KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka - There are slim hopes that the Sri
Lankan government and rebel Tamil Tigers will restart peace talks soon after
four people, including a top renegade Tiger fighter, were shot dead in growing
factional fighting in the country.
The killings on Thursday came days after Norwegian special envoy Erik Solheim
expressed his own frustrations at the on-the-ground reality between the two
"Even if Jesus Christ or Buddha came, they will not be able to do this
easily," Solheim told reporters last weekend soon after meeting the Tigers'
political head S. P. Tamilselvan at the rebels' Peace Secretariat in this northern
Sri Lankan city.
Solheim said that the Norwegians did not expect any breakthrough in the near
future. "Some people think that the Norwegian facilitators are some kind
of demigods or magicians. I can tell you it will not happen. It will not be
finished in one visit," he said.
About 64,000 people have died in the war in Sri Lanka. Fighting has been on
hold since Norway brokered a truce in February 2002, but many are worried that
the current crisis could put the ceasefire under strain.
In April 2002, the Tamil Tigers pulled out claiming they were being sidelined.
Later they wanted to discuss proposals for an interim government in the north
which the government of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe was
unwilling to do. And neither has the proposal received a concrete response from
the present government.
On Thursday, the main unit of the Tamil Tigers ambushed and killed a rebel
known as Reggie and two of his close aides in rebel-held eastern Sri Lanka,
the Tamilnet Web site said. According
to police, suspected Tiger gunmen also killed a rival political activist in
the capital Colombo.
Reggie was the deputy and brother of breakaway Tiger leader V. Muralitharan,
better known as Karuna.
The Tigers accuse Karuna of siding with the Sri Lankan army and waging what
they call a proxy war against them. But the government and the army have strenuously
denied any involvement with the rebel defector.
In the meantime, Norwegian envoy Solheim met with President Chandrika Kumaratunga
in an attempt to shift attention from the deadlock to gains achieved from the
"Everyone should appreciate the enormous benefit of this no war-no peace situation.
If war had been here, maybe 10,000 or 20,000 people would have been killed,"
The benefits have undoubtedly been immense. At the Kilinochchi Central College,
the student population has increased more than hundred percent since the ceasefire
from 662 in 2001 to 1,585 this year.
"Children are now eager to come to school," the college's principal P. Muttaiah
Banks operating in Tiger held areas are also doing good business.
"Since the ceasefire the customer base has grown by a large number," said
Vivekanandan Jananadan, the Kilinochchi branch manger of the Tiger controlled
Bank of Tamileelam.
The branch serves more than 10,000 customers. Three banks under the Sri Lankan
government, too, operate in the town and boast of a similar customer base. One
of them, the National Savings Bank has an allocation of 170,000 U.S. dollars
for loans to businesses.
At the Kilinochchi vegetable market, vendors said that business has never been
this stable before.
"Business is good here, we don't have big problems. It will be good if it
stays this way," K. G. Hemalatha told IPS.
She and her husband are the only Sinhalese doing business in Kilinochchi's
main market. This northern city is predominately Tamil, though Sinhalese make
up about 70 percent of the island's 19.2 million population.
Most of vendors at Kilinochchi market said that despite transport costs and
taxes levied by the Tigers, business was stable as supplies were getting there
without disruptions. "We have no plans of leaving this place if things
remain this way," said Hemalatha's husband, Raju.
While the talks might be deadlocked, development work is continuing in this
northern city. A new water tower is being built right next to the one destroyed
during the war.
The A9 highway that links the northern Jaffna Peninsula with the rest of the
country is paved and well-maintained, a far cry from the pothole-ridden dirt
track that was open to the public in 2002 just after the ceasefire.
But fears of a resumption of hostilities still persist among Kilinochchi residents.
"No body is going to live forever, not even [Velupillai] Prabhakaran [Tamil
Tiger leader] or the president," said Shamnugam Sivasa, a coconut seller.
"While this struggle is for land, the sons of innocent men and women are dying,"
Until the ceasefire was declared, the Tigers had been fighting for a separate
state for Tamils in Sri Lanka's north and east. They argued that theTamils have
been discriminated against by successive majority Sinhalese governments.
But, as peace talks progressed, the Tigers dropped their demand for independence
and said they would settle for regional autonomy a major concession.
A resumption of hostilities would roll back whatever that has been achieved
during the almost three years of peace.
"If war breaks out all this would be lost," Kilinochchi Central College principal
In areas under its control, the Tigers definitely have the support to revert
to armed hostilities.
"You have to understand that even if we don't agree with all the policies
of the Tamil Tigers, they are fighting for us. We have to be given what was
denied to us in the past," said P. Kandasamy, a retired civil servant.
Tamil Tiger political chief Tamilselvan stopped short of giving an all out
guarantee on peace last week.
Remarking that the peace process has reached a crisis situation, he told IPS,
"We are adopting patience and the Tamil people are adopting patience, but
of course there is a time limit."
"We will not stipulate on time frames, we will only say that the people
are the judges. At the time when the people lose their patience, the act of
the Tigers will become inevitable."