The Tigers Try to Charm New Delhi
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam implicitly apologized to India on June 27 for the 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, only to be rebuffed June 28 by both India and Sri Lanka. The Tigers are desperate to prevent relations from warming between New Delhi and Colombo as the Indian government incrementally moves toward increased involvement in the growing Sri Lankan conflict.
The Indian and Sri Lankan governments, on June 28, rejected an apology from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for the 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. In a June 27 television interview, Tigers spokesman Anton Balasingham called Gandhi's death "a monumental historical tragedy" and expressed hope that India and the Tigers could put the past behind them. This apology was an overture meant to appease New Delhi - which seems to be heading toward a larger role in the Sri Lankan peace process - and keep it from getting too cozy with Colombo.
The last few months of near-constant violence in Sri Lanka and the breakdown of the Norwegian-sponsored peace talks have taken their toll on India's usual steadfast hands-off attitude regarding the conflict in Sri Lanka. Since January 2006, nearly 3,500 Tamil refugees have fled to India's Tamil Nadu state from northeastern Sri Lanka. Though this is not nearly the deluge of hundreds of thousands of Tamils that occurred after a wave of anti-Tamil violence in 1983, it is still troubling to New Delhi. Besides the obvious socioeconomic factors, the influx of refugees also poses a security threat; Tigers often blend in with refugees and establish themselves in Tamil Nadu. The Tigers have occasionally used Tamil Nadu as a base from which to train and equip separatist groups throughout India and conduct significant smuggling operations. The Sri Lankan rebels have also worked to manipulate the state's government by spreading propaganda and sending agents to pressure government officials to sympathize with the Tamils.
All-out war in Sri Lanka would not only flood India with refugees, it could also spell trouble for maritime commerce in India's south. The Tigers' naval branch - the Sea Tigers - are technologically proficient and nearly as capable as the Sri Lankan navy. Increased warfare between the two would endanger Indian fishing operations and could jeopardize commercial traffic heading to Tamil Nadu's busy Chennai port.
In addition, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi's government in Tamil Nadu - an ally of the ruling Congress party in New Delhi - has been facing a growing public outcry in the state to stop the deaths of innocent Tamils in Sri Lanka. Though Karunanidhi's support base harbors little love for Colombo and its ethnic Sinhalese leanings, it does not necessarily support the Tigers. This is especially so after the Tigers foiled the current round of peace talks in Norway by walking out and insisting that the European countries involved in the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) withdraw from the mission. There are also indications that the Tigers have killed nearly as many innocent Tamils as Sri Lankan artillery has; the group is believed to have killed 62 civilians in a June 15 attack on a bus.
New Delhi's freedom of action in the Sri Lankan crisis has been hobbled because its last military intervention provoked outrage across Tamil Nadu and eventually culminated in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. However, with pressure building in Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi has been signaling to New Delhi that some nonmilitary involvement might now be necessary. After Karunanidhi recently announced his support for India's Sri Lanka policy, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh quickly said he would send his national security adviser to brief Karunanidhi on the Sri Lanka situation.
India will not get involved militarily in Sri Lanka, except perhaps to use its naval forces to guarantee safety on the seas. However, India would be a much more able peace negotiator than Norway. Whereas the Tigers (and Colombo) could delay and sabotage peace negotiations with the remote country of Norway, they would face a tougher time with India as a broker. If the Tigers were to sabotage an Indian-brokered negotiation, they would risk losing support in Tamil Nadu. If either side failed to guarantee the safety of Indian truce monitors - as the Tigers have in the case of the current SLMM - and some were injured, there would be much more severe consequences.
The Tigers, sensing that a Tamil Nadu-sanctioned move by India to take a larger role in the peace process could be on the horizon, have thus decided that they need to get very friendly with India, very fast. New Delhi already provides Colombo with military equipment; pro-Tiger parties in Tamil Nadu criticized a report of Indian radar sales to Sri Lanka on June 27 that would better equip the Sri Lankan army to crack down on the Tigers. Furthermore, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse scored public sympathy points when it was revealed that during a secret June 20 meeting with Tamil newspaper editors, he offered to rein in the Karuna group - a breakaway Tamil faction that has proven adept at Tiger hunting - in exchange for a cease-fire and direct peace talks. The unofficial story is that Rajapakse "confided" in the editors, but it was a deliberate leak designed to make Colombo appear as the willing negotiator in this violent fray, while Tiger attacks continue.
The Tigers are thus in a tough spot. They cannot commit to peace as long as the government allows the Karuna faction to maul them in their eastern strongholds. They have lost significant financial support since the European Union blacklisted them in early June, and they have hamstrung themselves by hindering the SLMM, which helped the Tigers out by providing third-party documentation of Sri Lankan killings of Tamil civilians. As New Delhi begins to inch closer to involvement in the peace talks, the Tigers may find themselves further cornered.
The Tigers Try to Charm New Delhi
- » Published on July 04, 2006
- » Type: Opinion
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