Fighting or Talking? Contradictory Reports from Sri Lanka

In mid-September, a flurry of reports first indicated that the Sri Lankan government and their Tamil Tiger opponents were willing to return to the negotiating table, then questioned whether the protagonists had agreed to such a move. Quarrels over the time and location of such talks prevented progress. Militarily weakened, the Tigers told Norwegian mediators they were willing to return to peace talks without conditions. The government quickly poured cold water on hopes for new peace talks. It said it was worried that the Tigers would simply use a halt in the fighting to rearm. But the army appeared keen on pressing its current military advantage before the start of the monsoon rains in October. The president’s hardline allies are pushing for a military defeat of the Tamil Tigers.

Some observers feel that the government should press for new talks—and a political solution—at a time when the Tigers are militarily weak, having lost the latest round of skirmishes. Yet the government has not put forward any proposals for power-sharing deals that would provide the Tamils with an acceptable outcome to the decades-long struggle. Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council in Colombo, was quoted by the New York Times as questioning the government’s “willingness to put forward a realistic proposal that would go at least halfway to meeting the Tamil people’s aspirations...”