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SRI LANKA: The war in the Northeast- an update

 

Note 6

The Sri Lankan government has created a new post of Chairman of the Joint Operations Bureau. A retired Army Commander, General Rohan Daluwatte has taken charge on 6th Jan. 1999. The JOB as the Joint Operations Command is called, was created a few days earlier. It envisages a coordinating role for itself in the operations of three service commands, the Army, the Navy and the Air force. An additional feature of the new scheme is the inclusion of the Police command.

This new set up is not likely to have any immediate impact on the ethnic conflict that has been going on for the last eighteen years, though it is likely to affect the leading role of army in the conflict. The army which has been coordinating the operations so far will have one more tier to deal with. Much would depend on the working relationship between Gen. Weerasooriya, the Sri Lankan army commander who is also new to the post and the chairman of the JOB.

Gen Weerasooriya recently told the "Hindu" that the war will be won by a "process of attrition". What is left unsaid is that attrition could take place in both the camps, the Security forces and the LTTE. He is also reported to have said that the army has no problem in acquiring unrestrained supplies for the conduct of operations!

It is known that operation Jaye sikuru did not bring about any change in the ground situation The LTTE has gained a wider access to their strong hold in Mullaithivu and what is worse, the objective with which the security forces started the operation of opening the road to Jaffna has not been realised despite the hype and expectations created by the army when the operations were begun. It is in this context that the remarks of Gen.Weerasooriya on the war of "attrition" are to be examined.

We have said it before and we say it again- there could be no military solution and both sides are in no position to have a military victory in the near future. Meanwhile the poor people are left to suffer. If the Sri Lankan army could claim that they have achieved sophistication in the operations with a mix of counter-insurgency operations and conventional warfare, the LTTE could equally claim that over the years the conflict on their side has become one from pure guerilla warfare to a mix of guerilla and conventional warfare. They would be justified in claiming so, when they hold on to territory which is "no go" for the security forces.

This is not to belittle the trying conditions under which the security forces operate. Counter insurgency operations are always nasty and to conduct it in an area where the people have no sympathy for the government is not easy. Then there is lack of hard intelligence on LTTE's movements and intentions. The massive attacks on established large army bases, like that of the brigade headquarters at Killinochi is one indicator.

But what is regrettable is, that statements like finding a "military solution", "war of attrition till the end" etc will make it harder for the majority community to understand the ground realities. President Chandrika is yet to forge a consensus with the opposition over the political package first proposed by her, but subsequently whittled down, due to pressure from various vested interests. One high point in her foreign policy was her recent visit to India and forging closer ties- a kind of insurance against any support to LTTE..

The war is not going in any body's favour. Desertions from the Sri Lankan army have reached alarming proportions and repeated calls of amnesty for deserters have not brought forth any response. There are persistent incidents in the east, mainly in Batticola and Amparai tying the Security forces from moving north. LTTE's moves to create diversions in the east may be a precursor for another major attack in the north.

The LTTE also has suffered some losses in the sea although they claim that they have destroyed one Devora class gun boat of Sri Lankan Navy in one of the recent clashes. Though supplies of fuel and medicine continue to come from India, there is a possibility of further tightening of security by the Indian Coast Guard and the Navy. The new recruits to the LTTE, boys and girls also appear to be younger. The supply is therefore is not inexhaustible.

We believe that a negotiated settlement is possible. A suggestion has been made that perhaps South Africa where the LTTE has moved its headquarters, is in a position to mediate. But the two sides should make up their mind as to what they want. A military solution? We do not think it is possible in the near term.

S. Chandrasekharan                                                       9.1.99

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