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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > Interim Self Governing Authority & Aftermath > Deliberate Destabilisation: Sri Lanka's military makes a move in the east
Sri Lanka's military makes a move in the east
Tamil Guardian Editorial 26 May 2004
"..If Sri Lanka's military is tempted into exploiting the rules of the ceasefire to shift the strategic balance in its favour, the LTTE will be compelled, in the interests of self- protection, to respond..."
The killing Monday of a senior minority Tamil lecturer at the Eastern University has understandably shocked and dismayed people in the Batticaloa district. Mr. Kumaravel Thambaiah was shot dead in Sri Lanka Army held Batticaloa town and although the assailant has not been identified, the motive is clear. Mr. Thambaiah was a well known supporter of the LTTE. Contrary to the deliberately misleading suggestions by a major international news agency that he was close to the renegade LTTE commander, Karuna, Mr. Thambaiah had been expelled by Karuna's cadres along with hundreds of others from the district. He only returned when Karuna's rebellion was crushed by the LTTE.
But the killing of the senior academic has inevitably contributed to the perception of a rapidly deteriorating security in the eastern district. Citing just such a scenario, Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga has dispatched a senior Army officer to the eastern province. Maj. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda has been appointed Overall Operations Commander (OOC) for the Eastern province.
The violence in the east, according to the government, is between Karuna loyalists and the LTTE. But the LTTE insists that the Sri Lankan military is supporting Tamil paramilitaries - including Karuna loyalists - in their attacks against their cadres. Several LTTE cadres have been killed in the past few weeks. Last Thursday, for example, gunmen ambushed a group of LTTE cadres, killing one. The LTTE has repeatedly protested to international ceasefire monitors that the SLA is complicit in the attacks on Tiger personnel. Meetings between both sides organized by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) produced agreements to cooperate in ending these 'criminal' attacks. Yet the attacks, staged from SLA-controlled areas, continue unabated.
LTTE officials in the region therefore suspect a wider strategy by the Sri Lanka military: the creation of sufficient instability in the east as to provide (internationally acceptable) justification for an expansion of Sri Lanka's military control and influence in the region. A clampdown on the LTTE's political activities in the SLA- controlled areas is already underway through the military's intimidation of Tiger political cadres - two were recently shot dead. LTTE supporters and family members are being threatened and attacked. In the wake of the crushing of the Karuna's rebellion, Sri Lanka's military is, on the assumption the LTTE's eastern organisation has been weakened, seeking opportunities to expand its control. That Maj. Gen Kottegoda is coordinating Sri Lankan military activities across the eastern province as a whole - not just the Batticaloa district - has to be seen in this light.
But the dangers to the peace process in such a move are self evident. The February 2002 ceasefire agreement which underpins the Norwegian peace process is predicated on the prevailing balance of forces. Any attempt to radically alter this could provoke confrontation and potentially reignite the conflict. As the head of the LTTE's political wing, Mr. S. P. Tamilselvan pointed out to the SLMM when protesting against the attacks on the movement, "this gains more significance in view of our commitment to the peace process and the necessity to uphold the integrity of the [ceasefire agreement] in the present political context."
The context he refers to is the inherent difficulties in resuming negotiations. The Norwegian initiative is an opportunity for both protagonists to negotiate an end to Sri Lanka's ethnic question. If Sri Lanka's military is tempted into exploiting the rules of the ceasefire to shift the strategic balance in its favour, the LTTE will be compelled, in the interests of self- protection, to respond. Furthermore, as we have argued before, it is in the volatile eastern province that those seeking to derail the peace process stand the greatest chance of success and are likely to concentrate their efforts. The SLMM, as an independent ceasefire monitoring mechanism, will have a vital role to the play - and its work cut out - in the coming days.