The Sri Lankan government announced its withdrawal from the five-year-old cease-fire with the Tamil Tigers Wednesday. The Norwegian-brokered 2002 truce treaty was ignored by both sides, but analysts say the formal withdrawal would open the door to even greater violence.
The Guardian reports that the Sri Lankan government opted to officially abandon the cease-fire on Wednesday, following the latest spate of violence between Colombo and the independence-seeking rebels of the Tamil Tigers, formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The agreement was signed in February 2002 by Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was prime minister at the time, and Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Tamil Tigers' reclusive leader - but it has been in tatters for the past two years. Anura Yapa, the cabinet spokesman and media minister, said: "Today it was proposed to the cabinet by the honourable prime minister that the ceasefire is no longer valid and it's time to withdraw from the ceasefire agreement. All the ministers agreed to the proposal."
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for an independent homeland for the Tamil minority in northern and eastern Sri Lanka since the 1980s. The rebels have been designated a terrorist organization by several nations, including the US, Britain, and the European Union.
The Associated Press reports that on Thursday, Mr. Yapa left the door open to future peace talks, provided the Tigers disarm first. But, he said it was "useless talking to them now," as fighting between the Tigers and the government raged even during the cease-fire.
The withdrawal is mainly symbolic, signifying the end of an agreement once hailed as a harbinger for peace. It most likely means the end of a Norwegian monitoring mission that was one of the few independent observers to the war in the jungles of Sri Lanka's north. Ending the accord was a "serious step," the Norwegian international development minister and key mediator, Erik Solheim, said on the website of Norway's foreign ministry. "This comes on top of the increasingly frequent and brutal acts of violence perpetrated by both parties, and I am deeply concerned that the violence and hostilities will now escalate even further," Solheim said.
"This means all-out war," said Iqbal Athas, an analyst with Jane's Defence Weekly in Colombo. "The government has dropped the peace option and has opted for a fuller military onslaught on the rebels. "One thing is certain, there'll be more confrontations. There'll be more violence now," he added. "The government perceives it to be end-game ... It will be the most intense period of war Sri Lanka has seen."
Even before the announcement of the cease-fire withdrawal, the government showed signs of wanting to launch a new offensive against the Tigers, according to an Agence France-Presse report. Over the last weekend, state-run newspapers in Sri Lanka had quoted officials promising a military victory over the rebels in 2008, the AFP said.
"We can bring the war against the LTTE to a turning point once we are able to destroy the LTTE capabilities to operate in bunkers and forward defence lines," [Army chief Sarath] Fonseka was quoted as saying in the [state-run] Daily News.
The paper also quoted both navy chief Wasantha Karannagoda and air force commander Roshan Gunatilleke as saying they were "confident" of defeating the Tigers in the new year.
On Saturday, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa – brother of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa - drew attention to the number of truce violations, reports Indian daily The Hindu. "The Ceasefire Agreement exists only on paper. Obviously we can see that there is no ceasefire. It has become a joke," he said.
From the beginning of the truce in 2002 until April 2007, the Tamil Tigers violated the cease-fire 3,830 times, while the government violated it 351 times, according to figures cited by The Hindu.
India may help the Sri Lankan government fight the Tigers. United Press International reports that India, citing an increased "threat perception" of the Tigers, announced plans Wednesday for joint military exercises with Sri Lankan forces in early 2008.
Sri Lanka's military believes it is gaining the upper hand in the conflict, but the withdrawal decision may also be politically motivated, reports Agence France-Presse.
Analysts said the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse, which has a slim majority in parliament, may also have pulled out of the truce to woo the hardline but influential People's Liberation Front, or the JVP. The JVP saved the government from a humiliating defeat at the December budget vote and has been demanding the abrogation of the ceasefire and an end to Norway's role on the troubled island. Press reports here speculated that the end of the truce could pave the way for the JVP to rejoin the government it left in 2005.
The government's decision to leave the treaty comes amid a new spate of violence in the capital city of Colombo, reports CNN. The government accused the Tigers of planting a bomb that hit an Army bus Wednesday, killing at least four and wounding 28 others. A day earlier, a member of a Tamil opposition party was killed by a gunman outside a Hindu temple.