Sri Lanka Gained Upper Hand Over LTTE in 2007

New Delhi
Sri Lanka's failure to unveil a political package to end years of war and its military successes against the Tamil Tigers marked the highlights of one of the world's longest running conflicts in 2007.

After decades of seesaw fighting, Colombo took a visible upper hand vis-'-vis the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), driving it away from the country's eastern province and crippling its shipping network.

The LTTE, whose chief Velupillai Prabhakaran Nov 27 vowed to fight on for an independent Tamil state, suffered a serious blow when its political wing leader S.P. Tamilchelvan was killed in a Sri Lanka Air Force attack Nov 2.

But the LTTE sprang its nascent air wing on Sri Lanka with military precision on more occasions than one, stunning everyone and injecting a new dimension to a horrific conflict that began a quarter century ago.

With many countries supporting its war effort openly or not so openly, Colombo displayed no great urgency in opting for a power-sharing package for minorities that would effectively negate Tamil calls for separation.

A path-breaking and seemingly sound devolution formula a group of experts came up with in December 2006 suggesting federalism to placate restive minorities got shot down by the government and Sinhalese nationalist groups.

By the end of 2007, there was no firm indication - only hopes - that the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) would prepare a new document acceptable to everyone in a country badly divided on ethnic and political lines.

Sri Lanka took an aggressive approach towards charges of human rights abuses, going to the extent of branding UN Under Secretary John Holmes a "terrorist".

But it was embarrassed when a Tamil Tiger breakaway leader it had backed, Karuna, was arrested in Britain after sneaking into the country on a false passport provided by Colombo.

Karuna has been widely accused of conscripting children into his group in the east, an allegation also made against the Tigers.

The international community was mostly despairing on Sri Lanka, whose top leaders declared that they had no use for the 2002 Norway-brokered truce or for homilies from the West on human rights.

On Dec 30, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa trumpeted that Prabhakaran may have been killed in an air force bombing on a bunker in the country's rebel-held north May 26. The same day, army chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka thundered that Prabhakaran may not be able to survive for more than six months.

The internationally backed peace process collapsed in 2007. India remained an active though not a successful players vis-'-vis Sri Lanka, where violence since President Mahinda Rajapaksa took power in late 2005 has left thousands dead.

As the year ended, Sri Lankan troops were knocking on the doors of the Tiger territory in the country's north in an attempt to take the war to the very heart of Prabhakaran's fiefdom.

Throughout the year, tens of thousands of civilians suffered enormously due to fighting between the LTTE and the military. Rights activists say kidnappings and killings by groups backed by the state are rampant.

Ahilan Kadirgamar of the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum told IANS: "The military establishment is gearing up to use a purely military approach. The LTTE is also committed to escalating the war.

"Tamil civilians bear the brunt of the conflict. Minorities fear the resurgence of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism... Sri Lanka could well be in another protracted cycle of war and the year ahead looks very bleak," he said.


More by :  M. R. Narayan Swamy

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