Sri Lanka: Bombing exposes weakness of “peace process”

On Wednesday 7 July, a suicide bombing killed four police officers in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The attack was the first since the ceasefire was declared in February 2002. Alongside other events over the last year, it underlines the weakness of the ongoing peace process and poses a threat to workers and poor people on the island.

The LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), which controls the Northern and Eastern parts of the island, denied involvement in the bombing and even condemned it. Yet the bomb was a sharp warning to the government of Sri Lanka to not take the ceasefire for granted. The female suicide bomber came from an LTTE-controlled region in the North.

The beginning of March saw a split in the LTTE, with the Eastern leader, Karuna, breaking away from the Northern leadership under Prabhakaran.

Karuna claimed the support of 6,000 troops in the East, but lost a decisive battle against the main LTTE troops in April and was forced to escape to Colombo. Karuna could hardly have made such a move without backing from at least some forces of the Sri Lankan state and the capitalist class. In June, the UNP MP, Ali Zahir Moulana, confessed that he had supported Karuna‘s safe passage to Colombo. Moulana himself then resigned from parliament and left for Britain.

Before that, the UNP was suspected less than the ruling SLFP for instigating a split of the LTTE. The latter has accused the government and the army of assisting Karuna militarily, and these accusations have continued after Moulana‘s confession. The LTTE in June announced that it would pull out from monthly discussions with the army because of the government‘s support for Karuna.

The suicide bombing last week was seemingly aimed at Douglas Devananda, a Tamil from the North who is an EPDP MP and Minister of Northern development. He has apparently been one of Karuna‘s key advisers over recent months.

The government, formed after the elections on 2 April, has, as one commentator from the National Peace Council described it, used a “Two-pronged approach of talking peace and waging war at the same time". This policy is based on both the different forces within the government and the mood among the masses.

The party of the president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, the SLFP, won the elections in April. Already in November, she attempted to lean on Sinhalese communalist forces in a ‘mini-coup’ against the then UNP-led government. Four days after the LTTE had presented its proposal for Interim Self Government, she sacked a number of ministers and took over four ministerial positions herself, including the ministry of defence. She allied herself openly with the JVP, a party whichh masks its Sinhala communalism behind left phrases.

But the coup was not followed by mass support directed against the LTTE. The overwhelming mood was still in favour of a continued peace process. There was hope that the years of war had ended – the bombings which had started in July 1987 when the LTTE started its campaign of suicide attacks, the numerous army check-points, the ten or more people on average killed every day. The main capitalist forces in Sri Lanka, alongside US imperialism, also warned that peace talks were a necessary condition for investment and trade.

To achieve election victory, the president had to talk about peace, at the same time as her coalition partner, the JVP, used the communalist, chauvinist card. In the end, they won the election on the basis of the mass discontent with the neo-liberal policies of the UNP. Workers’ struggle against unemployment, privatisation, shortages in health care and education has increased over recent years.

This new bomb attack is a dangerous warning. The JVP immediately called for retaliation, including the restoration of military check-points. The two decade long civil war in Sri Lanka killed more then 60,000 people and ruined much of the country’s economy. Both the Sri Lankan army, and the Indian army in the 1980s, failed to take control of the Tamil areas in the North. In February 2002, a ceasefire was declared. The succeeding negotiations, however, led to nothing, and in April 2003 the LLTE walked out of the talks.

Nothing has been solved since the ceasefire and frustration is growing. For example 800,000 internal refugees have been offered nothing by the government.

Rumours of renewed peace talks have been frequent since the elections. The bomb attack could therefore be seen as an attempt to put pressure on the government. On the other hand, any such incident could risk escalating out of the hands of the players involved. The basic reasons for the civil war – the weakness of Sri Lankan capitalism, the imperialist exploitation and the oppression of the Tamil-speaking minority – are stronger today than 20 years ago. While the peace process has created better conditions, it offers no long term solution.

At the same time, this latest development also exposes the weak programme of the LTTE. The CWI section in Sri Lanka, the United Socialist Party, defends the rights of the Tamil minority, up to and including the right to establish its own state. At the same time the USP stands for trade union and democratic rights in the areas controlled by the LTTE. The USP also explains that there is no genuine solution on a capitalist basis. With imperialism and capitalism still holding economic power, none of the hopes and expectations of the struggling masses will be fulfilled. Socialism in Sri Lanka and the Indian subcontinent is the only solution for workers, youth and the poor peasants.

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July 2004