Is Lanka heading for full-scale war?

With violence mounting by the day, many Sri Lankans are looking at Nepal with envy where a peace agreement was thrashed out between the government and Maoists.

Hopes for an end to the violence however are fading in Lanka where civilians, soldiers and rebels are daily dying as newspapers and analysts warn that a full-scale war is imminent. For example the Sunday Times defence correspondent Iqbal Athas’s weekly, widely read column was headlined “A full-scale war about to begin”. It said that, “peace facilitator Norway awaits responses to their five questions from the government and the LTTE. The government has said yes but the LTTE is yet to respond. Never before has the Ceasefire Agreement come under such severe strain. A full-scale war that most fear is about to begin.”

Many Lankans are fast getting tired of Tamil Tigers and demands to take them on in a full-scale war are rapidly growing. Anger against the Tigers exploded in Sri Lanka last week after a landmine blast on a civilian bus killed more than 60 people in the north-eastern region. The attack triggered an exodus of people from the LTTE-controlled villages.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration is following a dual strategy of pursuing a peaceful end to the war while reserving the right to defend against LTTE attacks like recent air strikes on rebel targets after last week’s bus massacre. But as civilian casualties rise, the government is under pressure to do more to stop rebel attacks and this would suggest more operations against the LTTE.

The terrible massacre is also adding to the pressure on the professionals who are wondering what’s happening in the country and whether they should leave or not. Could this be the second or third phase of Lankans migrating after Australia, the UK and the US drew our professionals in the 1960-80s and followed in 1983 by Tamils and other professionals leaving the country for both security and economic reasons? Everywhere you go: whatever meeting — the frequently discussed topic during a conversation is the state of the country and whether there is any hope left for the young people.

Then there are others who have got migration rights but are not using them; instead travelling to foreign lands regularly to keep that resident visa valid so that they could use it in case a decision is made to migrate.

On the other hand, plans to quote air tickets in dollars from October onwards have outraged many travellers and those seeking to travel abroad for the first time. The Exchange Controller at the Central Bank has approved a proposal by a group of airlines spearheaded by national carrier SriLankan Airlines to advertise air fares in US dollar rates but has said all transactions would be in Sri Lankan rupees based on the dollar rate the day before the ticket is purchased.

Travel agents and travellers are livid with the plan. “Air fares will go up as it’s based on the exchange rate. Even if a Colombo-London fare is offered at say $1000 today and is unchanged three months later, the rupee value would have risen,” one agent said adding that this would reduce holiday travel which is popular am-ongst middle class Lankans.

Samath, a freelancer, wr-ites for THT from Colombo