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Last Updated: Monday, 26 June 2006, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Analysis: Sri Lanka's tattered ceasefire
Dumeetha Luthra
BBC News, Colombo

Sri Lankan soldier
There are fears Sri Lanka is sliding towards all-out war
When is a ceasefire not a ceasefire? When is a war not a war? These are the two questions that Sri Lanka is now contending with.

The ceasefire is not just crumbling around the edges, it is a shadow of what it used to be.

On paper it is still officially in place, and there are international monitors here to prove it. But that's it.

These are just the trappings of a truce, it is not there on the ground.

There are daily violations. Some 700 people have been killed since the start of the year, the majority of them civilians.

Both sides have reiterated their commitment to the truce, but again that is only on paper.

Neither side wants to be seen as the ones who declared war.

Cost of war

The government has a lot more to lose if there is a full-scale war.

It would be an economic disaster and certainly deter the tourists who are returning to Sri Lanka.

The Tamil Tigers may have less to lose.

They are already facing international opprobrium - especially since the European Union lists them as a terrorist organisation.

Their international image is something they have always held dear, a chance to show themselves as leaders on a world stage.

Now that has gone, the reasons for holding back may have disappeared.

However they still face the problem of the breakaway Tamil Tiger leader Colonel Karuna.

Renegade commander

Colonel Karuna has turned the Tigers' tactics against them.

Former Tamil Tigers fighter Karuna, who has broken away from the group

Despite government denials, there is little doubt he is being supported to some degree by the Sri Lankan military.

Injured Karuna soldiers are protected by the military in hospitals. The government has conceded that there has been low-level contact.

Colonel Karuna has been able to garner support in the east, and weaken the Tamil Tiger operations there.

Going to war with him still operating would be a problem that might make them hesitate.

'Deterrent'

The difficulty for the government is how to respond to the suicide bombings and other attacks against the military and civilians.

So far it has carried out air strikes after each major incident.

It looks likely it will continue along the current path, which has been described as "low-level war"
The government says these are to act as a deterrent. But if this is the case, the deterrent is clearly not working.

A ground offensive is not a realistic option, so Colonel Karuna may well be their ace of spades.

What does that mean for Sri Lanka's conflict?

Essentially it looks likely it will continue along the current path, which has been described as "low-level war".

Some say the current situation is not so far removed from that before the ceasefire agreement was signed in 2002, although it has not yet reached the same degree of intensity.

Analysts here say that, instead of aiming for all-out war, the Tigers seem to be trying to provoke a communal backlash where Sinhalese civilians turn on their Tamil neighbours in scenes reminiscent of the bloody days of the 1980s.

The difference now is that neither community wants to retread that path.

Tamil Tiger forces
Some say Tamil Tigers are trying to provoke a communal backlash
Since the ceasefire was signed there has been a period of relative calm.

People have been able to get on with their lives and they want to continue doing so.

Where the government has fundamentally failed is in convincing the Tamil minority that as the state operator it can and will give protection to Tamil civilians.

Scores have been killed and have disappeared in the recent upsurge of violence.

The military has been implicated in some of those killings, although its leaders deny it.

But whoever is to blame, the government has signally failed to protect Tamils and so persuade them there is a real alternative to the Tigers for obtaining their rights.

Until they address that situation the rebels will always find a community willing to believe safety can only be gained within a separate Tamil homeland - something the government has made clear is not an option.

Carrots and sticks

The current situation also allows the Tigers to routinely deny involvement in the violence by claiming it is Tamils themselves rising up against state oppression.

The international community for its part has done everything it can.

Carrots, sticks - everything available has been thrown into the pot.

Both sides have been told to address the issues or risk international isolation, but either the message is not getting through or it does not matter at this stage.

At any rate, there seems little international leaders can do but watch and wonder where this country will stumble to next.




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