The 2004 threat of return to war was diluted because of the Tsunami. Tough posturing on Hero's Day apart from being ritualistic is also an indication that the LTTE would continue to maintain a threshold level of violence
If there was a sense that an unstable equilibrium had somehow been achieved in Sri Lanka, and that this would survive the change of government, this complacence has certainly been undermined by the harsh posturing on both sides in just over two weeks since the election results brought the hardline President Mahinda Rajapaksa to power.
As has been customary over a number of years, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Chief, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, in military fatigues, delivered his "Heroes' Day" speech on November 27, 2005. His speech was laced with the usual anti-Sinhala-Buddhist rhetoric and Tamil nationalistic exhortation, but it had an added sting, as Prabhakaran defined a new deadline for the peace process:
The new government should come forward soon with a reasonable political framework that will satisfy the political aspirations of the Tamil people. This is our urgent and final appeal. If the new government rejects our urgent appeal, we will, next year, in solidarity with our people, intensify our struggle for self-determination, our struggle for national liberation to establish self-government in our homeland.
While it is certainly unsettling, the ultimatum is not without precedent. In his 2004 "Heroes’ Day" speech, Prabhakaran had voiced a similar threat:
We are living in a political void, without war, without a stable peace … If the government of Sri Lanka rejects our urgent appeal and adopts delaying tactics, perpetuating the suffering of our people, we have no alternative other than to advance the freedom struggle of our nation..
The 2004 threat of return to war was, however, diluted and forgotten when the Tsunami struck LTTE stronghold areas on December 24 and, according to unconfirmed reports, destroyed a significant proportion of their cadres and arsenal.
The intervening year, however, has seen significant and unsettling developments that heighten risks of recidivism in the country. Since the Tsunami, the island nation and the LTTE have grappled with reconstruction and rehabilitation woes; however, the country has also witnessed a spike in violence in 2005. According to data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, 232 persons had been killed in 2005 (till November 30), including 123 civilians, 36 security force personnel and 73 terrorists. 2004 saw a total of 109 deaths (33 civilians, 7 security force personnel and 69 terrorists).
The districts of Amparai, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Polonnurawa have been the worst affected by this escalation, accounting for as many as 174 of the 232 deaths. The split in the LTTE in March 2004, with the eastern faction led by 'Colonel' Karuna charting its own course, contributed overwhelmingly to this sudden spurt in deaths in the region, though it is believed that only several hundred Karuna cadres are actively engaged in taking on their erstwhile brothers-in-arms in the Eastern districts of Batticaloa, Amparai and Polonnaruwa. Since April 9, 2004, when the LTTE launched attacks against the forward positions of ‘Colonel’ Karuna near the Verugal River in Batticaloa District, there have been close to 51 incidents of violence involving the two factions, leading to the death of 54 LTTE and 64 Karuna cadres.
Among these are a number of crucial leadership losses inflicted on the LTTE, prominent among which were the killings of its Eastern Political wing leader, Kaushalyan, his deputy Nedimaran and Ariyanayagam Chandra Nehru, the former Tamil National Alliance Member of Parliament for the Amparai District, in an ambush at Poonani in Batticaloa District on February 7, 2005. There have also been unsuccessful, though psychologically and physically damaging, attempts on the LTTE senior leadership: on February 28, 2005, Kuveni, the head of the LTTE’s ‘Political Division (Women)’ for Batticaloa-Amparai, and two of her colleagues, Akanila and Sasimathy, were shot at and wounded in Thambattai; on June 26, LTTE’s Amparai district 'political head', Kuyilinpan and 40 cadres escaped a landmine explosion at Welikanda. In the latest attack on November 14, the Karuna faction scored a ‘success’, eliminating the LTTE's Amparai District ‘military commander’, Suresh, in the Akkaraipattu area.
Never faced with such retaliation from his own ilk, Prabhakaran complained bitterly that a "subversive war has been unleashed with the aim of weakening our liberation organisation and to undermine our struggle." However, a closer look at recent events highlights the fact that the LTTE, apart from targeting many ground-level functionaries of its rival Tamil parties and the Karuna faction, has also been indulging in a systematic campaign of liquidation, targeting persons whose work is believed to have harmed the LTTE. Some of the most prominent among recent assassinations in this chain include:
April 24, 2005: a police official, Inspector T. Jeyaratnam, responsible for the arrest of a large number of LTTE operatives, was reported missing since April 20, possibly killed by the LTTE.
May 31, 2005: the LTTE shot dead the Commanding Officer of the Army Intelligence Unit, Major Nizam Mutalif, at Polhengoda in the capital, Colombo
August 4, 2005: Jaffna district Superintendent of Police, W. D. Charles Wijewardene, was abducted and hacked to death by a mob instigated by the LTTE on the Jaffna-KKS Road in the Paalaveddi area.
