We Know Terrorism - By Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga Back   Home  
Terrorism is, sadly, no stranger to Sri Lanka. We know it all too well.

On Oct. 7, while American-led forces were making their final preparations to deliver the first strikes in the new world war against terrorism, the armed forces of my own country were bracing for further attacks by the terrorists who have killed 64,000 Sri Lankans in the past 18 years.

The people responsible for this slaughter in my country are the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), known as the Tamil Tigers -- ethnic extremists based among the Tamil population in the northernmost part of the country. Among their victims have been 10,000 Tamils. Like all fanatics, the Tamil Tigers, whose armed cadres number no more than 1,500, are pitilessly indiscriminate.

Unfortunately, we are also well acquainted with the more recent madness of the suicide bomber. Experts on terrorism believe there have been as many as 280 suicide bombings in recent years, of which 160 have been carried out by the Tigers.

My government was quick to offer its full support to President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair in their efforts to unite the world against terrorism. We appreciate the strong determination of the United States and Great Britain to make a measured but decisive response to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

The response of the Tamil Tigers to my pledge was to try to scare the American military away from deploying assets in Sri Lanka that might be needed for the campaign against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. To that end, the Tamil Tiger high command has reportedly ordered its forces to intensify their own attacks against our people and armed forces.

Like practically all Sri Lankans, my family has been shadowed by terrorism. Both my father, the prime minister of Sri Lanka, and my husband were killed by extremist fanatics. Two years ago they came for me. In 1999, while I was campaigning for reelection, a woman came within a few feet of me and detonated explosives wrapped around her waist. On that occasion I was lucky; I lost only an eye. Others were not; 26 people, including several members of my personal team, lost their lives, and many more were injured.

Sri Lanka's population is approximately that of metropolitan New York -- 19.5 million. Our blood has been shed, not in a horrific onslaught as in New York but in many small cuts; six here, 19 there, 52 in some other place. This violence has become a plague that infects my people and corrodes our national life, progress and institutions.

The cost to our national development and the advancement of our people -- of whatever ethnic background or religious persuasion; Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Hindus -- has been considerable. Though the terrorism is usually confined to the north of Sri Lanka, leaving the rest of the island largely unaffected, it imposes heavy economic and political burdens.

We must, for example, spend more and more on security, which reduces what we should be spending on our schools, hospitals and roads. Nevertheless, we have succeeded in keeping Sri Lanka open for business. We have continued to attract foreign investment and tourism, albeit at far lower levels than our economy would warrant under normal conditions.

My government will continue to defend Sri Lanka against an active and hardened minority who terrorize our people and abuse the freedoms offered to them by other people to spread their hatred and raise their blood money.

The tragic irony of the events of Sept. 11 is that it now seems possible that, through concerted action, the Tamil Tigers will be cut off from the millions of dollars raised in North America every year to prosecute their atrocities against the civilian population of Sri Lanka. I applaud the recent decision of Secretary of State Colin Powell to renew the designation of the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization.

The elimination of supportive financial systems on which terrorism depends must be a global undertaking. Sri Lanka is proud to be one of just four countries that have ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December of 1999. We hope for the widest possible participation in international efforts of this kind.

I have called on my fellow heads of government in the other 53 nations of the Commonwealth (formerly the British Commonwealth) to join me in condemning terrorism in all its forms, in committing themselves to all measures necessary to its eradication, and in pursuing all democratic options for the resolution of genuine issues of contention. Together we make up nearly one-third of the world's population, including millions of peace-loving Muslims.

The principal lesson that democratically elected governments have learned, almost unanimously, from the events of Sept. 11 is this: that the fight against terrorism can no longer be conducted piecemeal, or be hobbled by the moral relativism that has bedeviled their efforts for so long. You are either for or against terrorism.

My government knows where it stands. There is only one war against terrorism, and progressive peace-loving people the world over will have to fight it together, everywhere. Our war is your war. Your war is ours.
Published in WashintonPost. True many countries are devasted by terrorism. The writer is president of Sri Lanka.