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Tigers come to town; talk to them

A powerful truck bomb reminiscent of the bombing of the Central Bank of Ceylon 20 months ago struck the world Trade Centre and adjoining lu...

Written by Ashok K Mehta |
November 3, 1997

A powerful truck bomb reminiscent of the bombing of the Central Bank of Ceylon 20 months ago struck the world Trade Centre and adjoining luxury hotels in the tourist and economic heart of Colombo resulting in an inferno of death and devastation. The real casualty of this suicide attack, disowned by the LTTE, is President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s soon-to-be-unveiled grand process of a new constitutional reform package to end the 14-year long ethnic war. This bombing is the Tigers’ pointed counterattack on her war-for-peace strategy.

In April 1995, the Tigers suddenly broke off peace talks with suicide attacks in Trincomalee Harbour to sabotage the August 1995 devolution package. The immediate provocation for the first bombing in Colombo in January 1996 (excluding blowing up the oil depots a few months earlier) was the loss of Jaffna. The latest suicide bombing by the Black Tigers exposes the vulnerability of the state and shows the near invincibility of the Tigers opposed to it

Unfortunately, the illusion of a military victory has forced the government to push the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) down a path along which it is badly bogged down. In five months with nearly 1000 killed and 5000 wounded, SLA has advanced a mere 20 km of the 75 km unaccessed main supply route from Vavuniya to Kilinochhi (A 9). Last year it took two months to cover roughly 15 km of the road from Elephant Pass to Kilinochhi. In reality, Operation Jaya Sikuru (Sure Victory) is a mirage despite the periodic affirmations of deputy defence minister Gen Annruddha Ratwatte and Army chief Gen Rohan Daluwatte, that the LTTE is finished and victory round the corner.

The Kumaratunga government has to be congratulated for the triple-track movement in solving the ethnic problem. In the last 18 months, it has clocked good distance on the political, diplomatic and military plains.

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Politically, Kumaratunga has sought consensus on constitutional reforms, a bipartisan approach to future dialogue with the Tigers and consulted the majority Sinhalese including the clergy, minority Tamils and Muslims on the devolution package.

Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a Tamil himself, has been globetrotting, campaigning against the LTTE. Through his efforts the Tigers have been considerably isolated: the US has declared the LTTE a terrorist organisation and named its Central Bank bombing `the most serious terrorist act of 1996′. The Pattern of Global Terrorism report has blamed the LTTE for importing terrorism into France and exposed a number of organisations including the World Tamil Movement as known front organisations of the LTTE.The Canadian government has set up a special task force to deal with Tamil gang warfare in Toronto. Kadirgamar is working with other governments to have `conspiracy to commit terrorism’ declared illegal and for confiscation of LTTE funds.

For now, all eyes will be on the military offensive along the A 9. Two divisions of SLA are stuck in the middle of nowhere, unable to crack the township of Pullyankulam for nearly three months and open the highway.

Troops have now bypassed it, something they should have done much earlier. In a change of strategy the SLA has turned east, blocking Prabhakaran’s last bastion at Mullaitivu. The present forward defence line — Pullyankulam, Nedunkerani, Oddususudan and Kanakkarlayankulam – forms a dangerous and difficult defensive crescent.

SLA made the mistake of not initially outflanking built-up areas where the going was tough. And not doing a north (Kilinochhi)-south (Vavuniya) link-up operation. Instead, the temptation to relieve the beleagured Weli Oya garrison and block Mullativu has provoked violent counterattacks from the LTTE.

Now that the LTTE has once again demonstrated its remarkable capacity to move the war from the Wanni jungles to the heart of Colombo, it would be wise, however frustrating the process, to make one more effort talking to the Tigers. Without them, Kumaratunga’s grand process will always be a non-starter.

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