Lanka gearing for war while pursuing peace?

Himalayan News Service

Colombo, April 13:

Sri Lanka could be readying for war while pursuing peace, reports OneWorld. Amid rumours of renewed talks between Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the government has launched an army recruitment drive.

Said Susil Premajayantha, a confidant of Kumaratunga: “There are many new challenges. We will face them with an open mind. Talks with LTTE will begin as soon as possible.”

The Freedom Alliance won the single largest majority in the elections. The victory came at a time when the LTTE split in the country’s east, although LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran has again taken control of the region.

The breakaway LTTE leader Colonel Karuna, has fled the area but not before causing bloodshed and tension that led to thousands fleeing the region on the east coast. Remedius Kandasamy, secretary of the NGO Centre for Human Rights and Development, said: “We are witnessing a very dangerous trend where peace dynamics have suddenly gone totally out of hand. Unless the new government starts negotiations with the LTTE immediately, the future of the peace process will be very bleak.” Kandasamy said last week’s fighting between LTTE factions drove home the damaging failure of the previous government to get the rebels to respect a Geneva protocol on humanitarian law. Added Jehan Perera, director of the National Peace Council: “Everybody (involved in the conflict), especially civilians, are the responsibility of the government.

“Unfortunately, the government didn’t even call on the two LTTE factions to stop fighting when they started the battle in a grave violation of the ceasefire and displaced thousands of civilians.” Perera felt civil society should have played a more active role in asking the LTTE factions to cease from strife. In the wake of fighting within the hitherto regimented LTTE, many view the army recruitment drive positively. B Siriwardena, a retired school principal in Sabaragamuwa province, said: “Strengthening the military is a good thing. However, none of us wants another war.”

Nimal Ratnayake, a senior officer at the lands ministry, agreed. “There were allegations the previous government took defence for granted and gave in to the LTTE too much. That was one of the reasons for its poll defeat. But this does not mean people voted for war. What we want is a negotiated settlement without conceding the LTTE’s irrational demands.”