A flurry of visits by special Norwegian peace envoys, an EU ban on the LTTE following by a possible freezing of its funding resources and pro-LTTE protests outside parliaments in Europe puts Sri Lankaâ€™s civil conflict on top of the world map last week. Add Tuesdayâ€™s meeting in Tokyo where the co-chairs of Sri Lankaâ€™s peace process â€” the US, Japan and Norway and the EU â€” are meeting to discuss the future of peace process; then the focus is certainly on Sri Lanka. Even worse; the countryâ€™s tourism could get affected after a jeep carrying six local visitors and a guide at the National Park at Wilpattu was hit by a rebel landmine last Saturday, killing all its occupants. As world events vis-Ã -vis Sri Lanka take top billing, one of the issues that confronted many people last week was: is there a war or not in Sri Lanka?
The Sunday Times defence correspondent Iqbal Athas took issue with Peace Secretariat Head Palitha Kohonaâ€™s definition of what is going on â€” war or violence. While chief Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim warned that the two sides were sliding back to war, Kohona was quoted as saying: â€œThere is violence even in New York city. That does not mean there is war there.â€
Since President Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected, an average of three security forces personnel and policemen have been killed every day in Tiger guerrilla attacks. The total for the period is over 212 made up of Army 99, Navy 71, Air Force 3, Police 22 and Auxilliary Forces 17. In addition 176 civilians have been killed, the report said adding that this is without civilian deaths in guerrilla-dominated areas. Since the ceasefire agreement of February 22, 2002, over 645 government troopers have been killed and over 360 are said to be missing.
For obvious reasons, the government is unwilling to concede that there is a low intensity battle going on but that argument would be put to test on Tuesday at co-chairs meeting in Tokyo where the four nations are expected to issue a rebuke to both the government and the LTTE asking the two sides to immediately stop violence and return to the negotiating table.
While itâ€™s the Tigers who have triggered the violence, sections of the military are also seen to have followed rebel strikes with reprisal attacks, a fact acknowledged even by Kohona. The co-chairs statement is expected to put funding pressure on the government and pressure via a freeze on funding and the ban on the group, on the LTTE. Whether this would work and bring back the two sides, especially the LTTE â€” which has said an EU ban is negative and could jeopardise the ceasefire and the peace process â€” remains to be seen.
Apart from the global focus on Sri Lanka, a visit to the strife-torn northeast by Colomboâ€™s Anglican Bishop Rev. Duleep de Chickera last week brought forth a very revealing report on the plight of the mostly-Tamil people in that region and the threat of a full-scale war. Rev. Chickera, an outspoken priest, said the situation in eastern Trincomalee was tense and dangerously volatile with various groups engaged in a struggle for ideological, political and geographical space, which invariably spills into the routine lives of civilians.
Samath, a freelancer, wri-tes for THT from Colombo