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Spreading Terror

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The shadow war between the Sri Lankan military and the Liberation Tigers has spread far beyond the island’s restive east to almost all parts of the Northeast, with lethal attacks taking place almost on a daily basis now. Visiting Norwegian envoy Major General (retd) Trond Furuhovde was last week bluntly critical of both sides. "This is subversive war [and] both parties are involved in this," he said. Even during his visit several people, including security forces personnel, suspected paramilitaries, LTTE members and civilians, lost their lives.

The people of Jaffna were acutely shocked last week by the murders of the principles of two of the peninsula’s well-known high schools. While the Sri Lankan government has blamed the Tigers for both killings, LTTE officials in turn have blamed Army-backed paramilitaries. However Jaffna residents suspect that one killing – that of Jaffna Central College principal, K. Rajadurai – might have been retaliation for the earlier one of Kopay Christian College principal Nadarajah Sivakadacham. Nadarajah was a leading organizer of the spectacularly successful Tamil Resurgence rally last month, whilst Rajadurai had reportedly been close to the paramilitary Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP).

The killings have shaken the Jaffna community, bringing, as it does, the horrors of the shadow war frighteningly close to their children. The Sri Lankan government and anti-LTTE propagandists, particularly those aligned to the paramilitaries, have sought to exploit parents’ anxieties. The Tamil community is familiar with the role played paramilitary groups, which have - since the Indian intervention of the late eighties - waged a dirty war on behalf of the Sri Lankan state whilst masquerading as political parties. Today, as ever, debilitating terror is the objective behind their violence. The gunmen hope to export the climate of fear they are fostering in the east to other parts of the Northeast, assisted by a Sinhala military delightedly fostering Tamil fratricide.

Both Colombo and the LTTE have declared a preparedness for talks, as demanded by the Co-Chairs of Sri Lanka’s donor community. But declarations are not matched by developments on the ground. Sri Lanka’s military is expanding its paramilitary capabilities. As long as the paramilitaries remain armed and operative in the Northeast, the LTTE members and supporters face a security threat and inevitably the organisation will respond with counter-violence. The inclusion of Clause 1.8 in the ceasefire agreement (obliging Sri Lanka to disarm these units) was intended to preclude the very situation prevailing in the Northeast. Maj. Gen. Furuhovde admitted last week that talks to resolve security issues are not in the offing. Indeed, as this newspaper and other Tamil voices have argued, the paramilitary violence is part of the wider military onslaught against the Tamil struggle. Moreover, it cannot be separated from the Sri Lankan leadership’s decided lack of interest in pursing a negotiated solution to the ethnic question. Whilst awaiting clarity on the prospects for peace, the people of the Northeast would undoubtedly share Maj. Gen. Furuhovde sentiments when he argued last week “if [the parties] use force, they have to be sure whether it is necessary to use force and the kind of consequences it could bear.”

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