Heightening political and dynamic tensions within Sri Lanka, Tamil Eelam and SAARC triangle
By Satheesan Kumaaran
Aug 4, 2008

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established when its Charter was formally adopted on December 8, 1985, by the heads of state or governments of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Since its inception, the SAARC has provided a platform for the peoples of South Asia to work together in a spirit of friendship, trust and understanding. It aims to accelerate the process of economic and social development in member states. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which is fighting to carve out an independent state of 'Tamil Eelam' from Sri Lanka has made a political and diplomatic move by declaring a unilateral truce from July 26 to August 4 in order to help provide for the success of the conference to be held in Colombo during that time.

All SAARC member countries have pledged support to the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL). Sri Lanka needs the help of neighbouring countries, especially India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, to assist the Sri Lankan armed forces by supplying military hardware and /or military training. The LTTE has influence only in India because many of the other countries are not aware of the intricacies of the Sri Lankan ethnic issue or it is not in their interests to attach much importance to Sri Lanka's internal problem.

LTTE's truce declaration
In this context, the LTTE's political wing issued a statement on July 22 saying that the LTTE would observe a unilateral ceasefire during the period of the SAARC conference. Conveying the goodwill and trust of the Tamil people, the LTTE said it wished for the success of the SAARC conference, extending the movement's support to the countries of the region, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives.

The LTTE said: "On behalf of the people of Tamil Eelam, we extend our sincere good wishes to the fifteenth conference of SAARC that aims, to improve the economic development of the vast South Asian region and to create a new world order based on justice, equality and peace."

The LTTE highlighted also what happened to the Tamils on the island since the country gained independence in 1948, saying that the Sinhala leadership continues to refuse to put forward a just solution to the national question of the Tamil people. It said: "The Sinhala nation is not prepared to deal justly with the Tamils. The politics of the Sinhala nation has today taken the form of a monstrous war. Because the chauvinistic Sinhala regime is putting its trust in a military solution, the war is spreading and is turning more and more intense. The Sinhala nation is intent on occupying and enslaving the Tamil homeland. Our military is only involved in a war of self defence against this war of the Sinhala nation."

The LTTE further said that it wanted to maintain friendship with the global community as well as the countries in south Asia because they all share similar cultural and traditional customs. "We are sincere in our efforts to create the external conditions in order to build these friendships. We wish to express the good will and trust of the Tamil people. As a sign of this goodwill, our movement is glad to inform that it will observe a unilateral ceasefire that is devoid of military actions during the period of the SAARC conference from 26th July to 4th August and give our cooperation for the success of the conference. At the same time if the occupying Sinhala forces, disrespecting our goodwill gesture of our people and our nation, carry out any offensives, our movement will be forced to take defensive actions."

Sri Lanka's response to LTTE's truce
The GoSL has refused to accept the LTTE's offer of a truce saying that the LTTE is militarily weak and the only reason they are offering the truce is so that they can rebuild during this time. Cabinet Minister Nimal Siripala Silva announced in parliament that the GoSL was not ready to accept any ceasefire that would supply oxygen to the LTTE.

Sri Lanka's state-controlled Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) in its broadcast in all three languages announced that the GoSL is not prepared for ceasefire with the LTTE and quoted Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the defense secretary and a brother of Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa: "The ceasefire announcement is a ploy by the LTTE when it is being militarily weakened in the war front, to strengthen it militarily under the guise of holding negotiation. There is no need for the government to enter into a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE...If we have to believe the LTTE they should first disarm themselves and then surrender."

On the other hand, Rajiva Wijesinghe, Secretary General of the Government Peace Secretariat (SCOPP) announced that the GoSL would wait and see if the LTTE's offer would come through peace-facilitator Norway. He said: "We need peace. We will wait and see if they will make the offer to us directly or through Norway (the peace facilitator), if they (LTTE) are serious about it...They (LTTE) has offered similar things in the past and militarily beefed up their capabilities. We need to be careful."

