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Lanka fears more inter-ethnic strife

The ongoing clashes in the North and East may trigger communal riots in Lanka, writes PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Apr 24, 2006 14:22 IST
COLOMBO DIARY | PK Balachandran
COLOMBO DIARY | PK Balachandran

The possibility of widespread Sinhala-Tamil and Muslim-Tamil rioting, as a result of the on-going violence in the North Eastern Province, is greatly worrying the Sri Lankan government and members of all communities living in the island.

The government is convinced that the LTTE is planning to foment anti-Tamil riots in Sinhala-majority areas, by keeping on killing Sri Lankan armed forces personnel, who are mostly Sinhalas.

The LTTE is accused of wantonly killing Sinhala civilians also.

The government feels that the LTTE is trying to trigger communal tension and violence so that it could be given as an excuse to stay away from peace talks.

The long-term plan could be to nullify the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) and resume the separatist war.

At any rate, the LTTE has already thwarted the second round of talks, which were to begin on Monday, April 24, in Geneva.

Clearly, the government's memory is going back to July 1983, when the killing of 13 Sri Lankan soldiers, all Sinhalas, by the LTTE, had led to massive anti-Tamil rioting in Colombo.

The 1983 riots had led to the radicalisation and militarisation of the Tamil movement for autonomy.

The international community had taken the side of the Tamil minority, which was seen as the underdog.

The Sri Lankan state had to struggle for more than a decade to win back world support.

The Mahinda Rajapaksa government does not want a repetition of this.

Addressing the media here on Sunday, government spokesmen Keheliya Rambukwella said that the LTTE was trying to foment communal violence to make political capital out of it.

"They want to make gains out of bloodstains," he charged.

Rambukwellasaid that the Mahinda Rajapaksa government was determined to prevent the LTTE from carrying out its "sinister" plot.

He recalled that the violence in Trincomalee, precipitated by a terrorist bomb blast in a crowded market located in a Sinhala dominated area on April 12, was brought under control within three hours because the President had rushed senior ministers to the spot.

Lankanmilitary's assessment

The Sri Lankan military has echoed the assessment and fears of the government.

In a written statement issued on Sunday, Admiral Daya Sandagiri, Chief of Defence Staff, said: "In the recent past, the LTTE, with their tactful and organised machination, unleashed violence on innocent Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim civilians in remote hamlets living quite close to the threatened villages in government-controlled areas, with the express sinister motive of provoking the Sinhalese to attack their fellow-civilians, thereby triggering off an angry backlash on communal lines."

"Further, the LTTE through their astute and evil plans, meted out criminal acts on villages where innocent Tamils predominated, and instead, blamed the Security Forces and their rivals for such violence, again with a view to flaring up communal passions that would lead to blood-letting."

AdmSandagiri said that since December 5, 2005, the LTTE had killed 64 army personnel, 36 naval men, four Air Force personnel, 10 police officers, and 7 Home Guards.

In addition, 244 armed services and police personnel were wounded.

On Sunday, the LTTE killed six Sinhala farmers on the border between Anuradhapura and Trincomalee districts.

According to the Military Spokesman Brig Prasad Samarasinghe, the LTTE's aim was to create communal tension.

Concessions given to LTTE

Government spokesman Rambukwella said that President Rajapaksa was giving concession after concession, meeting every demand made by the LTTE, to coax it to come to the negotiating table. But to no avail.

In a note detailing the concessions given to the LTTE to enable it to come for talks, the government said that on March 5 the LTTE indicated that it was planning to have a meeting with its Eastern commanders and other leaders in preparation for the Geneva talks, which were then to be held on April 19.

The LTTE asked for government transport to take its cadres and commanders from the East to the North and back, through government-held territory.

The government said that it had no objection, and asked for the precise requirement.

On March 20, the government received a request for a helicopter.

But the government said that this could not be granted because of a policy decision taken after the LTTE assassinated Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

"The government can provide air transport for senior members of the LTTE peace delegation to travel from the North and East to the International Airport (at Katunayake near Colombo) for the purpose of talks.

Government finds it unacceptable to be party to any process that involves replacing/relocating LTTE military leaders using government helicopters," the LTTE was told.

As an alternative, the government proposed road movement with Army escort.

But this was not acceptable to the LTTE. On April 9, the government offered sea transport, a Sri Lankan naval vessel.

The LTTE rejected this too, and announced that on April 12, it would move its cadres by sea on its own, in its own vessels.

The government strongly objected to an independent sea movement by the LTTE.

It referred to the Scandinavian truce monitors' determination dated February 7, 2006, which stated that the LTTE had no legitimate right to be at sea without prior authorisation by the government.

At this point, the LTTE also began to make the issue of the transportation of the Eastern leaders, a pre-condition for its participation in the second round of talks in Geneva.

The LTTE told the representatives of the Co-Chair of the Tokyo Donors' Conference on April 10, that a final decision with regard to its stand on the talks in Geneva would be taken only after its leaders from the East had attended a crucial Central Committee meeting in Kilinochchi, in the North.

Being keen on getting the Geneva talks going, the government offered a civilian ferry, but added that it would be escorted by the Sri Lankan Navy.

The sea movement could take place on April 15, the government said.

In the meanwhile, the LTTE asked for a postponement of the Geneva talks. Accordingly, the talks, which were to take place from April 19 to 21, was postponed to April 24 and 25.

To enable the movement of the LTTE cadres by sea, the government, in consultation with the Scandinavian-staffed Sri Lanka (Truce) Monitoring Mission (SLMM), formulated rules for the movement.

Thirty-two cadres were to be transported by a civilian ferry from Mullaitivu to Illankanthai and Vakarai, and 32 others were to be transported on the return trip.

The conditions for the to and fro journey were clearly stated in writing. Under Section (1) sub-section (3) of the set of agreed conditions, two SLMM monitors would be on board a Sri Lankan Naval craft, which would follow the civilian ferry carrying the LTTE cadres.

But at the Mullaitivu jetty, the LTTE not only brought in 40 cadres and boarded two and a half hours late, but objected to the Naval escort.

First Published: Apr 24, 2006 14:22 IST