| A bombed-out building in Jaffna. (Reuters)
Jaffna, June 17 (Reuters): Worries about the future of Sri Lanka’s troubled peace process have increased in the Jaffna peninsula, the epicentre of the island’s 20-year old ethnic war.
Residents said today that a suspension of peace talks, sea clashes between the navy and Tamil Tiger rebels and increased muscle-flexing by both sides in Jaffna had brought back memories of previous failed peace bids in the two-decade war.
“The people are fearful these last two months because the peace talks have stopped,” said S. Satheeskumar, 21, a worker in a shop in Chavakachcheri, a town close to Jaffna city that was almost totally destroyed in September 2000 when the army pushed back an offensive by the LTTE. “People have been thinking it may not be worth it to rebuild their buildings,” he said.
Because the government and rebels have signed a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire agreement, that includes Nordic monitors, the current peace bid is seen as the best chance yet to permanently end the war after four previous attempts, including the last in 1995, ended in bloodshed.
But worries have returned since the rebels suspended the talks in April, saying not enough had been done to return life to normal in Tamil areas, and they boycotted a high-profile donor meeting in Tokyo that raised $4.5 billion to rebuild Sri Lanka.
“The ceasefire agreement promises normal life for citizens, but they have not achieved that,” said C. Ilamparithy, a political officer at the LTTE headquarters in Jaffna city. There have been many improvements in Jaffna since the truce was signed 16 months ago, especially with more commerce because land routes to the south are now open, but the public is still worried. “They need peace because they have suffered a lot. They are very anxious to live in a peaceful society,” said P.L. Thlaganayagam, the number two government bureaucrat in Jaffna.
The latest blow to the peace process was a sea clash on Saturday in which a Tiger boat exploded and sank.
Both sides have blamed the other for the incident in which 12 rebel sailors are missing and presumed dead.
The monitors overseeing the ceasefire said the public was more worried because they think a stop in the talks could also mean a breakdown in the truce.
“People are now uncertain. Before they saw a difference between the ceasefire agreement and the peace talks.
But now that is sliding into one and if the talks are stopped they cannot separate that from the ceasefire agreement,” said Paul Erik Bjerke, a Norwegian monitor in Jaffna.