Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Down the Spiral in Sri Lanka

Editorial to be published in the EPW next week.

There is a a full fledged civil war in Sri Lanka, with no end in sight

The spate of air attacks by the Sri Lankan air force and the bombings in Colombo and its environs (clearly the work of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE) is one more sign of the spiral of violence that Sri Lanka has once again descended into.

S.P.Tamilchelvan, the leader of the political wing of the Tamil insurgent organisation, was killed in an air attack by the Sri Lankan air force in Killinocchi in northern Sri Lanka. This is seen as retaliation to the earlier LTTE suicide squad and air attack on the Anuradhapura airbase that resulted in a considerable loss of face for the government. Ever since the coming to power of the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP) led by Mahinda Rajapaksa with the support of the left nationalist Janatha Vimukhta Peramuna (JVP) and the Buddhist monk party, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), both fiercely committed to an “unitary” solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka, the government has taken a hawkish position against the insurgents. The military campaign against the LTTE has intensified every passing day with several attacks on targets in Tamil strongholds as well as gradual weakening of the LTTE's support structure in the diaspora because of the international crackdown against any form of terrorist activity.

The Sri Lankan government's thinking is that a major military victory over the LTTE and its near annihilation is both feasible and desirable. The political arrangement after the military victory would then involve a federal devolution of power to the linguistic minorities, so goes the thinking. On the other hand, the LTTE perceives the relentless campaign against it by the government as an opportunity to get international sympathy and legitimacy for their cause. This web of violence has been pointed out by scholars (Jayadeva Uyangoda, “Back to Square One”, October 27, EPW) as having thought out by both the antagonists to advance strategic goals suited to their ultimate objectives, the establishment of Eelam for the LTTE and maintaining the integrity of the Sri Lankan nation for the Sri Lankan government.

A thaw between the principal Sinhala political parties, the SLFP and the United National Party (UNP), which resulted in a MoU between the parties was short lived, owing to petty reasons of bickering that has characterised relations between these parties for quite some time now. An All Parties Representative Conference (APRC) set up to evolve consensus on the ethnic question also ran into teething troubles, because of the intransigence of the coalition partners of the SLFP government. All this has shown that the talk of a genuine devolution of power to the Tamil minorities basically remains unfulfilled and, in the context of the drawing of daggers by both the government and the LTTE, it seems a far fetched possibility. The LTTE has, on the other hand, arrogated itself the role of the sole representative of the Sri Lankan Tamils by decimating any viable alternative Tamil opposition as the killings of leaders from the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), and other Tamil organisations prove.

Experts suggest that the Sri Lankan government's more or less easy victory in the east over the LTTE was possible, because of a tactical retreat by the rebels into the Vanni jungles in north Sri Lanka and that the latter still retain a potent guerilla force. The killing of Tamilchelvan is significant, as he was the political representative and chief negotiator of the LTTE, who was involved in talks with the Sri Lankan government and other participants in the peace process that followed the ceasefire agreement in 2002. The return to high levels of hostilities, Tamilchelvan's killing and the existing political circumstances in Colombo, suggest that no immediate rapprochement between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE seems possible and the plight of the Tamils in the north is bound to worsen as the attacks and retaliations are bound to continue. Meanwhile passions for support to the Eelam cause are again being whipped up in Tamil Nadu, where Tamilchelvan's death has been termed as martyrdom by pro-Eelam political parties such as the Vaiko-led Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and fringe groups. Even the Tamil Nadu chief minister M.Karunanidhi had written a poem in the memory of Tamilchelvan, an act which had drawn criticism from the opposition and the Congress party.

The narrowing of options in Sri Lanka means that sane voices that argue for peace and pitch for innovative solutions involving devolution of power to the minorities, who have long suffered their “second class status” in Sri Lanka, are drowned out in the thirst for military victories.

1 comment:

Varaha said...

Nice write-up.

When the LTTE killed Neelan Thiruchelvam, a peaceful solution to the ethnic issue in Srilanka was interred forever.

- Varahasimhan.