Terrorism that cannot succeed Sri Lanka: Tamil Tigers demand the impossible, and kill for it.

February 02, 1996

FOR TERRORISM to succeed politically, all peaceful options have to be foreclosed and its objectives have to be achievable. The suicide truck bombing of the central bank of Sri Lanka in Colombo, killing at least 73 and wounding 1,400 and crippling the poor little country's economy, is likely to fail, having met neither of these tests.

Of some 18 million people in the island country, little more than 3 million are Tamils. Ghettoized in the far north and identified with a far larger Tamil population across the Palk Strait in southern India, the Sri Lankan Tamils do not have the makings of a nation state. But before this civil war broke out nearly 13 years ago, they did have legitimate grievances.

The government has been winning the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), even conquering their main town of Jaffna in the far north. It was reasonable to expect terrorism in response, and there has been a steady recurrence of terror bombings in Colombo. The Tamil Tigers, unlike some other insurgencies, do not claim credit for attacks and have denied this one, though not persuasively. They have already assassinated a Sri Lankan president and an Indian prime minister.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was elected in 1994 on a platform of peace and accommodation, has sent to the parliament a plan for transforming the country into a federation of provinces. This would give Tamils a good deal of autonomy. The difference between Tamils and the Sinhalese majority is linguistic, religious and cultural.

The reasonableness of her plan along with its apparent acceptability to most Tamils provoked the LTTE to desperation. It demands a sovereign independence that could never work.

Most attempts to bring a nation to its knees through bombing its financial district -- notably the IRA bombing in London in 1993 -- only increase that nation's resolve.

Sri Lanka is more fragile, and more dependent on tourism which is set back by this outrage. But it has no option other than to go on trying to crush the insurrection, to end discrimination and to grant regional autonomy which ought to satisfy reasonable Tamil aspirations. That, it is trying to do.

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