15, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 19
'We Must Declare War'
Lanka's Buddhist monks urge New Delhi to help crush advancing Tamil Tiger
By WARUNA KARUNATILAKE Colombo
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'We Must Declare War':
President of the influential National Sanga Council Maduluwawe Sobitha
Thera speaks to TIME in this Web-only Interview
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head of Sri Lanka's hard-line Buddhist monks met with the Indian High
Commissioner on April 29 to ask for military assistance to crush the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Ealam. Sri Lanka is currently facing its worst crisis
in its 17-year-war against the Tamil Tigers, who want an independent homeland
in the country's north and east. On April 22, the Tigers managed to capture
an important military garrison at Elephant Pass, and are now moving north
in a bid to retake Jaffna, which they controlled from 1990 to 1995. Reporter
Waruna Karunatilake spoke to Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, president of the
influential National Sanga Council, who led a delegation of monks to the
Indian high commission. Excerpts from the interview:
edition's table of contents
TIME: Your organization has been advocating the military defeat of
the Tamil rebels What is your reaction to the current situation in the
Thero: The news coming from the North is not very good. We have
received reports that the terrorists--after capturing Elephant Pass--are
moving further into Jaffna Peninsula. Our main request to the Government
is, even at this late stage, to depoliticize the conduct of the war. The
reason for the failure of the war effort in the past has been due to the
politicization of the war effort by politicians, to suite their political
ends. There are many experienced, retired officers of the Armed Forces
and the Police. We must take advice from them and conduct a planned military
TIME: Your organization met the Indian High Commissioner [Shivashankar
Menon] in Colombo last week and requested military support. Why?
Thero: There are countries with whom we have friendly relations.
The Sri Lankan government is the current chairman of the seven-member
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation ( SAARC ). In a crisis
like this, we must try to get various types of assistance from these countries.
In 1971 when there was a crisis--not as grave as this--many countries,
especially India and Pakistan, came to our help.
TIME: Aren't people here just fed up with the war?
Thero: People in this country contribute to the war effort in various
ways. Some join the armed forces while others contribute by paying taxes
and so on. People have the right to know what is happening and the government
must keep them informed. It is only then that people will make sacrifices.
People here really do not know the real situation. They have very little
understanding of what has happened in the war--and what can happen. The
government must educate the people. And they must tell the truth.
TIME: Why is the Army facing this situation?
Thero: We failed to encourage our soldiers, therefore, the morale
of the soldiers has gradually reduced.
TIME: Are you asking the Sri Lankan government place the country on
a war footing?
Thero: Definitely. The entire country must be placed on a war footing.
We must declare war. The war effort must be given priority over everything
else. Everything else must be secondary.
(On May 3, Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga put her country
on war alert, announcing new wartime measures and civic restrictions.)
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