SRI Lanka's military and the island's Tamil Tiger rebels are virtually at war despite a ceasefire that is still technically in place, the head of the Norwegian truce monitors said yesterday.
"You could in some definition say we already have a war," said Major General Ulf Henricsson, head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). "We don't have a peace agreement, we have a ceasefire agreement. So there is a war ongoing. It is a low intensity war."
Henricsson's comment followed the government bombing Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam territory in the island's north last week after the rebels attacked a navy flotilla and killed 17 sailors in the worst military clash since a ceasefire started in 2002.
The government and the Tigers say they remain committed to the ceasefire, but with more than 270 deaths estimated since April, analysts say the violence looks much like periods of the island's two-decade civil war in which more than 64,000 people died.
Analysts say the Tigers have essentially declared war on the military, but don't want to be seen to be the ones to officially pull out of the truce in the eyes of the international community and supporters abroad.
Henricsson dismissed a threat by the Tigers that warned his monitors to stay off navy vessels or face the consequences in any future attacks, saying his 60-strong team would continue to do their job. He said: "I make my own decision on this matter, and I think their warning, as they call it, is more or less a threat and [the naval attack was] a clear violation of the ceasefire agreement.
"Will SLMM continue to have observers with the navy? Yes, we will. Just now my naval team is discussing how to go further in this matter. They will give us advice on how we can solve this. But we will still be on the sea one way or another."
Last week's clash came after a suspected rebel assassination attempt on Sri Lanka's army commander in April, which was followed by bombing of Tiger positions in the east, and by a series of deadly ambushes on the military. It also comes after a rash of extrajudicial killings of Tamil civilians.