Sri Lankan government withdraws truce with Tamil rebels

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The government of Sri Lanka says it is withdrawing from a cease-fire agreement with Tamil rebels because, in the opinion of the government, the pact has become meaningless. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi the withdrawal is largely symbolic because the Norwegian-brokered truce collapsed two years ago.

There have be many clashes between the government and the rebels since mid-2006. This happened despite the fact that they were still in a cease-fire.

The government's decision to end a 2002 truce agreement with Tamil rebels came as a vast majority of people believed that the pact existed only in name.

The announcement came late Wednesday after a meeting among senior Cabinet ministers.

Sri Lanka's foreign secretary, Palitha Kohona, says the government is "reluctantly" ending the truce because it did not achieve what it was supposed to - a peace settlement with the rebels, known as the LTTE.

"From the beginning it was observed only in the breach by the LTTE. In the first couple of years, it used the cease-fire agreement to regroup, rearm, and then in 2005 it launched massive attacks on government forces," said Kohona. "In a real practical sense, this agreement served very little purpose."

Both the rebels and the government routinely blame each other for the resumption of hostilities. The fighting began soon after a hard-line government took over in Colombo, and the rebels accused the government of a lack of seriousness in pursuing peace talks. The Tamil rebels want an autonomous homeland for Sri Lanka's minority Tamil community.

In the past two years, near-daily clashes on the battlefield, assassinations and bombings have killed about 5,000 people.

Political analysts say ending the truce will polarize the two sides even further. They say the government , which has scored some military successes against the rebels, wants to defeat them on the battlefield.

Sri Lankan foreign Secretary Kohona says ending the country's ethnic conflict should not be linked to negotiations with the rebels.

"A political settlement is not necessarily going to be with the Tamil Tigers," added Kohona. It will take into account the concerns of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka and the other minorities of Sri Lanka."

Norwegian mediators have expressed concern about the government's decision to end the truce, calling it a "serious step." Norway's foreign ministry Web site says there have been increasingly frequent and brutal attacks by both parties, and there is concern that violence and hostilities will escalate further.

The truce had received wide international support, and raised hopes of ending the country's quarter-century long ethnic conflict. But many think that the formal ending of the cease-fire means the civil war could drag on for years.