Corbyn and the Tamil Tigers
by Michael Patrick O'Leary
A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday September 1 2016.That article was written for a Sri Lankan audience which did not need to have the awfulness of the Tamil Tigers explained to them. This version for a foreign audience gives more illustrations of Tiger crimes. Presumably Corbyn is aware of those crimes, just as he must have been aware of the atrocities being perpetrated on children in his constituency.
Part of the dissatisfaction with Corbyn arises from his tendency to espouse causes which have little to do with the reality of practical politics in the UK itself in 2016. As recently as April 2016, Jeremy Corbyn said he fully supports Tamils in their struggle to achieve self-determination in Sri Lanka.
Corbyn Supports Freedom Fighters
To a certain western mind-set everything is black or white, minorities are always oppressed and discriminated against, governments must be bad, and rebels must be romantic freedom fighters. I recall that in the 1970s, my own trade union in the UK was contributing funds to the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the Tamil Tigers) because they were obviously “freedom fighters” defending the oppressed Tamil minority.
In 1983, Jeremy Corbyn became an MP. In Sri Lanka, 1983 is remembered with horror for the pogrom known as “Black July”. Thirteen soldiers were killed by the LTTE. Anti-Tamil riots ensued and lasted for ten days with property being destroyed and up to 3,000 people being killed and 200,000 displaced.
Action and Reaction
Over many years before 1983, there had been incidents where ill-disciplined police or military had carried out savage reprisals, rather in the manner of the Black and Tans in Ireland, on innocent Tamils after atrocities by the Tigers – action and reaction. July 1983 was a paradigm shift in terror.
These horrific events left an indelible mark on the Tamil psyche. Atrocities were perpetrated on innocent Tamils all over the country and many fled to the north for refuge. Those who could afford to fled abroad, from where they provided ongoing financial support for the LTTE.
Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan historian and anthropologist looked back on these events:” The militant movement for separation gathered thousands of new Tamil recruits and a rejuvenation of commitment among most SL Tamils, as well a wave of support in international quarters. Sri Lanka also received pariah status on the world stage.”
Many SL Tamils fled to Tamil Nadu, where those of a militant tendency were trained and armed by the Indian government. Many who might not want to engage in violence themselves fled to Canada, Australia and Europe. Many of them prospered and supported the armed struggle vicariously by providing funding. Many Tamils who remained in Sri Lanka were disillusioned at the futility of trying to defend their interests by peaceful means within the existing state apparatus.
The LTTE was guilty of many crimes over the thirty years of the conflict. They assassinated former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and Sri Lanka President Premadasa in 1993. An attempt on the life of President Kumaratunga in 1999 failed but she lost an eye. In that attempt, 23 civilians were killed.
In 1985, LTTE gunmen shot dead 146 Sinhalese civilians and injured 85 others as they were praying at a sacred Buddhist shrine in Anuradhapura. A further 18 people fleeing from that massacre were shot dead in Wilpattu forest. Later in the same year, in Dehiwatta village, 100 LTTE men hacked to death 15 women and children as they were sleeping.
In 1986, an LTTE bomb exploded aboard an Air Lanka flight carrying mainly French, British and Japanese tourists killing 21 (including 13 foreigners –2 British, 2 German, 3 French, 2 Japanese, 1 Maldivian and 1 Pakistani) and injuring 41.
Throughout 1988 and 1989, there seemed to be an LTTE massacre of innocent villagers every day. In June 1990, the LTTE marked the breakdown of ceasefire talks by overrunning police stations throughout the north east of Sri Lanka. The LTTE killed 600 police officers who had surrendered. On June 10, over 400 unarmed police officers were shot dead in police stations across eastern Sri Lanka.
On August 3, 1990, 30 Tigers attacked four mosques in the Kattankudy area, where 300 Muslims were prostrate in prayer. The Tigers sprayed automatic fire and hurled hand grenades at the worshipers. Most of the victims were shot in the back or side. Speaking to the New York Times, Mohammed Ibrahim, a 40-year-old businessman said, “I was kneeling down and praying when the rebels started shooting. The firing went on for 15 minutes. I escaped without being hit and found myself among bodies all over the place.” Mohammed Arif, a 17-year-old student who also survived the massacre said: “Before I escaped from a side door and scaled a wall, I saw a Tiger rebel put a gun into the mouth of a small Muslim boy and pull the trigger.” I do not want to post disturbing pictures of these atrocities but they are available on the internet. https://mbinm.wordpress.com/kattankudy-mosque-massacre/
Killings continued on a daily basis over the years. In 1994, presidential candidate and opposition leader Gamini Dissanayake (we know his son-in-law) was killed by an LTTE suicide bomber who exploded herself at a campaign rally in Colombo. Fifty others were killed in the blast and a further 75 were seriously injured.
