is weak and unsucessful “militarily”when compared to some other liberation movements around the world.
Despite its nomenclature of “army” the KLA was never a powerful militia.. The few times it engaged in positional warfare with the Serbian forces the KLA was routed decisively
Yet the KLA has scored when organizations more powerful than it are yet to succeed or have failed. That geo-strategic considerations favoured the KLA cannot be denied. But other groups have failed miserably to achieve their goals even when the conditions were conducive.
The KLA’s victory is due to its pragmatism. It knew the limits of the armed struggle it was waging and called it quits at the correct time. It played ball with the powers that be and made a show of surrendering weapons.
It adhered to International diktat and plunged into protracted negotiations. The KLA knew when and how to transform itself.
The KLA displayed admirable patience even when the opponent was not acting in good faith. Instead of abandoning negotiations and resorting to armed struggle at the drop of a hat, the KLA stayed the course.
It also chose the right side to support internationally. Thus the USA which spearheads the global war against terror is now the patron of the KLA that reportedly had links with Osama bin Laden.
Kosovo was a province of Serbia within Yugoslavia. Historically Kosovo was seen as the cradle of Serbian culture.The province that had a Serbian majority at one time borders present day Albania. It was pre-dominantly Christian during the middle ages.
D- day was June 28th 1389 when the historic battle of Kosovo was fought. Thus began the 523 year Turkish rule of the Ottoman empire.After five centuries Serbia gained control of Kosovo in 1912 through the Balkan wars. The 1913 treaty of London endorsed this change formally.
When the first world war was over, Kosovo was incorporated legally in 1918 as part of the Serbian kingdom . During the second world war much of Kosovo was under Italian occupation. After the war was over Kosovo was absorbed into the Yugoslavian federation in 1946 as a Serbian province.
In the sixties legendary Yugoslavian head of state Marshall Tito began encouraging greater autonomy for Kosovo as part of his strategic effort to curn Serbian ultra – nationalism. The 1974 Constitution granted autonomus status for the Province and provided a certain amount of self – government.
Kosovo had undergone much demographic change over the years. The Serbian population decreased and Albanian numbers increased. Christianity declined and Islam flourished.
In the 20th century the Serbs were a minority in Kosovo. The dominant entity were the Albanians. Most Albanians were Muslims while Serbians were Christian.
There was simmering tension between the Serbs/Christians and Albanian/Muslims.Ethno – nationalist feelings were on the rise.
The KLA has its origins in the Popular movememt for the Republic of Kosovo that was founded in 1979 by former Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha. Albania’s encouragement led to a rise in Kosovar nationalism.
In 1981 there were wide – spread separatist riots resulting in a crackdown.The army was brought in.
Many Kosovar members of the popular movement fled the country.Some Emigre’s based in Switzerland adopted Marxist – Leniinist ideology as their creed. In 1982 they formed the People’s Movement of Kosovo in Switzerland.
The people’s movement of Kosovo modelled itself on the Irish Republican Army (IRA) striving for Irish re-unification.The primary objective was to form an Albanian national republic within the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia..The secondary goal was the gradual reation of a Greater Albania.
The advent of Serbian ultra – nationalist Slobodan Milosevic was a watershed as far as Kosovo was concerned. Milosevic took away the autonomy for Kosovo enshrined in the 1974 Constitution. This led to much heartburn. In 1989 July Albanian leaders declared independence from Serbia. Belgrade dissolved the Kosovo government.
In September more than 100,000 Albanians were dismissed from work.This resulted in a general strike that was suppressed.
1991 saw Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia breaking away from Yugoslavia and declaring independence.War erupted.
Albanian leaders also made a unilateral declaration of independence in 1991. Only Albania recognized it.In 1992 September the academic – writer Ibrahim Rugova was elected president of the self – proclaimed republic.
Rugova was a “Gandhian” who launched a non – violent movement of passive resistance to secure independence or at least get autonomy restored. This Gandhian strategy did not fare well with Milosevic who unleashed brute force.
