While pursuing its military offensive to capture the main supply route to Jaffna and dislodge the LTTE from the Vanni, the PA government has continued to develop a constitutional framework, without LTTE participation, which might accommodate Tamil nationalist aspirations within a united Sri Lanka. This second track in its strategy to end the ethnic conflict was unveiled in August 1995, with the publication of extensive proposals for regional autonomy.
Sudu nellum and the caravan for peace
While its devolution proposals were under review and its campaign to eliminate LTTE 'terrorism' intensified, the government launched the Sudu Nellum (White Lotus) Movement to wage the 'battle for peace'. Sudu Nellum operates on two fronts. On the one hand, it offers support to the families of troops, particularly those killed or disabled through the war. On the other, it seeks to promote government proposals for a political solution to the ethnic problem through district-level seminars, discussions, meetings and workshops. Sudu Nellum's work has generally been limited to districts outside the north and east. By the middle of 1997, however, a series of meetings and discussions had been held in the Jaffna peninsula, boosting aspirations to island-wide coverage.
To complement the efforts of Sudu Nellum, the government initiated the 'Sama Thavalama' (the Caravan for Peace). The Sama Thavalama uses street theatre, floats, posters and photographic exhibitions to reach workers and peasants, even in the remotest areas. It raises awareness and encourages debate and discussion among its audience as a first step towards promoting cross-cultural understanding, ethnic harmony and peace. The message of Sama Thavalama is that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society whose diversity is its strength. It attempts to convince the Sinhala community that the Tamil people have legitimate historical grievances that need to be resolved politically.
While the Sama Thavalama and the Sudu Nellum initiatives raised some hopes that the peace constituency in the south could be consolidated and strengthened, they were perceived by many observers as lacklustre and amateurish. By 1998, in the context of the stalemated political package and the continued war effort, both campaigns appeared spent and ineffectual.
These proposals conceived a radical restructuring of the existing system of devolution introduced under the terms of the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord. The powers of the centre and the regions were to be reconstituted, with greater autonomy ceded to new 'regional councils'. Crucially, the existing list of 'concurrent powers', which had obstructed and diluted late-80s devolution attempts, was to be abolished. Most powers on this list were to be transferred to the proposed regional councils.
The system of devolution envisaged also required fundamental amendments to the existing constitution. The most controversial amendment would be the re-formulation of the Sri Lankan state from a unitary entity to a 'united and sovereign republic with a Union of Regions'. It was stipulated that constitutional change would require the people's approval, as expressed through a referendum, as well as the usual two-thirds parliamentary majority.
By January 1996, the government had prepared a legal draft of its ideas for devolution which was submitted for discussion to the parliamentary select committee for constitutional reform. Unfortunately, this committee was unable to come to any meaningful consensus, despite nearly two years of deliberations. In an attempt to free the log-jam, the government presented a draft constitution to Parliament in October 1997, incorporating its ideas on constitutional reform, amended in the light of the select committee discussions.
LTTE operations since 1996
Needing military success in the wake of its retreat from Jaffna, the LTTE launched three significant attacks in July 1996. The first, in Jaffna town, was against the entourage of the minister of housing. The second was the co-ordinated assault on the Mullaittivu army camp in the northeast in which over 1,200 government troops were killed. The third was a bomb explosion on a commuter train in the suburbs of Colombo which killed about 70 civilians.
Since this first wave of reprisal attacks, the LTTE has continued to make strikes at military, economic and cultural targets throughout Sri Lanka. The bombing of the sacred Temple of the Tooth in Kandy in January 1998, during the politically sensitive run up to the country's 50th anniversary celebrations, undoubtedly did most to outrage Sinhala opinion, leading to a formal ban on the LTTE and a hardening of the government's militaristic stance. Apart from this, there have been four major strikes in Colombo in which the LTTE have bombed the Central Bank, the commercial centre, the oil refinery at Kolonnawa and a busy intersection by the Maradana railway station. Since May 1997, however, most LTTE resources have been channelled into frustrating army attempts to establish control of the main Vavuniya-Jaffna highway in the north and to destabilisation campaigns in the east.