On May 14, 1985, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam carried out a massacre in Anuradhapura, gunning down 146 civilians as they prayed at a Buddhist shrine. That bestial act was a turning point in the conflict in Sri Lanka. It told the world that in the lexicon of the LTTE's `liberation' ideology, there is no place for humane conduct. Almost to the day 21 years later, as if to mark the anniversary of that attack, the LTTE has carried out another horrific massacre in Anuradhapura. Inevitably, there will be those who argue that it was the European Union ban that drove the LTTE to carry out this claymore mine attack on a bus carrying innocent men, women, and children. They must pause to think that had V. Prabakaran's organisation been a sincere partner in the attempt to find a negotiated, peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict, its effort would have been to tell the world after the European ban how wrong and misled this group of 25 countries was in judging its character; it would have gone out of its way to project itself as a reasonable organisation; it would have negotiated with maturity at Oslo and agreed to revive the stalled second round of talks at Geneva. But instead of Geneva 2, the LTTE served up Anuradhapura 2. That should be enough to banish the last lingering doubts about the wisdom of the EU ban.

In the two decades that separate the two massacres, the LTTE has shown on countless occasions that it revels in violence and terrorism as "political strategy," wearing this proudly as a badge of honour. It has directed violence against Tamils and Muslims to silence those who oppose it in these communities and to establish decisively its hegemony over them. Against the Sinhalese, the Tigers use violence again and again, hoping to provoke the majority community into unleashing an orgy of revenge attacks against the minority Tamils. The LTTE awaits such an opportunity to justify its own existence and Pol Potist methods. But this is not 1983. It may remain where it was then, but the Sri Lankan state has matured almost beyond recognition to realise that it has to be accountable to all its citizens, irrespective of ethnicity or religion. There was an unfortunate lowering of guard by the Government in Trincomalee a few weeks ago, when the LTTE deliberately stoked up anti-Tamil sentiment in the Sinhala community. But President Mahinda Rajapakse was alert enough to prevent the situation from spinning out of control. After the attack on the bus, the Sri Lankan Government carried out retaliatory strikes on LTTE positions in the North-East, just as it did following a suicide bomber's attempt to kill the Army chief. Whether a war can be averted at this stage is uncertain. But under no circumstance must the Rajapakse Government get provoked into a conflict in which the worst sufferers will be the people of Sri Lanka. India and the world must express their firm solidarity with Sri Lanka during this time of troubles.