COLOMBO: Six months after a suspected LTTE bomb attack on then Pakistani ambassador to Sri Lanka Bashir Wali Mohammed sent shockwaves among diplomats in Colombo, the terror of the Lankan war usually felt only by its 20 million population once again trickled down to the international community on Tuesday.
The artillery attacks by the Tamil Tiger rebels which hit the US and Italian ambassadors injuring them as they were landing along with 13 other foreign diplomats from an Air Force helicopter at the military airfield in Batticaloa, comes in the wake of international pressure on the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to move away from what is fast developing into a full-scale ‘undeclared’ war.
Analysts say the adverse message conveyed by the attack on the diplomats further isolates Sri Lanka and distances the country’s chances of getting international aid it very badly needs, especially to tackle the issue of war displaced persons. International humanitarian organisations have pointed out that the situation in the country is fast becoming a crisis with over one million categorised as refugees since last August.
Government officials on Wednesday said the purpose of 15 diplomats to be flown to the Batticaloa district on Tuesday was to meet local non-governmental organisations and humanitarian groups to discuss international assistance for the resettlement of war displaced families who fled their homes when the military early January heightened attacks on eastern rebel bases in Batticaloa.
Tension peaked after the LTTE heavy mortar shell attack on the foreign dignitaries as Air Force fighter jets pounded on identified LTTE bases in the Thoppigala area in the east on Tuesday afternoon, military spokesman Brigadier Upali Rajapakse said.
Air sorties were conducted on pre-identified LTTE heavy mortar launching pads, which had potentiality of endangering civilian life in the Batticaloa area, the military headquarters said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, both the LTTE and the government took steps to ‘show the world’ that the other was to be blamed for Tuesday’s attack.
“Now the world knows,” said a headline in the Colombo-based daily newspaper, The Island, quoting the government’s defence affairs spokesperson Keheliye Rambukwella.
“Not many took us seriously. Now the world can see the real picture. The LTTE mounted this attack on a delegation that went to Batticaloa to see the plight of the Tamil people,” the paper quoted Rambukwella as saying.
The LTTE meanwhile was busy contacting all foreign embassies in Colombo, apologising for Tuesdays attack, blaming the government for ‘childishness and irresponsibility’ of bringing the diplomats to a war zone and explaining that the guerillas were not aware hat the plane they shot at were occupied by foreign dignitaries, a claim brushed aside by the government.
“It was a publicly known fact, since last week, that a group of foreign diplomats were to visit Batticaloa to discuss the humanitarian situation there,” Military Spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe said.
Meanwhile, the European Union in a statement condemned the LTTE attack on the diplomats, calling on both sides to halt the violence and return to negotiations.
The foreign ministry of Germany, which currently holds the EU presidency, said the bloc “emphatically calls on both sides to immediately halt the violence” in Sri Lanka.
“The European Union calls on both sides to return immediately to the negotiating table and to work on the basis of a constructive proposal of a sustainable resolution to the conflict,” the ministry statement said.
“Sri Lanka will now clearly have to prove that they want stability for their people which means peace with the LTTE. And the Tamil Tiger rebels will have to prove to the international community that they want what is best for their people, and that what they want for their people is not a pro longed war,” a diplomat in Colombo said.
In January Britain, a key donor to Sri Lanka warned it will withhold millions of pounds worth of aid if the government fails to provide assurances that it is fulfilling agreed human rights and defence spending conditions.
Britain agreed in 2005 to provide Sri Lanka $79.9 million in debt relief through 2015 in yearly instalments of around four million pounds, on condition that the money meets needs, including related to human rights and defence expenditure.
Meanwhile, the United States in a recent statement ruled out a military solution for Sri Lanka.
“The solution in our view lies in a negotiated settlement that meets the aspirations of all of Sri Lanka’s communities. We reiterate that there can be no military solution to this conflict,” the embassy said drawing criticisms from the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and sections of the Buddhist clergy who support a military crushing of the Tamil Tiger rebels.
Defence analysts say that Tuesday’s attack was very likely a message to the Sri Lankan government and the international community that the guerilla outfit was still present in the outskirts of the eastern district.
“Obviously, after the humiliating defeat suffered by the guerillas in January when they were pushed out of almost all areas in the Batticaloa district by the army, the LTTE is now keen to show that they are still a force to reckon with and are still hanging onto some peripheral eastern areas,” an independent military analyst in Colombo said.