The Tigers have the habit of sending trial balloons. A few days ago, LTTE indicated its willingness to consider a ceasefire. The government promptly rejected the offer reiterating its position that no truce was possible unless the LTTE gave up arms.
The LTTE does not lose anything due to its ceasefire offers. Instead it gains a lot from them. If the government reciprocates, then it can have some respite, regroup and rearm for the next phase of war. Else, its propagandists can project the government as a hawkish regime not amenable to a truce and blame it for the humanitarian problems resulting from the continuation of war.
However, the government has no alternative but to turn down such offers without falling into ceasefire traps. Every government that fell for the tigrine wiles emerged from peace traps with a bloody nose. The disastrous outcome of peace deals that President Premadasa and President Kumaratunga tried to strike with the LTTE is a case in point.
The LTTE`s latest truce ploy was aimed at preventing the fall of Pooneryn to the army and saving Kilinochchi. In a recent interview with an Indian magazine Prabhakaran bragged that Kilinochchi would never fall. But, he himself is aware that he cannot hold out for a long time. The new front the army is going to open in the Wanni is a frightening proposition for the LTTE already overstretched and affected by a severe shortage of manpower.
Immediately after the government`s rejection of the truce offer, the LTTE, perhaps to save its face and prevent demoralisation of its cadres, got one of its proxies to say in Parliament that it would not lay down arms. Talking with a forked tongue is the LTTE`s forte. It has a remarkable ability to send two different messages to its support base and the international community simultaneously.
War is hell and it must end. The sooner, the better! But, experience shows us that no amount of ceasefires will lead to peace so long as the LTTE remains strong and intransigent. The last truce lasted for five years from 2002 to 2007 but nothing came of it. There was an absence of war but the LTTE did not desist from violence or work towards finding a solution. It used the fragile truce to replenish its supplies, recruit more combatants and gain legitimacy. In 2003, it walked away from peace talks with the UNF government, which to its credit, bent over backwards to keep the peace process on track. It is being claimed that an LTTE-instigated polls boycott brought about UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe`s defeat at the last presidential election. But, it was actually in 2003 that the LTTE destroyed the UNP leader`s political future by scuttling the peace process, upon which he was banking to win the presidency.
The LTTE may offer to consider ceasefires and talk peace but Prabhakaran has unequivocally told the world the solution he has in mind. He won`t settle for anything less than Eelam as he declared at a press conference in Kilinochchi in 2002. Asked if his order to his cadres to kill him if he accepted anything less than Eelam was still valid, he had no hesitation whatsoever in answering in the affirmative. In fact, he renewed that order! He has never ever given the slightest indication that he would settle for anything else.
One may argue that the LTTE made the setting up of an interim self-governing administration (ISGA) conditional to returning to the negotiating table in 2003. Yes, it did but the UNF government had the wisdom to avoid that trap. For, granting an ISGA would have been as good as giving Eelam. Among the critics of the ISGA was none other than the US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who said the ISGA went beyond all known forms of federalism and it was therefore without a precedent.
The LTTE demand read: `The ISGA shall have plenary powers for the governance of the Northeast including powers in relation to resettlement, rehabilitation, and development, including improvement and upgrading of existing services and facilities, raising revenue including imposition of taxes, revenue, levies and duties, law and order and land.` Besides, the LTTE asked for powers in respect of maritime resources and direct foreign aid.
What more would the LTTE have needed if it had got the ISGA?
Armitage urged the LTTE to adhere to the Oslo declaration, which envisaged a federal solution. The European Parliament, it may be recalled, in its resolution on Sri Lanka on Sep.08, 2006 said: `[The EU] condemns the intransigence of the LTTE leadership over the years, which has successively rejected so many possible ways forward including devolution at the provincial level or Provincial Councils devolution at the regional level or Regional Councils as well as the concept of federalism with devolution at the national level.`
Thus, if any government agrees to a ceasefire with a view to talking peace with the LTTE, it must be prepared either to be taken for a ride like its predecessors or to grant the ISGA, which is nothing but a halfway house between federalism and Eelam.
There have been calls for the government to do as the EU says to retain the GSP Plus concession. Similarly, the government should be asked to heed what the aforesaid EU Parliament resolution says about the LTTE, in trying to evolve a political solution. In other words, it is futile to talk to the LTTE so long as it remains intransigent demanding something that goes beyond federalism.
So, if a political solution acceptable to all stakeholders is to be evolved through negotiations, then the international community and the peace lobby must wean the LTTE from violence, the ISGA and Eelam.
Or, they must stop protesting against the on-going efforts to neutralise the LTTE and pave the way for a political solution.