In Sri Lanka, LTTE territory shrinks and shrinks

August 5th, 2008 - 12:46 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By M.R. Narayan Swamy
Colombo, Aug 5 (IANS) Amid continuously shrinking Tamil Tiger territory, the Norwegian-sponsored peace process is on hold in Sri Lanka with no signs of resuming any time now. Less than three years after it took on Colombo with aggressive war mongering, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is desperate for fighters, say Tamil activists and diplomatic sources.

According to Tamil sources in the island’s troubled northeast, the LTTE is appealing to Tamil families to contribute at least one member each, irrespective of age and gender, to take on the advancing military.

The LTTE now controls about 4,000 sq km - or just six percent of Sri Lanka’s land territory. And the population under its control is said to be about 250,000 - a mere 1.25 percent of the country’s total.

This is a far cry from 2005 when it controlled a vast area in Sri Lanka’s north and east. However, soon after President Mahinda Rajapaksa took power in November that year, the LTTE took the offensive, stoking a war that rages to this day.

Military officials say that the LTTE’s ability to counter-attack in a major way has been seriously eroded over the past year. The loss of the east has meant that the LTTE has lost valuable training ground and a region where it recruited cadres to wage war.

While Sri Lankan leaders admit that it will be impossible to crush the LTTE as long as a sense of Tamil nationalism exists, the LTTE appears to be on the retreat in the north. But those who have known the LTTE warn that it will not give up, come what may.

Western diplomats say that Norwegian facilitation will remain on hold as long as fighting rages. There is unlikely to be any advancement in the peace process in the near future.

Although Norwegian diplomats do not travel any more to LTTE areas, they are in touch with the Tigers through other means. Norway is also in close touch with India, which everyone agrees matters the most in Sri Lanka.

Most diplomats feel that neither Colombo nor the LTTE desire talks. Colombo certainly thinks it is winning the war. And although the pro-LTTE media makes noises about the need for a dialogue, there is no guarantee the LTTE wants that.

In any case, calls for peace talks are dismissed in Colombo as a disguised pro-LTTE stand. The state refuses to listen to hectoring on human rights. Western activists are told that they cannot cross a line. If they do, reaction is swift.

Sri Lanka knows it needs to keep India on its side. For the first time in a long time, the Indian state does not seem to be making any bones about being neutral in Sri Lanka. Despite pro-LTTE noises in Tamil Nadu, India refuses to publicly criticise anything it feels is going wrong on the Sri Lankan war front.

The refugee flow into India is manageable. New Delhi is also relentlessly pursuing the LTTE in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere so that it does not source war materials from India. This is music to Colombo’s ears.

In Sri Lanka, the two most key anti-LTTE Tamil leaders, former Tiger commander Karuna and his deputy and Eastern Province Chief Minister Pillayan, appear to have made up. Residents in the east say that Karuna will be in charge of party affairs while Pillayan will handle only affairs related to the provincial government.

Karuna’s men are reportedly looking for 300 ex-LTTE cadres they believe are hiding in Colombo. It is trying to hunt them down in the Tamil areas of the capital with the help of the security forces.

At the same time, Sri Lanka seems to be in no hurry to unveil a political package that would be acceptable even to Tamil moderates.

It is amidst this complex scenario that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met an array of Sri Lankan political forces in Colombo Friday, ahead of the SAARC summit. Those he met included Tamil groups opposed to and sympathetic to the LTTE. To everyone he had one message: India would like democratic forces to prevail in Sri Lanka’s northeast.

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