Sam Thambimuttu – 3: Extracts from ‘Tamil Tigers’ debt to America’
Posted on November 8th, 2019

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando Courtesy Ceylon Today

Daya Gamage worked at the American Embassy in Colombo, as the Sole Foreign Service National and a Political Specialist. He retired in 1994 and has been living in Las Vegas since retirement. After two years of concentration, he has been able to share his knowledge, understanding and his intimate professional association with the US Department of State in the form of a book – Tamil Tigers Debt to America.’ Being extra careful as what to disclose or not with his analysis, and being aware of how America’s foreign policy worked – sometimes in a strange manner, he has come out with an unbiased text full of data in his book. While assuring that the facts contained in his book cannot be found anywhere else, Daya Gamage has authorised the writer 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.

Sam Thambimuttu had been Daya Gamage’s contact to obtain valuable sources of information on analysis and evaluations that were taking place in the East and North of Sri Lanka in the early 1980s. The last time Gamage saw him was a little before he (Thambimuttu) was assassinated opposite the Canadian High Commission in Colombo by a Tamil Tiger hit squad, immediately after his meeting with the political counsellor of the American Embassy at the Chancery building in Colombo. At the meeting, the American political counsellor had wanted to know ‘How the LTTE managed to become so powerful and placed themselves in a position to dictate the agenda for Sri Lanka’. 

Sam Thambimuttu had briefed Daya Gamage how (Sam) analysed the Tamil Tiger terrorism, ethnic issues, Tamil grievances and devolution of power to the periphery, and advised the State Department official that there had to be a big power behind the LTTE, being an illegitimate rebel movement, in order to be able to dictate terms to the legitimate Administration and influence Sri Lanka’s national agenda.

In an Indian restaurant, later, Thambimuttu had disclosed to Daya Gamage what Sam had failed to disclose to the Principal Political Counsellor when he met him at the Chancery building, how the United States was morally behind the LTTE, and this act of moral encouragement was extended from the State Department through numerous manoeuvres, that enabled the LTTE to become what it was. Thambimuttu believed that the United States had already given legitimacy to the Tamil Tigers in their pronouncements and actions!

American thinking

The United States was convinced that successive Sri Lankan Administrations had blundered many of their (US) measures and placed the minority Tamils in difficulty. Such measures and their failure to remedy the impact by the Governments throughout time was due to pressure from the Sinhala nationalist elements.

Most extraordinarily, the united concealment states realised the political agenda for the Tamils declared by the LTTE as something that had a clear resemblance to what the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Federal Party) had demanded since its inception in 1951 (the recognition of Tamils as a distinct nationality, Tamil homeland, self-determination of the Tamil people etc., ) and the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) professed throughout the years for FCOs in Colombo to consider that the LTTE manifested the ambitions of the eleven per cent Tamils in Sri Lanka for the United States to give some legitimacy to its main demand – a separate independent Tamil Nation – but instead forced the hand of the Sri Lankan Administration to rearrange the polity to award self-rule to a predominantly Tamil North and East.

Policy planks

The US State Department first considered the LTTE as a foreign terrorist organisation in 1977, under the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. In 2003, Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, reiterated that “if the LTTE could move beyond the terror tactics of the past and make a convincing case through its conduct and its actual actions that the LTTE was committed to a political solution and towards peace, the United States would certainly consider removing it from the list of foreign terrorists organizations as well as any other terrorism-related descriptions.”

It should be borne in mind, Daya Gamage hints that the decisions taken at the highest level in the State Department and policy planks made known to Sri Lanka through proclamations by senior officials in Washington at all times had direct links to what the US FSOs in Colombo learnt, understood, comprehended, analysed, investigated and researched.

Despite the US Government (USG) denouncing the terrorist tactics of the Tamil Tigers, the State Department and Deputy Secretary Armitage were convinced the Tigers had a significant role to play in the resolution of the Tamil issues, and the Tigers could be used as a pressure group, to persuade the GSL to be flexible enough to move away from what the Americans believed was the Sinhala chauvinistic posture.

How and why the Americans believed in the invincibility of the LTTE and the outfit’s usefulness in their agenda, once directed towards changing the structure of the Sri Lankan Government, is a central aspect of the US mindset.

Legal US criteria

The legal criteria for designation of any group as a foreign terrorist organisation are as follows:

1. It must be a foreign organisation.

2. The organisation must engage in terrorist activity, as defined in Section 212(a)(3)(B) of the INA (.USC. & 1182(a)(3)(B)), or terrorism, as defined in section 140 (d)(2) of the Foreign Relations Authorisation Act, Fiscal Years 1988 and 1989 (22 USC. & 2656f(d)(2), or retain the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism.

3. The organisation’s terrorist activity or terrorism must threaten the security of US nationals or the national security (national defence, foreign relations, or the economic interests) of the United States.

Throughout the existence of the LTTE, it had never been a threat to the United States, its national security, its national defence, or its foreign relations or economic interests. In developing a stable policy towards Sri Lanka’s ethnic and related issues, the FSO of the US State Department was aware of this salient fact. It, therefore, viewed Sri Lankan issues from a different perspective.

In May 2007, in the paper presented to the Asia Foundation at San Francisco entitled ‘The US Role in Sri Lanka Peace Process 2002-2006:  US Interests and Engagement in Sri Lanka,’ Jeffrey Lunstead, a former American Ambassador to Sri Lanka, clarified the United States’ views on LTTE terrorism and al-Qaeda terrorism thus:

“[Since 9/11/01] the US Treasury experts on terrorism financing visited Sri Lanka several times to work with the Government on strengthening the Sri Lanka financial system’s ability to cut off terrorist financing flows. While this might be considered a strategic (US) interest, it was also limited the fact that LTTE is essentially a local Sri Lankan phenomenon, with no clear ties to other terrorist groups with a worldwide reach. The US opposes all terrorist groups, but all such groups are not equal in the extent to which they threaten the US interests directly.” ( to SCA.pdf.)

In brief, the State Department considered the LTTE an integral part of the Sri Lankan solution and not connected whatsoever to America’s Global War on Terrorism. 

Again, what Assistant Secretary Robert Blake stated during his visit to Sri Lanka, at his press conference on 4 May 2011, is no different than what the Deputy Secretary of the State Department, Richard Boucher, declared in May 2007. During his visit to Sri Lanka, he reiterated in his subsequent testimony before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee in August 2007 in this manner:

“The United States attaches great importance to the dialogue that is now taking place between the Government and the Tamil National Alliance. And as I said in my statement, we hope that dialogue will result in a comprehensive agreement on all of the issues of concern to the Tamils.”

“The Government and the Tamil National Alliance have conducted several rounds of talks, with another round scheduled for 12 May. I expressed our hope  that these talks can result in a comprehensive agreement that can help Sri Lanka heal the wounds of war and ensure that all Sri Lankans enjoy equal rights and future of hope and opportunity.”

Thus, at different times, the United States believed that it could use the Tamil Tigers and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to bring pressure on Sri Lanka to evolve a package towards the resolution of the Tamil issue. The United States wanted the GSL to acknowledge ‘the self-determination of the Tamil people’ or ‘self-rule’ as the basis for any resolution of Tamil issues. The United States has continuously stressed the need for a ‘negotiated settlement,’ either with the Tamil Tigers or with the TNA, that would secure such a situation or condition, and would effectively dissolve the notion of a ‘separate State’ from the agenda of Tamil agitation movements.

Courtesy:  Daya Gamage – ‘Tamil Tigers’ Debt to America’

To be continued 

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