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Let Live and Live

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Amid the political turmoil in Sri Lanka, the shadow war between Army-backed paramilitaries and the Liberation Tigers continues unabated. The almost daily violent deaths in the island’s restive east and in Colombo are taking place, moreover, amid deepening acrimony between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE. The mobilisation of the Special Task Force (STF) in recent weeks amid LTTE accusations the unit is also launching cross-border raids, suggests things are going to get worse before they get better. One reason the situation has deteriorated this far is a collective failure in the peace process to deal firmly with those aspects of the February 2002 ceasefire agreement concerning the numerous paramilitary groups nurtured by Sri Lankan military intelligence.

In this context, the pointed demand this week by the co-chairs of Sri Lanka’s donor community that Colombo “take decisive action to ensure that killings are stopped and paramilitaries are disarmed immediately as required in the Cease-Fire Agreement,” is welcome. It is not a question of whether Sri Lanka does so or not. But the peace process stands on better ground if the fiction of ‘intra-LTTE violence’ is replaced by a pragmatic recognition of ground realities. As the Co-Chairs are aware, the ‘paramilitary’ concept encapsulates the broader problem of the Sri Lankan armed forces subverting the ceasefire and continuing a campaign of targeted assassinations of LTTE cadres and supporters.

The question is whether the Sri Lankan armed forces are under political control? If President Chandrika Kumaratunga is unable to leash the dogs of war, then the viability of the Norwegian initiative must be in doubt. On the other hand, if her authority is respected, then the activities blamed on the paramilitaries – including the ‘Karuna Group’ – can be curtailed relatively quickly. The question arises, moreover, amid increasing belligerence by the military. Harassment of and attacks on the officers and offices of the LTTE’s Political Wing and even on the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) have risen sharply. There are efforts to trigger conflict between Tamils and Muslims in both Trincomalee and Batticaloa-Amparai.

The Co-Chairs have demanded the LTTE halt its counter-campaign to the Army’s targeted killings. The LTTE is manifestly keen to expand its political activities and broaden support for its policies. The movement is well aware of the political costs – both internationally and domestically - stemming from its engagement in the shadow war. But as long as the armed forces continue to make determined efforts to kill senior LTTE leaders while murdering other cadres, the movement will be compelled to defend itself vigorously. The fortunes of the peace process are thus utterly dictated by the trajectory of Colombo’s shadow war. Simply put, if it ends, peace advances.

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