The President of the Tamil United Liberation Front, Veerasingham Anandasangaree on July 28 has called on the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), Velupillai Pirabaharan to declare a permanent ceasefire with the Sri Lankan Government surrendering his organization’s arms in the wake of the SAARC summit.
Also President Mahinda Rajapaksa during his recent visit to the southern Indian city of Thiruppathi told journalists that his Government was looking forward to peace talks with the LTTE provided they lay down arms.
Thus the call for the LTTE to lay down arms comes following the recent military successes of troops in the Mannar theatre which followed the capture by the security forces of the entire Eastern Province last year. The picture painted now by the Government is that troops are about to annihilate the rebels and in weeks, if not days the mission would be accomplished. Therefore, many may feel reasonable for the Government to call for the decommissioning of the LTTE.
Governments at various times alternatively have been stressing the need on the part of the LTTE to lay down arms and meekly withdraw the demand to have peace talks with the outfit, depending on the ground situation. Both Presidents Ranasingha Premadasa in 1990 and Chandrika Kumaratunge in 1995, after the break down of peace talks with the LTTE during their respective regimes, put forward the decommissioning demand as a precondition for future talks.
But with the turn of events, especially with the escalation of armed conflicts which automatically entails pressure by the international and local players, the decommissioning condition has faded away. And Governments have entered into agreements with the LTTE under which the organization’s military capability had been tolerated and even recognized in writing.
The difference between the calls for laying down arms by the Tigers in the past and now is that it came in the past, following the collapse of peace talks between the Government and the LTTE and at a time when the Tigers had gained strength through those talks. Also Presidents Premadasa and Kumaratunge made this demand out of disgust owing to the intransigence of the LTTE that led to the resurgence of armed conflict. However, the present call comes under such circumstances that the Tigers seem to have been severely hit by the military operations and to be weak.
Pro-Government analysts claimed days ago that two thirds of Tiger’s man and military hardware power had been destroyed in the recent operations by the troops. It may be on this premise that the call for the laying down of arms comes. A layman who is not an expert on military matters cannot confirm or deny these suggestions on the fast plummeting Tiger military strength, because though there are indications that the Tigers have been drastically weakened; there is also said to be precursors to infer that the Tigers are up to some major blow against the security forces.
Tamil newspapers argue that the hasty retreat of Tigers following the fall of the Sea Tiger base in Vidattaltivu in Mannar district last month was a ploy by the LTTE to pull the security forces deep into their territory in order to besiege and exterminate them, something the commanders of the Army may be mindful in the light of their experience. However the ferocity of the battles that lurks ahead in the coming months is inferable in view of the fact that the Tigers have managed to withdraw their cadres and heavy weapons deep into the Wanni in spite of Government forces capturing the entire Eastern Province last year and relatively a large area in the North, in the Mannar sector recently.
There have been instances where Tigers have planned mass-scale killing of troops by way of pulling them into the territory they control, as now predicted by Tamil papers. For instance during the Operation Jayasikuru which was the longest and the biggest ever military operation in contemporary history - 18 months with around 30,000 troops involved - the LTTE attempted twice to hit the tale end of the troops column advancing into the Wanni at Thandiulam and Kanagarayankulam, having allowed them to advance around 30 kilometres into their territory.
Had they succeed in one of those attempts, it would have been one of the largest massacre of troops, and the biggest major troops surrender to a rebel group in world history.
If the current withdrawal of LTTE from the Mannar sector as suggested by the Tamil papers was a deliberate tactical show of weakness by the outfit, its ceasefire during the SAARC summit in Colombo too must be taken as part of the ploy. However, the overall picture with Tiger territory fast shrinking gives the impression that the Tigers are encountering an irreversible downfall.
The LTTE most probably might attempt to delay the pace of the security forces hoping that the forthcoming monsoon which would cause floods in the Wanni in October would help them at least to roll back the operation of the troops, unless they would be able to inflict heavy casualties on them. And also they seem to anticipate external powers to come to their rescue.
Anita Pratap, former CNN correspondent who has interviewed the LTTE leader Velupillai Pirapaharan several times and was regarded sometimes back as one of his friends and also a Sri Lanka watcher for a long time, has said in an interview with the pro-LTTE Tamil website “Puthinam” last month that the LTTE leader is anticipating changes in current Indian and US regimes which are extremely adverse to his organization’s interests and that he would carry out his manoeuvring next year.
She argues that the Indian Congress is hell bent to crush the LTTE and in the event it is beaten at the next general election due to be held early next year; the Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalistic party which is expected to come to power next would not take any stringent measures against the organization according to Pirapaharan’s calculations. And also she is of the view that Pirapaharan is awaiting Democratic senator Barack Obama to win the US Presidential Election that will be held in November this year.
Senator Obama characterised the conflict in Sri Lanka recently as a “vicious civil war” at the ‘Candidates@Google’ meeting and described the Sri Lankan crisis as the inability of people to accommodate others “who are not like us,” and mentioned Sri Lanka as an example, pointing out that war rages even when “everybody there looks exactly the same.”
After his comment, the Consortium of Sri Lankan Expatriates, pointed out that it appeared that Senator Obama had been misled either by what they called the Tamil Tiger terrorist lobby or misguided by the media.
All these point to the fact that the Tigers are not left without hope and pushed to a point where they have no option other than to lay down arms.
LTTE no doubt must one day surrender their arms, if their claim that they are for a peaceful solution to the ethnic problem is genuine, as there cannot exist two armies in a country. They can be adamant in their hold on to the guns and bombs for ever only if they need a separate Tamil state within the Sri Lankan territory.
On the part of the Government it would invariably insist on the decommissioning of the rebels through peaceful means or otherwise, for it does not recognize any other’s writ within any part of the country. But insisting on decommissioning before a political solution through a mutual agreement is a highly debatable issue.
The Tokyo declaration which was issued after the conference of countries and agencies to assist the Sri Lankan peace process held in June, 2003 also speaks of a roadmap for peace in Sri Lanka with the decommissioning of the LTTE at the end of it. It should have been an eye opener to the LTTE as it indicates that the international community does not recognize a second security force and a separate state within the Sri Lankan territory.
However, the attitude of the international community would have been otherwise had the LTTE been on the verge of capturing all parts of the North East and establishing a separate state. This would be clear if one can recollect the situation before the fall of the Jaffna peninsula which was under the control of the LTTE to the security forces. The entire Northern Province except for the areas surrounding the bases of the security forces at Palali, Karainagar, Mullaitivu, Mannar, Vavuniya and Elephant Pass- all on the periphery of the province, and a large area in the East especially in Batticaloa and Ampara district were then under rebel rule.
The outfit had its police, courts and an administrative structure and was lobbying for international recognition, which some politicians in the South feared would be gained soon.
However, now that the tigers have been evacuated from most parts of the North and East, with the outfit holding, only 6 percent of land in the country, and 250,000 people in those areas, interest of the international community as well as the Sri Lankan Government irrespective of whichever Government is in power too, would be worn away.
This was evident from the silence by the international community as well as the so-called peace lobbyist over the LTTE’s recent ceasefire call and the call for decommissioning by the President. Therefore the Tigers seem to be now faced with a “do or die” situation in their history.
M.S.M. Ayub ~ dailymirror.lk ~