What impact will the abrogation of the Ceasefire
Agreement (CFA) have on the battlefield? Absolutely none.
The government’s strange decision to withdraw
from the CFA at this time means absolutely nothing. Eelam War IV
has been raging for more than two years now, with thousands
killed on both sides.
The government’s decision in fact has little to
do with realities of the war. It is clearly a political move to
appease the hard-line political parties – the JVP and the JHU –
which have been capitalising on the government’s reluctance to
abrogate the CFA up to now.
In fact, the decision had little to do with the
bomb blast at Slave Island on the 2nd of January. Far worse acts
of violence have been committed by the LTTE over the last two
years, including the blasting of a civilian bus in
Kebithigollewa which killed 84 people.
This week’s violence in Colombo also has little
impact on the course of the war. The killing of UNP MP T.
Maheswaran, although initially blamed on the LTTE by top police
officials, does not bear the hallmarks of the Tigers’ Pistol
Group. The fact that the assassin was wounded and captured
speaks volumes with regard to this, since it is most unlikely
that an LTTE cadre would allow himself to be captured.
In the end, the assassination will merely go
down as yet another assassination, added to the long list of
dozens of Members of Parliament and other political leaders who
have fallen to the assassin’s bomb or bullet in the country’s
torturous political history, starting with Jaffna Mayor Alfred
Duraiappah who was personally shot dead by LTTE Leader
Velupillai Prabhakaran in 1975, or even earlier with the
assassination of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike.
The bomb blast in Slave Island also means little
in the long term, apart from the carnage that it caused to
innocent civilians and soldiers.
The end of the CFA does not mean the end of the
peace process. A peace process can be re-started at any time,
regardless of the war situation. The only requirement is that
both sides must be willing to talk.
The government has not yet decided to ban the
LTTE. However, such a move, if it is ever decided upon, is also
not one that will have much impact on the battlefield. At
present, anyone suspected of being an LTTE cadre is arrested by
the armed forces or police, anywhere in the country. Being a
member of an LTTE that is banned will be no different, except
that the very act of being a member will become a punishable
offence with a small jail term which at present it is not.
Much more serious is the pullout of the Sri
Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), with the lapse of the CFA as
their mandate will end. What this means is that there will not
be any international body to document atrocities and incidents
committed by either side. The SLMM has not been actively
investigating every reported incident, but has continued to
With the end of the CFA and the withdrawal of
the SLMM, the role of the Norwegian government may or may not
diminish further. However, this too is entirely dependent on the
two sides – the government and the LTTE. If both sides request
that Norway try to broker another truce or attempt to restart
negotiations, we may see their active involvement again.
Certainly, their knowledge of Sri Lanka’s conflict over the
years puts them in a more advantageous position to assist as
facilitators than most other countries.
The CFA itself died a few days after the
election of President Mahinda Rajapakse, when the LTTE launched
a series of attacks in the Northeast. Despite the continued
attacks, the government waited more than three months without
responding, hoping that the Tigers would come back to the
negotiating table. It was only when the Commander of the Army,
Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, was critically wounded in a suicide
bomb blast at Army Headquarters, that the government struck
back. Even then, it was only through selective air strikes on
However, things changed when the LTTE took
control of the sluice gates of the Mavil Aru tank in the
Trincomalee District, and refused to release water for Sinhala
and Muslim paddy farmers in the area. Under pressure with the
JHU leading a protest march into the area, the government
launched an army operation to recapture the area.
The Tigers responded by attacking Muttur town,
and shelling Army, Navy and Air Force installations in
Trincomalee town, including the harbour. With artillery shells
falling all around, the government moved to retake Muttur, and
then drove the Tigers out of Sampur, where the Tigers’ heavy
guns were based.
When the LTTE cadres retreated southwards to
Vakarai in the Batticaloa District, the Army moved to quash them
from north and south. The heavy fighting which involved this
operation took several months, and the Tigers retreated further
to Thoppigala (Baron’s Cap). The army followed, and Thoppigala
was taken only last June.
More operations followed to drive the LTTE out
of the entire Eastern Province. But by the time the armed forces
turned their attention to the North, the Northeast Monsoon was
about to break, and major operations proved impossible. Several
half-hearted attempts to gain ground in the Vavuniya area ended
in deadlock. Although some ground has been gained around Mannar,
there is still no major threat to the LTTE stronghold in the
Through all this, the CFA continued to be in
existence only as a worthless scrap of paper.
The million-dollar question that remains
unanswered is: Why did the government really withdraw from the
CFA at this present time?
That is, apart from the obvious reason of
appeasing the JVP and JHU. Viewed in the context of statements
by the top political leaders and army top brass that they will
wipe out the LTTE in 2008, it is clear that the abrogation of
the CFA is a precursor to a massive ground assault on the Tigers
in the Wanni, backed by air attacks.
This operation has been a long-time coming. As
this column pointed out last July, the slow progress in the East
over 18 months of warfare meant that the army’s attention was
finally turned to the North only shortly before the Northeast
Monsoon was about to break. So operations conducted there so far
have been on a smaller scale.
But now, with the monsoon easing up, and
expected to end completely in about a week, the way is clear for
a massive attack on the weakened Tigers. There will then be at
least nine months of almost continuous good weather over the
North, which means that the time has come for the army to turn
its words into action.
With overwhelming air and seapower, as well as a
huge numerical advantage, all odds are massively in favour of
the armed forces. However, the Tigers have had many months to
prepare their defences and contingency plans. What this means is
that the advance is likely to be slow, through heavily mined and
boobytrapped areas. 2008 may turn out to be a very bloody year
in the North for both sides and for civilians.
On the other hand, the Tigers are surrounded on
all sides. It is simply impossible to defend the Wanni from a
multi-pronged assault. If the top brass use their imagination
and move in on many fronts, instead of concentrating on one
side, then the war could be effectively over in a couple of