Sri Lanka leader in a double bind. India urges Tamil rights; party hardliners say no
Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene's visit to the Indian capital, which began Monday, appears to have two main aims: quieting angry critics at home and calming Indian officials who are anxious for peace on the island nation. Mr. Jayewardene's four-day visit comes as violence in Sri Lanka continues and pressures grow on him to implement or abrogate last July's battered peace accord which was to have ended Sri Lanka's civil war.
More than 7,000 people have died in the past 4 years of fighting between Tamil separatists and the Sinhalese-dominated government.
At home, Jayewardene is grappling with opposition within his own party and a growing insurgency by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a shadowy group of Sinhalese extremists who oppose the peace pact signed with India.
In New Delhi, the Jayewardene faces an impatient Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Mr. Gandhi is expected to press the Sri Lankan leader to introduce reforms and hold elections aimed at giving Tamils limited autonomy in the north and east, where the population is concentrated.
The Indian Prime Minister is expected to be tough because he is contending with his own angry critics who are increasingly comparing the three-month guerrilla war between Indian troops and Tamil ``Tiger'' militants to the American involvement in Vietnam. Three thousand Indian troops first arrived in Sri Lanka as a peace-keeping force of 3,000 to oversee a Tamil surrender last summer. They have now swollen to about 30,000.
``There is Indian pressure that elections be held quickly in the north and east and the administration set up so that India can reduce its presence,'' says Pran Chopra, a political analyst in New Delhi. ``But it's hard to see how elections will be held if conditions continue as they are.''
Jayewardene has said he will press for what has been described as a mutual-assistance treaty between the two countries. Such a treaty would formalize the peace accord signed by the two leaders as well as help iron out what Sri Lankan critics see as the pact's inequities.
At issue is an annex to the accord under which the Sri Lankan President agreed to deny any third country the military use of its ports if India felt its interests were threatened. Jayewardene is anxious to make that provision reciprocal in a formal treaty. Politicians in his own party, including powerful National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, have contended the peace accord is one-sided and compromises Sri Lanka's independence.
Jayewardene also faces growing domestic pressure to call early general elections, now scheduled for 1989. His failure to call a poll since taking power in 1977 is widely believed to have fueled unrest among Sinhalese youth who have turned to the banned JVP.
Several days ago, Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel, an outspoken proponent of the peace accord and the architect of Sri Lanka's economic reconstruction, resigned in protest over the lack of elections. Mr. De Mel is considered a front runner to succeed Jayewardene who has said he will not stand for reelection.
``If we don't don't have elections next year, the people are going to say, please, in the name of God, go,'' Del Mel said in December in a controversial statement to the Sri Lankan parliament.
Gandhi's support for his Sri Lankan peace initiative also appears uneasy, analysts say. New Delhi says about 400 Indian soldiers have died in the fighting which has become the country's longest war since independence from Britain in 1947. However, Sri Lankan officials and some Indian military observers say that losses are double the official figure.
Earlier this month, Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers, the most radical of the guerrilla groups, sent his third letter to Gandhi in recent months, calling for a cease-fire and withdrawal of Indian troops to their positions before the October offensive began.
Talks on a compromise are reportedly under way between Sri Lankan officials and the Tamil militants.
Gandhi, however, has insisted that the militants first lay down their arms and declare their support for the accord - before any cease-fire.
Some observers predict that Jayewardene will press Gandhi to begin troop withdrawals soon. Some Sri Lankan officials feel that the Indian Army has stayed long enough and that thousands of additional troops would be needed to defeat the Tigers.
In addition, support for the Indian Army's role in fighting Sri Lankan Tamils could become uncertain in the key south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Sri Lankan Tamil militants had been sheltered and armed in training camps for four years by their ethnic kin.
Just before Christmas, M.G. Ramachandran, the state's powerful chief minister and a key link to the Tamil militants, died. Although support for Gandhi's peace plan seems to be holding, it could become a political issue for Gandhi in the future, observers say.