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Is the Eelam dream over?
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
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LTTE hoist by its own petard

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October 16, 2008

The Lankan government believes that the quarter-century old militant movement of the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam is in its last phase. The Sri Lanka [Images]n army is merely 1.2 miles away from Kilinochchi, the LTTE's [Images] headquarters in northern Sri Lanka.

According to Colonel R Hariharan [Images], a retired military intelligence specialist who served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka from 1987-90, "Six divisions of the Sri Lankan army have gheraoed Kilinochchi.The rains and the dense tall vegetation make airstrikes very difficult. The situation is critical for both sides."

The Sri Lankan defence ministry claims that the army has killed 7,553 rebels since Sri Lanka pulled out of a Norwegian-backed truce in January, while 748 soldiers have died in the clashes.

By all accounts the situation is a turning point in Sri Lanka's blood-soaked ethnic history. President Mahinda Rajapakase has waged a decisive battle against the LTTE and seems to be winning it so far.

His critics allege that he is looking for a military solution and not for a political dialogue. The Pesident's supporters claim that he had offered an olive branch to Prabhakaran, when he came to power. Rajapkse had offered to have a structured dialogue but the LTTE did not respond, so he was left with no option but to go for an armed offensive.

As the LTTE is pushed to the wall, allegations of the sufferings and misery of  the Lankan Tamils have been reported, particularly due to heavy air strikes. Even some Europe-based experts on Sri Lanka have started saying that government's "attitude and actions are that of an invading country in an enemy's territory."

The use of air power against its own people is severely objected to by critics of  Sri Lankan government. B Raman, columnist and a Chennai-based expert on security matters said, " The continuing use of indiscriminate air strikes by the Rajapakse government  against the Tamil civilian population in order to intimidate it into stop supporting the LTTE has come in for strong criticism."

Sri Lanka is more confident than ever that it will get rid of the LTTE menace because it has been able to get all manner of help from China, Pakistan, Iran and the United States.

In geo-strategic terms the Lankans are better consolidated than ever, with China building a port south of Colombo, India and Pakistan training the Sri Lankan army on a regular basis and the US and Iran supporting government in terms of resources and materials.

The Sri Lankan economy is also stable and sturdy. Some weeks ago, a senior officer of Sri Lanka had said "We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel after 25 long years of struggle. We have had significant success in the operation against the LTTE. It is on run, they are running with full pockets."

While showing maps of  2006 and 2008, the officer said that 75 percent of thearea has been recaptured and the fighting capacity of the LTTE had been seriously eroded. The Sri Lankan government had been able to hold elections in the estern province too, he said.

The Lankan government's assessment is that LTTE chief Prabhakaran has been pushed into his hide-out with 3,000-4,000 cadres at most.

As the battle become decisive in the Kilinochchi, pressure is building up within Tamil Nadu, where politicians are guessing that the LTTE is cornered.

The question on everyones lips seems to be what effect the fall of LTTE chief Prabhakaran will have on the region.

The  Tamil politicians are completely divided and the nuance is lost, the divide complete. Those who are speaking for the plight of the Sri Lankans Tamils because they are also being killed with LTTE militants are being silenced by the critics of LTTE.

While those who speak for the LTTE have a weak case due to India's current sufferings due to terrorism and also because the politics over the Sri Lankan issue is more complex with Prabhakaran and his deputy Pottu Amman, being prime accused in the Rajiv Gandhi murder case.

India wants them tried in Indian courts. It is not possible for India to unconditionally start or participate in any dialogue with these two Tamil-militant leaders. 

Hawkish Tamil leaders like Vaiko want to break diplomatic ties with Sri Lanka while Chief Minister M Karunanidhi has told PM Manmohan Singh [Images] to implore Rajapakse to find a political solution and not resort to brute force.

Under Karunanidhi's leadership a resolution has been passed to create pressure on government to get Sri Lanka to declare a ceasefire.

J Jayalalitha has targeted Karunanidhi, "If India interferes with the internal affairs of Sri Lanka there is a possibility that our neighbouring countries could begin interfering with our internal affairs. It will create trouble for India's sovereignty. The countries in the world will not accept India interfering with the affairs of another country."

