China on India’s Neighbour Sri Lanka # 1

LOUREMBAM ORENKUMAR
China and Sri Lanka started their diplomatic relations from February 7, 1957. Sri Lanka was among the first countries that recognise the People’s Republic of China, since then the two countries have regularly exchanged high level visits resulting in a variety of agreements. In 1973, China presented the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall to Sri Lanka in honour of Prime Minister SWARD Bandaranaike. A Civil War was fought in the island nation for 26 years, from 1983 to 2009. The origin of the war lay in the continuous political conflict between the majority Sinhalese population and minority Tamils. Before the European Colonial Rules, Sri Lanka was under the rule of three separate kingdoms. During Portuguese and Dutch colonial rules the three sovereign states were kept as separate entities. The last British colonial ruler amalgamated the entire island into a single administrative unit in 1815 and instituted a Legislative Council in 1833 consisting three European officers and one representative elected from each Sinhalese, Tamil and Burgher. After independence in 1948, the minority Tamils who had warring before the colonial periods were left to the mercy of the majority Sinhalese. The dispute between the Sinhale and Tamils was over the question of representation and not the structure of the government. Issue of power sharing was created between the inter-ethnic rivalries, later gained momentum ever since (Gunasingam, Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism, p. 76). Sometimes there was little tension and disappointment in representation to the National Council. The Sri Lankan Civil War was the outcome of modern ethnic identity made by the British Rulers and resulted political struggle between the Tamils and Sinhalese dominant government with rhetorical wars over archaeological sites and entomologies of place name and political use of national past. The large scale advent of Christianity from 1814 and American Missionaries built schools, temples, societies etc. made the Tamils confident of themselves as a community and self-consciousness in the mid -19th century (Gunasingam, Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism, p. 108 & 201). In 1958 Colombo riots over political crisis many Tamils were killed and thousands were forced to flee their homes. State sponsored colonisation scheme that effect changing demographic balance in the Eastern Province in favour of majority Sinhalese that the Tamils considered to be their traditional homeland was the most immediate cause of inter-communal violence. Import of Tamil language films, books, magazines, journals etc. from Indian State Tamilnadu was banned in Sri Lanka during 1970s with the banning of Tamil Political and Tamil Youth League affiliated by the local Sri Lankan groups. Foreign exchange for long established practice of Tamil students going to India for University Examinations were stopped, Examinations for external degrees from the University of London were abolished. This made cultural cutting off the links between Tamil Sri Lankans and Indian Tamils. But the government insisted the measure as a part of general programme of Economic self-sufficiency of its socialist agenda but not targeted the Tamils. In 1973, Sri Lankan Tamil National Federal Party decided to demand for a separate State and merged with other Tamil Political parties for the national cause to form the Tamil United Liberation Front in 1975. The most important contribution to the militant group was the Black July programme, a perceived organised evenly in which over 1000 Sri Lankans were killed, promoting many youths to prefer the armed path of resistance (Tamil Militant Groups, Russell R. Rios, 2008). On 24th July 1983, anti–Tamil riot started in the capital city of Colombo and spread to other parts of the country, over seven days; Sinhalese mobs attacked, burned, looted and killed Tamil targets. The militant groups not only fought the Sri Lankan security forces but also the Indian Peace Keeping Force till 1989. They also fought amongst each other; the main group was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).
India deployed Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka following the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of 1987, intended to end the Sri Lankan Civil War. The intention of IPKF was not to involve in large scale military operations. Later, the Indian Peace Keepers were engaged in numerous battles against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE). The operation lasted from 29th July 1987 to 24th March 1990. India completely withdraws its IPKF from Sri Lanka in 1990 but the war continues. India lost 1,138 of its army with 2762 causalities in Sri Lankan Mission. The Indian intervention in Sri Lankan Civil war was inevitable as that the war threatened India’s unity, national interest and territorial integrity (Laskar, Rejaul, 2014, Rajiv Gandhi’s Diplomacy: Historic significance and Contemporary Relevance.) The situation came on the one hand external powers could take advantage of the situation to establish their bases in Sri Lanka and posing a threat to India. On the other LTTE’s dream of a sovereign country or Tamil Elam comprising all the Tamil inhabited areas of Sri Lanka and India poses a threat to India’s territorial integrity. LTTE and other Tamil militant groups developed strong relationships with political parties in South India. The Indian Tamils firmly backed the militants’ cause of creating a separate Tamil Elam within Sri Lanka.
When J R Jayewardene became Prime Minister Sri Lanka, became pro-western and introduced a new constitution and Open Economy to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka became the first South Asian Country to adopt Liberal Open Economy (Sri Lanka - an overview. Fulbright commission retrieved 25-07-2011). He did not have much relationship with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. After the outbreak of Black July Ethnic Riots, the Indian Government decided to support the Tamil Insurgent Groups in Northern Sri Lanka. RAW began funding, arming and training several Tamil Insurgent Groups from mid-1983 (David Brewster. India’s Ocean; the story of India’s Bid for Regional Leadership, Retrieved 13/8/2014). India became more actively involved, on July 5, 1987. The Indian Air force airdropped food parcels to Jaffna while it was under siege by Sri Lankan forces. At a time when the Sri Lankan army nearly defeating the LTTE, India dropped 25 tons of food and medicine into the areas held by LTTE in a direct move of support towards the rebels. But the Sri Lankan government say that not only food and medicine, India dropped weapons. Negotiations were held and the Indo Sri Lankan Peace accord was signed between the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President Jayewardene on July 29, 1987. A number of concessions were given to Tamil demands and India agreed to establish order in the North and East Sri Lanka and send Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka, cease assistance to Tamil insurgents. Finally the insurgent groups including the LTTE agreed to surrender their arms to IPKF, which oversaw a cease fire and a modest disarmament of all militant groups. Jayewardene declared that he would fight the Indian Army to the last bullet which led to unrest in south. When the accord was signed the IPKF enabled the Sri Lankan Government to shift its forces to the south in Indian aircraft to quell the protests. Even many militant groups agreed to laid their arms and seek a peaceful solution; LTTE refused to disarm and demanded the success of the accord. Then, IPKF tried to demobilise the LTTE by force and ended up in full scale war with the LTTE in three years. In Jaffna IPKF made a brutal fight for three weeks to disarm the LTTE which the Sri Lankan army had failed to take over the area for several years. IPKF used tanks, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery in their Operation Pawan.


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