Sri Lanka update

From DJ Mitchell, who has spent considerable time in Sri Lanka, and knows the politics well, comes this report of the ominous situation there.

The BBC report “Sri Lanka: Talks or War?” conveys the underlying confusion in the current situation since the LTTE announced earlier this week that they were pulling out of the Geneva talks. Observing from a distance, even with local contacts, doesn’t put me in a position of better understanding.

What is clear is this: violence in the Trincomalee area has escalated. Forces on both sides are targetting homes and civilians. There are both casualties and refugees, though the numbers of each are not yet available. My contacts say it’s getting worse each day. What is less clear is where it’s going.

The LTTE on the one side, and the Sinhala extremists on the other, appear committed to more violence, The government has been holding the military back, though recent statements of support by the U.S. appear to be giving them confidence. The BBC reports that neither side wants to go back to war.

But my sources suggest that both sides believe they can win if they do go back to war. The government is not yet ready. The Tigers, it appears, are. Yet appearances on both sides may be deceiving. The LTTE is known for feints and brinksmanship. They may not want war, even though it appears that that do. OTOH, the Sinhala extremists are allied with the government. In January, the President was able to call off the JVP’s hartal with a phone call. With the extremists engaging in this increased violence, the question arises, is it with government approval, or is the President politically too weak to stand up to them?

In my view, the age old truth remains at the root of this situation: politicians gain power in times of war. Few politicians can resist the opportunity to gain power, and fewer still will vote to reduce their power. Once again, the leadership on both sides moves toward war– and the people suffer. Roughly 65,000 people have died in the Sri Lankan civil war since 1983. Two thirds of them have been civilians.

Some view the conflict as being between the Sinhalese and the Tamil people, others view it as between the government and the LTTE. I prefer to view it as leaders of both sides committing violence against the people of Sri Lanka. And once again, the people are losing.

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