An ethnic cleansing campaign against Kosovo Albanians was conducted by Serb armed forces to make the province Serb – majority again.Thousands died . Hundreds of thousands of Kosovo refugees fled to Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro.
Disillusioned with Rugova’s non – violent tactics the younger elements of the Peoples Movement for Kosovo resolved to develop a military wing and pursue armed resistance. In 1993 the KLA came into existence clandestinely in Macedonia.
The KLA structured itself on the lines of the IRA. The strategy was to provoke a major conflict between Serbia and Kosovo. The leading lights among KLA founders were Zahir Pajazti and Adem Jashari.
Interestingly the KLA received aid and support from three different sources. Both the USA and Germany provided arms, funds and training for strategic “realpolitik” reasons of their own.
Ironically the US state depattment proscribed the KLA for a while as a foreign terrorist movement. At another level the US provided covert assistance.
The third source was Bin Laden’s Al Quaeda. Of course it had not made the headlines then.Some KLA cadres reportedly trained in Afghanistan .
The KLA began attacks in 1995 by targeting Police and military personnel . It was in 1996 that the KLA became known as an Armed Albanian outfit.
The KLA set up training camps in North – Eastern Albania. Many Albanian officers of the Yugoslavian armed forces deserted and joined the KLA. They began training the new recruits. Even a military academy was established.
The KLA had a central command structure of 16 – 20 members. Kosovo province was divided into seven military – operation zones. Each zone had semi – autonomous commanders known by their nom de guerres.There was also a political wing known as ” Drejtoria Politike”.This was headed by Hashim Thaci the present Kosovo Premier.
The KLA grew rapidly in 1997 – 99. Initially it attacked security personnel as well as civilian collaborators. Roadblocks were set up and movement of Government forces restricted.
By mid 1998 the KLA controlled around a quarter of Kosovo province.The KLA stronghold was the Drenica region and its headquarters was in the village of Prekaz.
While Belgrade placed KLA strength at a few hundreds , the movement claimed it to be over 20,000. The KLA had AK – 47’s and RPG – 7 weapons. It also had SA – 7 and Stinger missiles.
Initially the Serbian forces suspended patrolling KLA controlled territory.It was mainly through default that the KLA maintained control of some areas. The KLA was no match for Serbian forces in direct confrontation.
The KLA bluff was called when it overreached itself by launching an offensive to capture Orahovac town. It was a fiasco. But Serbian state forces now began a counter – offensive against the KLA.
The guerillas were defeated decisively and chased away from the regions it controlled.Kosovo came under Belgrade’s writ again except for the border area of Junik.
The Serbian offensive though successful in dislodging the KLA resulted in unintended consequences. The Albanian diaspora was electrified. Fund raising for KLA peaked in the west. Thousands of youths left Europe and returned home to join the KLA. The KLA found it difficult to cope with the numbers.
One factor which fuelled large – scale support for the KLA among Albanian ethnics was the massacre of innocents. When four Serb policemen were killed by KLA guerillas the security forces retailated by attacking the villages of Likoshan and Cirez.
There was no armed resistance but in one place 12 members of a single extended family were killed. Another family lost four of five sons, and one family saw their seven-months-pregnant daughter-in-law shot in the head.
In another incident Police wanted to arrest Adem Jashari, the leader of the KLA .. The police assault on Prekaz lasted two days and Jashari died fighting. More than 60 people were killed of whom 45 were civilians.
The KLA adopted refined propaganda methods and publicised the anti – civilian acts of the Serbs. The whole world became aware of Serb attempts at ethnic cleansing. Bosnia situation provided added impetus.
Full-scale war broke out in Kosovo in March 1999. The Serbian and Yugoslav forces launched an offensive against the KLA. The KLA suffered heavy losses and was driven back into Albania, with only a few thousand fighters remaining in Kosovo itself.
