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“Tigers have been holding back their best fighters up to now”- US paper

Sri Lanka’s military is now two months into a full-on offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels in their northern base. An end finally may be in sight to the war that has roiled the country for a quarter century. The government claims control of large areas in the region and could soon take the Tiger “capital” at Kilinochchi, an important symbolic victory. The operation, which has made surprisingly fast progress, could be over within six months to a year. But winning the conventional war is only a start to winning the peace. Colombo is following the pattern it set in 2006 in the eastern provinces: launch a major offensive against Tamil fighters, then establish a democratic government. Two eastern elections this year were marred by some violence and charges of voter intimidation, but the peace seems to be holding. The Tigers, a guerrilla fighting force par excellence, won’t be easy to subdue. Despite the government’s latest progress, there’s speculation the Tigers have been holding back their best fighters up to now. Even if the government wins, enough remaining Tigers are likely to fade into the jungle to carry on a guerrilla campaign. The 25-year-old conflict has already claimed more than 100,000 lives, according to the International Crisis Group.

So as the military operation continues, Colombo needs to offer moderate Tamils a political settlement to separate them from the rebels. The government of President Mahinda Rajapakse has long promised to put greater power in the hands of local Tamil politicians in the east and north. So far it hasn’t. The newly elected local and provincial councils in the east have little power to set economic policies in their areas, for example. The government has stalled on any proposal to vest more authority with local governments.

To break the cycle, the government needs to allow the All-Party Representative Committee, a body charged with negotiating a comprehensive devolution plan, to push forward toward an agreement. Colombo could also show good faith by reinstating the independent Constitutional Council that’s supposed to oversee important institutions like the Human Rights Commission and the National Police Commission. Both steps would signal to moderate Tamils the government’s seriousness about a political compromise between the ethnic Tamil minority and the majority Sinhalese.

Part of the problem is that President Rajapakse lacks the political will to follow through. He rode to power in 2005 on appeals to Sinhalese nationalism. The military solution plays well at the polls, and his coalition won big victories over the weekend in two provincial elections billed as referendums on the government. The political follow-up is more controversial.

Taking the battle to the Tigers in the north is an important step in ending the war. But lasting peace will be built on a political deal with the moderate Tamils left behind when the rebels are gone. Kilde: THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.( Automatisk oversat med google til Dansk. )