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This is my Nation


 

Bomb blasts ‘winning war’ boast

With the CFA in tatters, the LTTE has not been hesitant to launch attacks in the recent past. These have ranged from bomb attacks on the tops brass of the military including Defence Secretary Rajapaksa and Army Commander Sarath Fonseka to the spectacular air raids both at Katunayake, and the more devastating strike at Anuradhapura.

The Nugegoda bomb blast however was very significant for a different reason: this was an attack primarily aimed at a civilian population. It will be noted that especially since the signing of the CFA, the LTTE has been particularly restrained in carrying out attacks specifically designed to target civilians, because of the fear of reprisals from the international community. The Nugegoda blast nevertheless was obviously designed for maximum impact: it was staged in a crowded predominantly Sinhalese Colombo suburb at rush hour, and thus calculated to inculcate panic and a fear psychosis in the minds of the general public in the south

When last week began, the focus was on what LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran would say next, anticipating a policy statement from the terrorist supremo. When the week ended however, all eyes were still on Prabhakaran, but mostly concerned with what he would do next.

The reason was simple. Two deadly blasts, in Colombo and Nugegoda, and within a few hours of each other, had brought the brutal reality of the Tiger campaign home: the terrorists needed to succeed only once to create mayhem, while the government needed to succeed always to prevent it.

If one expected an indication of the Tigers’ thinking from Prabhakaran in his Great Heroes’ Day speech, that was not to be. Quite in contrast to preceding years, this year the Tiger Leader was less boastful of the successes of his organisation, and at times, almost apologetic. There was more lamenting than lambasting, and the general theme apparently was one of criticising the international community.

Even Colombo was pleasantly surprised. JVP Parliamentary Group Leader Wimal Weerawansa noted that Prabhakaran was now pleading for sustenance, and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was not shy to proclaim that this would probably be the LTTE Leader’s last birthday. But that was the calm before the storm.

Less than 24 hours later, the Tigers struck back, preferring deeds rather than words to do so. Even if the assassination attempt on Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party (EPDP) Leader, Minister Douglas Devananda was botched, the police were equally culpable in bungling over safety procedures in the Nugegoda bomb blast where at least 20 people have now died.

With the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in tatters, the LTTE has not been hesitant to launch attacks in the recent past. These have ranged from bomb attacks on the tops brass of the military including Defence Secretary Rajapaksa and Army Commander Sarath Fonseka to the spectacular air raids both at Katunayake, and the more devastating strike at Anuradhapura.

The Nugegoda bomb blast however was very significant for a different reason: this was an attack primarily aimed at a civilian population. It will be noted that especially since the signing of the CFA, the LTTE has been particularly restrained in carrying out attacks specifically designed to target civilians, because of the fear of reprisals from the international community.

There have been exceptions though, most notably the claymore mine attack on a bus at Kebithigollewa which killed 64 civilians on June 15, 2006. Also, in successive days in January this year, two bus bombs exploded in Nittambuwa and Seenigama, killing seven and 15 civilians respectively.

The Nugegoda blast nevertheless was obviously designed for maximum impact: it was staged in a crowded predominantly Sinhalese Colombo suburb at rush hour, and thus calculated to inculcate panic and a fear psychosis in the minds of the general public in the south.

If that was indeed the aim, it has been a success at least for now. That night itself the government ordered that all schools in the Western Province — most of them in the midst of their examinations — be closed for two days.

The next day, there was panic at a Colombo shopping complex, vehicles were banned from entering the World Trade Centre in the heart of the city, and train services to the north were curtailed. For good measure, there was also a rumour circulating to the effect that the water supply to Colombo had been poisoned.

It is a fact that while attacks on military locations and personnel produce shock and horror as an initial reaction, this is often followed by a resumption of normal life, because Sri Lankans are now largely immune to the effects of the protracted separatist war. But when such attacks target civilians, there is a telling effect on the public mood.

The LTTE knows only too well that it would earn the wrath of the world by targeting civilians. Indeed, after the twin attacks on Wednesday, the United Nations, the United States and Amnesty International have all condemned its actions. But if it is a price the Tigers are willing to pay, it can only mean that their broader objective would be to weaken and de-stabilise the regime in Colombo.

It will be relevant to note that the current Mahinda Rajapaksa government is not the most popular of administrations in recent times. Gross government overspending on perks and privileges of politicians and virtually unbearable economic hardships, have eroded the government’s standing. Under such trying circumstances its saving grace is its forthright, if somewhat uncompromising stance on the war on terror.

The impact of attacks such as the Nugegoda bomb blast on such a government, cannot be underestimated, especially if this trend of attacking primarily civilian targets were to continue. It would naturally put the government under immense pressure to contain the theatre of conflict to the confines of the north and east.

What it would also do is to question the credibility of the government’s primary assertion-that it is winning the war. It is no secret that the slogan of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime appears to be, ‘Keep us in office so we can win the war for you.’ When that strategy itself is subject to dispute, it will add to the government’s woes.

So far, the government has responded with a tough stance. Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wikremanayake on Thursday told Parliament that air strikes in the north will continue. There have been no indications from Colombo that it would be going soft on the Tigers. So, with both parties eyeballing each other, the country appears to have entered yet another decisive phase of the Eelam War.

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