The KLA actively collaborated with NATO personnel. When NATO commenced its 78 day aerial bombardment the KLA provided much informaation to identify targets.
KLA commander, Sylejman Selimi was removed in May 1999 and replaced with Agim Ceku an ethnic Albanian who had previously served in the Croatian Army as brigadier-general. After Çeku took over the KLA began to take a much more aggressive stance by attacking security force units frequently.
When the war ended, NATO and Serbian leaders agreed to a peace settlement that would see Kosovo governed by the UN .There was to be de – commissioning of KLA arms. The KLA was not a signatory to the peace accords. Instead of revolting the KLA showed great political acumen by agreeing to to be disarmed.
A much gratified NATO brought the KLA nto the peace process by establishing a 3,000-strong Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC)drawn from KLA ranks and entrusted with duties like disaster response, search and rescue, assistin de – mining, providing humanitarian assistance, and helping to rebuild infrastructure and communities.
The KPC’s operational sectors were very similar to those established by the KLA, illustrating the continuity between the two organizations. The KPC occupied former Yugoslav Army barracks and established battalions in each zone
Hashim Thaci, as head of the Albanian delegation, was invited to Rambouillet pour parleys in Paris. Initially Thaci refused to accept the Western proposal for the autonomy of Kosovo. Then in a volte – face Thaci agreed. and ratified the accord. This was a turning point.
It resulted in international recognition for the KLA’s political party known then as the Democratic party of Kosovo. It envisaged an interim government of Kosovo including the three major parties: the Democratic league of Kosovo (LDK) of Rugova, the United Democratic League (LBD) allied with the KLA and of course the KLA’s party. itself.
The interim Prime Minister was going to be Hashim Thaci.
Now began reverse ethnic cleansing. While dispersed Albanians returned ethnic Serbs began moving out. Systemic violence against them was unleashed. The Roma or Gypsy community was cruelly victimised.
The UN administration gave the ultra-nationalists a free hand. A report published by Amnesty International provides a devastatingly negative balance sheet.
“The UN mission either did not investigate adequately or completely failed to investigate hundreds of crimes such as murders, rapes, kidnappings and expulsions,” wrote Jan Digel, the Kosovo expert for Amnesty.
According to the European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest, over two thirds of the 120,000 Roma and Ashkali living in Kosovo were driven out of the province following the NATO bombardment.
It was the most comprehensive ethnic cleansing of Roma since the Second World War. Many thousands of Serbs were also forced to leave Kosovo, with the remaining 120,000 living in isolated Serbian enclaves.
The Thaci period of interim rule was a human rights disaster.. In four months 348 murders, 116 kidnappings, 1070 lootings and 1106 arson incidents occurred. .On the 15th of December, 1999, The provisional Administrative Council of Kosovo was set up and Thaci’s interim rule ended.Thaci’s DPK suffered defeat in municipal polls
Hashim Thaçi was born in Buroja in the municipality of Srbica northwest of Drenica valley, in Kosovo on April 24th 1968.. During his university years, he was one of the Albanian student leaders, and the first student president of the parallel Albanian University of Prishtina that was set apart from the real University due to Kosovar Albanians’ boycott of Milosevic’s new imposed status of Kosovo and Metohija.
Thaçi emigrated to Switzerland By 1993 , Thaçi had become a member of the inner circle of the KLA His nom de guerre was “Gjarpëri” [the Snake]) .
Hewas responsible fortraining recruits in Albania under the auspices of its Kosovar-sympathetic government. In March 1999, Hashim Thaçi was promoted into a political leader of the KLA .
According to media reports , Although the government in Pristina now professes adherence to the rights of minorities–whose ranks include Turks, Bosnjaks and other smaller groups alongside the Serbs and Roma–there has been no let-up in the attacks on national minorities in the province.
The declaration of independence last Sunday took place in close cooperation with the so-called Contact Group, consisting of the US, France, Germany, Britain and Italy. It was prepared over a long time. it is reported.
