|Monday, 10 February 2003|
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The Tigers must adhere to the Ceasefire
Just as we are about to complete a year of the ceasefire, the incident off Delft has created a situation where the government has ordered the security forces to go back on a full alert.
On Thursday night, the Navy detected a boat carrying cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam towing a fishing trawler. When the lead vessel was stopped and checked by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission they found no weapons aboard it and the vessel was permitted to leave.
The LTTE at first resisted attempts by the SLMM to check the second boat, but when they did they discovered parts of a medium-sized weapon, a 23 mm gun and ammunition, which the Navy says, were hidden in the boat.
The LTTE claims it wanted the three cadres on board to surrender to the Navy with the weapons, but as they could not get the message across to them, they set fire to the boat and took their own lives on Friday morning.
This is a time for us to look at both the positive and negative sides to the incident, which is the most serious of this nature since the ceasefire agreement was signed by the parties to the conflict on February 22 last year.
On the good side it is with a sense of relief that we note that the incident, however serious, has not caused the collapse of the peace talks, which ended yesterday in Berlin. Both sides were able to reach agreement on important issues concerning the protection of human rights.
It is a sign that the deeper commitment to seek a solution through negotiations still remains among the leaders of the two parties concerned.
The other positive outcome was that the government was on the alert and the Navy was up to the task of patrolling the territorial waters of Sri Lanka despite the ceasefire. The Navy was performing its legitimate function and doing it well to detect the boats in question.
The officers and sailors on board the Fast Attack Craft that caught the LTTE boats have to be commended here for their alertness in detecting the rogue craft and also for their patience and discipline in not taking any hasty action that could have made a bad situation worse.
The bravery and the commitment of the members of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission also has to be noted as the two monitors who discovered the weapons on board had to leap off the vessel just before it was blown up by the LTTE cadres.
The role of the SLMM cannot be under-emphasised here. If they were not there, this incident could have sparked off a confrontation that may have led us back to war.
On the negative side, the LTTE cadre's reactions were such that they still seem to be in a war mode. Firstly they did not allow inspection when the SLMM wanted to take a look at the boat.
Then when they had the option of surrendering to the Navy through the SLMM they decided instead to commit suicide.
This attitude is unfortunate. It is now a year since the ceasefire agreement was signed and by now the LTTE lower ranks should have been informed of the new rules of the game. In the early days both sides had the excuse that their troops needed time to adapt to the new situation after fighting for many years. But it is clear now that the violations of the agreement from the government side have ceased while they continue to occur from the LTTE side.
The other point is that the LTTE needs to explain why it was moving a weapon and ammunition that can threaten aircraft in a militarily sensitive area. Any movement of cadres and weapons has to be done with the permission of the government forces and under the supervision of the monitors.
In this case, as the SLMM duly noted, there is a clear violation of the agreement to begin with, or the LTTE was trying to smuggle a dangerous and potentially destabilising weapon into an attack position.
As we have pointed out in these columns before, the most essential precursor to peace is the realisation that one party cannot defeat the other by military force. The balance of forces therefore is essential for the negotiations.
If one party tries to change the balance in a clandestine manner during the period of negotiations then it is like changing the field when the bowler is running up to bowl in Cricket; against the rules and potentially dangerous.
In the South there is already deep suspicion of the LTTE's motives. Actions such as these would only help the hard-line elements to strengthen their opposition to peace.
Therefore the incident should serve as a warning to the LTTE to adhere to the ceasefire agreement in the interest of taking the peace process forward.
The government, in the meantime, must remain firm as it did in this instance in safeguarding national security.
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