White vans of Sri Lanka, and the lessons of failing to make political agreements stick…

Leena Manimekalai, director of White Van Stories talked the Jon Snow last night about the full scale abductions currently ongoing in Sri Lanka, despite a much lauded ‘peace process’…

Of the film she notes, the social instability it gives rise to “there is so much of hope, [in spite] of despair, there’s waiting, and there is apathy, there’s everything, you know.”

Unlike our own cases of The Disappeared this is both the norm (rather than a cover for access or mistakes) and is routinely conducted to take out opponents by the government. It has the other utility of instilling wider fear in others.

What’s also notable about the history of the intermittent internal crisis in Sri Lanka has be the number of failed ‘agreements’ throughout its history from 1957 to 1995 there were no less than seven agreements, which failed. Some, particularly in the 80s coming in rapid succession with each other.

It puts one in mind of Ian Paisley’s substantive (if wildly belated) acknowledgement of the importance of acknowledging your opponents acts of good will as genuine currency:

The removal of the articles in the Irish Constitution laying claim to Northern Ireland as that jurisdiction’s territory, was, we should never forget, hard won.

It was also a substantial act of goodwill by the people of Southern Ireland to vote to have the claim removed from their constitution in order to facilitate neighbourly relations. It played no small part in disarming the political justification of the Irish Republican Army’s reign of terror.

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  • The clip points out that there are two very different strategies for dealing with insurgency: the Western counter-insurgency (COIN) or low-intensity conflict method and the third-world strategy of state terror applied in Sri Lanka from the 1980s onwards, by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and by Bashar al-Assad’s Syria today. The first one is rarely successful, usually only under certain almost labratory-like conditions in which the insurgents are cut off from outside support and are a minority of the population. The latter method is often successful because it involves the destruction of the sea (the population) that the fish (the insurgents) swim in. Often it is easier to simply kill people than to change their behavior.

    In Sri Lanka it is estimated that there were some 25,000 people killed in the final months of the war. The Tamil Tigers were also much more ruthless than the IRA or the INLA, accepting that their fate was death rather than prison. The Tigers were the first insurgents to adopt the strategy of suicide bombers.