One year ago, the former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari submitted a plan for independence, which met with resolute opposition from Serbia and Russia.
Although Ahtisaari’s proposal was rejected at the time, it served as a framework and set a timetable for independence. Every step in the process–including a date for independence–was then coordinated between Kosovan Prime Minister Thaci and the Contact Group.
The alleged refusal of Serbia to agree to comprehensive autonomy for Kosovo is depicted as the rationale for total independence. The right of national self – determination has been given primacy over the concept of state sovereignty.
Elections in Kosovo were held on 17 November 2007. The Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), political successors to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), secured 34 percent (about 220,000 votes) as against 22 percent for the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), in power since the NATO intervention in 1998.
There was a record low turnout–43 percent of the province’s 1.5 million voters–down from 80 percent in elections soon after the Kosovo war. Doris Pack, head of the European Parliament team observing the poll, noted that “the worryingly low turn-out reflected the population’s disappointment in the performance of their elected representatives and the uncertainty regarding their future.” In addition, most of the 120,000 members of Kosovo’s Serb minority followed appeals from Serbia to boycott the election.
Nevertheless, Hashim Thaci, , declared his party’s vote of less than 15 percent of the population as a mandate for independence from Serbia. “The citizens of Kosovo sent the world a message…. The strongest message was that Kosovo is ready [for] independence,” he declared.
Hashim Thaci was designated as the next leader of Kosovo’s government on Decemner 11th 2007 by Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu and was asked to form a government “as soon as possible”.
On January 9th 2008 Thaçi was elected as Prime Minister by parliament, with 85 votes in favor and 22 against.
On that occasion he stated his intention to achieve independence for Kosovo in the first half of 2008.On February 16th Thaçi announced that the next day, February 17, would be key for “implementing the will of the citizens of Kosovo”, strongly implying the region would declare independence.
On February 17th Kosovo declared independence unilaterally.
“We, the democratically elected leaders of our people, hereby declare Kosovo to be an independent and sovereign state. This declaration reflects the will of our people and it is in full accordance with the recommendations of UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari and his Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement. “proclaimed Prime Minister Thaci.
“We declare Kosovo to be a democratic, secular and multiethnic republic, guided by the principles of non-discrimination and equal protection under the law. We shall protect and promote the rights of all communities in Kosovo and create the conditions necessary for their effective participation in political and decision-making processes”.
The USA and the big players of the EU have recognized the new state.
The Kosovo Liberation Army has fulfilled its ambition.
India in general and its Tamil Nadu state in particular have spawned many colourful political personalities. Standing out among these figures is Ms. Jayalalithaa Jayaram the actress-politico of Tamil Nadu.
The Former chief minister and Anna – Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (ADMK) leader turns 60 today (Feb 24th).
Earlier her name was spelled with one A (Jayalalitha) at the end. Later a second A was added (Jayalalithaa) due to reasons of numerology.
Jayalalithaa has become well – known in recent times for her rigid stance against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE). Supporters of the LTTE love to hate her.
Looking at her rotund appearance today few would imagine of a time when she was slim and lissom. That she was and a ravishing beauty too.
As an actress Jayalalithaa was the uncrowned queen of Tamil cinema during the mid – sixties to the mid – seventies of the last century.She was the dream – girl of many a teen – ager and the favourite pin – up star of many fans.
[Jayalalithaa & MGR in Kannan en Kadhalan-'Kannan my love']
Among those infatuated by her was the famous actor – politician M.G.Ramachandran (MGR).with whom she paired in more than 25 films. Though unmarried Jayalalithaa was regarded as the love of MGR’s life.
However she has been linked romantically to other people including actors like Shoban Babu, Ravichandran, Jaishanker and Mutturaman.
Jayalalithaa was born on Feb 24th 1948 in Mysore in Karnataka state. Because of this many think she is a Kannadiga and her political rivals often call her that.
