On Tuesday, 25 April, a suicide bomber attacked the car in which the top Sri Lankan army commander was travelling.
Eight people were killed and the commander, Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka, was seriously injured. Three others are in a critical condition and at least twenty three were wounded. The bomber, assumed to be from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, penetrated deep into the Army headquarters complex.
"This must be a turning point now in the direction of war," said Siritunga Jayasuriya of the United Socialist Party (USP – CWI in Sri Lanka). As details of the came through, Siri said the consequences for the working and poor people would be dire. "There is panic in the city. Workers are leaving their offices and factories and making for home. The measures to be taken by the government will become clear, but it will probably include a banning of all public assemblies, including the May Day rallies traditionally organised by all parties in Sri Lanka."
The article below was prepared before the latest attack on the army, which looks like a clear declaration of war. "This is the direct result of the failure of either side in the peace negotiations to implement the agreements made in Geneva on 21 February," Siri added. "They included disarmament and an end to killings on both sides."
Senan, from the Socialist Party (England and Wales) explains the background:
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam already announced that they will not be attending the planned peace talks in Geneva, this week. They called more loudly for the government to stop the killings of Tamils in the country, especially the gruesome attacks in the East around Trincomalee. Finally, they rejected sitting at the same table as Sri Lankan government officials.
The talks were aimed at breaking the log-jam in negotiations between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government that has existed since a cease-fire was signed, more than four years ago. A resumption of the civil war in Sri Lanka, which started in 1983, would be a disaster for all the workers and poor people of Sri Lanka – Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala, alike.
The talks due next week, brokered, as in the past, by Norwegian government officials, had already been postponed once. Negotiations are now very unlikely to go ahead, as the LTTE has begun retaliatory attacks against Sri Lankan Army positions. Last week was the bloodiest since the ceasefire was agreed. More than 80 people were killed in the last two weeks. According to the Northeast Secretariat on Human Rights, at least 62 Tamils were killed in the north east of the island in the past two months.
Wave of killings
Tension has escalated more in the East because of the many different Tamil and Sinhala groups operating in the area. The grouping known as the ‘Karuna Faction’ that split away group from the LTTE, two years ago, seems to be co-operating fully with the Sri Lankan regime. It opened a new office in Batticaloa with massive help and protection from the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and the police. Other paramilitary organisations increased their activity in the region. In last several months, they intensified attacks on the LTTE and LTTE supporters.
On 12 April, a bomb explosion in Trincomalee town killed 19 people and wounded at least 45. Immediately after the bombing, widespread attacks on local Tamils and Muslims broke out, while the forces of the state reportedly stood by and did nothing.
Despite all these killings taking place under military protection, the Rajapakse government of Sri Lanka maintains that it does not support these organisations. But they have not made any real attempt to continue the peace negotiations. In fact, their presidential election promise was to abandon the 2002 peace agreement and start new peace talks, which the LTTE vehemently opposed since the election. Due to the pressure from Sinhala communal forces, such as the ’People’s Liberation Front’ (JVP) and the Buddhist party (JHU), the government wanted to discontinue the peace talks. But international pressure from the imperialist powers to get the talks re-established, expressed by the Norwegian mediators, forced the government to make efforts towards new negotiations.
This led to the JVP pulling away from the government alliance, including standing separately in the recent local elections.
Now the Sri Lankan newspaper, Lankadeepa, reported that President Rajapakse is going to ask the JVP to join the government again. It reported that he will formally put this request to the JVP in the coming week.
Economy in dire straits
When the LTTE announced its refusal to go to the Geneva talks, the Colombo Stock Market all-share index fell by 98 points, losing more then $250 million dollars in value. Big fuel price rises were announced on the pretext of the rising cost of oil. Petrol was put up last week by 7%, diesel by 16% and kerosene, which is vital to millions of working and poor people, by a massive 25%. Consequently, fare rises on public transport went up, and other huge price rises were announced. Fertiliser rocketed from 350 rupees a 50 kg. bag to 1,250! One of the big promises of Rajapakse during the elections was to keep this at 350 rupees. In the event of war coming back on the agenda, we can expect the government to announce yet more harsh price rises to support war expenditure.
Despite the government of Sri Lanka’s unwillingness to continue the talks, and its intimidation towards the LTTE, the US administration announced its support for the Sri Lankan government, and called on the LTTE to "cease these violent attacks, to return to the cease-fire implementation talks and to engage constructively in the search for a political solution" (US Embassy web-site). They also commend the "Continued restraint of the Government in the face of these provocations."
Siritunga Jayasuriya, a United Socialist Party (USP – CWI) leader, said: "Now, in the light of today’s events, we can expect even less ‘restraint’ from the Sri Lankan government. As a party, the USP will have to step up its demands. Stop hostilities, end to all killings whether from the Sri Lankan Army side, from the paramilitaries or from the LTTE side. Implement all the agreements in the Geneva talks. Restart talks, yes. But, in view of all the implications for working people, peasants and the poor, this time they should have elected representatives, fully involved at every level, in the attempts to resolve the national question. We will do our utmost to pursue the demands against war, and against war spending, and for an immediate increase in salaries for all workers, including in the private sector. We cannot continue to live this nightmare!"