As the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) withdrew from combat areas in the North and East, the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) raid killed 15 civilians (including 4 children), wounded dozens, and destroyed all but 5 houses in Northern coast near Mannar. The SLAF confirmed Israeli-built Kfir jet raids on Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) positions, especially a Sea Tigers base, and claimed to have destroyed a “Tiger mortar position” and delivering severe punishment on rebels, but denied attacks on civilians.
Ironically, the SLAF attack soon after President Mahinda Rajapakse and the LTTE spokesperson wished for peace in their respective New Year messages. Rajapakse said that he hoped that the “New Year will bring the long awaited genuine and sustainable peace" and the LTTE said it hoped that the world will “stand” with the “Tamil people in their sincere effort to seek a permanent peace through a just political solution.” The use of the word “political solution” by the Tigers is interesting as it comes a few weeks after their leader Vellupillai Prabakaran said that independence was the only way out for the Tamils and it is not clear what this “political solution” would include. Rajapakse says that he is trying to build a “political solution” by building consensus and New Delhi has been urging a federal approach as followed by the more liberal Indian Constitution.
The sharp spike in violence between government troops and Tigers has killed more than 3500 people in 2006 rendering the Norwegian brokered Cease Fire Accord (CFA) of 2002 dead. The Sri Lankan Government (SLG) has been emboldened with new aircraft from Israel, military cooperation with Pakistan, and a series of diplomatic sanctions against the Tigers citing terrorism reasons. The LTTE has actually played into the SLG’s hands by making several political gaffes including the withdrawal of support for moderate leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, asking for the vacation of Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) observers from nations that branded it as terrorist, and a half-apology to India on the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. As a result, the LTTE is seeing itself being more isolated than ever and this is creating more hardship for hapless Tamil citizens of the island nation. Sinhala chauvinists have exploited these developments by appropriating harsher measures against civilians in Colombo and SLG administered areas.
The SLG confirmed that the SLMM has pulled out of the island’s north and east thus removing the last check mechanism against Sri Lankan Army (SLA) excesses. The defense establishment of SLG has turned this situation around to its advantage by condemning this development as there will be no independent monitoring on the “the increased child recruitment” by the LTTE. The SLMM is now operating out of Colombo and says that it will deploy a “rapid deployment force” to combat areas where the CFA is violated—but the SLG has said that it would oppose such a proposal.