The reality is that she is from a Tamil Aiyengar brahmin family hailing from Sreerangam in Trichy. Her grandfather was a physician in the service of the Mysore Maharajah. Hence the family relocated to that state.
Despite her detractors ridiculing her as a “kannadiga” Jayalalithaa has always been proud to assert her Tamil identity.
In 1970 long before she entered politics Jayalalithaa told a Kannada journal that she was a Tamil and not a Kannadiga. This caused a furore in Karnataka.
When Jayalalithaa was shooting for a Tamil film in Bangalore (now Bengalooru) a Kannadiga mob surrounded her and threatened to kill her if she did not retract.
But the courageous Jayalalithaa refused to be intimidated and stood her ground re-iterating that she was Thamizhian”and not a Kannadiga
Jayalalithaa’s father Jayaram was a an irresponsible wastrel who squandered the family fortune. This led to her mother Vedavalli becoming a film actor to support the family.
She took on the name Sandhya. Soon she relocated to Chennai or Madras as it was known then
Jayalalithaa’s given name was Komalavalli. but her pet name is Ammu. She studied at the elite Bishop Cotton High school in Bangalore and later at the Church Park convent in Madras.
In 1964 She passed out second in the state matriculation exam and was given a merit scholarship.She did not pursue higher studies as her destiny was films.
She learnt Bharatha Natyam and carnatic music and had her dance arangetram in 1960. The veteran actor Sivaji Ganesan who presided called her a “thangachilai” or golden statue on account of her fair, glowing skin.
Veteran film director BR Bhanthulu saw her at a film function and got her to act in a Kannada film. The maestro Sreedhar gave her a break in Tamil films. She played the role of a schizophrenic widow in “Vennira Aadai” (White dress) and got rave reviews.
[Ayirathil Oruvan, a re-release poster in Chennai-June 2007]
Her passport to success was her second Tamil film “Aayirathil Oruvan” (one man in a thousand) where she played leading lady to MGR. Despite the 32 year difference in age the duo was a hot pair. They acted together in 28 films.
Among her successes were “Adimai Penn”, Naan, Maatukkaara Velan”Aathiparasakthi” “pattikaadaa Pattanamaa”, Kavalkaran” Engiruntho vanthaal” etc. Her last filom was “Nathiyai Thedi Vantha kadal” in 1978.
Jayalalithaa has acted in more than a hundred films in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada , Hindi and even one English movie “The Epistle”. More than 70 of these ran for more than a hundred days in theatres.
[Amma edraal Anbu...written by Vaali]
She has also sung songs in her own voice in some if not all films. She has a creamy, croony voice. Her first film song was “amma Endraal Anbu” written by Vaali and composed by KV Mahadevan.
An accomplished dancer she lit up the screen and stage by her performances. Her dance drama “Kaviri Thantha Kalaichelvi” was a smashing success.
Though she played glamorous roles she was a good actress and made an impression if given challenging roles with scope to display histrionic ability.
“Thirumangalyam” was Jayalalithaa’s 100th film . There was a felicitation cremony where the chief minister of the time Muttuvel Karunanidhi was the guest of honour.He praised her as one who had “devised literature in acting” (nadippukku Ilakkiam vahuthavar)
She exuded chic and elan in her film career and was a favourite among teens of that era. Many of her costumes were designed by her.She was one of the first heroines to don bathing costumes. Jayalalithaa was a bombshell in bikini.
[L to R: Sivaji Ganesan, M. Karunanidhi, MG Ramachandran & Jayalalithaa]
Jayalalitha was versatile. She has been a columnist, short story writer, novelist and film producer.
Her house named “Veda Nilaayam” after her mother is in Poes Garden. There is an indoor skating rink built there.
She also has a grape arbour in Andhra Pradesh which she uses to get away from the madding crowd.
It was MGR who brought her into politics. After his death in 1987 the ADMK founded by MGR split with his wife Janaki and paramour Jayalalithaa leading the two factions.
