A peaceful war

LTTE has responded to President Mahinda Rajapakse's invitation to talk peace: It has killed seven soldiers on non combat duty in a mine blast and shot another soldier dead in a separate incident. It has also killed a Divisional Secretary in the East. These dastardly acts of cowardice as well as blatant ceasefire violations come within one week of the LTTE Leader, in his birthday speech, promising to wait 'until next year' to see how the new government is going to handle the peace process.

The LTTE's strategy is obvious. It doesn't need a full blown war as, in a total war situation, it will be without the international safety net provided by the CFA, which allows it to unleash terror at present with impunity. A war will render its weakened eastern flank even more vulnerable and destroy whatever it has put in place by way of a 'de facto separate state.'

Limited offensives and a low intensity war have come in handy for the LTTE. During the truce it has achieved more than it could during decades of war. It has virtually debilitated the military intelligence and gained a great deal of legitimacy to its cause through its association with the foreign powers. For some foreign diplomats, a visit to Kilinochchi is a mandatory pilgrimage and shaking hands with LTTE leaders, a lifetime achievement. If it resumes war, such pow-wows won't be any longer possible and the EU will be left without an excuse for not imposing a ban on the outfit. Opprobrium of the world community, save its allies, will lead to further erosion of the support it enjoys internationally and the hands of its critics, mainly Tamils who have, of late, mounted several public protests in foreign capitals against the LTTE violence, will be strengthened.

So, for the moment, no signs of an imminent war are visible, though the thinking of the LTTE leader is not predictable. It looks as if he wanted to settle for devastating surgical strikes and assassinations, to boost the sagging morale of truce weary combatants and inch towards his goal. At the same time, the LTTE is making a not so surreptitious attempt to provoke a backlash in the south or in the north. It will be a godsend for them. Remember it was with an attack like Sunday's that the LTTE engineered the pogrom of Tamil civilians in Colombo and elsewhere in 1983. Although the LTTE has failed to provoke a similar response ever since, it is imperative that the government take precautions without leaving anything to chance.

The ceasefire is being described as fragile in the foreign press. But it has proved to be quite robust vis-`E0-vis LTTE atrocities thanks to pusillanimity of successive governments, mistaken for their resilience. Sri Lanka has lost a brilliant foreign minister together with brave and efficient military and police personnel but the ceasefire has survived such crimes. How can the ceasefire be fragile? Its fragility is a goni billa that has been created to frighten the government and the peace loving people into giving in to LTTE terror. In some quarters, the recent killing of two persons in Jaffna is being claimed in extenuation of Sunday's terror. If that kind of reaction is justifiable, then the government should have carpet-bombed LTTE formations in the Wanni, when Kadir was felled.

The government has asked the international community to condemn the LTTE attacks. A mere condemnation will mean nothing unless supported by stern action aimed at curbing the LTTE's barbaric acts of terror. They will only condemn the crimes and not the perpetrators and ask both sides to the CFA to act with restraint without jeopardising the peace process and the truce.

Instead, the co-chairs of the peace process must be asked to step in and help revise the CFA full of clauses that lend themselves to be abused by the LTTE. Until such time, a total ban is called for on the movement of LTTE cadres into the 'government controlled areas'.

Before the LTTE entered the government controlled areas claiming to do political work, the situation had remained relatively peaceful, as then the government was not restrained from acting in self defence or going on the offensive to keep the LTTE at bay. Today, a democratically elected government of a legitimate state has come to such a pass that, on being attacked by a terror group, it has to obtain permission from the donor community to defend itself, whereas the terrorists are given a free rein to lay siege to Sri Lanka's democracy. That is the tragedy.


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