SRI LANKA: Triangular Struggle Threatens Truce with Tigers
@ IPS / 27JUL2005
COLOMBO, Jul 27 (IPS) - As a triangular struggle for control of the island country’s restive East, among the Tamil Tigers, a renegade faction led by 'Col. Karuna' and the Sri Lankan army worsens, observers fear that the fragile truce brokered by Norway in February 2000 is about to come unstuck.
''It is impossible to talk to the government, when it is waging a shadow war (by supporting the renegade faction),'' S P Tamilselvan, who heads the political wing of the Tamil Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), said after emerging from a meeting with truce monitors and officials of the Norwegian mission in Colombo last week.
The monitors have been lobbying for a high-level meeting between government officials and Tiger representatives to break a deadlock over transport facilities in the tsunami-devastated East of the country and also to retrieve a rapidly deteriorating security situation.
''We are trying to organise a meeting, but so far no luck,'' said Helen Olafsdottir, spokesperson for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM).
Following a botched claymore mine attack on a bus carrying Tiger personnel on Jun. 26, the LTTE has been demanding that government security personnel accompany its cadres in the East as a guarantee of security from such attacks, carried out allegedly by the renegade faction of Col. Karuna (Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharana).
The Tigers also want paramilitary troops operating in government-held areas in the East to be disarmed as a pre-condition to the initiation of any dialogue. So far, the army has refused to comply with either demand.
Col. Karuna defected to government-held areas in the East after a failed rebellion in April 2004 and has since been carrying out attacks on Tiger ranks.
''In a remarkable reversal of roles, a motley group of various anti-Tiger, Tamil elements, aided and abetted by the security and intelligence networks of the state, is providing the LTTE a taste of its own bitter medicine, '' a seasoned analyst of the Tamil militancy wrote in the Jul. 24 edition of the 'Sunday Leader', an English language weekly, summing up the situation in the East.
As international concern grew for the fate of Oslo-brokered truce, President Chandrika Kumaratunga appealed Monday to diplomats from Norway, Japan, the European Union and the United States to exert pressure on the Tigers to scale down violence and keep peace on course.
But the 'co-chairs' of the Norwegian-led peace effort are not entirely convinced of the government’s sincerity in sticking by the provisions of the February 2002 truce which include security conditions.
''Unless security is guaranteed, a central pillar of the ceasefire agreement will be undermined,'' the donor countries said in a skeptically-worded statement released last week.
In the statement, the co-chairs were at one with Tiger demands that ''all paramilitary groups are disarmed and prevented from any activity that might lead to acts of violence'' and that the government guarantee ''the security of unarmed LTTE cadres in government-controlled areas.''
However, on Monday, the government disagreed with the co-chairs and insisted that it had no role in the attacks on the Tigers, which were purely the result of factional fighting between LTTE cadres and Col. Karuna’s renegade faction.
''The government does not condone nor support the activities of the former LTTE cadres of the 'Karuna' group or any others, who are engaged in clashes with the LTTE in the Northern and Eastern Provinces,'' the official statement said.
The Tigers are not buying the government’s arguments and have threatened to use their own military capabilities on land, sea and air if security provided by the government is deemed inadequate.
Tamilselvan announced two weeks back that cadres would be armed hereafter when they enter government territories. The threat has not been carried out, but the Tigers have closed most of their political offices in government-held areas and moved senior cadres to safer locations.
The military reacted to the threat by saying that it would not allow armed LTTE cadres to enter government areas. ''It is a violation of the ceasefire agreement and we will act accordingly,'' Brig Daya Rathnayake, a military spokesman said.
Rathnayake maintained that the Tigers were preparing for hostilities and last week the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that for the first time since the tsunami, recruitment of children by the Tigers had increased.
UNICEF spokesperson Jeffery Keele told IPS that in July, 28 cases of child recruitment were reported, compared to 18 in June, with most of the recruitments taking place in the East. The Tigers said the children volunteered to join their ranks due to the prevalent situation.
Violence has increased alarmingly in the East. Last week, a police post near a tsunami warehouse, used by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), came under attack in Akkaraipaththu in the East.
''These sort of incidents are always of concern to us because they can disrupt the reconstruction effort,'' Gina Wilkinson of the IOM said. The East, which has seen the worst of the fratricidal violence between the Tigers and the Karuna faction, also suffered the worst in the tsunami.
Tensions have worsened ever since the Supreme Court blocked, on Jul. 15, a controversial plan announced by Kumaratunga to apportion some three billion dollars worth of international tsunami aid between the government and the LTTE.
The court ruling, citing constitutional issues, turned the tsunami aid-sharing deal from a potential confidence-building measure leading to resumed talks between the government and the LTTE, into another point of conflict.
At least 31,000 people died while a million became homeless as result of the Dec. 26 Asian tsunami, with two-thirds of the destruction estimated to have been wrought in the conflict-ridden East and North-eastern parts of the island where the LTTE is dominant.
Already July has seen some of the worst bloodletting since 1983 when the LTTE, led by its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, declared war by attacking an army convoy in its stronghold of northern Jaffna and killing 13 soldiers.
The incident set off the worst ethnic riots in Sri Lanka since independence, resulting in the killing of scores of Tamils in the south. Thousands were left destitute while others fled for safety to the North or migrated abroad and began contributing to the coffers of the LTTE and other militant groups.
At least 60,000 people have died in the LTTE-led war to carve out a separate homeland for the Tamils, who are mostly Hindu, and form less than a fifth of the largely Sinhalese-Buddhist population of 20 million.
And now the conflict in the East threatens to revive the war. ''The only way for talks to resume is if there is a dramatic decline in the killings in the East,'' Olafsdottir said. (END/2005)