Cracks in a Strategic Jewel

Some conflicts in far-off lands such as Sri Lanka can't be ignored when the country contains a strategic jewel for nations like the United States with globe-girdling navies in search of safe ports of call.

Sri Lanka's prized jewels are, first, its location in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and second, one of the world's deepest natural harbors, Trincomalee. This warm-water port has been coveted for decades by big powers. During the cold war, the risk of it (or any Sri Lankan port) being used by the US once pushed India to support a civil war that engulfed the island for two decades.

Last year, that war between Sri Lanka's two largest ethnic groups saw a start to peace talks, with support from Norway and Japan and backing by the US.

This week, when the rebel Tamil Tigers, who rule much of the mainly Hindu north, offered a substantial concession by dropping a demand for independence in favor of autonomy, it split apart the nation's political establishment, which largely represents the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese.

A state of emergency was declared Wednesday by the president (who claims the Tamil offer would divide the island) while her main opponent, the prime minister, happened to be in Washington and appeared ready to accept the peace offering.

All this may be just local politics. But with the terror-fighting US military once again in need of harbors, and China's Navy edging into the Indian Ocean, the outcome of this conflict bears watching. There may even be a hidden foreign hand at work.

Sri Lankans deserve peace after enduring a conflict that's taken some 65,000 lives and seen some of the most brutal terrorist tactics. Peace should be the primary motive for all parties involved.

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