The LTTE has struck for the first time on Sri LankaÂ’s southern coast, in the tourist belt:
Tamil Tiger guerrillas opened a new front against the Sri Lankan government today when rebels posing as fisherman blew up their boats in an ambush on a naval base on the islandÂ’s southern tourist belt.
It is believed three sailors were killed and a dozen injured in the attack on the navy in Galle harbour. Fourteen civilians were also wounded. The authorities imposed an open-ended curfew on the town after mobs began to target Tamil-owned shops. Police brought the situation under control by firing on the crowds.
As you probably know, this bombing came two days after a particularly horrific attack in which a suicide bomber drove a truck into a convoy of buses returning Sri Lankan soldiers from their tour of duty on the front. Approximately 100 soldiers were killed. The military carried out air raids in retaliation.
A few days earlier, the Supreme Court ruled that the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces, which was effected back in 1987 in the context of the India-Sri Lanka agreement, was unconstitutional and must be reversed. The merger was a concession to the Tamil separatist side and it was challenged in court by a hard-line Sinhalese party.
It is discouraging to talk about the situation in Sri Lanka. Prior threads here have eventually disintegrated into mud-slinging about the legitimacy or otherwise of the LTTEÂ’s grievances. The official or unofficial mouthpieces of the government and rebels specialize in incendiary rhetoric. The civilian peace movement in Sri Lanka appears beleaguered at best.
Most analysts agree that Sri Lanka is now at war in all but name. However, they say that both sides are likely to sit down for face-to-face talks in Switzerland at the end of the month to revive the peace process.
So what are the conflict resolution experts saying?
HereÂ’s a take from security firm Stratfor, dated October 16 Â– i.e. after the bombing of the soldier convoy but before the Galle incident.
The Tiger request for peace talks at the end of October appears to have been a ruse designed to give the rebels time to reconstitute their forces after Sri Lankan military successes. Now, however, the chances are nil that any peace talks — if they do go forward — will result in a cease-fire, especially with the military likely planning to respond to these latest setbacks with more intensive offensives into Tiger territory. …
During the ongoing conflict, both sides have dangled peace talks as a military tactic, proposing talks when they feel too much pressure from the other. The fighting ostensibly stops during the ensuing discussions, allowing the proposing side time to regroup and prepare for the next round of fighting. …
Despite their recent successes, the Tigers remain on the run. Although the rebels routed the Sri Lankan army in Jaffna, the military’s offensives, and its efforts to interdict Tiger supplies by sea, have badly hurt the Tigers. There are indications that the group’s arms are drying up and that it is getting desperate for ammunition. Suspending the fighting during peace talks would enable the Tigers to address these problems.
After two Tiger successes in close succession, however, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse would lose even more political capital by entering into a cease-fire from a perceived position of weakness. Moreover, given that Colombo knows the Tigers would use the downtime to gather strength, any talk of a cease-fire in Sri Lanka is really just talk.
So where does that leave peace talks scheduled for 28-29 October in Geneva, Switzerland? Nowhere, really. The Tigers pulled out of the last round of peace talks in Oslo last year, and since then the situation has only worsened.
A similar view comes from this commentary today, titled “Sri Lanka peace talks doomed,” by the Switzerland-based ISN Security Network:
Rajapaske, whose hard line cabinet is even loathe to have a ceasefire in place, viewing it as acquiescence to terrorists, has made it clear that any concessions during talks would have to come from the Tigers, who must cease violence if any progress is to be made.
The Tigers are increasingly adverse to giving up their main aims and settling for something less in the name of peace. …
In general, the peace talks, if they are held at all, are likely to include nothing more than ways to monitor the 2002 ceasefire agreement, not how to resolve the conflict itself. And as both sides step up violence in an attempt to maneuver for more bargaining power, only lip service is paid to negotiating real peace.
This report issued in July by the Center for Strategic and International Studies has the storyline and analysis of the deterioration in the climate in Sri Lanka since 2002.
I wanted to get the take of the International Crisis Group, which is perhaps the most experienced and credible organization in the field of conflict resolution. But I was surprised to see that they do not have a Sri Lanka program at the moment, even though they are active in dozens of other hot-spot locations around the world. I donÂ’t know the reason for the absence, but in the context of recent events, I interpret it as just another discouraging sign.