Jayalalithaa triumphed and the party united under her leadership to sweep the polls in 1991. She was elected chief minister.She remains the imperious yet undisputed leader of the ADMK today.
Jayalalithaa became the ADMK’s propaganda and later administrative secretary. She was Rajya Sabha MP in 1984. In 1989 she entered Tamil Nadu legislature as an elected MLA. Jayalalithaa was chief minister from 1991 – 1996.
She was re-elected as CM in 2001 but had to relinquish office for a few years due to a legal wrangle. Jayalalithaa handed over reins to a caretaker CM but controlled events.She then won a by – election and became CM till 2006.
Few in her party dare to call her by name and so she is either “Amma” Or “Madam” or “Thalaivi” . Since MGR was called Puratchi Thalaiver or revolutionary leader, Jayalalithaa is addressed by its feminine equivalent “Puratchi Thalaivi”. Like MGR she too is called “Ithaya Deivam” (Goddess of the heart).
Many in her party treat her as a living Deity and at least one of her former ministers pats his cheeks reverentially when referring to her.
Some ministers have gone on record saying their ambition in life is to be her servant or a watchdog in her kennel
There was a time when in a movie called “Thanipiravi” MGR played Lord Muruga and Jayalalithaa his consort Valli in a dream sequence. A picture of both together as Murugan and Valli was framed and worshipped by many.
Likewise Jayalalithaa has played divine roles in many other films. Pictures of Jayalalithaa in such roles are hung in many dwellings. Some people light camphor and lay flowers before them.
Sycophancy went to the extent of depicting her as the Madonna in posters. Enraged Catholics protested and the posters were removed.
Falling at her feet or touching them as a mark of respect is almost a ritual for many of her followers. Touching or falling at the feet of elders to seek their blessings is customary in India.
But in the case of Jayalalithaa, ADMK sycophants have taken this practice to ridiculous levels. Even party veterans older than Jayalalithaa prostrate themselves publicly.
One amusing scene in the past was when Jayalalithaa visited a remote area by helicopter.Verty (dhoty) clad party men standing in a line fell down like ninepins as she alighted from the aircraft. When they got up the white verties were all red due to the reddish soil. It was a sight!
Once she was questioned by a north Indian journalist about this “falling at feet” practice and asked why she did not put a stop to it. She replied that her supporters were doing so voluntarily due to their affectionate regard for her and that she was unable to prevent it .
This was not correct because it is well – known that she likes it and encourages it.That’s why the sycophants do so. Jayalalithaa also utilises this act to humiliate people.
In one instance a man who had left her party and criticised her returned to its folds again. The media was called in to witness the return of the prodigal. This man KKSR Ramachandran was a big – made man with a very big moustache.
He was required to prostrate himself four times before a smilingly – seated Jayalalithaa under the pretext that the photographers had not got a good shot. The picture was released to all papers.
According to some observers even her mentor and paramour MGR had some kind of a foot fetish for Jayalalithaa.
In many of the films they acted together in , there were scenes of MGR touching Jayalalithaa’s feet like removing a thorn from her sole or massaging a sprained ankle.
Apparently the man who founded the ADMK had a fixation for her feet. Now members of MGR’s party are at Jayalalithaa’s feet metaphorically and literally.
[After presenting a bouquet to greet his leader, Jayalalithaa, on her victory, the outgoing Chief Minister, O. Paneerselvam, seeks her blessings at her Poes Garden residence, Feb 2002]
Like Imelda Marcos , Jayalalithaa herself had a fascination for footwear. There were media teports and pix of her 800 plus shoes, sandals and slippers.
A funny phenomenon are the sycophantic references to her feet by party men when commencing their speeches. In a disgusting spectacle they begin by paying homage to her “Potpaadangal” (golden feet) or “Thamaraithiruvadigal” (Lotus feet).
One point on which she is often criticised about is her arrogance. She is virtually a dominatrix with party people and treating them like her minions and serfs.
