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Last Updated: 12/08/2004Maravanpalau Peace Village in Jaffna
Ravi R Prasad
"Why should we be scared of the LTTE?" said Kandiah, a resident of the village, who lost his son in the war. "Here, the army will protect us and we do not have to take orders from the LTTE. The army officers do not give us orders, they make requests through the citizens' committee." The Marvanapalau peace village is an experiment to win hearts and minds,
While the interlocutors in the peace process, the Norwegian government and its envoys, are trying to break the deadlock, violence has escalated in the north and east. The breakaway group of the LTTE is striking the guerrillas hard where it hurts. The offices of LTTE are being bombed in the east and its cadres targeted by the Karuna faction. The LTTE, on its part, is allegedly eliminating its rivals and also those who oppose it.
Disregarding the threat to
their lives and oblivious of the political games being played by the politicians
and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the residents of
Maravanpalau village go about their daily work. They are busy reconstructing
their houses, which were destroyed in shelling and aerial bombardment a few
years ago. When government troops and the LTTE fought pitched battles to gain
control over the northern
Since then, the LTTE has tried hard to re-establish its control over the peninsula, but has been unsuccessful. In 1999, it launched an attack and overran several military garrisons, but did not manage to enter the peninsula. The residents of Marvanapalau were once against displaced during the confrontation, moving to other parts of the peninsula to wait out the war. It was a long wait for them, as the village fell inside one of the High Security Zones (HSZ) set up by the Sri Lankan Army to keep the LTTE away. "Maravanpalau is the first village close to the frontline on the southwest of the peninsula,"
said Major Kithsiri
Liyanage, an infantry officer in the town of
Lionel Balgalle, former
commander of the Sri Lanka Army, told reporters soon after the cease-fire
agreement was signed. "What is the guarantee that the LTTE will not break the
cease-fire and try to capture
Several cease-fire agreements have already collapsed. The LTTE calls the armed campaign that ended in 2002 "Eelam War III", which began in
1995 after a 100 day ceasefire. The Tamil Tiger guerrillas are still insisting on the dismantling of the HSZs, but the army and the government have refused. Owing to several HSZ's in the peninsula, hundreds of thousands of people are still living away from their homes, some in refugee camps and others with relatives and friends.
However, while the Tigers
claim that the local residents fear the military and side with the rebels, the
armed forces seem to be proving them wrong. The
(UNHCR) is involved in an
income generation program, while the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is helping with
the nursery and Montessori school in the village. A fair price shop has been set
up in the village, where essential commodities are available for prices lower
than in the capital
"Why should we be scared of the LTTE?" said Kandiah, a resident of the village, who lost his son in the war. "Here, the army will protect us and we do not have to take orders from the LTTE. The army officers do not give us orders, they make requests through the citizens'
committee." The Marvanapalau
peace village is an experiment to win hearts and minds, and so far it is moving
along in the desired direction. Most residents say that they would not leave the
village even if the LTTE ordered them to do so. In spite of the presence of
armed forces in the northern
The realities on the ground
have changed with the cease-fire agreement and peace process, as the benefits
have slowly begun trickling down to the people. The Tigers are now facing an
uprising. In the east, the LTTE commander, Karuna, rebelled against Prabhakaran
and his northern faction. It was expression of how much the eastern Tamils have
become disillusioned with the LTTE, which is dominated by Tamil leaders and
cadres from the north. Karuna accused Prabhakaran of treating the eastern Tamils
like stepchildren. Now, the Muslims are also up in arms. On Thursday, they
staged a massive demonstration in the eastern town of
President Chandrika Kumaratunga has issued a stern statement warning the LTTE that her government would not tolerate any more political assassinations. Until very recently, the government had refrained from pointing a finger at the LTTE, fearing that it could jeopardize the stalled peace process, but now the president is not so cautious. She has even gone as far as to blame the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, an outfit of Scandinavian nationals deployed to monitor the implementation of the cease-fire agreement, for failing to prevent the murders. The LTTE is visibly upset with the success of the army's project and the assisting donor organizations. The political head of the LTTE, S. P. Tamilchelvam, who is on a tour in some European countries, said that he would appeal to donor nations not to provide any assistance until there is some forward movement in the peace process, but the peace process is not likely to move forward in the near future. President Kumaratunga's initiative to involve the main opposition United National Party (UNP), which had signed the cease-fire with the LTTE, has not been successful. The UNP has informed Kumaratunga that it would come on board only after the government begins peace talks with the LTTE.
Even the Tamil National Alliance, a group of lawmakers who owe their political survival to the LTTE, has declined to be a part of the National Council for Peace and Reconciliation proposed by Kumaratunga.
If the LTTE indeed is keen on moving the peace process forward, it should have directed the TNA members to join the National Council, which was scheduled to formally come into existence on Monday. For the government and the president, it is difficult to return to the negotiating table with the LTTE refusing to discuss a political solution for the conflict. The LTTE has said that it would only discuss the setting of the Interim Self Government Authority (ISAG), which will be loaded with LTTE cadres as its members, to govern the Tamil dominated north and east of the country. The majority Sinhala community perceives this as LTTE's recipe to secede from the country and establish a homeland, the Tami Eelam. What Kumaratunga wants is to bring the two parties that represent the majority community together and then negotiate with the LTTE from a position of strength. She says that a consensus between all political parties would help implement the political solution when it is found. But it appears that the political parties are not likely to reach a consensus. Interestingly, the UNP is insisting that the government restart the talks that were derailed in April 2003 while it was in power. The Tamil Tigers had submitted their contentious proposal for the ISAG in October 2003, when the UNP was in the government. But the then-prime minister and now opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe chose to sit tight, knowing that the discussion on the ISGA would open a Pandora's box. He gave the impression that international pressure would force the rebels to reconsider their proposals. That did not happen, and the UNP lost power. Now it is urging Kumaratunga to do what it would not
Ravi Prasad is an Analyst based in Sri Lanka. He writes on conflcts, terrorism and international relations on South Asia, South East Asia and the Balkans. He can be reached on email@example.com