On July 22, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam announced that it would observe a unilateral ceasefire coinciding with the forthcoming summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation in Colombo from July 26 to August 4. It projected the proposed ceasefire as a goodwill gesture to extend its support to the "countries of our region, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives."
However, the announcement added the following warning: "At the same time, if the occupying Sinhala forces, disrespecting our goodwill gesture of our people and our nation, carry out any offensive, our movement will be forced to take defensive actions."
The government-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation quoted Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as dismissing the LTTE announcement in the following words: "The government of Sri Lanka is not prepared for ceasefire with the LTTE. The ceasefire announcement is a ploy by the LTTE when it is being militarily weakened in the war front, to strengthen it militarily under the guise of holding negotiations. There is no need for the government to enter into a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE."
The announcement has come at a time when the LTTE has been facing considerable pressure partly due to the sustained war of attrition imposed on it in its stronghold in the Northern Province by the Sri Lankan armed forces and partly due to the action taken by many countries to stop the clandestine flow of funds and arms and ammunition to the LTTE.
The LTTE has sought to project its announcement in the context of the forthcoming SAARC summit in order to allay any fears in the minds of the leaders of the member-countries regarding possible security threats before and during the summit. The message indirectly sought to be conveyed to them is that they are welcome to come to Colombo for the summit without fearing any security threats from the LTTE.
At present, this seems to be essentially a public relations exercise by the LTTE in the hope of thereby creating a positive image of itself in the minds of the participating leaders. It does not seem to have any long-term significance in the context of the continuing fighting between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE. It is a short pause in fighting to be observed by the LTTE, provided the armed forces do not attack it.
The Sri Lankan government is justified in suspecting that this ceasefire may also be meant to enable the LTTE to re-group its cadres if the ceasefire offer is reciprocated by the government so that when the fighting is resumed after the SAARC summit, it would be in a better position to defend itself. Its reluctance, if not refusal, to reciprocate is understandable.
Can the cease-fire offer be much more than a public relations exercise in the form of a face-saving exercise to seek through the intervention of sympathetic Western powers such as Norway the extension of the ceasefire by both sides even after the SAARC summit is over in the hope of using it for fresh efforts for a resumption of a political dialogue?
If that turns out to be the gameplan of the LTTE, that would be an indication that the LTTE's fighting capabilities have been sufficiently damaged by the Sri Lankan armed forces and that it has started looking for a way out to achieve a stoppage of the fighting without giving an impression of wanting to do so.
A clearer indication would come if there is pressure on the Sri Lankan government from the Western countries to reciprocate the LTTE's announcement of a ceasefire during the SAARC summit and to extend it further even after the summit is over.
The advantage of the ground situation is presently in favour of the armed forces and they are unlikely to throw of this advantage by succumbing to any Western pressure on the subject.