As the Sri Lankan Army (SLA), helped by Israeli and Pakistani mercenaries, claimed success to take a key town in the East, a UN report has criticized the insurgent groups, the government, and their sponsored militia of abducted conscription of children.
Last week, the SLA claimed to have captured the last Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) stronghold in the Batticaloa district after weeks of fighting that included land, sea, and air attacks. They overran Vakarai claiming to have killed 331 rebels and losing 45 soldiers. The LTTE acknowledges that it has made a tactical retreat to cut its loss but quotes figures diametrically opposite to the government numbers. However, observers say that the victory is not going to bring any peace since the LTTE still controls the North and it is only the Government supported Karuna group that controls the East. Vakarai was a toe hold that the LTTE had in the East.
The Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) and the LTTE’s Sea Tigers also clashed near Point Pedro when the Tigers allegedly attacked a cargo ship with fast boats including suicide bombers. The SLN claims that it counter-attacked and sank at least one boat. As usual, the Tiger version is radically different and it is impossible to verify the accuracy of either stories.
A UN Special Representative Allan Rock interim report after an extensive tour of eastern and northern Sri Lanka cited a section of the Sri Lanka Army to be aiding and abetting the Karuna group in the recruitment of child soldiers. An enraged Sri Lankan Government (SLG) representative charged Rock of presenting unsubstantiated allegations and demanded evidence to back up the claim. Brushing aside SLG’s protestations, the UN confirmed Rock’s claims and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy emphasized that the UN was impartial and that it was attempting to end the global scourge of recruiting children to fight wars. A separate report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had issued a similar report October 31, 2006 charging the SLG thought the Karuna group and LTTE of recruiting hundreds of children. This report will now be presented to the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict next month for further action.
Ignoring these reports and beaming over the victory, SL Minister for Defense Keheliya Rambukwella took a hard-line saying that his government is determined to oust the LTTE from the east to free the people from the Tigers' tyranny. At the same time, he also insisted that the SLGF is willing to negotiate if it was ready to renounce violence and not call itself the sole representative of the Tamils. Obviously, the LTTE will never accept this pre-condition and therefore, there is not hope for calm. The build up its war chest, the SLG has increased defense spending by 45% to USD 1.3 billion and said it may allocate more as situations demand. Despite the risk of losing millions of dollars in aid money because of its failure to show progress in the peace process, the SLG has chosen to ratchet up animosity with the LTTE. Increasing the animosity between the groups, Rambukwella also accused the Tigers of growing cannabis and exporting opium to earn revenue—while a previous US Drug Enforcement Agency (USDEA) accused the LTTE of drug running, it never accused it of growing it. He also accused the LTTE of forceful conscription of children and adults and paraded five allegedly surrendered rebel warriors.
For its part, the LTTE has accused the SLG of killing aid workers and innocent civilians. It claimed that the SLA killed a woman and a driver with the Medecins Sans Frontieres and other civilians.
As always, these charges cannot be independently verified.
Next week, United National Party (UNP) and Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe will be traveling to New Delhi this week and met with policy makers to discuss political and diplomatic situation in the island nation. A group of parliamentarians from the UNP have defected to join the government and President Mahinda Rajapakse is expected to create Cabinet berths for some of them. For a brief moment last year, it appeared that Sri Lanka has developed a “Southern Consensus” and there were a lot of public relations around a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two dominant parties. But such pretensions seem to have been abandoned now.
New Delhi continues to not play any part in the ensuing crisis unraveling into a complete return to the resumption of strikes and counter-strikes. Apart from preaching peace, New Delhi has to participate in ensuring that the humanitarian crisis gripping the ethnic minority population is alleviated. It should push the world community to pass a UNSC resolution seeking a ban on the sale of weapons to either party.