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Violence Complicates Indian Army Pullout

SRI LANKA: INTERNAL STRIFE

By Sheila TefftSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / December 19, 1989



NEW DELHI

SRI LANKA is pressing India to pull out its troops by year-end amid a new violent upsurge by Sinhalese and Tamil militants. Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa has set his hopes on India's new Prime Minister V.P. Singh, successor of Rajiv Gandhi who dispatched the Indian Army in 1987 to police a peace accord aimed at resolving the island's ethnic tensions.

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Mr. Singh has said he wants to repair ties between the two countries and in the past, has criticized the presence of Indian troops as ``wrong.'' However, Singh has failed to endorse the Dec. 31 pullout demand amid signs of a rethinking of India's controversial policy in Sri Lanka.

In September, facing growing criticism for its role in Sri Lanka, India agreed to bring home its 50,000 troops by the year's end.

The diplomatic scrambling comes as waves of violence continue to sweep the country. The People's Liberation Front (JVP), left-wing Sinhalese nationalists, went on a rampage of killing and burning, apparently rebounding from the elimination of the group's top leadership in November.

In the north and east provinces, Tamil groups have battled each other and Sri Lankan security forces in the wake of withdrawing Indian troops.

The fighting will make it difficult for Singh to pull out completely this month, Indian analysts say. Like his predecessor, he says he must ensure the security of Sri Lanka's minority Tamils, a touchy issue with their Indian ethnic kin in Tamil Nadu State.

``The worst fears are unfolding,'' says S.D. Muni, a South Asian specialist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, ``fears that once India vacates, the Tamil groups would fight each other and the Sri Lankan military would tilt the balance.''

In November, Premadasa's government thought it had dealt a decisive blow to the JVP when the group's founder Rohana Wijeweera and top leaders were killed by security forces.

The JVP launched a new revolt in the last two years capitalizing on anti-Indian feelings among the Sinhalese majority. About 10,000 people, half of them this year, have lost their lives.

Earlier this month, the group launched a new storm of violence and destruction across the south, killing more than 150 people and causing widespread damage.

The outbreak is worrying for the Sri Lankan government and security forces which, with JVP pressure off in the south, hoped to reassert their dominance in the north. The assaults by the Sinhalese extremists show that area leaders are still effective despite the death of Mr. Wijeweera and the top command.

The Indian withdrawal from the eastern districts of Amparai and Batticaloa has ignited a proxy war among rival Tamil militants backed by India and Sri Lanka.

At odds, are the Tamil Tigers, the most powerful of the Tamil groups. They refused to surrender under the peace agreement and have bogged down the Indian Army in a costly guerrilla war. They are opposed by a Tamil militia established and armed as a proxy by the Indian Army and headed by the chief minister of the north east, Varadharaja Perumal.

Sri Lanka has charged that India is setting up an ``illegal paramilitary force,'' dubbed the Tamil National Army. New Delhi counters that the militia was set up with Colombo's knowledge.

``India went into Sri Lanka to safeguard its interests and now that it's leaving, it wants to safeguard its interests through Perumal,'' says a senior diplomat in New Delhi. ``Without Indian support, he would collapse like a house of cards.''