The LTTE’s call for a ceasefire is not surprising since they have now been cornered in a small geographical area of the Mullaithivu district. At one point the Tigers were virtually running a proto-state extending to about 15,000 sq. kms. and comprising the districts of Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu, Mannar and parts of Vavuniya, Jaffna, Trincomalee and Batticaloa. Their numbers have also dwindled including that of senior commanders and it is only a matter of time before the Sri Lankan forces take control of the remaining areas from the Tigers. The LTTE, therefore, requires a breather in the form of a ceasefire or at least a truce. Through such an offer, the LTTE also wants to demonstrate to the international community that it is a “liberation group” and is ready for a negotiated settlement.
The Government of Sri Lankan (GOSL), however, rejected the ceasefire offer and asked the LTTE to “lay down arms and surrender unconditionally.” From Colombo’s point of view, it is on the winning spree and any ceasefire at this juncture would be demoralizing to its forces. Second, the government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) thinks that the LTTE is desperate and therefore requesting for a halt to the ongoing military operations to regroup. The Tigers do not have good record of abiding by ceasefires and the GOSL too does not want to give them a break and wishes to “finish them off” at one go. Third, President Mahinda Rajapakse needs a convincing military victory over the LTTE to face parliamentary elections due next year. Riding on the military victory he may even advance presidential elections to bid for a second term. Overall, indications are that the GOSL is not going to accept even a truce until it captures the remaining 200-odd sq. kms. from the LTTE’s hold. The GOSL also does not feel immensely pressurized by the international community in this regard.
However, a truce, if not a ceasefire, can be considered between the two antagonists on humanitarian and political grounds. If there is a genuine concern for rescuing those civilians trapped in the crossfire, a truce would facilitate their safe crossover to the “cleared” areas. This could in fact be made one of the conditions of the truce. Many lives could be saved at one go. Such a shift in civilian base would deny the LTTE any new recruits and a ‘human shield’. Will it not be easy to tackle a segregated LTTE? The Tigers still possess enormous potential to launch suicide attacks, especially in the south. And they have already switched to guerilla warfare mode in the northeast. “Military victory” in the real sense, therefore, may not be realized by the state forces for quite some time. The Tigers will never surrender their arms and are capable of prolonging the present stalemate.
Hence, any truce at this juncture will not be militarily disadvantageous to the GOSL, for the first-time ever in the history of the ethnic conflict. Thus far, ceasefires between the two parties either came due to ‘hurting’ military stalemates or turned to the advantage of the Tigers. As a result, the LTTE dictated terms during negotiations. Now, there is an opportunity for the GOSL to have an upper hand over the LTTE on the political front as well. A gesture in the form of a truce would be seen positively not only by the international community, but also by the minority Tamil community, which is apprehensive of an imposed solution in the aftermath of a military triumphalism. It is also a chance for the Rajapakse government to gain a moral high ground and negate the LTTE’s criticism that “the Sri Lankan state has always been genocidal.”
Only the international community, including India, can convince Colombo that a truce at this point is good for both humanitarian and political reasons. A ‘consortium of peace’ can be formed to aggregate thus far fragmented attention of the international community. Assurance can be given to the GOSL that this consortium would come down harder on the LTTE if it violates the provisions of the truce. Such a truce should address the humanitarian crisis on a priority basis and, based on its success, move on to look at the political solution. A truce is an imperative first step in the long road to peace in Sri Lanka.