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Water war has begun!

The LTTE has provoked the government into military action at Verugalaru by forcibly closing down the Mawilaru Anicut, as we predicted in these columns on Tuesday (A hydraulic Weapon). The Air Force launched a series of air strikes on LTTE targets on Wednesday and, according to reports reaching Colombo, ground troops, too, have been inducted to clear the area to enable the Irrigation Department personnel to operate the sluice gates for the benefit of 15, 000 families, belonging to all three communities, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim. They have been left without water to irrigate 30,000 acres of fertile paddy fields or at least for drinking. Their paddy, ready for harvesting shortly, will be ruined without water. The day may not be far off when they will be driven to suicide in droves out of hunger and thirst, unless water supply is restored fast.

Air strikes are the least desirable in handling a dispute. The way Israel is unleashing hell on Lebanon through torrents of missiles has shocked the world. War is hell as General Sherman has rightly put it. The on-going offensive, albeit on a limited scale, has the potential to develop into a major battle, if not a full-blown war. But the question is how else a government could react to a crime being perpetrated on 15,000 families. The primary duty of the state is to ensure the security and safety of the populace. A government that is not capable of taking action to grant water to so many thousands of people is not simply worthy of its name. How would any other government, say the Bush administration, have reacted to such a situation?

The LTTE’s strategy is clear. It wants to gain control of the water resources of the East. The government had three options: Giving in to the LTTE and letting the people commit suicide or be driven away from the East; seeking the help of the facilitator and the international community to rein in the Tigers and acting on its own for the sake of the people. No sovereign state could consider the first option. The government appealed to Norway, the Monitoring Mission and the international community in vain. So, the second option, too, was out. It was finally compelled to settle for the last and least desirable one. Anyone who faults the government opting for military action should be able to provide an alternative remedy.

The LTTE has opened a new front to regain control of the Eastern Province, where its fortunes are at a low ebb. It is using the hydraulic weapon, which is more potent than any of the lethal arms in its arsenal. The ethnic composition of the Eastern Province is a worrisome proposition for the LTTE, as it cannot, on any ground, justify its claim of being the sole representative in the Eastern Province people vis-`E0-vis the Karuna Faction and the fact the Sinhalese and Muslims and Tamils live in equal numbers there. The Muslims have shot down the LTTE’s attempt to create a broad category of ‘Tamil speaking people’ to bolster its sole representative claim. The Muslims are demanding a separate noncontiguous enclave if autonomous powers are to be granted to the LTTE by any chance in a merged North and East province.

The LTTE appears to be on a campaign to ethnic-cleanse some parts of the East so as to distort the ethnic composition. It can easily trigger an exodus by denying water to the people. It may not even hesitate to sabotage the water schemes if it cannot withstand the increasing military pressure. The next phase of the LTTE strategy will be clear when the armed forces close in on its positions at Verugalaru.

Depriving the people of access to water, whether during war or peace, is a dastardly crime which must be condemned unreservedly by the civilised world. It is unfortunate that the government’s appeals have fallen on the stony deaf ears of the international community.

There is heavy LTTE presence north of Verugalaru and the on-going offensive aimed at creating a buffer zone is fraught with the danger of sparking a conflagration with a devastating impact on the civilians trapped in the area as well as the crumbling peace effort kept alive on the heart and lung machine.

It is high time the foreign diplomats and representatives of international organisations that wield influence over the LTTE came forward and brought pressure to bear on the outfit to let go of the Anicut, and avert an internecine battle or war. If they are genuinely desirous of helping Sri Lanka achieve peace, the deteriorating situation at Verugalaru provides them with an opportunity to prove it.

 Island Editorial

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July 28, 2006 - Posted by | Media, Media Journalism, News, News and politics, World News

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