Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sri Lanka

Known for its tenacity and grit, the LTTE is now at the cross roads. It fought fierce conventional battles, captured major army bases and significant swathes of land, and attacked Colombo in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This affected investor confidence, tourism and forced the incoming Government to enter into a Norwegian mediated cease-fire with the LTTE in February 2002. The cease-fire is now at breaking point.

While the LTTE retains the ability to wreak havoc with the Sri Lankan economy, it has few real options. For one, it has been increasingly sidelined in the international arena given its human rights record and terrorism. Australia, Britain Canada, India and the United States have designated it a terrorist outfit. The European Union is likely to ban it should the current cease-fire be broken. This restricts their international fund raising capability. Financing constraints would prevent a return to prolonged conventional warfare.

The fighting capacity of the LTTE that once allowed it to take on the Sri Lankan military might now be dented. Reports suggest that Indian intelligence had instigated the revolt of Eastern/Batticaloa LTTE cadre led by Karuna in March, 2004. The Northern command of the LTTE crushed this but in doing so lost one of its most capable strategists. Karuna defected to the military. The LTTE has a Northern/Jaffna leadership that controls the sea tigers, the incipient air tigers, its intelligence, its finances, its international procurement and its mercantile shipping. However, many of the foot soldiers hailed from the poverty stricken East. While the LTTE has not lost the East, its ability to recruit fighters there has been dented. It now faces a shortfall in cadre.

The close ties forged between Karuna and the Army under Indian sponsorship resulted in snipper attacks on LTTE leaders. The LTTE retaliated with claymore mine attacks on army convoys. The military responded with the murder of Tamil civilians. Last afternoon's attempted assassination of the hard-line Army Commander deep within the fortified Army Headquarters in Colombo and the subsequent Sri Lankan Airforce bombardment of Tamil villages in Trincomalee indicate that we might be in for turbulent weather.

The LTTE retains the capacity to attack Colombo and destroy investor confidence. Any terrorist attack in Colombo would send the economy into a tailspin. Even if there were to be a return to conventional war due to trigger-happy hard-liners on either side, both parties realize that they lack the means to sustain it. There would be the inevitable peace talks after a swift territorial redemarcation of areas controlled by either side. As in the past 25 years, Sri Lanka remains in a stable equilibrium of continued uncertainty.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

The news out of SL is disturbing. The suicide attack inside the Army compound demonstrates that the LTTE has insider information. This resonates with the feedback we received that the LTTE has forged links with mercenaries within the army. What is even more disconcerting is that the airforce has been used by the govt. against its own people. I think this is one of the rare cases -- the other being Indian Air Force being used to subdue the Mizo insurgency.

dipendra said...

Jaffna: Very timely and well-written post. You are on a roll writing about nuclear issues, Nepal and now Sri Lanka. This blog and the blogosphere in general is lucky to have a solid contributor. Bravo and keep up the excellent standards.

Primary Red said...

Jaffna:

The only reason there is stalemate is that the world (and India) have failed to really support the Government in crushing the terrorist LTTE. Tenacity and grit are hardly the adjectives to describe these bastards -- cruelty and savagery is much better.

One can only hope that India and the West will pour on military assets in support of Colombo to completely annihilate the LTTE's evil shadow on the Sri Lankan Tamil society.

Best regards

froginthewell said...

The military responded with the murder of Tamil civilians.

This is something I have never understood - how would such an action help the army? Or how would it weaken the LTTE?

Thanks and regards.

Nitin said...

See what the Lanka Libertarian says:

http://llibertarian.blogspot.com/2006/04/sri-lankan-army-our-pride.html

Jaffna said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jaffna said...

Retyping after spell check!

I read the Lanka Libertarian post. This is a free world and each is entitled to his or her opinion.

Lanka Libertarian is cogent and sharp. But chaps like him are sure recipes for secession. His views harden the ethnic divide because of the sheer bias built into the analysis at every stage. His dismissal of the 1983 anti-Tamil riots as an exaggerated incident is a case in point. His questionning of a solid NGO piece - and a highly respected one at that in the international community - critiquing Government policy to harass Tamil civilians in Trincomalee is another instance.

And yet, he needs to be heard just as a Tamil nationalist needs to be heard. This would ensure multiple voices in our polity.

I preferred the conciliatory comments of Electra and Savi though. They gave me renewed faith in Sri Lanka. The alternative would be partition.

The fact remains that the ethnic conflict has prevented Sri Lanka from joining the big league. The civil conflict has reduced our rates of growth. The military has failed to crush the LTTE for 25 years now. The LTTE has repeatedly overrun military camps in the North and attacked Colombo with audacity. The country lacks leadership of international calibre unlike before.

Sri Lanka has a fragile economy.l It is highly indebted - the only other two such countries in the region are Afghanistan and Nepal. This is a country subsidized by international aid. Its economy would collapse otherwise. Few know about this given Colombo's outward glamor in contrast to most other South Asian cities.

The Sinhalese presume that Sri Lanka is their country and their's to dominate. They should just open their eyes to see what a mess the country is in. The Tamils lack basic political instinct. They need to just look at Jaffna and go no further.

Sri Lanka is a country that has repeatedly missed the bus. One finds two competing nationalisms, each flawed, fighting to their death.

Bosnia Hercegovina has banned any symbol of ethnicity. Rwanda took sharp action against anyone espousing a tribal line. I think we should consider the same.