The deadliest LTTE attack on a civilian target in the history of the group’s operations occurred in 1996. The Central Bank (located in the twin towers of the Colombo World Trade Centre) was bombed and 90 people were killed and 1,400 injured. In 1997, another bombing at the WTC killed 13 and injured hundreds.
In 1998, a Black Tiger squad drove an explosives-laden truck into the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, a major Buddhist shrine, killing seven and injuring 25. The attack took place just days before foreign dignitaries were expected to attend celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of Sri Lankan independence at the temple.
Later that year the LTTE shot down a plane with 55 passengers (including 48 Tamils) and crew while it was flying over LTTE held territory. Everyone onboard was killed.
In 1999, Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam, a Tamil, who was working on a constitutional package aimed at ending the decades-long conflict, was killed by an LTTE suicide bomber.
In May 2000, the LTTE celebrated the holiest day of the Buddhist calendar, Vesak Poya, by detonating a bomb hidden inside an ice-cream box on a bicycle killing 20 people and injuring 75.
In 2001, a 14-man suicide squad attacked an air force base and the adjoining international airport. They destroyed many aircraft, crippling the country’s economy and reducing tourism.
In 2006, the award-winning author Nihal de Silva and seven Sri Lankan tourists were killed by an LTTE land mine in Wilpattu National Park.
In the same year, The LTTE bombed a bus carrying 140 civilians in the north east. The blast killed 68 civilians including 15 school children, and injured 78 others. It was caused by two claymore mines placed side by side which sprayed the packed bus with millions of ball bearings upon manual detonation. Survivors, including school children, of the blast were shot as they ran away.
In the same year, several civilians were killed in an attempt on the life of defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. A suicide bomber in a truck killed 103 sailors on buses going or returning from leave at a transit point and wounded 150 other sailors. Two people passing the site were killed and 14 others wounded, mostly civilians.
There are many more instances of LTTE cadres hacking to death unsuspecting villagers at home or at prayer, or on buses or trains (often using multiple bombs in several carriages) on the way to work or school.
The LTTE proved efficient at destroying any other Tamil groups that threatened to undermine their dominance. Elements of the “international community” were able to build a false picture of the LTTE as romantic freedom fighters. That is far from reality. The LTTE had always employed forcible recruitment; every family had to sacrifice a child to the cause of Eelam. This gained pace as defeat loomed in 2009 when Corbyn was trying to save the LTTE. Children under twelve were recruited. Civilians who resisted were executed.
As far back as 1998, Jeremy Corbyn was offering support to these butchers. At a pro-LTTE rally in London on February 1, 1998, Corbyn was one of the keynote speakers from the British Parliament and delivered a strong condemnation of the Sri Lankan government. The rally was led by a life-sized poster of the LTTE leader Prabhakaran and was followed by LTTE flags and people shouting pro-LTTE slogans.
In 2001, Corbyn was one of only 17 MPs who voted against banning Al Qaeda from Britain just six months before 9/11. Corbyn, then a backbencher, voted against banning 21 militant groups from entering Britain. The Tamil Tigers were on the list as well as Hamas and Hezbollah.
In 2005 Jeremy Corbyn helped create a petition aimed at lifting the proscription of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. “The Sri Lanka government is carrying out an undeclared war against the Tamil people who have been struggling for more than two decades for the legitimate right to self-rule.” Corbyn was guilty of a conflation here that was also indulged by the BBC, the Independent, the Irish Times, the New Statesman and Le monde diplomatique. The Sri Lankan government was not fighting “the Tamils” it was fighting a brutal terrorist organisation that was oppressing Tamils.
In 2002, I came to live in Sri Lanka. We had decided it was safe because a cease-fire was in operation. As today, there was a prime minister from the United National Party and an executive president from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. The prime minister then was Ranil Wickremesinghe and the president was Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Today Ranil Wickremesinghe is once again prime minister. The peace in 2002 was an uneasy one – there were checkpoints, soldiers and armed police everywhere. Norway was invited to help with the peace process.
Corbyn explained himself thus: “Twenty-one organisations are due to be banned from operating in this country, causing a great deal of disquiet in the Islamic, Turkish and Tamil communities. That is not because people support terrorism, but because they want to encourage a peace process. They recognise that some of the organisations are currently engaged in ceasefires in their own countries, and are actively engaged in the search for long-lasting peace that will bring about the resolution to conflict.”
The LTTE constantly broke the cease fire. They used the “peace process” to regroup and re-arm. Sections of the Tamil community abroad funded the terrorism.
Martin McGuinness made a less than helpful intervention in Sri Lankan affairs when he came here in 2006 and talked with LTTE leaders. McGuinness told Sri Lanka: “The reality is that, just as in Ireland, there can be no military victory and that the only alternative to endless conflict is dialogue, negotiations and accommodation”. Despite the efforts of Corbyn and McGuinness and other members of the international community there was a resounding military victory. Peace still prevails. There has not been a single terrorist incident since May 2009.
