Sinking Peace in Sri Lanka

One positive outcome of Sept. 11 was that it shed a harsh light on terrorist tactics in several civil wars. One was in Sri Lanka, the island nation off India where a cease-fire was declared after 9/11 by the Tamil Tigers guerrilla group.

The Tigers, who had sought a separate nation for the Tamil Hindu minority, had long targeted civilians among the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. Up to 65,000 people were killed during a 20-year conflict. As foreign support for their cause dried up, they sought peace and reduced their demand to simple regional autonomy.

But two years of negotiations were threatened last fall by a political split among two Sinhalese-dominated parties. The party of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had negotiated a peace outline with the Tigers, but President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her party said he had made too many concessions. The result was an election last Friday in which the president's party won, perhaps eroding chances for a final settlement.

Ms. Kumaratunga's political ambition to stay in office, more than real concerns about the peace deal, may be behind her move. The Tamil Tigers, meanwhile, have seen a splinter group continue the threat of violence, as happened with the IRA in Northern Ireland.

The United States, India, and other powers need to press the president and the Tigers to finalize a deal soon. The momentum for peace has been strong, and the moment mustn't be lost.

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