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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2614

The LTTE Threat: Rest of 2008 and Beyond

By Ranjith Gunaratna

This year, both Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] and the Government of Sri Lanka entered a new phase of the conflict in Sri Lanka that stretched more than three decades costing lives of around 70,000 people. During the period, the lasting damage the conflict did to the fabric of the Sri Lankan society is massive and not easily recoverable. The war devastated the country and consumed much needed resources for the development process. In this context, the underpinning objective of this article is to sketch out a landscape based on the events unfolded in the recent past leaving rooms to fill in the gaps with suitable colours in the future.

It is noted, the LTTE's inept handling of war, in particular, its recent set back due to successful military operations of the Government forces, has eroded the trust of the Tamil community towards the organization. Its popularity took a nose-dive, and legitimacy of the LTTE's draconic rule in the north was openly and critically questioned by many Tamils. Apparently, a growing segment of Tamil community is unwilling to support the conflict, which has deep impacts on the community as a whole. At the same time, the Government of Sri Lanka's military pressure towards the LTTE has emitted wrong signals indicating that country is on a war footing. Yet, demonstration of the willingness of the Government towards a political settlement has elevated the hopes of many about prospects of peace.

As a whole the year 2007 with many twists and turns left incomplete answers to a number of questions. In this context, undoubtedly developments in 2007 seem to have some semblances on the shape of the conflict in the rest of 2008 and thereafter. In fact, whether the Government of Sri Lanka could capitalize on the "improved" security and political situation in the east and resolve the conflict will be an important issue in the later part of 2008.

Key Developments during 2007

* Indication for abrogation of ceasefire by the Government of Sri Lanka. The agreement was formally ended on 16th January 2008. This demarcated the end of the part one of the much debated Nordic intervention into the conflict in Sri Lanka.

* Assassination of Tamilselvan, political leader of the LTTE. It represented a devastating turn for the worse convincing the leadership of the LTTE that no one in the organization is immune to any attack from the military forces.

* Continues military operations against the LTTE and taking of eastern province under the Government control. This reflected very badly on the LTTE while boosting the morale of the military forces of Sri Lanka. It also signaled the LTTE either it should get ready for a do or die battle to save its lost status or resume peace talks to finding a lasting solution to the conflict.

* Display of the LTTE airpower. This became a volatile issue of the year. Their most daring attack against Sir Lankan air force base next to the international airport raised many questions about capabilities of the LTTE across the spectrum of the conflict.

* Submission proposals for the resolution of the conflict through political means by the all party conference. This highlighted the agreement of the political parties to a greater extent on the need for a lasting political solution.

With these significant developments, the year 2008 began with the news of killing of a Tamil MP while worshipping in a Hindu temple. This followed by assassination of cabinet ministers and other political opponents of the LTTE. A series of bomb explosions occurred with an uncanny frequency in the capital and suburbs. The abrogation of ceasefire created a vacuum which is yet to be filled. Last year's military offensives of the Government forces emitted clear signals to the LTTE about the future landscape of the conflict. More importantly, the military offensives have reasonably brought down the insurgency convulsing in the north and east.

However, the LTTE air attacks added a new dimension to the conflict. The security forces have not yet been able to silence the "infant air force" of the LTTE. The air attacks certainly bolstered the morale of the LTTE and its supporters. Indication to finding a solution to the conflict based on 13th Amendment has elevated the hopes of those who are yarning for peace. More importantly, the LTTE has come back with multifaceted terrorist tactics such as political assassinations, suicide attacks, bomb explosions targeting civilians, and hit-and-run style attacks leaving new challenges to the security forces. The explicit aim of the attacks has been mainly to save the status quo. Their tactics are reckless, ruthless, and not fully rational. Therefore, they would not serve the primary purposes of the organization. Such wanton acts often have disastrous consequences.

Rest of 2008 and beyond?

The reminder of 2008 and most probably the fist quarter of 2009 would be a period that would test the will of the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka to settle the dispute through negotiation. It will also be a period that would swing critically between war and peace and both parties would obviously endeavor to test ones strengthen over the other.

Arguably, so far, the LTTE has not indicated its willingness to resume talks in order to finding a durable political solution to the conflict. It would make all efforts to maintain its present position of non-returning to the negotiation table presenting lame excuses. In the process, the LTTE would definitely intensify its attacks on civilian, political, and economic targets to break the will of the people of Sri Lanka and stay in cause. However, the LTTE would not be able to mount major conventional type of preemptive attacks on any of the military bases in Sri Lanka mainly due to decrease of its military strength. The organization is aware that in such attacks, its weaknesses would be fatally exposed.

Therefore, most of its future attacks would be tailored to suit self-defensive aims. However, if they found any opportunity, they would not hesitate to use conventional type of attacks against the security forces to get maximum leverage. In the case of Government, looking at the past experiences, it would adopt thinking proactively rather than reactively. This would guide the Government to harnessing diverse organizational abilities in the quest for national objectives. The Government of Sri Lanka continues with its military doctrine of weakening the LTTE militarily in order to force it to the negotiation table. This would be the main strategy of the Government during the rest of 2008.

The provincial council elections held in the East obviously help change the political landscape of the East of Sri Lanka significantly. It would also have critical impacts on the northern peninsula as well. It would allow people to have renewed hopes in the democratic process and provide a space for the Government to assert its authority over the LTTE. Yet, in order to maintain peace and harmony in the region, the Government needs to have more troops deployed. Presence of troops in the region would create a negative picture to a certain extent. In this respect, the elections and democratic process need be utilized to win hearts and minds of the Tamil people.

In the international scene, the LTTE would continue with its virulent propaganda machinery to undermine the ability of the Government to solve the conflict. The criticisms emanated from a certain section of international community regarding the human rights and other issues in Sri Lanka would help the LTTE to present its case more persuasively. In response, Government of Sri Lanka needs to take vigorous actions to thwart such attempts by the LTTE deploying all possible assets more effectively. Taking the Kosovo case as an example, there are possibilities for the LTTE to declare a separate estate in Sri Lanka. However, they would not be able to garner enough support of the international community since the LTTE has already been branded as a terrorist organization and many countries have been able to see its un-camouflaged face. Moreover, the history has cast reasonable doubts on the LTTE's ability and capacity to maintain a democratic regime free from the influence of the gun. Yet, changing direction of the international perception cannot be predicted. Reinvigoration of the Norway led mediation efforts seem to be dominating in the beginning of 2009. However, India would still continue to maintain its present position of limited intervention with regard to the conflict in Sri Lanka.

Nevertheless, the present scenario would be dramatically transformed when a comprehensive conflict resolution formula based on power sharing is presented by the Government with the concurrence of the major political parties of the country. Obviously, the Government would receive unprecedented backing for such a move from the international community. In such an eventuality the LTTE would not be able to employ their usual tactics of avoiding being trapped in a comprehensive peace deal.

More importantly, both logic and historical evidence suggest that all the parties involved in the conflict would no longer be able to continue with dualistic approach viz. war and peace. Understandably, the battle between the LTTE ideology and moderate Tamils intellects would continue and it would affect dramatically the approaches towards conflicts by the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka. This situation forces the pursuit of a concrete action based on negotiation and compromise.

- Asian Tribune -

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