August 12, 2005: Foreign Affairs Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, was shot dead by a LTTE sniper near his private residence on Bullers Lane in the heart of the capital Colombo.
October 30, 2005: A senior Officer, Lieutenant Colonel T.R. Meedin of the Military Intelligence Corps, was killed by the LTTE in the Kiribathgoda area of Colombo district.
The LTTE has also focused its machinery continuously on efforts at military consolidation, embracing arms procurement, recruitment – including child recruitment – and fund-raising. The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), as of 31 July 2005, had documented 5,081 cases of underage recruitment by the LTTE, since the signing of the cease-fire agreement in 2003. Further, the mobilisation of resources has not just been limited to the island territory but has extended into nations like Great Britain, Australia, Canada, France and Switzerland, where there is a significant Tamil Diaspora.
According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, in November 2005, members of Toronto’s large Tamil community had been asked to make an immediate cash contribution of $2,500 each, with the warning that those who did not contribute would not be allowed to travel in the LTTE-controlled parts of Sri Lanka when they returned for visits.
In its December 2, 2005, issue, Le Figaro also reported that the LTTE had collected an estimated $ 120 million in a sophisticated racket targeting France’s Tamil Diaspora. Quoting French intelligence officials, Le Figaro added that some 1,000 LTTE cadres enforce the collection of ‘revolutionary tax’ among the 70,000-strong community.
Similar reports of fundraising have been received from Australia where, on November 23, 2005, Federal Police officials arrested several LTTE agents in Melbourne for fund-raising and money laundering activities. Among those who were taken into custody were Thillai Jeyakumar, the head of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) and Sivaraj Jathevan, editor of the Eelam Murasi, the bi-monthly mouthpiece published in France but circulated in Australia.
Within this context, and given the polarized politics of Sri Lanka, though Prabhakaran has put an year-end deadline for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to deliver a "reasonable political framework" for resolution of the protracted ethnic war, it remains highly improbable that the Sinhala-Buddhist regime would be able to conjure up a solution in this period. It would, in fact, need a miracle, to prevail upon the two extremes to abandon their respective ‘high ground’ and arrive at a compromise – an eventuality that remains unlikely, considering the position held by President Rajapaksa and his backers, and by the LTTE leadership.
Indeed, President Rajapaksa, in his Policy Statement at the Opening of the new session of Parliament on November 25, 2005, sought to impose new conditionalities on the LTTE under a revised Ceasefire Agreement that would "ensure the protection of human rights, prevent recruitment of children for war, safeguard national security….. (and the) Creation of a government infrastructure that will safeguard Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, unitary nature of the state" and replace "concepts of traditional homelands and self-determination" with that of the "freedom to exercise all the rights enshrined in the Constitution"; concepts that would inevitably clash with LTTE’s core demands of ‘self-government, self-determination and national liberation’.
In a statement that has further vitiated the already gloomy atmosphere in the country, the Janathā Vimukthi Peramuna’s (JVP, the main ‘Left’ party in Parliament) leader, Somawansa Amarasinghe, stated on November 24 that, "Finding a solution to the ethnic crisis on the basis of a unitary state was the key component of the agreement (between the JVP and the President’s party). The JVP was also opposed to Norway’s facilitation. Therefore our party would not change from its position agreed upon in the agreement reached with the President." Compounding uncertainties, the Constitutional Affairs Minister D.E.W. Gunasekara, reacting to the LTTE deadline, declared, "We don’t get excited by these deadlines… You can’t do these things in a hurry. You can’t do it in one night."
The resumption of open war does not, of course, appear to be imminent despite the posturing. Neither the LTTE nor the government has managed to secure a decisive advantage over the past years – despite continuous efforts to weaken the ‘enemy’, and both parties would be inclined to continue with the covert war till a such a decisive superiority has been secured.
Third party intervention and the focus of international organizations, as well as the substantial dependence of both the LTTE and the government on the generosity of international donors, make war far too costly and hazardous.The European Union (EU) declaration of September 26, 2005, to check and curb illegal or undesirable activities (including issues of funding and propaganda) of the LTTE, its related organisations and known individual supporters, will be a reminder to Prabhakaran of international concerns.
It is consequently likely that the LTTE, while continuing to formally adhere to the ceasefire and speak in favour of peace, would continue to maintain a threshold level of violence, systematically targeting Karuna cadres as well as senior security officials, and to use the garb of peace to snuff out any form of anti-LTTE Tamil opposition. It is crucial, therefore, that the international community refuses to turn a blind eye to the clandestine war in Sri Lanka in the name of a false and fragile peace.
Saji Cherian is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal