An island on the brink

SRI Lanka is on the boil once again. The fierce battle for the control of Mettur in Tricomalee district between Tamil Tigers and government forces shows the guerrillas are spreading their tentacles to civilian areas.

Although the army has regained control of the town after a week of bloody clashes in which dozens of civilians, including Muslims, and over 150 rebels were killed, it’s no solace for the government because Tigers may try to strike back any time to take over the strategic jetty at the coastal town which is a supply link to the rebels.

This is a clear warning to Colombo that the conflict is fast getting out of hand and assuming the proportions of a civil war. The first indication of this is LTTE’s foray into a Muslim-majority area, forcing thousands of residents to flee the town. The ethnic strife has left Muslims, the largest minority on the island, largely untouched, that is, until this conflict. But the Tigers’ game plan seems to widen the conflict blowing away whatever few peace chances are left.

It is obvious. The escalating violence comes in the wake of a fresh Norwegian peace bid to pull the country out of brink. But the new initiative, in the absence of a credible truce, will have little effect on the raging war. Nevertheless, the government has to make every effort to clutch any opportunity that comes its way to secure peace in the interests of its own people and the country.

Sri Lanka has great potential to become the Jewel of Indian Ocean, provided it gives up its lopsided approach to the decades-old problem. The conflict has deprived it of the economic prosperity its neighbours are enjoying. It’s time for Colombo to take off its kid gloves and take serious steps to end this conflict.

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