New Peace Negotiations in Sri Lanka Unlikely Before a New Balance of Power or a Stalemate Has Been Reached

Violence in Sri Lanka between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the Sri Lankan armed forces keeps escalating, making a mockery of the four-year-old ceasefire. Attacks rapidly spread from the east to the north. Despite the fighting, both the government and the Tamil Tigers claim they are acting in self-defense and that they are upholding a tattered 2002 ceasefire.

Sri Lanka's latest fighting could drag on despite international pressure as the government and Tiger rebels seek the military upper hand before entering peace talks. Although both sides have incurred heavy losses, neither appears hurt enough to return to the negotiating table soon.

The fighting is bound to intensify even further as both sides press for military advantage, warns Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo. The two sides, he says, “are only going to return to negotiations on the basis of a new balance of power or a new stalemate.” Both sides have grown uncomfortable with the status quo—particularly the Tigers who felt their military and political position was eroding under the government's constant military pressure. President Mahinda Rajapakse was elected in late 2005 on a hard-line platform opposed to any concessions to the LTTE. Government forces seem intent on crushing the Tigers in the east where the guerrillas are the weakest. Neither the government nor the guerrillas possess sufficient strength for securing a victory. In the absence of peace talks, Sri Lankan civilians are paying the increasingly bloody price. Some members of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, with staff from five Nordic countries, say that perhaps it is time for the monitors to pull out, frustrated that their presence is only providing “political cover” for the fighting.