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Tamil Tigers out of the Woods




Shastri Ramachandaran

Senior Assistant Editor with The Times of India

TFF associate

November 11, 2002


The breakthrough in the second round of talks between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government signifies progress well ahead of expectations. At the end of the second round, three important agreements on political, military and economic matters have been signed. These agreements to address political issues, improve security and restore normality shall be followed up by setting up joint committees for the purpose. The crucial agreements were topped with the LTTE announcing its intention to enter democratic politics, signifying the rebel outfitís desire to turn a new leaf for wider political acceptance in Sri Lanka and abroad. This is expected to spur international financial and developmental assistance for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction as the negotiations brokered by Norway and hosted by Thailand is the first effort involving western facilitators and supported by India, Japan, the EU and the US.


Given the failure of four earlier attempts to end the Tamil-Sinhala conflict that has raged for nearly 19 years and claimed nearly 64,000 lives, the progress of the negotiations underway is indeed remarkable. It is also suggestive of a greater desire for peace. Had either side been looking for excuses to stall the process now underway, there was no dearth of issues to pick on. At the start of the talks in Thailand, Colombo was rocked by violent clashes between the Sinhalese and the Muslim minority. The next day, a Sri Lankan court sentenced LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakaran to 200 years in jail for allegedly masterminding the bombing of the Central Bank in Colombo. And during the talks a consignment of weapons was seized off the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. Yet neither side seemed to be inclined to use any of these developments to mar the negotiations, though the LTTE did lodge a strong protest against the court sentence during the course of the talks. It is clear that both sides are well motivated to keep the negotiations going steadily without being sidetracked. That may explain why the ceasefire that came about as part of the preparatory drill for the negotiations has held for over ten months despite accusations of violations by both sides. In effect, though the war between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil guerillas has not been called off formally, the guns have fallen silent. The Nordic countries have created a Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission to track the claims and counter-claims of truce violations, and by all accounts there has been no outbreak that should cause concern. The mood is so upbeat that the separatist rebels and the Sri Lankan government are now coming together to press the international community to generate the financial resources required for recovering from the ravages of war and rebuilding the economy.


The high point of this is likely to be a meeting between LTTE chief negotiator Anton Balasingam and Sri Lankan prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on November 25, in Oslo, on the sidelines of a decisive meeting of foreign donors. While Colombo has been under pressure to sue for peace, the LTTE which is designated a ìterrorist organizationî in India, the US and the UK has been pushed to the negotiating table by a number of factors. First and foremost, after 9/11, knowing that their flow of weapons and funds for weapons would get choked they came out with a strong plea for peace. They described themselves as ëfreedom fightersí who were unjustly branded as ìterroristsî for resisting the military campaign against the Tamil minority. Secondly, there was a sharp drop in the flow of funds and arms following the global war against terrorism. Thirdly, the people in Sri Lanka had become genuinely weary of the war and were no longer interested in questions such as who ñ the guerillas or the military ñ had committed more atrocities but desperately yearning for peace and a return to normal life. Fourthly, the LTTE was increasingly alienated in India and their political supporters under siege, if not actually arrested, for supporting a ëterrorist organisationí. All these add up to a situation where the climate is no longer conducive for the LTTE to go back to an armed struggle, as they have done on earlier occasions when they used the pretext of talks to regroup forces and launch fresh offensives, and thereby scuttled talks. Many of their lifelines for going back to the gun have been constricted if not completely cut off.


© TFF & the author 2002  


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