US Policy on Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Warfare

January 20, 2020

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 Centre for Strategic Studies at US National Defence University, from 1989 to 1993. Dr Boggs was the Foreign Service Political Counsellor while Daya Gamage was the 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 have 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 the readers will get a clear picture of  America’s foreign policy,  Sri Lanka’s national issues and the LTTE struggle in in-depth. His book is available at Amazon

Extracts from ‘Tamil Tigers’ Debt to America’

In the late 20th Century, US attention focused on Sri Lanka, mainly on efforts to resolve the country’s ethnonational conflict, which centred on an armed struggle between the majority Buddhist Sinhalese and a Hindu Tamil minority clustered in Sri Lanka’s North and East.

Upon Colombo’s abrogation of the CFA, the co-chairs responded by expressing strong concerns and reiterating their consensus view that Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict cannot be settled through military means and requires a negotiated settlement.

Combination of communal politics ( as practised by both Sinhalese and Tamil political leaders) and deteriorating economic conditions created deep schisms in Sri Lankan society through the early decades of independence. By the 1970s, the Sri Lankan Government faced the Tamil unrest in the North and East, while the Sinhalese Marxist JVP waged a terrorist campaign. Although the Norwegian Government insisted that its efforts to end the civil war had not failed, and the British Government offered to play a greater role in the peace process, including their willingness to talk directly with the terrorist-designated LTTE, there developed a growing consensus among the independent observers that full-scale civil war had returned to the Island by 2007.

President criticised

President Mahinda  Rajapaksa has been faulted by many for his apparent belief that the LTTE was the chief source of the country’s ethnic strife and their military defeat would open the space in which effectively to address Tamil grievances. Rather, many analysts contended that the Tigers were only one manifest aspect of a greater ethnic problem….

Despite the existence or a considerable obstacle, not the least being renewed civil war, current statistics showed Lankas’s economy to be performing relatively well… Human rights abuses in Sri Lanka largely had been associated with ethnic conflict and civil war; these have increased in both number and severity since mid-2006…

The above selections are from the forty-page research analysis about the situation in Sri Lanka by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The CRS  issued this report on Sri Lanka- Background and US Relations, on 22 January  2008, by its South Asian Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Defence Division (https://file.wikleaks.org/file/crs/RL31707.pdf). The report gave the background to the emergence of Sri Lanka’s 2007 situation, Tamil Terrorism, the ethnic strife of the past, and human- rights issues.

CRS Report

But the underpinning of the entire forty-page Congressional Report emphasised that this South Asian nation was engulfed in an ethnic war, that there was a civil war between the majority Sinhalese Buddhists and minority Hindu Tamils, and that the “ Sinhalese dominated” Sri Lankan Government continues with its Sinhala Supremacy policies, thus moving the readers’ attention away from the military battle against the separatist/terrorist Tamil Tigers (LTTE).  

To whom do these CRS research-and-analyses documents on Sri Lanka cater?  Secretary of State John Kerry, who was on the Senate foreign-relations committee for more than two decades, was undoubtedly influenced by the CRS documents. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is the public policy research arm of the US Congress. CRS works exclusively and directly for members of Congress, their committees, and staff on a confidential, nonpartisan basis.

CRS‏’s analytic capabilities integrate multiple disciplines and research methodologies. In a fast-paced, ever-changing environment, CRS provides Congress with vital, analytical support it needs to address the most complex public policy issues facing the United States. Its work incorporates programme and legislative expertise, quantitative methodologies, and legal and economic analysis. CRS is expected to approach complex topics from a variety of perspective and examine all sides of an issue. The staff members analyse current policies and present the impact of proposed policy alternatives, even if means bringing to light facts that may be contrary to established assumptions.

US Congress relies on CRS

The US Congress relies on CRS to marshal inter-disciplinary recourses, encourage critical thinking, and create innovative frameworks to help legislators from sound policies and research decisions on a host of difficult issues. These decisions will guide and shape the policies of the United States. Members of the US Congress strongly believe that the CRS maintains an outstanding reputation for objective and non-partisan analysis. The further notes that the CRS experts are vigilant in evaluating issues without bias and that a multi-layered review process and help to ensure that CRS products present issues and analysis in a fair manner, considered, and reliable. Despite the US State Department has its own reporting sources, the Diplomatic Missions in every host country being the primary source, it depends heavily on the research and analytical work of the CRS to formulate its own policy approach to any given issue. The forty-page research report on Sri Lanka was intended for the Senate and House Foreign -Relations Committees, some of whom have been very critical of Sri Lanka‏’s Rajapaksa Administration during 2005-2015 since it launched the military offensive against the LTTE in 2006.

John Kerry, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign-Relations Committee, and his staff scrutinised the CRS documents for his understanding and policy derivatives. Two prominent members of Congress, notable Sri Lanka critics of the Congressional Caucus on Sri Lanka, Frank Pallone and Jerry Weller, who jointly submitted a resolution to the US House of Representatives on  25 June 2007, too, relying on CRS documents.

While recognising the terrorist campaign unleashed by the Tamil Tigers and United States‏’ longstanding relations with this South Asian nation, the main foundation of the resolution was Sri Lanka‏’s involvement in an ethnic war, a reference to a battle between the Sinhala Buddhists and Hindu Tamils. The sentiments were aptly reflected in the decision and actions of the State Department in later years since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009.

Tiger Leader Prabhakaran

Both the CRS Research Report on Sri Lanka and the Pallone/Weller Resolution have projected that Sri Lanka was engulfed in a civil war between the majority  Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, on whose behalf the LTTE was fighting for a separate homeland in the North and East. This was settled in the minds of American officials when John Kerry made his remarks in February 2015.

State Department South and  Central  Asian Affairs Assistant Secretary, Richard Boucher in Colombo said that the minority Tamils have a legitimate right for a homeland. Such sentiments were entertained by the legislative branch, and the foreign policy and public diplomacy arm of the American administration. There was one important source of information to both the Administration and the Legislature:  America’s Diplomatic post in Sri Lanka.

In the latter part of the 1980s and early 1990s, a period of about ten years, when there was  intense fighting, Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) in Colombo’s American Embassy strongly believed, as Daya Gamage had noted earlier, that the Sinhala Army was annihilating the minority Tamils, ” who were fighting for their legitimate  rights.”  FSOs entertained this sentiment while denouncing the LTTE terrorism.

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

Pic.Credit: Google Photos and Wikipedia

To be continued:  ” Tamil Tiger Terrorism was never a part of the US Global War on Terror”

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