Jayalalitha further says, "The important thing was to prevent the Indian Army [Images] from providing training to the Sri Lankan Army and to stop the military offensive against the Sri Lankan Tamils. But Karunanidhi is not making any efforts in this regard."

The editorial column written by Malini Parthasarathy in The Hindu titled The dangers of Tamil chauvinism strongly argued that, " The latest campaign in Tamil Nadu masterminded by a desperate LTTE must not be allowed to undermine the sound policy decision upheld by successive Indian governments since 1991 to stay out of Sri Lanka's internal affairs."

Hariharan points out that recently The New Indian Express carried a survey that reflected the complexities of the matter.

Hariharan said,  "51 percent of respondents have said that India should lift the ban on the LTTE. But, only 30 percent have said that they are freedom fighters. 31 percent have said that India should send troops if Prabhakaran is cornered. While 40 percent of people have said they would like to donate for the cause of a Tamil Eelam. Do not equate public sympathy for Tamil rights with support for the LTTE."

Many critics of LTTE think "the game plan of the LTTE and its supporters is to rally the Tamil chauvinist sentiment" so that the siege around Kilinochchi can be relaxed.

Raman disagrees that Tamil politicians are trying to bail-out Prabhakaran. "The LTTE is not using Tamil politicians. The case of Vaiko is different but one can't say same thing  about parties like the Dravida Munnetra Kaghazham and the Congress. The people are genuinely concerned about the hawkish statements made by Sri Lankan army chief  Lt.Gen.Sarath Fonseka and Gothbaya, brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also causing tension. There will be repercussions if Parabhakaran is killed. Tamil politicians would like to prevent the tension spreading in the state," Raman said.

In his interview to the Canadian daily National Post, General Fonseka said "I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people�being the majority of the country we will never give in and we have the right to protect our country�We are also a strong nation � They(minorities) can live in this country with us, but they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things." 

An All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhgham leader speaking off the record told, "We dislike the LTTE and do not support it but no way it should stop us from raising the voice against butchering of  Tamils in Sri Lanka."

Raman points out that it's not only issue of  Sri Lankan Tamils rights alone that is hurting psyche of people. He says, "There has been a perceptible disenchantment in Tamil Nadu over what is seen as the lack of interest shown by Manmohan Singh in the problems of the Sri Lankan Tamils. He is being compared unfavourably with Indira Gandhi [Images] and Rajiv Gandhi, who took a keen interest in the problems of the Tamils and did not hesitate to take up the matter strongly with the governments in power in Colombo."

Raman says that this disenchantment has turned into shock following reports of two Indian radar technicians being injured when two planes of the LTTE's air wing bombed a Sri Lankan military base in Vavuniya in September."

Hariharan says, "I don't see what Indian government can do beyond a point. The two warring sides don't want Indian help. They may be asking for Indian help but, at least they have not quantified it, so far."

Interestingly, no Tamil party has spelled out , in practical terms how much India can influence the Sri Lankan government who are fighting most important battle on their land.

Hariharan puts forward a few conditions before India can increase its involvement in the issue. He says, "India can interfere only if  there is a chance of peace. We cannot get into a '1987 type' situation. We must take into account the trade between two countries at $4 billion. Any miscalculation can directly impact it. We are facing a strategic challenge in Sri Lanka because Iran, Pakistan and China are  helping Rajpakasa. It's the leverage he has. The Sri Lankan parliament has 42 Tamil-speaking MPs  who should also put pressure on the government."

Interestingly, a vocal supporter of the LTTE in Chennai told, "The siege of Kilinochchi will prove to be the siege of Leningrad.  Hitler's [Images] army besieged the city for 872 days but still could not oust the Russians, who put up a heroic struggle. The LTTE will also win the battle of Kilinochchi using the same tactics as the Russians. You can expect a surprise."

Even if the Sri Lankan government wins the battle, will their win bring peace to the island nation is the moot question. They will have to start a reconciliation process, says Rajapakse supporters.

Raman says, "Very few in Tamil Nadu take seriously the assurances of Rajapaksa that after neutralising the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, his government will initiate political measures for meeting the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people."

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