January 5, 2020

Extracts from Tamil Tigers’ Debt to America

Daya Gamage worked at the American Embassy in Colombo, as the Sole Foreign Service National and as a Political Specialist with Dr  Robert Boggs, who in recent times served as Professor of South Asian Studies at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at US National Defense University, from 1989 to 1993. Dr Boggs was the Foreign Service Political Counselor while Daya Gamage was a Foreign Service National Political Specialist. Both of them were the Colombo diplomatic mission’s key persons who closely monitored the Southern (JVP-88-89) insurrection and the North’s LTTE separatist-terrorist movement for the U.S. State Department. Daya Gamage retired in 1994 and has been living in Las Vegas since retirement. Sharing his knowledge, understanding and his intimate professional association with the US Department of State, he has come out in the form of a book ‘Tamil Tigers’ Debt to America’. He assures that facts found in his book cannot be found anywhere else! Daya Gamage authorised the writer to “ to quote anything from his book”, so that that the readers will get a clear picture of  America’s foreign policy,  Sri Lanka’s national issues and the LTTE struggle in depth. His book is available at Amazon

E. Ashley Wills was the American Ambassador in Sri Lanka from 2000 through to 2003. In her capacity as the Ambassador, she took an active role with the Norwegian diplomats to persuade the LTTE to enter into a cease-fire agreement (CFA) with the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) in February 2002 initiated by (then) Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with the tacit approval of President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Long after her tenure, Ashley Wills, on 18th December 2008, said the following in an interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy.

Ashley Wills version

“ While we would continue to condemn the LTTE, which had been put on our terrorism list a couple of years earlier, we would show a lot of sympathy for the Tamil people, who were suffering and who had been discriminated against for decades, but also show support for the Sri Lanka government to the extent it was trying to do the right thing. I was helped by a couple of things.

Norwegians had an excellent Ambassador who is now the Norwegian Ambassador to India. I really hit off well and reached an agreement formally that I would take a more outspoken public position on the war and he would offer Norway’s good offices to bring about a cease-fire with an understanding that we were backing him up silently. We spent about a year and I made a lot of speeches. I mean, an American Ambassador in a country like that can make himself into a rock start pretty quickly.

There is no question that since just a few years after Sri Lanka’s  Independence, since the early 1950s say, successive governments of Sri Lanka until the 1980s enacted laws that discriminated against Tamils. The Sinhala people who form the majority of the country and whose interests were favoured by these discriminatory laws would be quick to tell you that the reason for this is because during the British colonialism would come and pick out a favoured minority to help them administer a colony This is so true of the British around the world. 

In the case of Sri Lanka, the Tamils were the minority that the British chose. So,  the Tamils were very over-represented during the colonial period in the Professions, in the Civil Service and Business. The majority of Sinhalese in the country found their language repressed and their culture. So, they would say, all of these laws since Independence were putting things right, after so many years of their facing discrimination.

Of course, our  (American) view was that you don’t make it right in a manner of passing mean- spirited laws; you are on this island together. This is the point I have tried to make to the Tamils when I would try to speak privately or in public. Not only there is no Tamil Eelam in this country but there is no part of this country that should be reserved for any ethnic group. The whole island is a mix. There are more ethnic groups, not just those two groups. There is a big Muslim population for example and smaller populations of other ethnic groups. So, to divide up  a small country ethnically is as mistaken as dividing  it along other grounds

Legalising the LTTE

In an exclusive interview given to Daya Gamage on October  8, 2005, on behalf of the online newspaper Asian Tribune, the former  Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Teresita Schaffer, during 1992 and 1995, advocated that the LTTE should be made a legal entity to make it an equal partner with the Sri Lanka government to facilitate the reopening of the stalled peace talks to bring a viable solution to the Sri Lankan crisis. 

As a career diplomat, Ms Schaffer served in Washington from 1989 to 1992,  as Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia in the State Department and US envoy to Colombo from 1992 to 1995. She was also the Director of the South Asia Program at Washington’s Think Centre for Strategic and International Studies, after her retirement in the late 1990s. She was the last Chief of the Colombo American embassy with whom Daya Gamage served as the US diplomatic mission’s political specialist. 

