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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 111

Anuradhapura Tiger Attack and its Message to Lankans: Is there another Way?

Dr. Siri Gamage

Looking at the pictures of live and dead Tamil Tigers and Sinhala Soldiers or airmen one could only despair! In one posting in Tamil Net there is a photo of 21 Black Tigers -male and female- taken before they were sent off to attack Anuradhapura air base. In the middle is the LTTE supremo giving his blessings to the young team to go and destroy the air capability of the Sri Lankan air force. A day or so later one could see the pictures of dead Black Tigers and others in the Sri Lanka government defence web site. They are reproduced in Sri Lanka e-news web site.

In the photo with Prabhakaran, the youthful Black Tiger fighters are like any other: dark short hair, hands and legs reflective of growing years, fashionable uniform including the hats and boots, deep facial signals of a determined but reflective youth hood. In the photos of dead combatants, there are injuries inflicted on faces, hands and legs. In one case the head of one combatant is burnt. In another there is a big hole in the head. Weapons they carried are lying next to them.

What could have been the thought processes going through these young men's minds when they embarked on this daring attack? Sure they would have known their fate when they were planning the entry to a heavily guarded place like an air base in the Sinhalese heartland like Anuradhapura. Yet they were prepared to or compelled to sacrifice their lives in order to achieve a bigger gain for the Tamil Tiger cause. No doubt they achieved this goal by inflicting heavy damages on the air force machinery and personnel. Moreover, the attack can impact on the moral of the Sri Lankan armed forces one way or another.

In this context, the ardent supporters of the LTTE come out with sympathetic soundings for their side. Likewise, those supporting a military approach to the conflict in Sri Lanka come out supporting the government armed forces. Both these forces in Sri Lankan society push for more attacks and more devastation -human and material. If this approach is followed we could see more and more similar incidents in the coming months and years. We could see more and more devastations also. Does anyone care?

Inability or unwillingness of Sri Lanka's political leaders to find common ground in resolving the conflict has brought the country to this situation where more and more blood is shed in the name of victory. More and more young people are sacrificing their blood and lives on both sides because they have been trained to think about the Other as the enemy that is there to be destroyed. It is war - not peace that is dominating this thinking. War for peace, they sayŠ..!Courtesy Defense LKCourtesy Defense LK

Who is right and who is wrong in this game? Those supporting the government state that it is the LTTE, which is wrong. Those supporting the LTTE believe that it is the government, which is wrong. Could both be wrong? The truth lies somewhere in between. No body cares to explore this possibility except some intellectuals and commentators who got some wisdom and time in their hands to reflect upon a complex and old problem. The propaganda war also continues on both sides trying to show the world that only one side is right.

Could Sri Lankan youths -both Sinhalese and Tamil - in their prime years of life have a better option than taking up arms against the so-called enemy? Couldn't they aspire to a socially just society where their aspirations could be achieved without facing the humiliation of their race, class, gender or death? Why does it important to go for the flames know very well that the flames will burn them to death? Can they achieve their dreams by sacrificing the lives in the hope that one day their kith and kin will benefit from the sacrifices they make?

It is well known that prolonged war degenerates societies into decadent dark places. There are ample examples from places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if it is a winnable war that the government is fighting, and the war could be won in two to three years, how many more lives of the country's young people have to be sacrificed to do so? What guarantee is there that the war could be won? Sri Lankan political leaders in the past had the conviction perhaps based on their 'over confidence' derived from the briefings by the armed forces that the war with the Tamil Tigers could be won in a matter of months. I am aware that one former President believed so. But the day did not come. Instead the conflict continued with twists and turns.

If there is any hope of a peaceful solution to the bloody conflict in Sri Lanka, it can come only from the moderate fair thinking citizens, well wishers and those who value every human being for what he/she is irrespective of the caste, creed etc.of the person. Due to the long and protracted war in Sri Lanka, those who openly support humanism over extremism have dwindled. It is a sad consequence indeed.

It seems that the world is leaving the resolution of this ugly conflict in the hands of two protagonists by whatever means. Those who are brave for war have to be brave for peace also. The belief that the peace-lasting peace - can be achieved from the barrel of the gun is a very dangerous belief. I am aware that in the minds of many, many Sinhalese as well as many Tamils this war is a righteous one. But that doesn't lead us anywhere -except being pushed to contribute more and more to the war effort (and the restoration of arms, legs and the brains of combatants broken by the war). Sri Lanka has to get out of this vicious cycle. Merely because there is a fairly new brand of politicians in the country, it does not mean that they are able to steer the country from the big hole that previous generations of politicians have dug for the population merely by following the war path. Power of the pen has to be explored alongside the power of the gun. Perhaps the former can achieve results that the later cannot.

In the current situation, the Sinhalese politicians and commentators generally brand those who advocate peace as LTTE supporters. War for peace syndrome has gained upper hand in the public discourse, political speeches, and the media commentaries. Other approaches to peace are ignored or delegitimised as if they have no currency in the changed world. Being a country carrying four great religions and their followers, it is hard to imagine we have come to a desperate situation like this. In this desperation, the leaders in the country have thrown every other approach to peace away(except within the APC process?) and seemingly embraced the 'war for peace doctrine' even though they are shy to admit this openly. What this means is that the victory is to be achieved on the relative strength of the two war machines and the determination of those who are manning the machines. What is also remarkable is that while the combatants are sacrificing their lives, the leaders are enjoying the fruits of expanding global capitalism and consumerism in terms of wealth, power and status.

I am not an expert in military hardware and capabilities. However, I have read articles by military experts that indicate the relative strengths of the two sides. If we are to believe the media reports, the government's military strength is superior to that of the LTTE. In the recent past I have seen reports that emphasised the balance of military power between the two sides as well. In either case, is it possible that the government can win the war one day but lose the battle? Could the devastation -as depicted in the pictures mentioned above - take decades to remedy? Will it take long time to win the hearts and minds of the population affected by war? Is it not possible to create a space for negotiations and discussions to resolve the conflict so that the young people sacrificing their lives for a winnable/unwinnable war can think about an alternative? Is there an alternative?

From this afar, one can only ask these questions. The answers lie in the hands of the two protagonists and their supporters-local and international. But it is important to raise such questions in the aftermath of events like Anuradhapura attack -not because I believe that the protagonists will come to the table but because in a situation where there are no apparent answers to the issues facing Sri Lankans, at least someone cares to raise relevant questions. Those who support war must take a cold shower as they say and think whether there is another way for another day.

- Asian Tribune -

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