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     Volume 7 Issue 46 | November 21, 2008 |

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Of that Striped Trial Balloon

The Tigers have the habit of sending trial balloons. A few days ago, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) indicated its willingness to consider a ceasefire. The government promptly rejected the offer reiterating its position that no truce was possible unless the LTTE gave up arms.

The LTTE does not lose anything due to its ceasefire offers. Instead it gains a lot from them. If the government reciprocates, then it can have some respite, regroup and rearm for the next phase of war. Or else, its propagandists can project the government as a hawkish regime not amenable to a truce and blame it for the humanitarian problems resulting from the continuation of war.

However, the government has no alternative but to turn down such offers without falling into ceasefire traps. The disastrous outcome of peace deals that former presidents Premadasa and Kumaratunga tried to strike with the LTTE is a case in point.

The LTTE's latest truce ploy was aimed at preventing the fall of Pooneryn to the army and saving its de facto state Kilinochchi. In a recent interview with an Indian magazine, LTTE leader Prabhakaran bragged that Kilinochchi would never fall. But, he himself is aware that he cannot hold out for a long time. The new front the army is going to open in the Wanni is a frightening proposition for the LTTE already overstretched and affected by a severe shortage of manpower.

Immediately after the government's rejection of the truce offer, the LTTE, perhaps to save its face and prevent demoralisation of its cadres, got one of its proxies to say in parliament that it would not lay down arms. Talking with a forked tongue is the LTTE's forte. It has a remarkable ability to send two different messages to its support base and the international community simultaneously.

War is hell and it must end. The sooner, the better. But, experience shows us that no amount of ceasefires will lead to peace so long as the LTTE remains strong and intransigent. The last truce lasted for five years from 2002 to 2007 but nothing came of it. There was an absence of war but the LTTE did not desist from violence or work towards finding a solution. It used the fragile truce to replenish its supplies, recruit more combatants and gain legitimacy.

In 2003, it walked away from peace talks with the government, which to its credit, bent over backwards to keep the peace process on track. It is being claimed that an LTTE-instigated polls boycott brought about United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe's defeat at the last presidential election. But, it was actually in 2003 that the LTTE destroyed the UNP leader's political future by scuttling the peace process, upon which he was banking to win the presidency.

The LTTE may offer to consider ceasefires and talk peace but Prabhakaran has unequivocally told the world the solution he has in mind. He won't settle for anything less than Eelam as he declared at a press conference in Kilinochchi in 2002. Asked if his order to his cadres to kill him if he accepted anything less than Eelam was still valid, he had no hesitation whatsoever in answering in the affirmative. In fact, he renewed that order. He has never ever given the slightest indication that he would settle for anything else.

Thus, if any government agrees to a ceasefire with a view to talking peace with the LTTE, it must be prepared either to be taken for a ride like its predecessors.

So, if a political solution acceptable to all stakeholders is to be evolved through negotiations, then the international community and the peace lobby must wean the LTTE from violence.

Or, they must stop protesting against the on-going efforts to neutralise the LTTE and pave the way for a political solution.

-- Editorial Desk, 'The Island', Sri Lanka
Reprinted with permission

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