Sri Lanka’s choice: War or peace

Will hell break out in coming weeks with Sri Lankan troops and Tamil rebels resuming hostilities? Many people believe so as the LTTE steps up the tempo in attacks on military targets. A sudden upsurge of violence last week resulting in the deaths of 15 sailors and the assassination of Tamil parliamentarian and TNA member Pararajasingham Joseph in Batticaloa has triggered widespread fears that “Eelam War IV” is on the way.

Iqbal Athas, a defence columnist reckons serious battles will break out in the New Year. He said in his latest column: “The unfolding events seem to make clear the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran wants to give effect to his warning earlier than expected. He said then in his ‘Maveerar Day (Heroes)’ address that ‘if the new government rejects our urgent appeal, we will, next year, in solidarity with our people, intensify our struggle for self-determination, our struggle for national liberation to establish self government in our homeland.’ The urgent appeal was for a ‘reasonable political framework that will satisfy the aspirations of the Tamil people.’

Athas said, “Besides other reasons, he does not want to give President Rajapakse’s administration any time to become militarily stronger with what he perceives as staunch support from a friendly foreign country. For an unprepared security establishment, with no cohesive national strategy still in place, a daunting task lies ahead. An Eelam War Four is sure to be different from the previous three.

Rajapakse, who during the presidential campaign was persuaded by hardline allies like the JVP and the JHU (group of Buddhist monk parliamentarians) to insist on peace talks only in Sri Lanka and discontinue Norway as the chief facilitator of the peace process, has gone back on his word — just to maintain peace and stop another war erupting.

When a convoy of government troopers was attacked by rebel landmines, killing at least 12 soldiers, Rajapakse agreed to hold talks overseas and also invite Norway to resume their role as a facilitator. But the government insisted on talks in an Asian country whereas the Tigers insist on Oslo, saying the government was attempting to isolate the Tigers from the international community.

LTTE political leader SP Tamilchelvam, however, provided a window of opportunity to the government by saying that the Tigers had no objection to the second round of talks being held in Asia, preferably Japan. He said only the first round needs to be held in Oslo. The government needs to grab this opportunity and — like the Tigers — come down a little bit and agree to the first round of talks in Oslo and then move to Tokyo, or we would be sitting on a powder keg waiting to explode any moment.

There is no doubt the Tigers have the upper hand, not in strength or weapons or the number of armed cadres — but in the element of surprise and the capacity to strike limited but important targets using their deadly suicide units.

Political analysts say that the counter strategy of the LTTE appears to be to fight the next war not in the north but in the south especially targeting key economic targets with the aim of shifting not only the planned battle ground but also to a position that will cause maximum harm to the economy. The country has few choices — war or peace.

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