The escalating violence in Sri Lanka is a disturbing setback to efforts to end the 20-year civil war that has ravaged the island nation. Government forces and the LTTE fought bloody battles last week on the frontlines dividing rebel-held areas from government-controlled territory in the northern Jaffna peninsula. The violence not only creates a human catastrophe in the region, but also puts a question mark on the agreement by both sides to attend talks in Geneva later this month. Many observers would have hoped for a downswing in the violence when the Norwegian government — which brokered the 2002 ceasefire agreement — announced the talks last Tuesday.
But the latest strife dashes any such hope. That said, however, there could still be an opportunity in this crisis, and it is possible that the reverses suffered by both sides might prompt them to resume peace talks. The LTTE, never known to have come to the negotiating table from a position of weakness, could decide to make political capital out of its military success last week and go to Geneva. The government forces are obviously keen to push their military advantage and seem to be pushing for military superiority before resuming the peace process. For the first time since the 2002 ceasefire, the Sri Lanka Air Force is in a dominant position following a series of successes against the LTTE. Besides, increasing Sinhala public support for continuing the war against the LTTE has strengthened hardliners’ position within the government in Colombo.
The LTTE’s boycott of the presidential poll, its misreading of Colombo’s determination to respond in kind to terrorist acts, and its demand for the withdrawal of EU monitors in the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) all apparently came in handy for the Sri Lankan government to harden its stance. But Colombo needs to ensure that the military successes do not go to the collective head of the Sinhala hardliners. There can only be one rational agenda in the island, and that is the one that promotes peace.