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollegama also announced in parliament that the GoSL would not even respond to the LTTE's offer of a ceasefire. He said: "We will not respond to it...It has no binding on us."

GoSL's ploy to make fight between India and LTTE
The LTTE's announcement of a unilateral truce comes in the wake of the GoSL informing New Delhi that the LTTE is a great danger to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India, and urging New Delhi to send in soldiers to protect the visiting south Asian leaders, especially Indian and Afghanistan leaders, while they take part in the conference in Colombo.

The GoSL wanted to play the diplomatic card in order to put India against the LTTE. If any bomb blasts take place in Colombo during the SAARC summit or anywhere outside of Tamil-dominated North and East it would justify the GoSL's war against the LTTE. It would declare the LTTE as terrorizing the country and gain support from the south Asian countries, and further isolating the LTTE from the international community. All this even though Sri Lanka has been under enormous pressure from the western world to enter into genuine peace talks with the LTTE and to uphold human rights values.

The LTTE's unilateral ceasefire announcement certainly gives the GoSL a political headache and an impediment to its designs. The LTTE further extended the good wishes for the success of the conference on behalf of Tamil Eelam. This shows that the LTTE is in grave need of support not only from the western world but also from the eastern (ASIAN) and, particularly the neighbouring countries.

The LTTE lack an advocacy base for their grievances among the SAARC members because they have no such networks in these countries, except India. The LTTE is making use of the SAARC conference to attract the SAARC member countries, and indeed, the SAARC member countries have provided wide coverage in their media about the LTTE's truce announcement.

The people in the region would definitely praise the LTTE for its well thought out announcement of declaring a truce during the summit. Because of their announcement, the LTTE could not be held responsible for any bomb blasts that take place in the south, and would negate the need for heavy security in the south because Sri Lanka has been saying that the Tamils are the main security concern.

The GoSL has given their armed forces the power to interrogate or detain Tamils as they may pose security threat. This way, the GoSL can advertise around the world that they are arresting and detaining Tamils to safeguard security and such behaviour would not be seen as human rights abuses. It would be seen the same as China arresting innocent persons as terrorists during the time of the Olympics and getting away with it. Following the LTTE's truce announcement, the failure of the GoSL to reciprocate further degrades the GoSL not only in the eyes of western countries but also in those of SAARC members.

Tamil observers claim that the word used by the LTTE in regard to Tamil Eelam shows that the LTTE believes that the establishment of a true Tamil Eelam will happen soon. LTTE leaders have been saying continuously that the LTTE sees India as a friendly and brotherly neighbour because Tamil Eelam and India share strong cultural ties.

The LTTE's publication chief, S. Ravi, said in the aftermath of the LTTE's truce announcement that the announcement is clear evidence that the LTTE won't harm the leaders of SAARC member countries because Tamil Eelam is part of that region although Tamil Eelam is not legally recognized. The LTTE's expressed wishes for the success of the summit clearly shows that Tamil Eelam will maintain friendly and brotherly relations with them.

Ravi cited the LTTE leader's Martyr's Day speech of last year where it was said that the struggle led by the LTTE is for the liberation of the Tamil people from foreign occupation and the LTTE would never act against the interest of any other country, including its neighbours. He said that the LTTE put an end to the false and malicious propaganda of the GoSL who claimed that the LTTE would disturb the SAARC summit and it would kill the leaders of SAARC member countries, especially India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. The LTTE's softening of militancy and focussing on an intellectual, political and diplomatic approach will definitely earn great support from SAARC member countries and other parts of the world. However, the GoSL continues to push back against the LTTE's strategies. The GoSL would face opposition from the international community if it continued to launch military operations rather than shaking hands with the LTTE at the negotiating table.

The political and diplomatic games between India, Sri Lanka and de jure Tamil Eelam could indeed make progressive changes in the days or weeks or months to come. The question is whether the LTTE's independent Tamil Eelam will become the next new member of SAARC.

(The author can be reached at: satheessan_kumaaran@yahoo.com)