Wednesday, November 14, 2007

'Lankan Govt sincere on negotiated settlement'

N. Manoharan , a senior fellow of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi

The Sri Lankan Government's overall sincerity towards a negotiated settlement should not be doubted, states N. Manoharan , a senior fellow of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi stated in an article published in the Indian Express yesterday. Manoharan said President Mahinda Rajapaksa wants to weaken the LTTE as much as possible while pursuing peace talks.

The article:

Jubilation switched sides when the Sri Lankan Air Force killed the LTTE political wing leader, S. P. Tamilselvan, earlier this month.

It is a severe blow to the LTTE's morale, which was high after the recent combined air and ground attack on the Sri Lankan air base at Anuradhapura.

According to the Sri Lankan Government, the killing of Tamilselvan was facilitated by precise intelligence and aerial surveillance. The Government vowed that it would kill other LTTE leaders "one by one". Its defence secretary even observed, "This is just a message that we know where their leaders are. I know the locations of all the leaders, that if we want we can take them one by one, so they must change their hideouts. When the time comes only, we take them one by one."

Undoubtedly, the chief of the LTTE's political wing was one of the prized targets for the Government. Also known as "Dinesh", Suppayya Paramu Tamilselvan joined the LTTE in 1984 at 17 and passed out in the fourth batch of the LTTE training in India.

He served as one of the bodyguards of the LTTE chief Prabhakaran and was his close confidante. Later, he was a key figure in fighting the Indian Peace Keeping Force during 1987-89, especially in the Jaffna peninsula. He also took part in a key operation to overrun the military base located at Elephant Pass in 1991.

He, however, had to wait for another nine years to witness the fall of the strategic Pass to the LTTE. While participating in a campaign to overrun an army base in Pooneryn in 1993, Tamilselvan suffered a leg injury, which made him dependent on a walking stick.

Since then, he was unable to participate in active military operations and was put in charge of the political wing. But does his killing have any impact on the LTTE ?

The importance and stature of Tamilselvan in the LTTE have been acknowledged by Prabhakaran, who had accorded him with the highest military rank of 'brigadier'. In Prabhakaran's own words, Tamilselvan's was an "unparalleled loss" for the Tigers.

However, since Tamilselvan had not been an active part of the fighting forces, his demise may not have much of an impact on the Tigers militarily, although his advice will be missed. It is on the political front, however, that the real vacuum has been created.

Tamilselvan had been the key person in LTTE's negotiations and was well-versed in the political aspects of the conflict and his clarity of thought and articulation was evident in the various interviews he had given the media. Although heading the political wing, Tamilselvan was a hardliner.

It is important to note that not much was achieved in the talks he attended as head of the LTTE team. The LTTE responded very quickly to this death and has asked its police chief, Nadesan, to hold additional charge as political wing leader. But Nadesan's experience as a political spokesman is nowhere near that of Tamilselvan.

He is, at best, a stop-gap arrangement till a more capable person takes over. It is difficult to agree with the argument put forward by those sympathetic to the LTTE that the Tamilselvan killing underlines Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa's insincerity towards a negotiated solution.

Rajapaksa, it appears, wants to "crush terrorism" first and weaken the LTTE as much as possible while pursuing peace talks. Given all this, the killing has increased the possibility of a further escalation of violence.

The Tigers have openly stated that Tamilselvan's killing "would not go unanswered". They are sure to launch a counter-offensive and target Sri Lankan government officials, and Rajapaksa has asked all his colleagues to be extra-cautious about their security in the days ahead, even as the Government carries on with a "relentless pursuit of terrorists".

Conflict is now more entrenched in the Sri Lankan reality than it has been in a long while.