What is spoiling Tamil culture

■ New major government offensive in the Tamil guerrilla stronghold in the north / The “Tigers” cannot economically secure the “liberated zone” / Food blockades are supposed to harm the rebels / India is putting Colombo under pressure to grant the Tamil regions internal autonomy

From Walter Keller

The subdued optimism that began to spread in large parts of Sri Lanka after the negotiations between Sinhala and Tamil politicians at the end of last year has now completely evaporated. With a major offensive, the “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” (LTTE) was recently declared a liberated zone, and there is fierce competition. In the east and northwest, the government has strengthened its troop units again, and an economic boycott imposed on Jaffna has made the situation even worse for the civilian population. The Tigers, it turns out now, are under an illusion. At the end of last year, the LTTE announced that it would take over administrative tasks for the allegedly liberated Jaffna. From January, licenses for vehicles should be issued, postage stamps should be printed and a special "tiger police" should be used to maintain peace and order on the peninsula. The LTTE believed it had restricted the military's freedom of movement enough to take the next step towards its own Tamil state. Other Tamil guerrilla groups criticizing the Tigers were sidelined. (see box) Blockade at the Elephant Pass The skirmishes of the last few weeks now provide evidence that an area like Jaffna can only be secured to a very limited extent with guerrilla methods. With or without tigers, the roughly 830,000 inhabitants of the predominantly dry north need 7,000 tons of rice, 660 tons of sugar, 6.4 million tons of coconuts and three million liters of fuel from the south to survive economically. And this is exactly where the government in Colombo made it clear at the beginning of February that it was unwilling to give up the north: first of all, imports of fuel and firewood were stopped, and since then the boycott has also extended to food and medicine. Last week, a correspondent for the Indian daily The Hindu reported that the supply situation had worsened dramatically. All overland transports are now intercepted at the so-called Elephant Pass, a narrow strip of land that allows access to the peninsula; long lines of trucks would have formed there. Due to the lack of firewood, the population in many places would have to eat their meals already uncooked. The numerous islands off Jaffna are worst affected. New air strikes From a military point of view, the relatively non-fighting period of the past few months was more of a calm before the storm than a triumph of the guerrillas. The troops were strengthened, new military bases were built in the north and east, and the defense budget, which was already one billion marks, was increased by a further DM 160 million. According to the Indian magazine India Today, ten Yun transport aircraft arrived from the PRC at the beginning of February. A new tactic was used to protect soldiers from attacks when troops were relocated: Troop transports are now generally carried out in private vehicles or buses in which civilians are also on the move. "Travelers are literally taken hostage," reported a member of a citizens' committee in Batticaloa on the east coast in a telephone interview. Air force planes and helicopters intimidate the population again with bombing. Soldiers combed many areas. In the provincial town of Mannar in the northwest, refugee camps are said to have been forcibly closed and the residents evicted. 6,000 Tamils ​​from the Mannar area have already reached the Indian coast. Escalation in the East According to information from the Citizens Committee, attacks by paramilitary units of the special police (Special Task Forces) also occurred in the eastern province, which is not affected by the economic blockade. 150 Tamil civilians are said to have been murdered in one village. Since then, the residents no longer dare to leave the villages, the crops spoil in the fields. One day later, Tamil guerrillas (suspected revenge for the massacre) also murdered 27 Sinhala civilians in the east. Only a few days ago, when Indian Prime Minister Gandhi gave the Lankan President Jayewardene an ultimate call to end the military operations, calm has temporarily returned. The government in Colombo speaks of a "two-week break from the fight to allow the soldiers some rest". Rather, it will probably not be, because at the weekend the Tigers rejected the government offer submitted on Thursday. At the beginning of the new session of Parliament in Colombo, Jayewardene said he would consider a general amnesty for imprisoned rebels if they lay down their arms and returned to the negotiating table. The guerrillas called this a surrender demand and made it clear that a resumption of talks was not an option before the end of the blockade and the offensive.