Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Army Bombs Headquarters of Rebels in Sri Lanka

 

By SOMINI SENGUPTA for The New York Times, October 2, 2008

Whether this brings the Sri Lankan conflict anywhere closer to resolution is unclear. The rebels have crude but effective bomber jets of their own. And over the last several months, even as the Sri Lankan military has made advances into rebel territory in the island’s north, the rebels’ fighter jets and suicide bombs have rattled ordinary life in government-controlled areas.

The government, for its part, has come under sharp criticism for failing to protect journalists and human rights workers from disappearances, kidnappings and intimidation.

In the latest attack, last Saturday, unidentified men lobbed hand grenades at the residence of J. C. Weliamuna, country director of Transparency International and a prominent human rights lawyer. The United States condemned the attack.

The National Peace Council, a nonpartisan group that has been sharply critical of the government, said in a statement, “This act of violent intimidation can be interpreted as a thinly veiled attempt to silence critical and dissenting voices in the country.”

The military push comes at a time when aid agencies have been forced by government order to leave Tamil Tiger-held territory. Sri Lanka has been unusually suspicious of aid groups working in the area, repeatedly accusing them of helping the guerrillas.

NEW DELHI — The Sri Lankan military appeared close to making its final push on rebel territory on Thursday, as its air force’s jets pounded the headquarters of the country’s guerrilla group.

Both sides, which routinely provide conflicting accounts of clashes, agreed roughly on what happened. It signaled a turning point in the prolonged conflict.

The guerrilla group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or L.T.T.E., said in a statement that its peace secretariat, which was its main political office, was bombed around midday. The Sri Lankan military confirmed the strike as well, with the defense secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, reporting that ground troops were three miles from the rebel headquarters, in the northern town of Kilinochhi.

“It is the beginning of the end of L.T.T.E. terrorists,” Mr. Rajapaksa said.

His brother, Mahinda, is the country’s president. Since his election two years ago, the brothers have aggressively sought to end the quarter-century-long ethnic conflict by crushing the Tamil Tigers militarily.

The rebel statement made no mention of the proximity of ground troops. It said the airstrike killed two civilians.

[Courtesy: BBC]

 

Whether this brings the Sri Lankan conflict anywhere closer to resolution is unclear. The rebels have crude but effective bomber jets of their own. And over the last several months, even as the Sri Lankan military has made advances into rebel territory in the island’s north, the rebels’ fighter jets and suicide bombs have rattled ordinary life in government-controlled areas.

The government, for its part, has come under sharp criticism for failing to protect journalists and human rights workers from disappearances, kidnappings and intimidation.

In the latest attack, last Saturday, unidentified men lobbed hand grenades at the residence of J. C. Weliamuna, country director of Transparency International and a prominent human rights lawyer. The United States condemned the attack.

The National Peace Council, a nonpartisan group that has been sharply critical of the government, said in a statement, “This act of violent intimidation can be interpreted as a thinly veiled attempt to silence critical and dissenting voices in the country.”

The death toll, which has plainly escalated in recent months as the conflict has intensified, is impossible to verify. Both sides are known to inflate the enemy toll.

The military push comes at a time when aid agencies have been forced by government order to leave Tamil Tiger-held territory. Sri Lanka has been unusually suspicious of aid groups working in the area, repeatedly accusing them of helping the guerrillas.

On Thursday, the government got a chance to accuse them anew, when explosives were found in a private truck that was to be loaded with United Nations food aid. The World Food Program’s acting country director, Azeb Asrat, said by telephone from Vavuniya, where the trucks were being loaded, that the vehicle in question had been contracted privately by the government and that it had not even entered the United Nations compound when the explosives were found. In a statement, the United Nations said it “condemned the attempt by persons unknown to disrupt the aid effort.”

Ms. Asrat said the discovery prompted her agency to stop loading trucks provided by the same contractor. Altogether, 51 trucks were loaded with dry rations for the approximately 200,000 civilians living behind rebel lines.

The first relief to reach them in two weeks, about 650 tons of food aid — flour, rice, lentils and cooking oil — was expected to last no longer than a week. The United Nations said it aimed to send the next batch of aid next week.

The aid delivery comes a week after a statement from the White House urging Sri Lanka to allow humanitarian agencies to reach civilians in the conflict zone. In the statement, Richard A. Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, reminded the Sri Lankan government of its responsibility in “respecting and extending human rights protection to the people in the areas that they take over.”