The Tigers' Trojan horse

The best indication of a terrorist outfit's failure to get out of a cul-de-sac it fights its way into is its offer of a truce. When it is strong and cocky, it doesn't give a tinker's damn about peace; it unleashes hell on others. But, when it sees the writing on the wall, it waves an olive branch tied to a gun barrel hoping that its enemies would fall for the trick… A ceasefire is the only hope for the LTTE, which is being encircled in the Wanni. The history of its armed struggle shows it sues for peace every five or six years to gain a boost for its war effort

–– The Island editorial comment, A carnivore's offer to be herbivorous, on July 14, 2008.

So, the LTTE has, as was expected, declared a unilateral ceasefire purportedly in view of the forthcoming SAARC Summit. It looks as though the LTTE thought the SAARC Summit would be held in the Wanni and not in Colombo. Else, why should it declare a ceasefire in the Wanni because of an event in Colombo? Why has the LTTE made a gratuitous truce offer?

Firstly, India has, by adopting unprecedented security measures such as the deployment of three warships and a number of aircraft to protect its PM Manmohan Singh during his scheduled visit to Colombo, on account of LTTE threats, sent a chilling message to the beleaguered Prabhakaran, who has his empire crumbling rapidly. Nothing could be more disturbing to the LTTE than this kind of reaction from India, whose help it is beseeching in a bid to get out of the present military mire it has got into of its own volition.

If the LTTE attempts a terror strike in Colombo during the SAARC Summit by any chance, it will not only incur the opprobrium of the world but also provide justification for the government's military onslaught; even the nations still looking askance at the government's twin track strategy of dealing with terrorism will be compelled to endorse it or at least to soften their stand on it. Colombo has come under a security blanket which the LTTE finds it difficult to penetrate while fighting in the Wanni, where it is eking out every ounce of energy to prevent the army from moving in. Therefore, it is being argued in some quarters that the LTTE has sought to make a virtue of its impotence by offering a truce.

As much as the government is banking on the SAARC Summit to boost its international image, the LTTE seems to be clutching at the SAARC straw to gain a breather.

Prabhakaran has no way of avoiding the fall of Kilinochchi vis-à-vis the military juggernaut in the Wanni. Defending the LTTE's fast shrinking dark empire on four fronts with no supplies coming in from India due to the fall of the Sea Tiger bases on the north-western coast, a naval blockade, and the loss of almost all its arms smuggling ships, has proved to be a daunting task for Prabhakaran, who urgently needs a respite to fortify his collapsing defences around Kilinochchi in the short term. In the long term, he needs his unilateral truce to develop into a formalised CFA like the previous ill-fated one which dragged on despite an umpteen number of truce violations by the LTTE. The fact that the LTTE has involved the Norwegians to seek the government's reciprocation shows that it is trying to drum up international support for its truce offer.

(One may recall how the US reacted when its terrorists offered a truce a few years ago. Osama bin Laden announced that he was willing to consider a ceasefire with the US but the White House contemptuously turned down his offer saying that the best way to deal with terrorism was to put terrorists out of business!)

It is a supreme irony that the LTTE, which unilaterally suspended peace talks in 2003 under the UNF government; arrogantly walked away from the so-called ceasefire talks under the Rajapaksa government in Geneva in 2006 and plunged the country back into war in July 2006, through acts of terrorism such as killing of security forces and police personnel, attempts to assassinate Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa et al and the capture of the Mavil Aru reservoir, is now offering a truce. If only it had helped strengthen the previous ceasefire without clawing it into pieces in 2006.

A brief look at the history of the on-going conflict will reveal that the LTTE's ceasefire offers have been cyclical. It has managed to lure successive governments into reciprocating them in 1989, 1995 and 2002 and thereby gained turbo boosts for its military campaign. That the LTTE is trying the same old trick once again is patently clear. However, as is the way with this world, a sucker is born every minute and the gullible international community may fall for the LTTE's truce -ruse hook, line and sinker.

What should the government do with the Tigers' Trojan horse? It is not likely that during SAARC, the military will conduct big operations in the Wanni. It will be busy consolidating its positions in the newly gained territory.

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama has rejected the LTTE’s truce. However, the government will have to address that ceasefire seriously and respond to it only if it continues after the SAARC Summit, which is likely to be the case, given the LTTE's predicament.

In such an eventuality, the government ought to reiterate the condition that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has already laid down (during his recent visit to India) for a ceasefire––surrender of arms. The government's reciprocation should also be made conditional to the LTTE's co-operation to achieve certain humanitarian objectives such as the release of child combatants and civilians and opening up areas under its control for humanitarian workers to operate freely.

That is the way to call Prabhakaran's bluff.

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