Despite the LTTE’s refusal during that period to accept the call of the International community to abandon its terrorist agenda and to transform itself into a democratic movement. Ambassador Schaffer indicated at this interview with Daya Gamage that contacts with rebel group beyond the desk-officer level at the State Department may help facilitate to a final solution. Her counsel was greatly valued by Senior  US department officials on volatile issues in South Asia and whose research on South Asia had undoubtedly helped the department official to get an in-depth analysis of the region’s trends and developments.

Schaffer pointed out that the Government of Sri Lanka had been engaged in talks with the LTTE because they recognised that this was the only organisation that could prevent any solution from happening. The US Government did not want to make a terrorist organisation respectable, because a terrorist organisation should change, if it wanted the world to take it seriously, said the former US ambassador to Sri Lanka. Following are some of the selected dialogue excerpts of the interview Ambassador Teresita Schaffer had with Daya Gamage.

“Asian Tribune: Don’t you think that the LTTE terrorism and the Tamil national issue should be separated to take as two separate issues to have two separate approaches to attain two separate solutions?

Ambassador Teresita Schaffer: I think in effect, it has been separated by the Govt. of Sri Lanka and has been separated by most of Sri Lanka’s friends, including the United States. On the one hand, the GSL has conducted talks with the LTTE and tries to get back to the negotiations or talks. On the other hand, the GSL condemns the LTTE acts of terrorism. As part of the process of getting into talks, the GSL(Govt. of Sri Lanka)  has to endorse the LTTE, in other words, they must make the LTTE a legal organisation.

Most of the Sri Lankan friends have not taken that step, but the USG, on the one hand, encourages the GSL to continue talks with the LTTE in that connection. Technically, I think the USG ( United States Government) can still say it doesn’t maintain contact, in fact, the lawyer in New York, who does most of the LTTE  business here, someone who has been received by the State Department at very low levels by the Desk Officer (Sri Lanka).  You know very well the working of the USG to  understand that.”

Asian Tribune: The US has been encouraging and pushing the GSL to have negotiations with the LTTE. Doesn’t that (a) give legitimacy to the LTTE, and (b) give recognition to the  LTTE as “the sole representative of the Tamil people”?

Ambassador T. Schaffer:  The GSL has tried to engage with the LTTE because it recognised that this is the one organisation that could prevent a settlement from happening. The GSL preferred to work without them or defeat them; the GSL would have preferred to marginalise the LTTE. They did not succeed in doing so.

The GSL’s only recourse was to deal with the LTTE. They did try to do that in such a way that will void making them completely respectable until such time an agreement is reached. This has been a problem because the LTTE has been very insistent that on the basis of its participation in the peace talks that they should be considered an equal partner with the GSL. Africa or Ireland, one could see an insurgent group that represents the talks, except to be treated as fully negotiating equals. They are not very sensitive about that issue.

President Kumaratunga’s peace talk

Let’s go back to the early days of President Kumaratunga’s peace talk in 1994. They first had four talks, four negotiators went up to Jaffna; the LTTE made a terrible mistake in allowing a group of photographers to take a picture against that background. It became terribly controversial in rest of Sri Lanka; the Government was accused of completely giving up Sri Lankan position.  At that time ‘I’ (T.S) had more sympathy with the Government because they had more experienced negotiators to get around with the problem. What the Government was trying to do was to allow the LTTE to be equal in the negotiating rounds so that the negotiations could move forward. That was the correct thing to do.

When you come to the USG, you were right in the light of terrorism, police in the USA the LTTE is designated as a “ Foreign Terrorist Organisation.” The USG does not want to make a terrorist organisation respectable. On the other hand, it is hard to see how you could continue with a terrorist organisation unless that organisation wanted the world to take it seriously, and the USG position is that unless you change your behaviour, we (Americans) are not going to take you off the terrorist list”.

Picture credit: Daya Gamage, Asian Tribune


Courtesy: Daya Gamage – “Tamil Tigers’ Debt to America.”

To be continued:  Sole Representative of the Tamils.

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