LTTE decides to take tough line on peace talks
Tigers will stick to demand that forces vacate Jaffna

by Our Defence Correspondent
As the government continued its gestures of peace towards the LTTE with the aim of fostering goodwill between the two sides, the Tigers have been having top level meetings among their leadership in order to map out their detailed strategy with regard to negotiations, according to Tamil political sources in the Wanni.

Regular meetings are being held almost daily among cadres of the LTTE’s Political Wing to discus strategy, sources said. The venues of these meetings are a closely guarded secret, and the location shifts from place to place, since top LTTE leaders are participating, sources said. Both Velupillai Prabhakaran and Thamil Chelvam have attended several of these meetings, although they do not attend every single meeting.

The Tigers have decided on a definitive strategy of demanding that government forces vacate the Jaffna Peninsula, on the grounds that it is the political capital of Eelam, sources said. Interestingly they will not only demand that the army leave Jaffna town, but that the entire Peninsula be handed over, including the giant Palali army and air force complex and the Kankesanthurai harbour which is under the control of the navy.

This would leave the LTTE in control of almost the entire Northern Province, except for large parts of the Vavuniya and Mannar districts.

The LTTE is likely to use several arguments in its demand that the government should leave Jaffna. One of these is the allegation that the civilian population is being harassed by the forces and also militant Tamil political parties based there, sources said.

Another line of argument is the continued militarization of the Jaffna Peninsula, with the civilian population having to content with bunkers, checkpoints, "no-go" zones, and minefields, in their daily activities, sources said.

One item that was discussed at a meeting this week was the construction of a Buddhist temple in the Jaffna Peninsula by the armed forces, sources said. The Tigers may use this as an example of the need to protect the centuries old Tamil and Hindu culture of the Peninsula. This temple has been erected in the Madagal area of the peninsula, by the navy. The temple drew attention during its construction when two navy sailors who were involved in the construction were killed last year in a motor accident, which was seen as a sign by many that there was an aura of misfortune over the temple. It drew even more attention from the Tigers when it was ceremonially opened a few days ago by top brass of the navy together with ladies of the navy Seva Vanitha movement, sources said.

The restrictions on fishing off the Peninsula and in the Jaffna lagoon will also be used as an argument that the forces should leave Jaffna, sources said.

The capture of the Jaffna Peninsula in 1995 and 1996 by the armed forces was the biggest setback suffered by the LTTE. Velupillai Prabhakaran has repeatedly vowed in public that he will recapture the Peninsula, and the Tigers have launched many attacks over the last six years which have failed, although about a quarter of the peninsula is under the LTTE’s control.

Meanwhile, the Tigers continued their drive to recruit new cadres, brazenly using the ceasefire to come into government controlled areas in the north and east and demanding that civilians contribute money to the LTTE. This follows the same pattern as in 1989/90 and in 1995.

There is little that the government can do regarding this, as it cannot detain LTTE cadres at this time without jeopardizing the peace talks.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe showed this week that he has learned something from the lessons suffered by President R. Premadasa and President Chandrika Kumaratunga, by moving to sign a permanent ceasefire accord with the LTTE.

The advantage of this would be that the ceasefire would not be tied to the peace talks. That is even when the two sides become deadlocked over issues at the negotiating table there will be no question of one side or the other going back to war, as happened in 1990 and 1995.

The Prime Minister has made the permanent ceasefire the first priority of the peace talks, and has stressed this point with the Norwegian government delegation that is mediating. Although the current system of month-long ceasefires appears to be stable, having been renewed up to the 24th of February, Wickremesinghe is taking no chances of the war breaking out again. He is well aware of the fact that his government depends on the economic recovery of the country, and that there can be no development with a war on.

For its part, the LTTE is in no hurry to go back to war, as it is reaping many benefits by the government’s many gestures of peace, especially in regard to the blockade on LTTE held areas being lifted. Apart from this, the Tigers are able to move freely into government areas as well.

Prabhakaran is also keenly watching developments in the United States’ "War on Terror," and has taken particular note of the fact that President George Bush did not stop with driving the Taleban from power in Afganistan but has sent the US Army and marines to conduct military exercises together with the Philippines armed forces, in islands where Muslim terror groups are fighting against the Philippines government.

It would be a fairly simple matter for Sri Lanka to enlist the support of the US and many other powerful allies if the LTTE goes back to war, and Prabhakaran knows that only too well. It is therefore in his best interest to continue with the ceasefire until the international situation changes.