In an assessment on the ground situation in Sri Lanka written on October 8,2006, I had stated as follows:
“The hardline advisers of Mr.Rajapakse think that they can now see the light at the end of a long and dark tunnel and that this is the time to force upon the LTTE a dictated peace, which would restrict the eventual Tamil control in any political solution to the Northern Province minus Jaffna and the Batticaloa District of the Eastern Province minus the Trincomalee and Amparai Districts.
“Their reported plans for an ultimate political solution also envisage excluding the LTTE's presence and influence from even the Batticaloa District, by placing the Karuna faction and other Tamil parties in power there and keeping Jaffna, Trincomalee and Amparai directly under the control of the Government in Colombo. Among other ideas reportedly under consideration are changing the demographic composition of the Trincomalee District by re-settling Sinhalese ex-servicemen there.”
In pursuance of its strategy for a dictated peace, which will remove the Eastern Province from the control of the Tamils and ultimately convert it into a Sinhalese majority area through the re-settlement of Sinhalese ex-servicemen and others, the Mahinda Rajapakse Government has already initiated a number of steps by taking advantage of the silence of the international community, including India, on its policy of using its Air Force, heavy artillery and forced starvation to force the Tamils into submission.
In the third week of December 2006, Rear Admiral (Retd) Mohan Wijewickrama was sworn in before President Mahinda Rajapakse as the Governor of the Eastern Province. He has been appointed to hold concurrent charge as the Governor of the Northern Province till a regular incumbent for that post is found.
After being sworn in, he was reported to have told the media: "From 1 January 2007, we have no choice but to run the two provinces separately. Finances have already been appropriated separately for the two provinces."
He also said that fresh appointments would be made to the Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils in keeping with the Supreme Court ruling that the 1987 merger was illegal.
According to him, the new ethnic balance would be taken into consideration when these appointments are made. Consequently, the Eastern Provincial Council is likely to have more Sinhalese and Muslim employees than before. Earlier appointments had been made in keeping with the ethnic ratio of the combined North and East.
The first batch of about 80 Sinhalese ex-servicemen for re-settlement was brought to Trincomalee under Army protection on December 30. More are expected.
Not only Sinhalese extremist leaders, but also Buddhist monks have been associated with the plan for the dilution of the Tamil presence and influence in the Eastern Province.
Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the Army Commander, has been discussing the future strategy with local military commanders. He reportedly met senior commanders of the Army's 23 Division based in Welikanda, Polonnaruwa, in the island’s east on January 3.
He has also been meeting Buddhist priests and seeking their blessing and co-operation for the success of what he called the Government's new strategy to crush the movement for a Tamil Eelam during 2007.
In an informal New Year-eve discussion with the media in Colombo, Lt. Gen. Fonseka reportedly said that the Security Forces would be able to take the strategic eastern coastal towns of Vaharai and Kadirweli in about a month.
He mentioned during his interactions at Colombo that he was confident of defeating the LTTE in the East as well as the North before the end of 2007.
While he attributed the delay in the long-expected Army offensive to take Vaharai to bad weather, another reason is understood to be a shortage of artillery shells for the heavy artillery being used against the LTTE positions. A new consignment of arms and ammunition from Pakistan including artillery shells is expected shortly and once that arrives, the offensive is expected to be stepped up.
The fighters of the anti-LTTE faction headed by Karuna are now openly assisting the Army in its operations in the Eastern Province. No effort is made any longer to conceal the presence and key role of the followers of Karuna in the military operations in the Eastern Province.
The strategy of Mr.Rajapakse's advisers is to develop Karuna as the future leader of Batticaloa to co-ordinate anti-LTTE activities there and Mr.Douglas Devananda, a Tamil member of the present Government, as the future leader of Jaffna to co-ordinate the anti-LTTE activities in the Northern Province.
The men of Devananda have already been working under the over-all supervision of the Army. Devananda has also been made in charge of co-ordinating the movement and distribution of humanitarian relief goods donated by India.
The Rajapakse Government has not been unduly worried over the concerns of the Government of India at the humanitarian situation of the Tamils and over the reported decision of the German Government not to make any fresh budgetary allocations for assistance to Sri Lanka till the fighting stops.
Lt.Gen.Fonseka and other advisers of Mr.Rajapakse have been claiming that the new strategy of crushing the LTTE by the end of 2007 has the tacit support of the Indian authorities and that the expressions of concern over the humanitarian situation in response to pressure from the political parties of Tamil Nadu should be understood in the correct perspective and should not be interpreted to mean that the Government of India disapproves of their military strategy against the LTTE.
They also claim that their plan to remove the Eastern Province from the control of the LTTE was in continuation of a similar plan reportedly drawn up by Rajiv Gandhi himself in 1988-89 to build up [the EPRFL’s] Varadaraja Perumal as a counter to [LTTE leaderVellupillai] Pirapaharan.
While there has been a slight forward movement in the Government of India's Sri Lanka policy, it is still marked by considerable ambivalence.
The policy continues to be based on the following postulates:
- A federal solution maintaining the unity of Sri Lanka, but not its unitary political set-up; only a political solution is feasible;
- the problem cannot be solved militarily; till a political solution is found the status quo (North-East merger) should not be disturbed;
- No direct role for India in the search for a political solution;
- No supply of lethal military equipment to the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, which they could use in their counter-insurgency operations;
- No disruption of training assistance;
- active monitoring of the humanitarian situation and provision of relief through channels approved by the Government of Sri Lanka.
Many of these postulates have already been rendered irrelevant by the Rajapakse Government in total disregard of the sensitivities of New Delhi.
It has already ruled out a federal solution and has been working for a unitary solution. It has already set in motion the process of de-merger and the reduction of the Tamil influence in the Eastern Province.
As a sop to Indian sensitivities, it wants to associate India more actively with the economic development of the Eastern Province in order to convey a message that a reduction of Tamil influence would not mean a reduction of Indian influence.
It is bent upon finding a military solution to the problem during the New Year.
Mr. Rajapakse's advisers are convinced that the ground and the international situation are at present the most favourable to Sri Lanka and that they if they miss this opportunity to turn the tide against the LTTE, they may not get another opportunity like this again.
The ultimate objective of Mr. Rajapakse's advisers is to reduce the Tamils to the status of the Red Indians of Sri Lanka kept confined to certain reserves as museum pieces.
A more anti-Tamil group of hardline advisers Sri Lanka has not had since the Tamils rose in revolt in 1983.
However, it would be foolhardy for Mr. Rajapakse's advisers to conclude that the LTTE is losing its resilience and has become less of a fighting machine than it was till 2004. It is still a formidable fighting machine, with considerable reserves of energy and motivation still left.
Edited, original (SAAG paper 2088) published January 7, 2007
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: [email protected]