Amaia Sánchez explains why Sri Lanka‘s fragile peace is crumbling as a consequence of the armed conflicts between the government of Colombo and the guerilla organization the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Sánchez points out that the official classification by the European Union of the LTTE as a terrorist organization has not helped to dissuade the group from continuing violence, nor has it stopped the escalation of the conflict. Sri Lanka finds itself now before the imminent and horrifying possibility of a return to open war.
Amaia Sánchez Cacicedo collaborates with centers for the resolution of conflicts in South Asia and the Middle East. She graduated with a master’s in international relations from the University of Georgetown and has worked with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) in Sri Lanka, Kenya and Costa Rica.
THE VERY FRAGILE PEACE, NOW FOUR YEARS OLD IN SRI LANKA, is rapidly beginning to fall apart. Since April there have been more than five hundred deaths as a consequence of armed confrontations between Sri Lanka’s government and the guerilla organization the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This is more than five times the number of victims recorded since June 15th of last year, and the highest level of violence since the ceasefire was signed in February of 2002.
The exponential increase in victims is largely due to the armed conflicts between both sides and the resulting of collateral damage. But terrorism has also played a role in the killings; the bombing of a public bus in a largely Sinhalese region of the country constituted the first undiscriminating attack against civilians of great magnitude (64 dead) since the calling of the truce. The LTTE, as usual, denied responsibility for the attack.
THE GOVERNMENT´S REPRISALS
In a response to the bombing, the government led a series of air strikes against LTTE military outposts in the northeastern regions of the country under guerilla control where the majority of the Tamil population resides. Naval confrontations have also taken place on the northwestern coast between government and LTTE forces. Reported attacks on Tamil civilians by Sri Lankan Armed Forces appear to have instigated much of this coastal fighting.
We can hope that despite the recent attacks, civilians will not be considered legitimate targets in the open conflicts between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government.
Meanwhile, the steady flow of immigration of Tamils continues, from Sri Lanka to southern India. Nearly three thousand Sri Lankans have left for India since the beginning of this year.
NOT EVEN THE PEACE KEEPERS ARE SAFE
The current situation is also affecting foreigners working in the northeast of the country, particularly those members of the Scandinavian group (Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, SLMM).
In the last few months there have been grenade attacks on several of the SLMM‘s headquarters, provoking the urgent meeting of Norway’s government with Sri Lankan officials in order to discuss the future role of the SLMM. Norway played a major part in the peace negotiations and the calling of the truce that took place in February of 2002.
In early June the meeting called by Norway was held in Oslo, but the SLMM was unable to convince the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to sit down at the negotiating table together. Real negotiations between the two sides have not been held since this past February, and the growing insecurity for SLMM workers in Sri Lanka is hindering their work, and causing a great amount of mistrust within the country.
RETURN TO OPEN WAR
The official classification by the European Union of the LTTE as a terrorist organization does not appear to have worked to dissuade the group from using violence, nor has it stopped the escalation of the conflict.
Sri Lanka is now facing the imminent and horrifying possibility of a return to open war. It is as if all of the peace accords, signed and agreed upon in 2002, no longer exist.