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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2643

Diminishing Returns

By M Rama Rao, India Editor, Asian Tribune

New Delhi, 22 June, ( The civil war in Sri Lanka is becoming bloodier by the day. The casualties are now in the hundreds per encounter as the Sri Lankan armed forces are creeping up to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam stronghold in what is known as the Wanni area south of the Jaffna peninsula.

Large casualties among security forces are to be expected given that the LTTE cadres are now conducting trench warfare where the attacking force will have to buy its way with blood. That the LTTE too has suffered a large number of dead and wounded will have an attrition effect on its fighting capabilities. Unless the LTTE is able to turn the tide of war dramatically its dream of a Tamil Eelam (homeland) is receding rapidly.

The Sri Lanka army attack on Muhamalai on the outskirts of Kilinochchi, the gateway to the peninsula, was the bloodiest in the many pitched battles that have been fought by the two sides since the tenuous ceasefire collapsed at the beginning of the year. One estimate puts the deaths as high as 130 on both sides and about 500 injured. The soldiers appeared to have walked into an ambush while giving hot pursuit to Tamil guerrillas who had appeared to be withdrawing in the face of the approaching mass of troops.

In the final analysis the troops have managed to secure several hundred meters of territory in the direction of Kilinochchi on the basis of which the Government had claimed a victory. It was a hard-fought battle and it is being observed that the loss of manpower on both sides could begin to affect their ability to offer stiff resistance or push an advantage to its final conclusion.

This applies more to the LTTE because people are beginning to leave their homes in the face of constant bombardment and shortage of food thereby reducing the base of LTTE recruitment or replenishments. That is why more and more bodies of women are beginning to appear among LTTE casualties.

The Sri Lankan Army too is finding it difficult to draw on manpower for its sustained campaign as is noticed in the series of advertisements for recruitment and announcements of amnesty for those who have deserted their units to avoid fighting. Sinhala zeal to best the LTTE apparently is not translating into voluntary service in the armed forces. Already the deadline for decimating the LTTE has begun to slip from the end of 2008 to early 2009.

Part of the problem could be that one of its staunch allies - "Colonel Karuna" of the breakaway faction of the LTTE in the eastern province is cooling his heels in a British jail for being in the possession of a diplomatic passport with correct photograph but a false name. His deputy carved out a political party in the meantime and has come to power through the ballot box in the Batticaloa region in the East. "Col Karuna's" men (drawn from the eastern province) were acknowledgedly the better fighters in the unified LTTE with him as the rallying point and inspiration.

LTTE's supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran who was believed to have been injured in an attack on his hideout by the Air Force appears to be still in command and trying to break out of the growing encirclement by the armed forces. The use of his fledgling air element to hit at military encampments has not been successful because the aircraft were picked up by radar (supplied by India?) and the pair of LTTE aircraft was greeted with a hail of ground fire which disrupted their aim and the bombs went off target.

In a tactic designed to try and draw away the Sri Lanka army, LTTE cadres are attacking widely dispersed targets with their standard weapon -- suicide bombers. There is no gainsaying the ability of the LTTE to hit targets anywhere in Sri Lanka as was demonstrated when they struck a bus in Colombo recently and the port city of Galle on the southern tip of the island some months ago. The threat of political assassinations could force the Mahinda Rajapaksha Government to concentrate more troops in and around Colombo.

In spite of its ability to stand and fight as it did at Muhamalai, the LTTE still remains a guerrilla force best used to hit and run operations and prone to unconventional tactics like suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). After the loss of territory in the eastern province, the resumption of fighting has seen a decrease in the area of LTTE control. Wanni is considered to be the forward ramparts of its stronghold in Kilinochchi, Kankesanturai and the Jaffna Peninsula.

Jaffna is under a Military Commander of the Sri Lanka Army. Yet, there are frequent kidnappings and killings that are attributed to "paramilitaries" which is a description of the LTTE in their guerrilla operations. So, even in the loss of territorial control, the LTTE is able to conduct harassing raids that can keep the army off balance.

There is no gain saying that LTTE dreams of Tamil Eelam have been shattered as the ‘core’ Eelam area has whittled away over the past five years and hopes of a homeland intended to fulfil the aspirations of the Tamil people who had been rendered second class citizens in Sri Lanka in reprisal for the British policy of superior education in the Tamil areas and thus creating a privileged group that emerged as powerful administrators.

The revolt led by Vellupillai Prabhakaran and nearly a dozen other Tamil political entities (before most of them were destroyed in internecine warfare by Prabhakaran) began as an opposition against the discriminatory treatment meted out to the Tamils who had been born and brought up on the island (though later enlarged by an import of indentured labour from Tamil Nadu, earlier Madras). Under the Shastri--Srimavo Bandaranaike Pact and other accords, most of the latter were repatriated to India but the original Tamil groups were to be given autonomy in the northern and eastern province where they were in the majority.

With the outbreak of open hostilities any political move towards autonomy were dashed and, over the decades, slowly have been diminishing. If the Sri Lanka Army is able to crush the Prabhakaran led LTTE, which it appears set to do, it will be an unmitigated tragedy for the Tamils of Sri Lanka because they have not been unable to develop negotiating positions vis-à-vis the Central Government in Colombo. It is never too late to put their act together. A ‘defeated’ people can never hope to get a ‘fulfilment’ of their dreams at a negotiating table if at all it is set up.

- Asian Tribune -

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