Sri Lanka is on the brink again as violence threatens to unravel the nation’s 2002 ceasefire agreement between Colombo and the LTTE. The recent flare-up in fighting has reportedly claimed scores of lives on both sides and affected more than 100,000 people. The Jaffna peninsula seems to have become the centre of the conflict with the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan army accusing each other of ceasefire violations and trading heavy artillery fire along their de facto border. And the LTTE’s suicide bomb attack on the Pakistani High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Bashir Wali Mohammed, on Monday adds another disturbing dimension to the conventional engagements in the north and east.
The targeting of Col. Bashir Wali could be a warning to Islamabad to desist from helping the Rajapakse government in its counter-insurgency operations against the LTTE and in its attempts to create a divide between the Tamil-speaking Hindus and Muslims in the eastern province. Coming close on the heels of the assassination of Ketheswaran Loganathan, secretary general of the Sri Lanka Peace Secretariat last week, these slayings compound fears of an all-out war if neither side backs down from their aggressive military postures. The combination of conventional and non-conventional operations used by the LTTE indicates its desperation to recoup its recent losses in the east. The government forces have shown equal disregard for the mounting human cost of their operations.
The air and artillery strikes are taking a heavy toll of the civilian population. It will be unfortunate if this suggests a hardening of Colombo’s stand on a peace process already weakened by the withdrawal of monitors from Finland, Denmark and Sweden. In any case, military strategies can only control insurgencies, it’s ultimately the people who defeat them. And that can happen only when people feel secure and confident of the government.