Sri Lanka cease-fire is short-lived. Indian offensive set to resume after Tamil refusal to surrender
New Delhi — India's fragile two-day cease-fire with Sri Lankan Tamil rebels ended Monday when the guerrillas refused to surrender their weapons. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi called an end to the unilateral truce amid press reports here that his government has intentionally understated the number of casualties among Indian soldiers fighting in Sri Lanka.
The reports could fuel growing doubts about India's military intervention in its island neighbor and the peace accord signed four-months ago by the two countries.
``There has been a lot of censorship by the government. Now for the first time, people have reason to question,'' says an Asian diplomat in New Delhi. ``More and more Indians will start asking why their boys are being killed in another country.''
India's announcement of a cease-fire, which began Saturday, seemed to signal a softening by both sides in the six-week military standoff around the Tamil stronghold of Jaffna.
The ``Tigers,'' as members of the militant Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam are commonly known, had been pressing for a cease-fire since fighting broke out with the Indian peacekeeping forces in early October. Late last week, the militants held out an olive branch by releasing 18 captured Indian soldiers.
An External Affairs Ministry spokesman in New Delhi said, however, the 25,000 Indian troops in Sri Lanka would resume operations to disarm the militants because they refused to give up their weapons and agree to the peace pact.
The Tigers said they would not lay down their arms until:
The Sri Lankan government granted them amnesty.
The Indian Army withdrew to its camps in the north of the island.
India blocked the settlement of the ethnic Sinhalese majority in formerly Tamil lands.
The Indian official, who called the militants' demands ``unacceptable,'' charged that the guerrillas had killed two civilians for assisting the Indian troops and posted warnings that the Army should stop its operations. Since the cease-fire began, there had been two incidents where the Tigers had fired on Indian troops, the government said.
The militants posed a ``threat ... to the safety, security, and well-being of the people in the North and East Provinces,' the official said. The Tigers have been fighting a four-year civil war against the Sri Lanka government. The Tamils, who want their own homeland in the north and east of the island, have long claimed discrimination by the Sinhalese majority who account for 80 percent of Sri Lanka's 16 million people.
In allowing the cease-fire, observers said, Gandhi was trying to bolster support for his Sri Lanka agreement, particularly among Tamils in Sri Lanka and India.
But moderate Sri Lankan Tamils remain unhappy with recently approved legislation that would give the Tamils limited self-rule in the north and the east. The Sinhalese majority, on the other hand, sees this allowance as excessive, and has protested violently against the legislation.
The Indian Prime Minister also faced eroding public opinion in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu where the local government had sheltered and armed the Tamil militants.
M.G. Ramachandran, the state's influential chief minister, had backed the Indian military offensive but in recent days had been urging a cease-fire. Over the weekend, Mr. Ramachandran wanted to bring Veluppillai Prabhakaran, the charismatic chief of the Tigers, to India to negotiate with government officials but the move was blocked by Sri Lanka.
``Tamils in both Sri Lanka and India need to be reassured constantly that New Delhi has no desire to prolong the conflict,' says Prem Shankar Jha, a New Delhi political commentator.
While Gandhi likely regained some political support for offering the cease-fire, political observers say, press reports Monday underscored the rising cost of the Indian offensive.
The authoritative Times of India newspaper reported that more than 500 Indian soldiers have died in the conflict, double the official figures released by the government. The newspaper said the military had sent a team to Sri Lanka to investigate the high casualties.
Government officials denied the report and issued a special statement insisting that Indian casualties total 262 and 927 wounded. Sources said government defense offices had been flooded Monday with calls from families of soldiers serving in Sri Lanka.
Analysts say the report could weaken public opinion favoring the presence of Indian troops in the island nation.
``The bungling of the Indian government has landed our soldiers in a no-win situation,'' says Jagjit Singh Aurora, a retired Army general and a politician opposing the Gandhi government.