Sri Lanka rebel threat seen as pressure tactic

COLOMBO: A Tamil Tiger threat to resume civil war is a pressure tactic to push the Sri Lankan government to open discussions on their demand for self-rule, analysts and diplomats say, playing down fears of a return to hostilities.

Reclusive rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran said on Saturday his feared Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam would have no alternative but to forge ahead with a two-decade war that has killed more than 64,000 people if a months-long deadlock on talks is not broken soon.

“I don’t see it as an ultimatum. I don’t think it’s anything to get alarmed about,” said Rohan Edrisinha, a political analyst with independent think-tank the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Colombo. “I look at it as the Tigers telling the government to get its act together,” he said. “I don’t think anyone will deliberately resume hostilities.”

In a strongly worded annual address to remember the Tigers’ war dead, Prabhakaran said the guerrilla group’s patience had reached its limit and accused the government’s Marxist coalition ally — which is fiercely against rebel self-rule — of blocking chances of peace. .

“If the government of Sri Lanka rejects our urgent appeal and adopts delaying tactics, perpetuating the suffering of our people, we have no alternative other than to advance the freedom struggle of our nation,” he said in his annual policy statement from the rebels’ northern stronghold on Saturday.

Analysts and diplomats said they had expected to see tough language from Prabhakaran, and viewed the threat as fiery rhetoric.

“Prabhakaran is trying to force the government’s hand to engage the Tigers in a meaningful dialogue by issuing a veiled threat,” said Jehan Perera, a political analyst with the non-governmental National Peace Council in Colombo.

The government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam agreed to a ceasefire brokered by Norway in 2002. The truce is holding but the Tigers pulled out of peace talks last year, leaving hopes of sealing permanent peace in limbo.

The Tigers already have de facto rule over large areas of the Indian Ocean island’s north and east, which they consider their homeland of Tamil Eelam, and even have their own courts, taxation system and police force.

The rebels want to extend their boundaries and enshrine in the constitution their right to govern themselves before they will even start to talk about a permanent settlement.


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