Global Insight Perspective
This is the first time that the military has launched operations against the guerrilla group since the ceasefire began in 2002.
The LTTE has denied that it was involved in the suicide bombing, and called on ceasefire monitors to clarify whether the military has resumed the conflict. This was denied, although most observers agree that the ceasefire can take little more strain.
The outlook remains poor. Although both sides say they are committed to the ceasefire, it is difficult to believe them after an escalation in LTTE violence, military air strikes and the suspension of peace talks.
Violence Moves to the Capital
Reports suggest that yesterday’s attack was conducted by a female suicide bomber disguised as a pregnant woman. She pretended to have an appointment at the army camp’s medical centre in the capital, Colombo. It appears that she had forged identity papers, which were sufficient to get through the compound’s security measures. Reports vary as to whether the individual threw herself in front of Lieutenant-General Sarath Fonseka’s convoy or whether she detonated her explosives as the general was leaving his office. Ten people are believed to have been killed and almost 30 others injured. The general sustained heavy injuries, but is stable in hospital after extensive surgery. Fonseka was appointed in November 2005 following presidential elections. He has taken a hard line against the LTTE, and is the latest in a series of important figures to be targeted.
This is not the first suicide bombing to have taken place since the ceasefire was agreed. The LTTE was suspected of a bomb attack in July 2004, which unsuccessfully targeted Tamil politician Douglas Devananda. Again, this was carried out by a female bomber, who sought to gain access to the politician’s office. She was arrested, and detonated her explosives in a police station instead. The LTTE has denied involvement in both of these attacks. That said, the group is noted for its skills in suicide bombing, and it routinely denies all involvement in security problems. Although around 80 people have died in what is regarded as LTTE violence in the past two weeks, the group has blamed other elements. This is unsurprising, given that it is supposed to be adhering to the ceasefire.
The authorities have pursued a similar path. Military strikes obviously had to be government-sanctioned, but the administration claims that it remains committed to the ceasefire. Air strikes were conducted in LTTE-held areas around the north-eastern district of Trincomalee last night and today. There is no clear picture of the type of targets, number of casualties or the damage caused, although Agence-France Press (AFP) reports that the LTTE said there was ‘severe damage’ to life and property in the area. The ceasefire monitor, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), has issued its standard criticism, saying that the attack is ‘yet another serious blow to the ceasefire agreement and the peace process’. However, here is little incentive for either side to curtail aggression as it is unlikely that perpetrators will be brought to justice. For his part, President Mahinda Rajapakse issued a warning to the LTTE, saying that ‘no type of terrorism will frighten me’.
Outlook and Implications
The outlook has been poor for some time. After peace talks were suspended in April 2003, ceasefire violations and other problems have mounted. Violence escalated in the second half of 2005, beginning with the assassination of then-foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in August 2005. Attempts to restart the talks process look to have failed, and there are few options left for the ceasefire negotiators. Neither the government nor the LTTE want to be seen as the side that restarts the conflict, and they are instead conducting a proxy war within the loose framework of the ceasefire. The only possible positive outcome at this moment is that the air strikes, coupled with the increasing pressure from the international community, will convince the LTTE that talks are a viable option again.