There was a time when Jayalalithaa would be the only person sitting on a stage while others would remain standing or seated on the floor. Later she dispensed with this practice but allows only selected people to sit next to her.
When a senior minister Munu Aathi dared to sit next at a function she flared up and publicly ordered him to move back.
On another occasion a Congress cabinet minister from Tamil Nadu tried to sit next to her on a flight to New Delhi. She shouted at him to get lost and referred derisively to his caste.
The man was a Dalit. There was a big outcry and a public apology was demanded. She did not budge.
At inner meetings of the party she remains seated while the rest sit on the floor or remain standing. There have been press conferences where her ministers stand behind her with folded hands while she sits on a sofa.
During election campaigns Jayalalithaa goes around on whirlwind tours in her luxurious trailer – van. Short roadside meetings are held where candidates have to stand on a stool while she talks. Even central cabinet ministers like Mani Shankar Aiyer had to undergo this.
There is no inner party democracy in the ADMK. Jayalalithaa appoints, removes, transfers, promotes, demotes, expels and recruits at her own discretion. Ministers were appointed, fired or shuffled according to her whims. Her wish was the party’s command. None dared to disobey let alone defy.
She is an autocrat who does not tolerate criticism. She looks down upon the media and brooks no dissent. Once she even took on the powerful “Hindu” ordering the arrest of several journalists including the executive editor Malini Parthasarathy. The influential newspaper group had to tug at strings in New Delhi to make her back down
I once witnessed first – hand the utter contempt she had for the media. It was in early 1985 and I was in Tamil Nadu on an assignment. Jayalalithaa was then a Rajya Sabha (upper house) member and propaganda secretary of the ADMK.
An Indian journalist pal took me along for a press conference held by her. Thank God! we were all given chairs to sit. She started off with a bang by asking the “Herald Review” correspondent to stand up. This was a news magazine of the “Deccan Herald” newspaper.
Once the journalist identified himself Jayalalithaa pitched into him.Apparently in an article the scribe had referred to Jayalalithaa as being “hysterical”. She took offence to that launched a tirade about the meaning of hysterical.
If anyone had doubts about hysterical, Jayalalithaa’s performance that day demonstrated what hysteria was all about.
She then ordered him to leave but to the credit of the fourth estate, they protested at the treatment meted out to their colleague. With Jayalalithaa remaining adamant the journos announced that they were walking out en masse. She then relented and conducted the conference with the correspondent in attendance.
This however was at a time when MGR was alive and Jayalalithaa had not become party leader or chief minister. I do not know how the journalists would have reacted to a similiar incident under present circumstances.
While her haughty demeanor and arrogant attitude deserves to be condemned there is perhaps a rationale for such behaviour. The ascendancy of Jayalalithaa in a Tamil Nady milieu can be viewed as an ironic contradiction.
Despite the breeze of cosmopolitanism blowing in through Globalization , the state of Tamil Nadu is basically conservative. It is a patriarchal , male – dominated society with strict notions of a woman’s role and place. Jayalalithaa is a woman.
Tamil Nadu society at large has contempt for women actors in the cine field who do not behave as “good” women should.Woman film stars in spite of their glamour are not respected and regarded with disdain in private. Jayalalithaa was an actress.
The dominant political ideology in the state is that of Dravidianism. This is based on archaic concepts of the Aryan – Dravidian divide where the Brahmin community is seen as Aryans and other Tamils as Dravidians.Anti – brahminism is a core element of Dravidian discourse. Jayalalithaa is a brahmin.
Thus one can see that the Jayalalithaa phenomenon goes against the grain of three dominant concepts in Tamil Nadu. She is a woman, a film star and a brahmin. The success of this embodiment in the socio – political realm of Tamil Nadu is a contradiction. Jayalalithaa in a way is an exception or aberration.
In that context the situation can be quite dicey for her. If she were to be democratic and easy – going the people surrounding her would exploit it to their advantage. Instead of appreciating her conduct they would very likely regard it as a weakness to take advantage.
