Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Sri Lankan Troops, Rebels Intensify Violence

by Nora Boustany, Washington Post, March 31, 2007

The heightened violence comes as the government -- which, along with the rebels, is accused by human rights groups of massive human rights violations -- is seeking $590 million in economic aid from [US government-funded] Millennium Challenge Corp. Under the rules of the U.S. government organization, recipient countries must meet certain standards regarding the rule of law, human rights and the environment. ...

Rights groups have noted the recruitment of child soldiers by a splinter Tamil faction, the Karuna, now allied with government forces, and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas through which rebels may have passed...By his account, more than 1,000 people have disappeared since January 2006.

 

Sri Lankan soldiers check identity papers in Colombo, the capital, at end of a week of heightened violence by government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels.
Sri Lankan soldiers check identity papers in Colombo, the capital, at end of a week of heightened violence by government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels. (By Gemunu Amarasinghe -- Associated Press)

The single-engine airplane was smuggled in parts into Sri Lanka, then reassembled and sent Monday to bomb a government air base outside the capital, Colombo. Three military personnel died on the ground in this first rebel airstrike since hostilities broke out on the island in 1983. Rebels released photos of members of their "air wing" waving jauntily from a small plane's cockpit.

The bombing and other dramatic attacks this week helped push Sri Lanka's newly restarted ethnic conflict toward all-out war: A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden tractor into an army camp, killing himself and at least six others; the Sri Lankan navy reported sinking three rebel gunboats, with heavy loss of life on the insurgent side.

The heightened violence comes as the government -- which, along with the rebels, is accused by human rights groups of massive human rights violations -- is seeking $590 million in economic aid from Millennium Challenge Corp. Under the rules of the U.S. government organization, recipient countries must meet certain standards regarding the rule of law, human rights and the environment.

A cease-fire signed in 2002 by Tamil rebels and the majority-Sinhalese government, with Norwegian officials mediating, had largely held until last year. Mediators scrambled to restore the truce, but the week's hostilities make that seem more and more unlikely.

The attacks followed a full-throttle push by Sri Lankan army forces in January to root out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam from strongholds in Vakarai, 200 miles east of Colombo. The Tigers, who have tried to carve out an autonomous state in the northeast, have lost about 230 square miles in the face of military offensives recently.

The government of President Mahinda Rajapakse has justified its escalation as a necessary part of a war on terror.

According to Human Rights Watch, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Catholic relief groups operating in Sri Lanka, the number of displaced people has risen to 150,000 in the northeast in recent weeks, bringing the nation's total to 350,000.

The forced repatriation of civilians to certain devastated areas in a government attempt to accelerate a return to normalcy has drawn criticism from relief workers. Returnees have told them that the fighting and destruction have stripped them of their means of livelihood, such as fishing boats and farming tools. [More importantly, these IDPs are being placed to protect military camps upon their return.]

The Tiger rebels, classified by the State Department as a terrorist organization, have a dismal record concerning respect for human life, rights groups say. They have carried out random bus bombings and suicide attacks and recruited as many as 6,000 child solders. "Both the government and [the Tigers] have shown a brazen disregard for the safety and well-being of civilians," the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch said in a recent report.

Rights groups have noted the recruitment of child soldiers by a splinter Tamil faction, the Karuna, now allied with government forces, and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas through which rebels may have passed.

The government has silenced critics, muzzled journalists and intimidated nongovernmental organizations, creating a "palpable climate of fear, with people afraid to speak by telephone or to give their names," Fred Abrahams, senior emergency researcher for Human Rights Watch, said in an interview following a three-week visit to the country. By his account, more than 1,000 people have disappeared since January 2006. "Some bodies have appeared," he noted.