'TIGER TERROR SRI LANKA IS BEING MAULED BY ITS RUTHLESS TAMIL SEPARATISTS
There is no democratically elected leader anywhere in the world who has a less enviable task than Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. The President of Sri Lanka governs a country that has been torn to ribbons by a venomous 11-year-old civil war; more than 30,000 people are estimated to have perished so far, 20 of whom died on in the heart of Colombo, victims of a suicide bomber from the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The explosion occurred soon after Mrs. Kumaratunga had announced a courageous political package, designed to devolve to the Tamils a substantial degree of autonomy - and to return her crippled island to peace.
Mrs. Kumaratunga's proposals, which would transform Sri Lanka into a "union of regions", and give to her country's provinces a status akin to that of the German Lander, have been welcomed by observers and moderate politicians of all hues. She was elected in August last year by a war-worn electorate on a mandate to treat with the Tamil Tigers. In January this year she signed a truce with the Tigers. It was not the first cessation of hostilities since the civil war began, but it promised to be what Mrs. Kumaratunga herself described as "the dawn of a new ear". Yet true to ruthless form, the Tigers violated the peace accord 100 days later, marked the breach by a massacre of 42 unarmed Sinhalese villagers. This was not the first breach of a truce by the Tigers: they have consistently used ceasefires as a feint silencing their arms momentarily only to regroup, refreshed, at a later date.
The leader of the Tigers Velupillai Prabhakaran, is a remorseless megalo-maniac. On his orders, Tamil "hit squads" have murdered the late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the late Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa and the opposition presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake. The Tigers are fearsome adversaries, whose messianic zeal in the cause of an independent Tamil state is fueled by Prabhakaran's careful cultivation of his own mythic status. Answerable to no one but their bloodthirsty chieftain, they balk neither at butchering innocent Sinhalese civilians nor at losing their own fighters in large numbers. Parallels might be drawn between the Tigers and the Peruvian Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, the difference being that Prabhakaran is in pursuit of an ethnically defined state which bows to the cult of his personality.
Mrs. Kumaratunga faces an adversary with whom little rational dialogue is possible. Commendably, that has not stopped her from continuing to search for a political solution, even at the risk of alienating those dinosaurs in the Sinhalese Buddhist clergy to whom a federal political structure is anathema. She has not been the mistake, however, of calling her army off from its pursuit of Prabhakaran in the north of Sri Lanka. Operation Leap Forward, currently in progress, is a necessary stick to accompany the carrot of constitutional reform.
What hope there is resides, paradoxically, with Prabhakaran himself. Unlike in the Balkans, divisions in Sri Lanka, although widened by years of civil war, are neither visceral nor atavistic. The elimination of one man, Prabhakaran, could fashion a miraculous change in the island's politics of conflict. An exhausted Tamil population in the north and east of Sri Lanka is in the evil grip of one man and his army of fanatics. Mrs. Kumaratunga must continue to try to liberate them, both by the force of arms and by the strength of her political logic."