It should surprise no one that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam called off its participation in the second round of the Geneva talks with the Sri Lankan Government. The LTTE is under more international pressure than at any time before to give substance to the peace process. It made participation in Geneva II conditional on the Government disarming Karuna, a former LTTE military commander who has broken away and is a powerful threat to the organisation in the East. But the international backers of the four-year-old process made it clear that the talks could no longer be held hostage to this issue. The pressure on the Tigers has increased after Canada, home to the largest chunk of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, banned the group. Fearing it might be forced to commit itself to a more substantive peace process than what has gone on until now, the LTTE avoided going to Switzerland. First it tried escalating the violence in the North-East. When that did not work, it found a pretext in the transport arrangements of its cadres. Here is a terrorist group that expects the state it is fighting to arrange military helicopters for ferrying its cadres to a pre-talks strategy meeting. It takes umbrage when that is refused; rejects Sri Lankan Navy transport; wants to travel in its own boats; agrees to go by a civilian vessel with an international ceasefire monitor on board; and then pulls out of the talks on account of a Navy escort to this vessel.
As the international monitors of the ceasefire and the Sri Lankan Government have explained, the naval escort was written into the agreement for the cadres' journey from eastern Sri Lanka to the North by the civilian boat. If the LTTE tantrum is aimed at making the point that it owns the seas around North-East Sri Lanka, and that it will not accept the authority of the Sri Lankan Government in these waters, it is time to reiterate that it has no jurisdiction over the waters around North-East Sri Lanka. For reasons now well-known, the Sri Lankan Government ceded to the LTTE de facto independent control over substantial territory in the North-East. Getting the peace process to acknowledge a maritime boundary would complete this picture for the LTTE. But this can never happen. The international community will not recognise a terrorist group with boats as a naval force. In the whole transport drama, the Sri Lankan Government was well within its rights in reaffirming its control over the North-East seas. It can be argued that all the time and energy expended on this issue could have been saved had the Government gone by established practice and provided air transport to the Tigers right at the beginning. But then the LTTE might have found some other excuse for not attending the talks. The international community needs to tighten the screws, making it clear that the extremist organisation has no option but a negotiated political solution to the conflict within an undivided Sri Lanka.