Sri Lankan President Mahindra Rajapakse’s effort to draw up a custom-made Sri Lankan model of devolution proposals based on India’s Panchayati Raj is laudable and needs to be supported. India could also play a more active role in mobilising humanitarian aid for civilians in the war-torn regions of Sri Lanka. But everyone is agreed that the key to any political settlement lies in the continuance of a ceasefire between Colombo and the LTTE. Unfortunately, just as Mr Rajapakse was explaining his proposals to his Indian counterparts, the LTTE declared that the ceasefire was ‘defunct’.
In his annual message to the Tamil people this week, LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran reportedly announced the reversion of the rebels to their original objective of an independent Tamil State. This is tantamount to a withdrawal from the LTTE’s commitment in 2002 to seek a political solution within a federal model, which led to the ceasefire in the first place. Although the Tigers pulled out of peace talks the following year — over the issue of interim autonomy for Tamils while a final peace agreement was negotiated — the uneasy truce that held till the recent upsurge in violence remained the only hope for the resumption of peace talks. In hindsight, the ceasefire must have been more than just a tacit acknowledgement by both sides that they would not be able to prevail militarily over the other. It probably also owed to a realisation by the LTTE that the world community would only support a political solution on the basis of a unified State with a federal political set-up. So it is unclear why the Tigers should break off at this juncture, especially when President Rajapakse’s government is rightly seeking to forge unity in the country’s Sinhala-majority south to push for peace with the LTTE and end a civil war that has claimed more than 67,000 lives and displaced over a million people.
Last month, the government and main opposition parties even signed a historic pact aimed at working out a joint approach to dealing with the rebels politically. Without a ceasefire in place, though, it is doubtful if these efforts will come to much. The next few weeks will obviously be crucial as both sides determine their next move.