Anonymous said...

Tamil rebels vow reprisal; at least 16 killed, thousands displaced in Sri Lanka.

Associated Press. Shimali Senanayake in Colombo, April 26th, 2006.

Tamil Tiger rebels on Wednesday warned that their response to Sri Lankan air strikes would be devastating, after 16 people were killed and thousands displaced as the island verged on the edge of war. "We are in a state of readiness and are awaiting for the instruction from our leadership to respond with a force that will be catastrophically disabling and devastating to the enemy," said S.Elilan, the rebels' Trincomalee district political head was quoted on the pro-rebel TamilNet Website.

He said that the Tigers had not yet retaliated against strikes by government forces and is "keen not to disturb the peace process."

"However we are waiting for the instruction from our leadership," Elilan said.

Sri Lanka began air attacks, supported by the navy and army on Tuesday, hours after a suspected female rebel suicide bomber disguised as a pregnant woman blew herself up at the military headquarters killing at least 10 people and wounding some 28, including the army chief.

Israeli-built Kfir jets and Ukranian MiG-27 aircraft launched fresh air raids on Wednesday, along with naval gun-boats and army artillery units on Sampoor, an eastern area controlled by the rebels following a brief overnight respite.

"The bombings are targeting civilians and we found 12 bodies this morning," said Daya Master, rebel spokesman. He said "a large number" were injured but did'n't disclose figures.

The Sampoor area, in Trincomalee is under the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE control.

"The strikes targeted a cluster of LTTE boats and their positions," said Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe, military spokesman, denying civilian targets.

He said retaliatory fire by the guerrillas had killed four civilians in a government-controlled Muslim village nearby.

But the Tigers blamed air-force bombings for the deaths.

Nine civilians, including one woman and a three-year-old were admitted to the eastern Trincomalee hospital. The victims had been treated for shrapnel wounds and were not in critical condition, hospital officials said.

Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, remained on a ventilator on Wednesday at the intensive care unit in the main hospital in Colombo.

"The surgeons feel his condition is stable even though he sustained serious injuries to his chest and abdomen," said Hector Weerasinghe, the hospital director.

Nine others were also receiving treatment following the attack, he said.

The LTTE has denied it carried out Tuesday's blast.

"We are not responsible for the suicide attack and deny the government's accusations," Master said. "So far, we have not withdrawn from the cease-fire agreement and still uphold it."

The High-Security Zone Residents Liberation Forces has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's blast. The group _ largely believed to be a front organization of the Tigers _ threatened more attacks.

The government meanwhile, vowed to pound Tamil rebel positions in retaliatory strikes.

"If the LTTE continues attacking, there will be coordinated retaliation in the form of defense," Plan Implementation Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters. "This will continue as long as the LTTE targets the security forces."

He stressed however, the government was fully committed to the 2002 Norwegian-brokered truce and urged the LTTE to "stop its terror," and resume peace talks.

The main A-9 highway which links northern Jaffna with the rest of the country and runs through a large swath of rebel territory, remained closed on Wednesday.

There has been wide-scale international condemnation for Tuesday's suicide blast, including from Washington and the United Nations.

The U.S., Japan, the European Union and Norway, known as the co-chairs to Sri Lanka's peace process were to meet on Friday to review the situation.

Meanwhile, reports indicate that tens of thousands of people were fleeing the volatile eastern areas.

Initial indications are that 43,000 people from 30 villagers in the Muttur area had fled, said Geevan Thiagarajah, head of the Consortium for Human Rights.

"The whole purpose of the cease-fire, was to address the cost of the conflict, not to add to it," Thiagarajah said.

Apollo said...

here we go again.nepal now srilanka. our neighbourhood is in a bloody mess. we are unable to get our act together in our own backyard. so what "sterling" contribution to world peace and democracy will we make in say bolivia or sierra leone if we are called upon. i think india does not "yet" deserve a permanent seat in the UNSC.

doubtinggaurav said...

Jaffna,

I do have to agree with the eminent blogger, "tenacity and grit" do seem misplaced in context of LTTE (who, if I am not mistaken are guilty of crimes against Tamil and other groups as much as Singhalese)
I have heard Your remark about Sinhalese considering Sri Lanka to be exclusively their country somewehre else.
How much of this sentiment is due to the entreched religious authorities ?

Regards

Jaffna said...

Gaurav,

I used the word tenacity and grit for a specific reason. India intervened in 1987. The IPKF captured the Jaffna peninsula in six days and pushed the LTTE to the Vanni - the adjoining mainland. The LTTE refused to give in. The continued to launch hit and run attacks (albeit aided by the Premadasa regime towards the end). They demonstrated resilience. The IPKF left, the LTTE remains.

Chandrika Kumaratunge launched a military campaign against the LTTE in December, 1995. Sri Lankan troops took over Jaffna in six months and the LTTE was once again cornered. It retained its earlier resilience and pushed back Sri Lankan troops through several high profile victories i.e. the capture of military camps in Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass.

Tenacity and grit are not moral qualities. I used the words to highlight staying power and resilience - like the Vietnamese resistance or the Russian defence of Stalingrad.

All parties have killed civilians belonging to all ethnic groups. The Sri Lankan military crushed the Sinhalese youth insurrection with unparalleled ferocity in 1971 and once again in 1989. The LTTE killed Tamil dissenters.

Best regards

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