Polio Truce - but will it hold this time?
[TamilNet, Thursday, 04 September 1997, 23:59 GMT]
The LTTE and the Sri Lankan government said today that they would observe a 4-day truce to enable the annual anti-polio immunization campaign to be carried out by UNICEF. This is the third year that the cease-fire has been declared. However last year, Sri Lankan troops launched sudden raids during the truce, killing Tamil fighters and civilians.
The LTTE said in a statement today that they would observe the 5th and 6th of September and 10th and 11th of October as 'days of tranquillity' and temporarily halt military action. The Sri Lankan government has agreed to do the same, following the UNICEF appeal to both sides.
However, there are no independent monitors to ensure that the proposed truce is respected. The Sri Lankan government has banned the international press and foreign observers from visiting the Tamil homelands.
A similar truce was declared last year on the 5th and 6th of September and on the 11th and 12th of October.
However, on the first day of the cease-fire, Sri Lankan troops planted land mines on several roads in the Jaffna peninsula, which the SLA was in control of, having captured it six months earlier. The population of Jaffna is exclusively Tamil.
The following day, a bullock cart carrying several civilians triggered one of the devices, killing two instantly and wounding several others.
On the same day, Sinhalese soldiers conducted cordon-and-search operations in Batticaloa district. In Kalmadu, having found no LTTE fighters, a frustrated SLA patrol entered one of the houses and abducted a young Tamil mother, later dumping her bullet riddled body on a nearby road.
On the last day of the truce, 12th October 1996, the SLA launched several cordon-and-search operations. Two LTTE officers were shot dead in a dawn raid on Thurainilavanai (Batticloa district).
Sinhalese troops also attacked an LTTE unit in Kokuvil (Jaffna town). One Tamil fighter was killed, whilst the rest escaped. Several other SLA operations failed to net any more Tigers.
Despite the deliberate Sri Lankan provocation, no retaliatory Tiger attacks were reported.
The LTTE is keen to ensure that the UNICEF sponsored vaccination scheme is conducted successfully, particularly in the Tamil homelands. For many years, the Sri Lankan government has deliberately ignored the Tamil areas during its annual vaccination campaigns.
Several infectious diseases are present on this tropical island and hundreds of displaced Tamil civilians have died recently died as a result of the Sri Lankan government's strict embargo on medicine into the Tamil areas.
The list of banned drugs include penicillin, water purification tablets and anti-snake serum which are desperately needed in the Vanni region. The Sri Lankan government justifies its ban on the basis that the drugs may be used for the benefit of LTTE troops.
However, many observers point out that the LTTE is capable of purchasing sufficient medicine for its troops abroad and that the Tigers own several ocean-going ships which can deliver these as well as its regular arms shipments.
In any case, as one aid worker pointed out, there are 400,000 displaced Tamil civilians suffering under the embargo, whilst paradoxically the Sri Lankan government insists that LTTE numbers have been reduced to 4000 fighters.