Da The Times of India del 18/04/2006
Originale su http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1494270.cms

West seeks halt to Sri Lanka violence

NEW DELHI: With the situation in Sri Lanka sliding from bad to worse, the West is hoping to urgently reach out to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Tamil Tigers chief Velupillai Prabhakaran to halt the spiralling violence.

Frustration has clearly set in among the co-chairs to the peace process - the US, the European Union, Japan and Norway - and other actors keen to see peace in Sri Lanka.

The situation looks bleak for the moment in the island, where attacks and counter-attacks have become routine in the northeast even as the scheduled peace talks in Geneva next week appear to have got indefinitely postponed.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has launched a virtual war across the northeast, meticulously targeting soldiers and sailors with claymore mines that are directional bombs normally the size of shoeboxes.

Although the LTTE is not taking responsibility for the killings - in the same manner like in December-January when too it masterminded similar attacks - there is no doubt among Western countries that the Tigers are the culprits.

These countries also do not discount LTTE allegations that sections of the military and anti-LTTE Tamil groups linked to Colombo are taking part in targeted killings.

"The whole thing is extremely frustrating," a Western diplomat told IANS on telephone from Colombo. "The peace process is simply drifting and very violently at that."

The co-chairs are talking to one another every day, at different places and levels, and there is a feeling that Norway should urgently meet or get in touch directly with the two key men: Prabhakaran and Rajapakse.

Although the West is determined to play it even handed and feels both Colombo and the LTTE should show flexibility, the anger and frustration is now directed more against the Tigers.

"The international community believes the Tigers are behind the majority of the attacks on security forces," said Helen Olafsdottir, spokeswoman for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), the Nordic body overseeing the wobbly 2002 ceasefire agreement between the LTTE and Colombo.

"Over 70 people have died in attacks and violence in the last three weeks or so," Olafsdottir told IANS. "This puts into question whether there is still a ceasefire."

In December and January, a similar bloodbath ahead of the first round of Geneva talks saw scores of killings, including of about 90 security personnel.

Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim flew to Sri Lanka then and met both the LTTE chief and Sri Lankan leaders, ensuring the Geneva meeting in February.

For most killings the blame was put on the LTTE. But after Solheim's visit, the Tigers began to suffer casualties at the hands of gunmen opposed to them. Again the LTTE has gone on the offensive.

The dominant diplomatic assessment in Colombo is that while the Tigers could escalate the violence, the government needs to quickly come up with a strategy to achieve durable peace.

"The LTTE is showing brinkmanship. They are pushing, pushing and pushing," the diplomat said. "Unfortunately, the government is not showing enough flexibility. It is also turning a blind eye to armed (Tamil) groups."

The second round of the Geneva peace talks was postponed from April 19-21 to April 24-25. The LTTE then said it would not go to Geneva because its commanders from the east were not permitted to sail to the north in line with conditions agreed to by the SLMM. One diplomat dubbed the LTTE argument "unconvincing".

The West also believes that India can do its bit by stepping up pressure on Sri Lanka's two main Sinhala political parties to join ranks to come up with a broad consensus on according autonomy to the Tamil-majority northeast.

At the same time, some in the Western community believe that mere talks, where recriminations and finger pointing related to the past take the priority, cannot work any more.

Another diplomat argued: "It is time both sides seriously discussed possible solutions to the conflict. You can't keep raking up the past. They have to stop suspecting each other over everything. What is happening is ridiculous."

The SLMM was still trying to see whether the Geneva meet can be held, Olafsdottir said, adding ominously: "If the Geneva meeting doesn't take place, we fear things will escalate and we will see more violence than we are experiencing now.

"I think there is still hope. If we get Geneva going there is hope, but if not we fear the worst. It may not lead to full-scale war but we can expect a lot of the same violence. The real losers are the people of Sri Lanka."

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