Spin-a-war: how international media spin feeds a civil war in Sri Lanka

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Liberation Tigers of Tamil-Elam in Sri-Lanka are about to be wiped out by the state army. The end of the long-fought civil war is in sight. But victory may not come so easily as international media joins the game.

It’s April 2009 and the government armed forces of Sri Lanka are about to finish off the Liberation Tigers of Tamil-Elam (LTTE). The end of one more long-fought civil war is in sight. But the victory may not come so easily to the Sinhalese-dominated government of the paradise island: the international community, answering to street protests in support of the Tamils all over Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand, may decide to do something about the rapid advance of the Sri Lankan Army. International media have already loudly pronounced the key word: genocide.

How it all came into being

The conflict started in earnest in the mid-1970s, and the Tamil Tigers in their present form appeared on the scene in 1976: a small group of determined warriors centered around their leadership and clearly choosing terrorist means for achieving their ends: an independent Tamil state on the island of Sri Lanka where Tamils are an ethnic minority while political, administrative and military power is dominated by the majority Sinhalese, with other minorities like the ‘Burgers’ – Roman Catholic descendants of the locally-married Portuguese colonial officers and traders, and the Sri Lankan Moslems, traditionally loyal to the government.

Tamil Tiger rebel wearing a camouflage outfit  (AFP Photo)

The Tigers grew in numbers every year since the start of their war, and their terrorism targets evolved too: from hitting local police stations…..by the 1980s the Tigers graduated to killing cabinet ministers, well-known authors and journalists. In 1983 they had accumulated enough military power to build a regular army and engage the government in a full-blown civil war.

In 1991 they killed a Prime Minster of a neighboring great power: Rajiv Ghandi. By then they had already cleared a huge chunk of Sri Lankan territory for themselves, having pushed out the Moslem population of several Northern provinces (non-combatant ethnic Tamils used to live there in peace with their Moslem neighbors). That was a clear case of ethnic cleansing but in 1992 when it happened the notion was not as popular with the media as it is now.

Since 1983 till this day there have been quite a few tiny jewels of peace woven into the fabric of war, but every truce between the Lions (Sinhalese, from Sinha – Lion in some South Asian languages) and the Tigers was broken sooner or later and war resumed. In times of peace, beautiful songs described the sufferings of the both peoples, such as the one depicting a Lioness crying for her dead cub beside a Tigress crying for hers. The song said the Lion tears and the Tiger tears are the same. In times of war the two sides thrashed each other with rhetoric and propaganda as fiercely as with bullets and shells.

Media spin around the Sri Lankan civil war

International-level media spin has been a companion of this war from the very start. At first it was ‘locally’ international: spun between Sri Lanka and India. Later it spilled out into the larger world.

For the Sri Lankan government the propaganda war has always been an uphill battle. If the Tamil Tigers only needed to win over the support of the Tamils at home, in Southern India and further abroad (there are Tamils all over the world but the Sinhalese do not emigrate in such numbers), for their government opponents it was and is a war for the hearts and minds of the world. That means that the Tigers have a like-minded audience which only reacts negatively to one thing: when the Tigers raise the share that the ethnic Tamils everywhere have to donate to the cause.

The Sri Lankan government has all the support from the Sinhalese, Burger and Moslem population it can handle. But it has to explain its doings to people who live in the West, who think differently, whose minds often work in a totally different way, ruled by different rules. Take the recent mighty demonstrations in support of the Tigers that happened in Canada (30, 000 participants), the UK (over 10,000 altogether, 203 arrested), France (up to 20,000 in Paris), Australia, New Zealand! Who are demonstrating there? Caucasians? Some. Tamils? Thousands.

Hence, the question: where do all those Tamils who protest in Europe and America come from? Who are they? And why are there not enough Sinhalese to set a counter-demonstration in the streets of Ottawa or Paris?

The origin of the pro-Tiger protests, or what slipped the media attention

The thousands of Tamils in the streets of European and American cities are the result of the biggest criminal human trafficking operation in history, perpetrated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam. The highest point in this long-term operation occurred in the mid-1990s when sometimes up to 300 – 400 illegal Tamil immigrants clandestinely crossed European and American frontiers every night.

Demonstrators reenact scenes of violence against the Tamils in Sri Lanka during a protest march in the western German city of Duesseldorf on April 9, 2009 (AFP Photo)

That operation was a work of genius. The very idea of sending poor Tamils off to the West, so they could find work, support themselves well beyond the standard of their living in Sri Lanka, and later donate a part of their income to the cause of the Tigers was already quite bright. But the tigers went much farther than that. They organized tightly disciplined human trafficking networks all over the world. They also provided loans to those who wanted to go but had no money.

