Feature Article

Sri Lanka gambles on EU ban taming Tigers

[TamilNet, Thursday, 25 May 2006, 16:02 GMT]
Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse this week hailed the expected proscription of the Liberation Tigers by the European Union next week, saying it would compel the LTTE to the negotiating table and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera called on Middle Eastern countries to also proscribe the LTTE. But the LTTE warns that further proscriptions will precipitate the objective conditions for renewed war.

In an interview to Britain’s Financial Times newspaper published Thursday, President Rajapakse reiterated his government’s logic that a EU ban would deter the LTTE from its armed struggle.

“Earlier, the LTTE thought the EU was backing them. Their propaganda machine was effective. Now they have to think twice before going to war against the whole world – they finally realised they cannot use terrorist tactics to kill innocent people. They have to change,” he told the broadsheet daily.

However, the LTTE has made it clear that a EU ban on it will effectively end the struggling peace process.

Analysts have argued that a key reason for the LTTE’s continued participation in Norwegian brokered peace process even after ultra-nationalist forces in the south disrupted and undermined all significant achievements reached hitherto, is an expectation that international support for a just solution would be forthcoming.

That has certainly been a logic underpinning Tamil enthusiasm for the Norwegian peace process even as violence by Army-backed paramilitaries escalated in recent years and Sri Lanka’s government continued to resist implementing much of the normalization aspects of the February 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), they say.

This week, pointing out that President Rajapakse has already ruled out powersharing, be it federalism or otherwise, with the Tamils, LTTE officials questioned the efficacy of peace talks with his government.

An EU ban, the Sri Lankan argument goes, will curtail the LTTE’s funding and deny it the military option, leaving it no choice but the negotiation table.

However, the LTTE argues the reverse. That Rajapakse’s hardline Sinhala nationalist administration is seeking to weaken and destroy the LTTE by isolating it internationally before goading it into a military confrontation after having closed off all political avenues.

Meanwhile this week, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said his government wants Gulf Arab states to also ban the Tigers.

“The (group) should be listed by the EU (as a terrorist organisation) and I think it should also be listed in Gulf countries,” he said. “We are now hoping the international community will bring all pressure possible to bring them back to the table.”

In any case, LTTE officials privately have raised a simple challenge: they will not be bullied into negotiations with Sri Lanka on Colombo’s terms.

The matter was raised publicly over the weekend with the LTTE’s political strategist and chief negotiator, Mr. Anton Balasingham pointing out in an interview with TamilNet: “I gravely doubt that the LTTE leadership will bow down to pressure and humiliation. As such this [EU] move will be counter-productive. Faced with global isolation and humiliation, the LTTE may be compelled to stay away from further talks.”

“The more the international community alienates the LTTE, the more the LTTE will be compelled to tread a hardline individualist path,” Mr. Balasingham said.

Moreover, for at least two years, the Sri Lankan state has been waging a ‘shadow war’ against the LTTE, Mr. Balasingham pointed out last week, adding: “This shadow war has now transformed into a low-intensity war.”

“Emboldened by international support, and especially by further proscriptions of the LTTE, the Sinhala hardline elements will undoubtedly take steps to further escalate the violence and precipitate a war in which they hope to destroy the LTTE,” he said. “If this happens, the LTTE will be compelled to resist.”

The LTTE’s actions and policies are dictated by the deteriorating objective conditions on the ground and not only the international community’s preferences, Mr. Balasingham, who has led the LTTE’s delegations in several sets of negotiations with different Sri Lankan governments, said.

“Some Tamils suspect the international community is allowing Colombo a space to terrorise the rebellious minority into pressuring the Tigers to be more accommodative. Such logic ignores the history of the conflict. Indeed, Tamil media report a sudden flood of recruits to the Tigers, rather than a flurry of petitions,” the Tamil Guardian newspaper argued in its editorial last week.

“The impassive, implacable attitude of the international community is eroding Tamil faith in international commitment to their wellbeing. The feeling that the callousness demonstrated during the 'war for peace' of the late nineties still holds, has gained widespread credence. This is also contributing to [Tamil] belligerence,” the paper said.

Next Monday, expatriate Tamils in Europe are planning protests against the EU ban. Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka itself, the LTTE has stepped up training for civilians in areas under their control. War, it is expected, will not be long behind the EU ban.

 

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