To cut a convoluted story short, peace was achieved in Northern Ireland because of exhaustion on all sides and through a process of constructive ambiguity, which allowed all actors to say they had not surrendered. Talks resumed in 1993, after Bill Clinton listened to Sinn Féin. On April 10, 1998, the British and Irish governments formulated the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement.
Prabhakaran never had any intention of compromising. The LTTE fought for 30 years for a separate Tamil nation. A separate state was Prabhakaran’s bottom line which Corbyn still supports today. In May 2011, Jeremy Corbyn addressed a rally that also featured Tamil Diaspora organisations. Also present were Father SJ Emmanuel of the Global Tamil Forum, Ravi Kumar of the British Tamils Forum, Bairavi Ratnabal of the Tamil Youth Organisation and Jan Jananayagam of Tamils Against Genocide. The rally featured swathes of LTTE flags and condemned the Sri Lanka government. Corbyn’s current enemy, John Mann MP, also attended the rally.
There were accusations of war crimes against the Sri Lankan Army.The army claimed that civilian casualties occurred because the LTTE were using them as human shields.
Lobbyists for and against Sri Lanka
It is interesting to read the Hansard record of a debate in the House of Commons on 8 Jan 2013. All the usual anti-Sri Lankan suspects were there – Siobhain McDonagh, Paul Burstow, Barry Gardiner, Gareth Thomas, Lee Scott and Robert Halfon.
However, there were some interventions more supportive of Sri Lanka. Aidan Burley questioned McDonagh’s knowledge: “… when did she last visit Sri Lanka and see for herself—at first hand—some of the things that she is alleging are happening there?” She had to admit that she had never been to Sri Lanka: “Just as I have not been to Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and—it has to be said—most countries in the world”.
Ian Paisley Jr told the House: “I have visited Sri Lanka on a number of occasions, both as a private individual and with constituents who had business there, as well as on a cross-party parliamentary trip. My experience was very different from what I have heard from propagandists not in Sri Lanka”. Paisley continued: “I have met both Tamil and Sinhalese families, and their united wish was to present a picture of hope for their country, not a picture of division. It was a community that wanted to move forward.” Paisley described how his Sinhalese and Tamil guides embraced each other and spoke about how they were now new brothers in a new land. “In many aspects, Sri Lanka has made more measurable gains post-conflict than Northern Ireland.”
Adrian Burley had, unlike McDonagh and Scott, actually visited Sri Lanka: “British politicians should understand Sri Lanka’s reconciliation and help it to demine, so that communities can move back to their own lands. I saw that happening with my own eyes; I saw the minefields being cleared through the HALO Trust, and I saw houses being rebuilt and crops being grown on the old minefields.”
James Wharton agreed with Paisley that people he had met in Sri Lanka did not want to talk about the horrors of the past but were more interested in securing their future. “The tone of debate in the House too often worries me, because we focus on what we can do to punish the Government of Sri Lanka…Such things will not damage the Government of Sri Lanka; they will damage progress towards peace and the prosperity of the people who live in Sri Lanka. The tone of the debate here needs to change. We need to work constructively with the Government of Sri Lanka to put pressure where it is due and, where we can, to deliver improvement.”
Corbyn was not interested in the future. He has never been to Sri Lanka and preferred to reminisce about demonstrations he had taken part in thirty years previously. Burley chastised Corbyn and McDonagh and urged them to talk to people living in Sri Lanka rather than their own constituents: “I found a country at peace with itself. That is what we should be debating and supporting: helping Sri Lanka to build a better future for itself, rather than letting extremists in the UK divide it.”
This wedding took place at Kilinochchi on January 27, 2012, The groom was EMD Sandaruwan, a former member of the Gajaba Regiment of the Sri Lankan Army. He had participated in the defeat of the LTTE .The bride was, Chandrasekaran Sharmila, an ex-LTTE child soldier, who had since been a participant in a government rehabilitation programme. There are many such stories to tell. It is not easy to get the western media to listen to them.
Stressing that human rights abuses have not been fully addressed in Sri Lanka despite regime change, Corbyn announced as recently as April 2016: “We as a party, are very committed to the issues of human rights and justice. We are very committed to the rights of peoples, the Tamil people in this case to achieve their self-expression and their self-determination.”
Jeremy Corbyn is proud to have participated in the London rallies in May 2009, demanding that the international community intervene to end the war. “I remember to this date and I am still angry about the utter silence of the majority of the British and world’s media to the demonstration as well as the cause and the issue.”
Child Brothels in Corbyn’s Constituency
Corbyn did not feel interested enough to take action when he was told that children were being cruelly sexually abused in his own constituency of Islington North. In fact, he made a complaint to the Speaker in 1986 when another MP tried to draw attention to the abuse. In his Spartist agit-prop fantasy world, it seemed more important to him to interfere in the way sovereign state thousands of miles away was dealing (successfully) with its domestic terrorist problem. Unlike the UK Labour government, Sri Lanka did not invade other countries.