Monday, March 15, 2004

LTTE rift can kill the Lankan peace process, feel Indian experts

The rift between the two factions of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) can kill the peace process in Sri Lanka, Indian experts have said.

"Both factions are espousing the same cause - that of Tamil nationality," Dr S Chandrasekharan, director of the South Asia Analysis Group, a New Delhi-based think tank, told HindustanTimes.com. "Now that they are divided, they will harden their stance to seem more credible than the other. This leaves the fate of the peace process uncertain."

LTTE suffered a division in early March after its eastern commander V Muraleetharan, alias Karuna, refused to move his forces northwards. The guerrilla outfit's central commander V Prabhakaran expelled him, accusing him of "acting disloyally to the Tamil people and the Tamil Eelam national leadership at the instigation of malicious elements".

Karuna, who has the support of the eastern cadres, alleged that the LTTE supremo showed little regard for the lives of eastern fighters.

The parliamentary elections, which began on Friday, will also play a role in the future of the peace process, said Chandrasekhar. "So far, Prabhakaran has emerged as the sole representative of the Tamil cause. We will now have to wait and see how Tamil candidates emerge from the elections. If a sizeable number are sympathetic to Karuna, then Prabhakaran's leverage for influencing the new government would also be reduced."

Lanka went to its third parliamentary elections in four years amid a surge of violence. There are three main contestants for the nine seats in Jaffna - the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is supported by Prabhakaran, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), one of whose member was gunned down recently.

The Karuna faction is fairly strong. "He has the support of nearly 5000 LTTE cadres in the east," said Kalim Bahadur, a retired professor of South Asian Studies at the Jawahar Lal Nehru University.

Latest reports suggest that attempts for rapprochement are going on between the two sides. But there are no clear signs of a deal between the two leaders yet, and reconciliation seems unlikely in the immediate future.

According to Bahadur, Prabhakaran might want to settle scores with Karuna once the elections are over.

"Prabhakaran is aware that if he allows Karuna to grow in stature independently in the east, then his own bargaining position vis-à-vis the Sri Lankan government will be reduced," said Chandrasekhar.

However, the experts felt that India won't be affected by this imbroglio. Bahadur said, "India will not like another round of war with Sri Lanka. It won't want to repeat the experience of the 1980s, when it sent the Indian Peace Keeping Force to help Colombo fight the LTTE, leading to a lot of confusion."

In an interview to an Indian news magazine, Karuna recently criticised the assassination of former Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi by LTTE's intelligence wing. It was the gravest mistake they could commit, he said.

The statement might have been directed at garnering India's support. Or, "it may be to give the appearance that he is more reasonable," felt Chandrasekharan.

No comments :