They delivered their ‘charges’ to their destinations and later, through agents recruited in the earlier groups of immigrants, could always check on a family that owes money and a debt of gratitude to them. When the family becomes a little better off, and it happens to every immigrant family, even if it starts living off social security, the milking began.

In the 1990s some international publications were already unknowingly or knowingly supporting the Tigers. The Tamils were seen as global wanderers without a roof over their heads, who needed accommodation and comfort from their better-off brothers and sisters in the West, while the Tigers appeared as the fighters for their freedom – which no one had ever taken away from them in the first place. In fact, it was a rare newspaper that wrote then of the laws that these people were breaking.

One of the routes the Tigers were using led through Bangkok and Moscow, and business-wise it looked totally legitimate. The passports of the Sri Lankan passengers were fakes though, but unusually good ones. They had Russian visas – not from Bangkok but from Vietnam or Laos or any other place; often fake too. They also often had perfectly forged fake Cuban visas.

The airline, most often Aeroflot which had the cheapest European fares, sold them round trip tickets to Moscow and Havana, but on the leg from Moscow to Cuba, during the technical landing in Shannon, the Tamil travelers went to the nearest restroom to get rid of their passports and other documents and then presented themselves to the authorities as refugees from a civil conflict in their country. From that point their long journey towards the goodies of the Western world acquired the status of a done deal.

There were many other routes, overland, by rivers (a fake cruise on the Danube – it was before the acceptance of Eastern European countries into the EU) and sea. There were countermeasures by European governments, embassies started comparing records and finding out which visas were fake, still the operation went on and on. Tens of thousands of ethnic Tamils were shipped to Europe, the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand from 1990 – 1996. Now most of them are already citizens of the countries that adopted them, and their children were born Canadians, Americans, Britons…

And most of them continue their material support of the Tigers to this day. The overseas organization of the Tigers tightly controls the ethnic Tamil communities abroad.

A few more ‘unexpected’ discoveries

Most of the above mentioned facts either escaped the attention of the international media or was lost in the flow of everyday news from other places. Like some other facts did too: for instance, the fact that there are quite a few Tamils in the Sri Lankan government, in the army fighting the Tigers and in the civil service. These Tamils risk their lives every day because they, called traitors by the Tigers, are even more frequent targets for terrorist attacks than the Sinhalese officials.

Rajiv Ghandi

Or the fact that Tamil Tigers invented suicide bombing and the explosive belt used for it, together with the use of women in suicide attacks. The first explosive belt was the one that killed Rajiv Ghandi. The Tigers’ leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, is credited with developing a set of psychological techniques that turn a normal healthy young woman into a fanatic eager to use herself as a weapon in his struggle and sacrifice herself for the good of her ethnos. Amazingly, there’s no trace of religion in Prabhakaran’s teaching, it’s a combination of filling an ignorant mind with a set of convenient ‘truths’ about the world, and hypnosis. Prabhakaran has prepared dozens of suicide bombers himself.

At this moment, while the media shouts ‘genocide!’ and the Liberation Tigers’ leadership has most probably left the island, scores of girls with those special belts around their waists may be walking the roads of Sri Lanka looking for targets. Or worse – they have orders to wait till the government’s victory is complete and then bring terror and death to the peaceful cities down South.

Even the use of Tamil civilians as human shields by the Tigers is reported topsy-turvy: ‘the Tigers deny doing that, so they aren’t.’ But who then keeps those civilians in between the advancing government troops and the positions of the Tigers? For the advancing force they are an obstacle. Or maybe our distinguished colleagues only want to show the government soldiers as monsters taking pleasure in killing civilians?

Give peace a true chance!

This war has known every kind of effort for peace. It never worked. There cannot be peace between the Tigers of Tamil Elam and the government of Sri Lanka. There can only be peace between the government and the Tamil people in the North of the island, peace between the Sinhalese majority and all the minorities including the Tamils. That is what history says, and she is a very tough-minded old lady.

What are the international media doing there then, trying to prolong the conflict? To let the LTTE breathe and gain a bit of strength to fight back? Is that the purpose? Is elimination of one of the most notorious terrorist organizations in the world against the interests of the world community?

Too many questions. Too few answers, alas. But what I see – I see. What I hear – I hear. The eyes are not deceiving me, the ears are not failing me. What I see are the crowds of ethnic Tamils in the streets of European cities and what I hear are the calls of my race-conscious politically correct colleagues to stop the Sri Lankan army an inch short of its victory.

Short of a victory in a 26-year-long war against a ruthless bunch of mind manipulators, human traffickers, sea pirates and terrorists. An opponent would say: all evils cannot be in one package. And the response would be: trust me, in this case they are.

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT