After nearly two decades of conflict and 65,000 lost lives, Sri Lanka’s civil war may soon be over. On Thursday, Norwegian negotiators announced that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who have been fighting for an independent homeland for 19 years, have agreed to pursue a federal solution under which Tamils would control an autonomous region in the north and east of the country, while maintaining the unity of Sri Lanka. As the Times of London observed, “A year ago such a breakthrough was unimaginable. The Tigers are one of the world’s most ruthless guerrilla organizations, who pioneered the use of children and women as suicide bombers. … [They] have used assassination, violence, intimidation and deception to thwart all previous attempts by Colombo or neighbors such as India to broker a political solution.”
The post-9/11 crackdown on the worldwide transfer of funds to terrorist organizations may well be responsible for the Tigers’ attitude adjustment. The Times added: “The Sri Lankan Government has found a much readier response in the West to its calls for help in fighting terrorism. The Tigers clearly realised that they would not be allowed to win a military victory, and that no state emerging from a terrorist campaign had a chance of international recognition or support.” The Khaleej Times of Dubai offered another possible explanation for the Tamils’ newfound eagerness to reach an agreement: Under Sri Lanka’s constitution, the president can dismiss the government one year into its six-year term. The 365-day mark for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s administration passed at midnight Thursday, and President Chandrika Kumaratunga “has bragged recently of wanting to bring down her bitter rival.” Kumaratunga has complained that the Tigers are getting too many concessions in the negotiations, and the Tigers appear to believe they will get a better deal from Wickremesinghe.
Despite the new commitment to federalism, there is still a lot of negotiation ahead. The Daily Telegraph listed the topics that still need to be settled: “the division of power, administration, boundaries, finances and law and order.” Such large-scale constitutional changes would require a two-thirds majority in parliament, which Wickremesinghe lacks. The Sri Lankan Daily News called on the Sinhalese political class to prove its commitment to peace:
The LTTE which has come some distance in the peace effort through a renunciation of the Eelam demand shouldn’t be given reason to be disenchanted with it. If the LTTE is hinting at the need for a national consensus on a political solution, it cannot be faulted. No party could be prevailed on to remain within a negotiatory process, if there is no firm guarantee that the solution would prove durable and long-standing.