Tuesday, February 17, 2009

No peace, no truce: All LTTE wants is Karuna

The main aim of the Tamil Tigers at the Geneva talks is to force the Sri Lankan Government to hand over Karuna, the renegade Tiger commander, and not search for peace, says a leading expert on South Asian Affairs. "The aim of the LTTE is to force the Sri Lankan government to hand over Karuna. This is their priority, not P-Toms (Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure) or the Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA). Karuna is getting stronger in the East -' that is the problem," says Dr S Chandrasekharan, head of New Delhi-based South Asia Analysis Group.

Karuna, Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran`s right-hand man, had raised the banner of revolt in March 2004. Since then, reprisal killings between the two groups have gone on. Karuna, who subsequently founded the Tamil Eela Makkal Viduthalai Puligal, has demanded that the LTTE should disarm under international supervision, further infuriating Prabhakaran. Chandrasekharan says it is 'highly unlikely' that the Geneva truce talks, beginning on February 22, will succeed. "There are too many hurdles between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. They might go for another round. No one can expect an immediate breakthrough," says P Sahadevan, Assistant Professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, in New Delhi. While Sahadevan says that the main aim right now is to prevent war, Chandrasekharan is of the view that, "the Geneva talks are nothing but a war scenario delayed".

"At present the chances of achieving any breakthrough at Geneva that could ensure total observance of the ceasefire appear bleak. However, even if both sides manage to agree to hold an enduring truce, that would be a positive gain for the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa," says Colonel R Hariharan, who served as the Head of Intelligence with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s. The Sri Lankan government and the LTTE will discuss the Norway-brokered ceasefire agreement on February 22 and 23 in Geneva to make it more conducive to the furtherance of peace. While the Establishment at Colombo has asked for changes in the truce pact, the LTTE stays firm and says that there is no room for change. "LTTE will be stubborn and it will suit the Sri Lankan government so long as the attacks on the Sri Lankan forces do not take place. If the attacks continue, the domestic Sinhala component will seek retaliation. Ceasefire weakens LTTE and not the Lankan government - this point has to be borne in mind,"explains Chandrasekharan.

The warring parties had signed a Norway-brokered ceasefire agreement in February 2002. But despite that, killings have continued. Over 120 people - including some 80 soldiers and civilians - died in the upsurge of violence, which began soon after Mahinda Rajapaksa took over as President. To arrest a further slide, talks should continue, the experts say. This is because sitting across the table will calm the brewing tempest in the island. "he parties should calm down. They should keep talking, even if it means holding many rounds. The Sri Lankan government as well as the LTTE should avoid too many announcements. They have to focus on the issues that are presently on the platter,"advises Sahadevan. A number of analysts are of the opinion that there was no need for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to talk about the Tamil Homeland issue at this juncture. They say that any announcement like this prior to the talks could lead to a lot of unnecessary insinuations. "y advice would be to continue the ceasefire. Let the LTTE stop the elimination of its opponents, including those sympathising with Karuna. Let Karuna also be reined in. Then there is hope. The objective should be limited now - to carry on with the ceasefire and reduce violations," says Chandrasekharan. He adds that anything beyond that will be too ambitious at this juncture.

(Written on February 23, 2006 for Hindustan Times)

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