The LTTE’s decision to pull out of the truce in Sri Lanka is not surprising. The Tamil Tiger rebels announced last week that the truce — arranged by Norwegian peace brokers five years ago — is over and blamed the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse for ‘trying to find a military solution to the drawn-out Tamil autonomy campaign’. It called upon the Tamil people to resume their “freedom struggle to realise their right to self-determination and to achieve statehood”. Ironically, this coincides with the offer of Norway’s top peace broker Erik Solheim to “go the extra mile” to put the peace process back on track.
Although the rebels agreed to a 2002 ceasefire brokered by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, they pulled out of negotiations soon after over the issue of interim autonomy for the Tamils in a final peace deal. In fact, the ceasefire existed only on paper most of the time, with both sides constantly swearing by it while the violence went on. The escalation of fighting last year alone has claimed nearly 4,000 lives and effectively buried the ceasefire. The rebels obviously face shortages of artillery ammunition and explosives. They seem to be trying to exploit the humanitarian crisis that is building up as a result of the Sri Lankan armed forces’ counter-LTTE operations and the exodus of refugees. Desperate efforts to reactivate their procurement network in India were evident last week when the Coast Guard thwarted rebel attempts to smuggle arms and explosives across.
President Rajapakse has a delicate political balancing act in the polarised island that has been increasingly divided along ethnic lines. Although the opposition parties recently agreed to work with him to resolve the crisis, it’s doubtful if fresh peace talks could begin any time soon. Perhaps the best chance for peace would still be for the Sri Lankan government to stop thinking of a military solution and come up with a devolution proposal that cannot be dismissed by the rebels.