TamilWeek, Nov 6 - 12, 2005
War or Peace: There is an option

By Easwaran Rutnam

Patience is becoming a key factor in Sri Lanka’s fragile peace process. The country is
now anxiously waiting to see which of the two parties, the government or the LTTE, will
go over the edge and resume the war that has already seen the lives of more than
60,000 people diminish.

While the government and the LTTE have made forward strides to maintain peace for
more than three years, the negative moves are taking precedence over the positives
casting serious doubt on the future of the peace process. The LTTE has already
made its intentions clear by conducting intense military training exercises for Tamil
civilians in the North and East, while the recent unmanned military flight over rebel
territory seems to suggest the government is also not just sitting back doing nothing.
Of course the casualty of a war will be the innocent civilians who suffered 20 years of
unrest and the state economy of this developing nation.

The outcome of the November 17 Presidential poll will undoubtedly decide on which
side the scale tilts, war or peace, with fears that a Mahinda Rajapakse government
may ignite serious tensions. The LTTE, though not openly supporting either of the two
main Presidential hopefuls, feels a Rajapakse government will be unfavorable to
peace in light of the agreements he has signed with the JVP and the JHU. It is with this
is mind that the rebels have begun training Tamil civilians in armed combat with even
women older that 70 years of age not spared.

According to the LTTE, the Tamils from the North and East are voluntarily engaged in
military training for “self defence”. But the military says the LTTE is forcing the people
to train and will probably use them as human shields.

The rebels, it must be said, have wisely used the opportunity given by the peace
process to rebuild its military capabilities by piling up its stocks of ammunition and
increasing its manpower. It has now also acquired air capabilities with intelligence
revealing at least seven to eight aircraft operating from the LTTE airstrip in Iranamadu.
The LTTE never granted the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) access to the
airstrip despite repeated demands from the cease-fire monitors. To put it in the words
of one Tamil religious leader from the east who has close links with the rebels, “the
LTTE now has enough firepower to be more destructive than four years ago”.

The Air Force meanwhile is secretly keeping a close watch on the activities in the
North and was unfortunate to have recently lost one of its Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
(UAV) in the process.

While the SLMM condemned the recent UAV flight over rebel territory as going against
the “spirit of the CFA” the government has insisted it has every right to do so as it
controls the airspace over the entire island.

Norway, meanwhile, is continuing diplomatic efforts to ensure the peace holds by
having regular discussions with both parties. However, the Foreign Minister of the new
Labour government in Oslo told the BBC last week that high-level facilitation will only
resume after the conclusion of the November poll in Sri Lanka.

He also reiterated that both the Sri Lankan government after November 17 and the
LTTE will have to re-invite the Norwegians to resume the facilitation, a point which is
bound to be debated in the event the PA comes to power, considering the JVP
opposition to Oslo.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse has already said he intends holding direct talks
with the LTTE without facilitation. But the rebels feel such a move will be unrealistic
with the media spokesman for the LTTE in Batticaloa, Selvam, noting to the Daily
Mirror that it would be hard to envisage such a possibility with difficulties on the
ground even now.

Meanwhile the positive moves taken by both parties to the CFA should not go
unrecognized. The decision of the government to permit a group of injured LTTE
cadres to receive urgent treatment in Colombo on humanitarian grounds was even
welcomed by the leader of the EPDP Douglas Devananda. Mr. Devananda, who has
been a frequent target of the LTTE, 10 failed attempts to be exact, told the Daily
Mirror that he had absolutely no problems with the move provided it is not “misused”
by the rebels.

The LTTE, on its part, has released several child soldiers in recent times, although
many still remain, and with the Presidential poll at hand it has promised to do its part
to ensure there is no violence in the North and East and has even opened rebel
territory for the candidates to campaign.

But the movement of Karuna cadres in cleared areas which has led to tit-for-tat killings
in the east including that of the LTTE eastern political leader Kaushalyan, the
assassination of the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and the subsequent
EU travel ban on the rebels, civilian opposition to the continued military occupation of
homes in the war zone as well as the inability of both parties to agree on a neutral
venue to discuss the review of the CFA has only dented what was once a more or less
straight line towards permanent peace.

The government will have to take note that there will have to be more than just a little
give-and-take when negotiating peace with a rebel organisation and it is a shame that
they are adamant on the venue for the crucial talks to review the CFA.

An American publication noted in an article that at times there can be only two options
when talking peace with a rebel outfit. You either give in to the political aspirations of
the rebels or prepare to lose innocent lives through battle.

In Sri Lanka, it is now a “wait and see” period with the results of the November 17 poll
being the likely deciding factor to where this country is heading.

As Sri Lankans, you and I undoubtedly have an important role to play on deciding the
future course of our country by keeping in mind what the late US President John. F.
Kennedy told his countrymen, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what
you can do for your country”.

[Courtesy: Daily Mirror]
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