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A Cogent Tale Of Conflict In Sri Lanka

Updated: September 8, 2012 4:23 pm

Over a quarter of a century ago, civil war erupted in Sri Lanka, turning a tropical island in the Indian Ocean into a theatre for protracted conflict of barbaric bloodletting, which cost up to ninety thousand inhabitants their lives. Two decades of savage warfare was sporadically interrupted by weak and futile attempts to bring about a cessation of hostilities. A Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), however, brokered by Norway, was co-signed by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LITE in 2002.

Against this backdrop, the 242-page book, which is divided into 35 chapters, presents an intimate inside account of the years of the CFA in Sri Lanka which ended with its abrogation in 2008 by the Government of Sri Lanka. It attempts to describe the political and military contemplations of both parties and tries to go behind the scenes to reveal and explain the background of countless devastating incidents of terror and war. The book details the vanity and obsession of different interlocutors in the conflict. It describes terrible incidents and acts that delayed and derailed the peace process. The book also strives to bring insight in the appalling and often cynical lack of concern for civilian casualties, on both sides of the divide, resulting in ever more deadly military operations on land, at sea and in the air.

Furthermore, it aims to explain the tactics and strategies applied and pursued by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. Moreover, the book exhibits a wide range of previously unpublished photographic material from various theatres of the conflict. The book is a faithful narrative of what is already in the public realm about the ceasefire and written carefully, striking a balance between the government and the LTTE. The author, however, provides a racy account of the happenings after the truce had effectively ceased to exist, starting with the suicide attack on Army Commander Sarath Fonseka in April 2006. The chapter that speaks about how the SLMM head of mission found himself at the receiving end of shelling by the Sri Lankan Army in Pooneryn, and the ceasefire monitors’ rift with the government, makes interesting reading.

Substantial passages of this book are based on the author’s diaries from his tours with the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission in the years 2004, 2006 and 2007. To those who knew that the ceasefire was built on a glaringly faulty premise—that the LTTE wanted a negotiated settlement within a united Sri Lanka—its eventual breakdown was foretold on the day it was signed. But Solnes, like many other western observers, does not see it that way. Hence the sub-title of the book “Lost Opportunity for Peace in Sri Lanka”.

It is a tale of the integral terror of war and the suffering of a desperately poor population in a remote corner of the world. It is a description of a potentially idyllic and beautiful island, blessed with abundant resources, an inviting climate and gentle and friendly people, which has been turned into arguably the most militarised democratic state in Asia. It is an account of one of the most resilient and ruthless fighting groups the world has witnessed, a description of nationalist politics and bigotry, a tale of great opportunities for a lasting peace, glaringly lost by two adversaries, locked into a seemingly endless war, blinded by the hatred of each other.

In a nutshell, this book is an indispensable source on how the international community strived to assist in managing the crisis in Sri Lanka. This book has perspective that only an insider can provide, and this is substantiated by the fact that the author was a Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission.

By Ashok Kumar

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