An Indian editor once told me of an incident that happened in 1988. The ADMK had split after MGR’s death and both factions were trying to take control of the party headquarters building. When Jayalalithaa joined demonstrators party supporters mobbed her.
Sadly , she had to be rescued by the Police from her own supporters. Jayalalithaa used to wear pure white sarees with a thin border then. The Indian editor told me that her Saree and blouse were full of grubby finger marks. Apparently her supporters had used the opportunity to try and fondle her or squeeze her.
In later life she had her own set of bodyguards to prevent supporters from getting close to her. There was an urge on the part of some males not merely to simply touch her but also do something else if they could.
When she entered politics many party members were dazzled by her beauty and easy accessibility. They were extra – attentive to her and ever ready to make physical contact. A regional leader called “Pazhakkadai” Pandi went ballistic once on stage. He was reprimanded by MGR.
Thereafter the order went out from MGR that Jayalalithaa should be treated with reverence. This changed the situation. Soon party people showed great subservience to her. Slowly she was promoted as a superior, cult figure.
After MGR’s death Jayalalithaa was quite vulnerable. It was then that she realised she had to assert unquestionable superiority over her party people to remain in control. Superiority and not equality was necessary. The followers had to be put in place as inferiors.
This she began to do. Soon she became an authoritative figure. She grew into her role and her inherent traits of arrogance came to the fore.
She humiliated her followers to show who was boss and trampled them underfoot. Incredible as it may seem they seem to like it with even highly educated professionals paying pooja horizontally to the boss lady.
Her detractors and political rivals continue to attack her on what they think are her weak spots. She is called “anthap Pombiley” (that woman) or “Paapaathy” (Brahmin woman) often.
Once when she was in the opposition a DMK minister Duraimurugan tried to strip her in the Assembly.
When she raised a question the present chief minister Karunanidhi replied “Go and ask Sobhan Babu”. This was a Telugu film star with whom Jayalalithaa was involved romantically at one stage.
Even recently the DMK deputy – leader Anbalaghan retorted to a charge by her derisively asking her about her “past”
This state of affairs may help to understand the reasons for her arrogant conduct but it certainly cannot condone it
Moreover there is a vicious, vindictive streak to her that often manifests itself in controversial ways.
There was a woman administrative officer (IAS) Chandralekha with whom she had a diagreement. Soon acid was thrown u goondas on Chandralekha’s face.
As Chief Minister she abused her authority and incarcerated her rival Karunanidhi. The Police carried the howling man away.
When maverick politico Dr. Subramaniam Swamy fell foul of her Jayalalithaa organized a hostile reception for him in Chennai. Members of the ADMK woman league raised their sareees and in a protest demonstration.
“Subramanian Swamy has met his waterloo” gloated Jayalalithaa publicly. “I will send Jayalalithaa to the loo without water” reorted Swamy.
Due to a dispute with the Kachipuram Holy man Sri Jayendra Swamigal, Jayalalitha went to the extent of getting him arrested on what seemed to be false charges.
Jayalalithaa was corrupt to the core. Together with her “Life friend” (uyirtholi) Sasikala Nadarajah the duo engaged in massive corruption. Sasikala was like a woman Friday to her. Their corruption and amassed wealth has often been publicised in the media.
Jayalalithaa was arrested after her downfall in 1996 on corruption charges. Newspapers were full of stories about her assets and properties. Her corpulence was a sign of her ill – gotten opulence.
Jayalalithaa’s relationship with Saikala is a controversial issue for Tamil Nadu. They are seemingly inseparable. Sasikala who is caled “Sinnamma” by party people wields enormous influence.
Whatever her deficiencies Jayalalithaa remains a towering figure in Tamil Nadu politics.
Jayalalithaa’s arch rival Karunanidhi is an octogenarian. After his demise there will be no one to match Jayalalithaa in stature and popularity.
She will then be the solitary moon among lesser stars in the Tamil Nadu political firmament.