Why is there a War in Sri Lanka?

I am often asked what are the origins of the War in Sri Lanka. Here is a brief outline:

First, I must explain that this is not a war between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, contrary to what many believe. For example, there are many Tamil tea pickers living in central Sri Lanka. They are not involved in the war. The Tamil Muslims are also not involved.

Sri Lanka was once a peaceful country. The movie "Bridge on the River Kwai", widely regarded as the greatest movie ever made, was filmed entirely in Sri Lanka. If you rent a video and look at the movie, you will learn and understand a lot about Sri Lanka. For example, in the scenes where William Holden is tromping through the impenetrable jungle with a train of women following him carrying loads of explosives destined to blow up the bridge, those women are all Sri Lankan ladies and perhaps some of them might even be back to work carrying similar loads of explosives to blow up bridges in this war now.
A Rare Photo of Velupillai Prabhakaran

The movie "Bridge on the River Kwai" could never have been made during the current level of fighting and killing in Sri Lanka. That movie was made before the war started.

The war started in 1983, when the widow of Solomon Bandaranaike was in power. Her husband, Solomon Bandaranaike, was assassinated in 1959, as almost every other Prime Minister since then has been, and he was succeeded by his widow, aptly named Mrs. Bandaranaike. Her policy was that Sri Lanka was the national home of the Sinhalese people, that the national religion of Sri Lanka was Buddhism, and that therefore all the Tamils should go back to India. This was obviously an inflammatory policy, because there are over a million Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka and they were born there, although their ancestors may have come over from India as recently as 100 or 200 years ago. (When they actually came is one of the major items in this dispute.)

The Bandaranaike policy was to crack down on the Tamil "foreigners", even denying them the right to use the Tamil language, the right to vote, the right to a public education and so on. The rebellion started because of her toughened the policies against the Tamil minority, and escalated until she was finally voted out of office. By that time, the war was underway full blast.

The leader of the most effective group of Tamils was and still is Velupillai Prabhakaran. He is the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. He was trained by Moscow in terrorism, weapons and explosives. I know a former classmate of his, a fellow chess player, who says that Prabhakaran is extremely intelligent, with a high IQ.
A Crowd in Kandy charges Police

When Rajiv Gandhi came to power in India in 1984, he summoned Prabhakaran to the Presidential Palace in New Delhi (which is about five times bigger than the US White House for those who have never seen it.) Rajiv Gandhi started supplying Prabhakaran with arms and ammunition to fight his war against the Sinhalese majority.

However, Rajiv had a different agenda than that of Prabhakaran. Prabhakaran wanted to set up an independent Tamil state in Jaffna, Northern Sri Lanka. Rajiv, however, like many Indians, felt that Sri Lanka should be part of India. Rajiv wanted to annex Sri Lanka, along with Nepal and Bhutan, just as his mother had previously annexed Sikkim and Goa.

When it became apparent that Rajiv was shipping arms and ammunition to Prabhakaran, the Sri Lankan navy tried to blockade the narrow Palk strait which separates Sri Lanka from India. However, Rajiv Gandhi was always able to get his arms across to Prabhakaran in small boats, which were able to evade the blockade. Whenever Prabhakaran wanted to see Rajiv, the Indian Air Force would come pick up Prabhakaran from his jungle stronghold near Jaffna and take him to New Delhi to see Rajiv.

In 1987, Sri Lankan President J. R. Jayewardene came up with a brilliant solution to this incredible problem (at least I thought it was brilliant, even though almost nobody in Sri Lanka thought it was.) Jayewardene had two enemies (not counting the JVP in the South who were eventually exterminated): Rajiv and Prabhakaran. Why not get them to fight against each other!

Therefore, Jayewardene made a deal with Rajiv. He would allow the Indian Army to come into Sri Lanka, provided that the Indian Army fought against Prabhakaran. Rajiv got what he actually wanted, which was the military occupation of Sri Lanka. Jayewardene hoped that Rajiv Gandhi would be successful in killing Prabhakaran.

Unfortunately, this deal did not set well with the people of Sri Lanka. There is one thing they will all fight against to the last man and woman, and that is an annexation by India. There would have been massive rioting in the streets, except that a total 100% curfew was imposed on the country.

This is where Sam Sloan came in.

On the fateful day, which was July 29, 1987, I was walking down the street in Kandy on a perfectly normal day, when suddenly crowds started surging out of Kandy. Baton wielding police were ordering everybody to return to their homes. Nobody knew the reason.

A few hours later, we learned the reason. Rajiv Gandhi was coming to Sri Lanka that day.

How was this possible, when every man, woman and child that I knew of wanted to kill Rajiv Gandhi?

The answer was that the entire country was locked in their houses. Anybody who came out of their house was shot on the spot. One elderly man who woke up late and wandered out his front door was shot and killed in Katugastoda. Another man was killed in Kurunegela.

But I walked around in the streets freely because I was a white man. I must have walked 20 miles that day.

When Rajiv arrived at the airport in Sri Lanka, there was the traditional honor guard to greet him. However, there was a catch. The soldiers in the honor guard had no bullets in their weapons. They had nothing to kill Rajiv Gandhi with.

Still, one brave soldier made a heroic effort to do so. As Rajiv walked up and down, approvingly inspecting the honor guard, one member of the honor guard, who had his rifle on this soldier, suddenly swung it over and hit Rajiv Gandhi with it.

The soldier was quickly subdued and taken to prison. Rajiv Gandhi sustained only minor injuries.

After that, Rajiv quickly signed the agreement to allow the so-called "Indian Peace Keeping Force" to enter Sri Lanka, and then got on his airplane and flew back to India.

The Indian Peace Keeping Force never accomplished its objective, which was to kill Prabhakaran. The Indian Army chased Prabhakaran through the jungles of Sri Lanka, but was never able to catch and kill him. They once even announced that he had been killed, but he denied it. One Indian officer was quoted in the press as saying: "All I can tell you is that we have killed more of them than they have killed of us."

Meanwhile, Rajiv Gandhi continued his policy of bullying his neighbors. He invaded the Maldives, blockaded land-locked Nepal, aided insurgents in Bhutan, almost started a fourth war with Pakistan, and increased tensions with China and Bangladesh.

Rajiv Gandhi was defeated in the Indian elections and voted out of office in 1989.

The next Indian government withdrew the Indian Peace Keeping Force from Sri Lanka, leaving the Sri Lankans to fight amongst themselves again.

However, once the opposition coalition had gained power, they started arguing among themselves. The government fell and new elections were called. Rajiv announced that he was running for election again. In his campaign, he criticized the new government from withdrawing from Sri Lanka and made it clear that, if elected, he would send the Indian Army bank into Sri Lanka again.

By this time, I was no longer in Sri Lanka, but I was watching these events abroad with dismay. Was not there somebody who can stop this madman who wants to start wars between India and all of its neighbors?, I wondered.

Just at the very moment that I was wondering if there was not somebody who could stop this madman, a brave woman named Dhanu stepped up to Rajiv Gandhi in the middle of an election crowd and blew Rajiv Gandhi to bits.

Evidence indicated that Dhanu did this substantially on her own. The previous day, she had entered a boutique in Madras shopping for a large dress for a pregnant woman to wear. The employees at the boutique were wondering why she wanted a dress for a pregnant lady, when she was not pregnant.

The answer came the next day, May 21, 1991, when the dress she bought in that boutique was packed with explosives underneath it, which she detonated to blow up herself and Rajiv Gandhi.

Sam Sloan

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Contact address - please send e-mail to the following address: Sloan@ishipress.com