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Sri Lanka is on the brink, again
Frederica Jansz in Colombo
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May 16, 2006
The seriously tattered ceasefire is still in place, but the government will be forced to respond if the Tamil Tigers continue with attacks on government forces, says Sri Lanka's [Images] President Mahinda Rajapakse.

His comments in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times in Colombo came in the wake of the Sea Tiger attack on a Sri Lankan naval flotilla in the Vettalaikerni Sea on May 11.

President Rajapakse's tough stance came as the Scandinavian ceasefire monitors temporarily suspended their sea monitoring in the aftermath of the attack. Robert Nilsson, spokesperson for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, described the move as a step backwards in a volatile situation and a badly shaken peace process.

On May 14, the monitors said they hoped to resume their sea monitoring 'in a few days.'

As the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam unleashed a wave of violence in the island's north and east, Dr Palitha Kohona, the government's top official handling the peace process, held talks in Spain with the Norwegian peace negotiators and the European Union on whether to place the LTTE on a list of banned terrorist organisations.

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Kohona, secretary general, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, flew to Barcelona last week for meetings with Jon Hanssen-Bauer, Norway's special envoy to Sri Lanka, to discuss a long-term strategy for the peace process.

Meanwhile, the LTTE accused the Scandanavian peace monitors of being pro-government. Reacting to a statement issued by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission or SLMM after last Thursday's sea battle, the LTTE said the monitors had no right to classify the two parties as State and non-State actors in the country's peace effort.

A day after the sea battle, the LTTE's political wing leader S P Thamilselvan said the ceasefire agreement was reached based on maintaining the status quo in LTTE- controlled territory.

'Nobody has the right to pass judgments based on the LTTE being called a non-State actor and the government a State actor. The LTTE conveys to the SLMM in the strongest possible terms the LTTE leadership's disappointment and objection to the statement,' Thamilselvan said.

Meanwhile, fresh violence hit the north and east on Saturday, May 13, with at least 17 people killed. In northern Kayts Island and Jaffna, 13 people were killed in two separate incidents according to Kayts police. The police said initial investigations revealed unidentified armed men stormed a house at Allaipiddy in the islet and opened fire at the people inside after throwing grenades, killing at least nine, including two children.

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The LTTE claimed later that the Sri Lanka navy was responsible for the attack. But navy spokesperson D K P Dassanayake dismissed this claim as being false. 'At night we are confined to our camp in the islets, as a precautionary measure, to avoid clashes with the Tigers. That night also we were inside the camp, but we had to help some civilians control a fire, which broke out twice in some shops near our camp.'

In eastern Batticaloa, the police said the LTTE twice attacked a police bunker at Eravur on Friday night and early Saturday morning. The government also accused the LTTE of being responsible for the killing of Tamil civilians in Mandathivu island off the Jaffna peninsula on Saturday night.

'The ruthless killing of Tamil civilians could very well be a part of the LTTE strategy to divert international opinion. The LTTE attempt to destroy a vessel carrying 710 unarmed security force members under the SLMM flag last Thursday was deplored universally,' said senior minister and spokesperson on security matters Keheliya Rambukwella.

He charged that the LTTE, after failing to create a communal backlash in the south by massacring a large group of security personnel, attempted to attack the Buddhist temple in China Bay Trincomalee in eastern Sri Lanka on Vesak Day, May 12, or the the Sri Lankan festival of light. 'Fortunately the attackers failed to achieve their objective,' he said.

Both the LTTE and military accuse each other of stepping up attacks on civilians in the north and east.

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Sri Lanka had been at war for 20 years until the Cease Fire Agreement was signed in February 2002 between the government and the LTTE.

Peace negotiations, which started soon after but came to a halt in April 2003, remain suspended, though both the government and the LTTE reaffirm their commitment to the Cease Fire Agreement.

However, communal violence escalated to a considerable extent in the north and east . During 2004 and 2005, Sri Lanka was on the brink of war on several occasions due to deteriorating relations and loss of confidence between the government and LTTE.

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In President Rajapakse's policy statement to parliament on November, 25, 2005 he outlined his policy regarding the peace negotiations:

  • A new ceasefire agreement with the LTTE and its 'transparent' monitoring.
  • Institute a new peace process that would not tolerate 'terrorism' and recruitment of child soldiers.
  • Ready to open talks with the LTTE, but rejected the LTTE's concept of a Tamil homeland
  • A peace agenda, which shall be open and transparent, shall include vital concerns such as renouncing separatism, demilitarization etc.

The LTTE's response to this was scorn.

They insist they want the current Cease Fire Agreement implemented without amendments, and shot dead two school principals in Jaffna who openly voiced opposition to the organisation continuing to forcibly recruit children. The LTTE said it would continue the struggle for a Tamil homeland and never agree to a peace agenda which includes demilitarisation or the renouncing of separatism.

In his annual Heroes' Day speech on November 27, two days after President Rajapakse had made his policy statement to parliament, LTTE leader V Prabhakaran issued a veiled threat of resuming war:

'Our people have lost patience, hope and reached the brink of utter frustration. They are not prepared to tolerate and wait any longer. The new government should come forward soon with a reasonable political framework that will satisfy the political aspirations of the Tamil people.'

'If the new government rejects our urgent appeal, opts for a hardline position and adopts delaying tactics, we will, next year, in solidarity with our people, intensify our struggle for self-determination, our struggle for national liberation to establish self-government in our own homeland.'

The last few months has seen an escalation of Cease Fire Agreement violations from both sides, with at least one person killed every day. In December, this increased at times up to seven murders a day. In the north and east, which has been the main war zone, a tense kind of uncertainty prevails, with both sides taking vastly different positions of the peace process.

In addition, factional struggles between the LTTE in the form of rebel leader Karuna and cadres loyal to him have continued in the east, claiming dozens of lives. Batticaloa, the Tamil-dominated district in the eastern province, continues to bear the brunt of this factional violence.

The situation is likely to become more volatile if the two sides cannot find any common ground to start negotiations.

These developments seriously erode the public trust and confidence in the Cease Fire Agreement and the peace process and creates a dangerous environment in the country.

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