Thursday, September 14, 2006

Sri Lanka's War of the Words

Sept 10, 2006 (AFP) - While Sri Lanka's government and Tamil rebels trade daily accusations of truce-breaking and threaten each other with all-out war, observers and reporters keen to understand what is really happening are forced to try and read between the lines.

There was talk of a "stealth war" in December, and now Sri Lanka has reportedly gone to the "brink of full-scale war."

In those less than 10 months some 1,500 people have been killed despite assurances from both sides that they are continuing to "uphold" a ceasefire arranged by peace broker Norway in February 2002.

Reporters have struggled with synonyms and cliches.

"Tenuous", "crumbling", "collapsing," "faltering," "shaky" and "fragile" have been liberally used to describe the ceasefire.

For bureaucrats on both sides a return to "war" means going back to the pre-truce era when bombing economic targets and civilians was fair game.

However, the actual number of killings was far less then than it is now.

"We are not at war," says government defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella. "A low-intensity conflict maybe, but not war."

Former Swedish brigadier general Ulf Henricsson, who ended his term as a top peace monitor last month, said he could not decide if the country was at war or not.

However, he was certain that the truce was holding only on paper.

"It is a problem of a definition," he said when asked if Sri Lanka was at war. "A Stockholm peace institute had said that if more than 500 people are killed in a conflict during a year, then it is war."

Read the full story at LBO

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