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Thursday, 27 April, 2000, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Sri Lanka: An unwinnable war?
Sri Lankan military parade
Victory has not been forthcoming - despite the military effort
For some years now, the government of Sri Lanka has tried to bring about a decisive end to the island's long-running civil war.

It spends more than $850 m a year on the war effort, and has more than 100,000 troops deployed in the battle against the Tamil Tigers.

Yet victory has not been forthcoming, despite the government's financial and military superiority over the rebels.

No sooner does the army succeed in capturing a strategically-important town in the north than it succumbs to a Tamil Tiger counter-attack elsewhere.

The rebels have demonstrated on innumerable occasions their ability to launch hit-and-run attacks from the heavy jungle in the north.
soldier
The fighting has cost many lives on both sides

And they have succeeded in reversing government gains on the battlefield.

The inability to neutralise the rebels makes it difficult for President Chandrika Kumaratunga to proceed with her alternative strategy of finding a peaceful solution to Sri Lanka's troubles.

That strategy revolves around a constitutional package that would ultimately result in some autonomy for Tamil-majority areas in the north and east of the country.

It is hoped this could form the basis for attempts - brokered by Norway - to lure the Tigers to the negotiating table.

However, President Kumaratunga's proposals for constitutional reform have run into problems with the opposition United National Party, and without their support she will find it difficult to get the proposals through parliament.

Attempts to initiate the first step in any peace process - a ceasefire between the government and the rebels - have also foundered. Two-pronged strategy

Sri Lankan army artillery
A battle neither side can win
In the meantime, the government says its strategy is to defeat the Tamil Tigers militarily while simultaneously pursuing a constitutional settlement to Sri Lanka's troubles.

Critics argue this policy is contradictory, because any settlement could not be successful without the consent of the rebels.

And with each government reverse on the battlefield, the chorus of criticism grows louder.

The Tigers say they will not stop their struggle until they have secured an independent homeland for Tamils.

This aim too seems to be unrealistic given the government's huge economic and military superiority.

It is a battle in which for the moment, neither side seems capable of conclusive victory.


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