COLOMBO, SRI LANKA -- Taking advantage of popular discontent over the introduction of Indian troops into Sri Lanka, a militant Sinhalese leftist group is creating instability across much of southern Sri Lanka and is threatening to take its campaign to the capital.
According to official government figures, militants belonging to the People's Liberation Front have killed 38 people since India and Sri Lanka signed a peace accord at the end of July. In addition, government buildings and buses have been destroyed, politicians attacked and sections of the predominantly Sinhalese south of the country paralyzed.
In recent days, the front has threatened to attack government officials in Colombo as part of its campaign against the accord. The accord was aimed at ending nearly four years of civil war between minority Tamils and majority Sinhalese and giving Tamils a measure of autonomy.
The accord has fanned Sinhalese nationalism and appears to have emboldened the militants belonging to the JVP, which stands for the front's name in Sinhala.
In response to the front's attacks, the government of Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene has redeployed much of its Army from the north to the south and central parts of the country and has begun arming members of the ruling United National Party.
"My politicians tell me, 'I can't live in my house. Give me grenades, give me guards,'" Jayewardene said in an interview this past week. "A private army -- call it what you like. But you have to have it. Otherwise, they will leave me."
Jayewardene said candidates in forthcoming local elections are refusing to campaign because of intimidation by the JVP.
Almost 75 percent of Sri Lanka's 17 million people are ethnic Sinhalese and Buddhists. The front, which has been a factor in Sri Lankan politics since 1971, is believed to be made up of Sinhalese youths, many of whom have been untouched by the sophisticated English-speaking segments of Sri Lankan society.
In 1971, the front seriously threatened the government of then prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. The insurrection was put down after several weeks of bitter fighting in which thousands of lives were lost.
It is characterized alternatively as Marxist or anarchist but little is known about its strength or organization.
Jayewardene said he asked Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to send in Indian troops to help enforce the July accord because of intelligence reports of plans by the front to campaign against the accord in the Sri Lankan capital.
Because of the continuing battle against Tamil militants in the north and east of the country, and major Buddhist festivals in the central sector, Jayewardene said he did not have enough troops to keep control.
He said he asked Gandhi to send the Indian troops to the Tamil rebel stronghold in northern Jaffna peninsula so he could free Sri Lankan Army forces to police the capital. Severe rioting broke out in the capital after the accord was signed.
"I don't think (the challenge) in the south will last long," said the Sri Lankan president. "It is not like the north. They don't hold any territory."