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Sri Lanka's Jaffna quieter as aid ship heads in (23 August 2006)

Disease fears rise in crowded new Sri Lanka camps (9 August 2006)

Sri Lanka president wants Tigers to discuss demands (4 July 2006)

Sri Lanka's uncivil war (30 June 2006)

Pre-ceasefire measures in Sri Lanka (28 June 2006) 

Sri Lanka's Jaffna quieter as aid ship heads in (23 August 2006)

Fighting on Sri Lanka's besieged Jaffna peninsula appeared to have hit a lull after a 12-day battle with Tamil Tiger rebels, officials said, as an aid ship sailed to feed tens of thousands cut off by the violence.

With road links through rebel territory cut, and air and sea movement sharply curtailed, shortages have been rising fast for the roughly half a million people on the army-held peninsula. Some people are eating only one meal a day.

"Business is very bad because people have to buy essential supplies," said Jaffna liquor store owner Anton Xavier, 26, who said his income was cut by four fifths.

"This is an unexpected war and an unfinished war. This can have no end. The final solution must come from India."

But despite calls from Indian Tamils to intervene, Sri Lanka's giant neighbour is keen to keep out after a disastrous peace-keeping attempt in the early 1990s and the suspected Tiger assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

A Red Cross-flagged aid ship, carrying food and essential supplies left Colombo on Tuesday evening and will only arrive on Thursday.

Witnesses heard the sound of artillery fire south of Jaffna in the morning, but the military said they had no details. Tiger radio said in the last week they had pushed the army back.

"Jaffna is calm and quiet," said an army spokesman. "But there are two incidents reported in the east. They have fired mortars at our camps."


No one was hurt in either mortar attack, he said. One was aimed at an exposed camp in the eastern Batticaloa district long seen as a Tiger goal while the other was at a base in the northeastern Trincomalee district, where the first fighting since a 2002 truce erupted three weeks ago after a water dispute.

While both sides say they want peace, diplomats believe both probably still have military objectives they want to achieve. The unarmed Nordic ceasefire monitoring mission has withdrawn most of its staff to the capital, although some remain stuck on Jaffna.

"It is a little more quiet but there is still a lot of shelling," said outgoing chief truce monitor former Swedish Major General Ulf Henricsson. "I can't see any military gains on either side... I think there has been too much unnecessary killing and rather big losses on both sides."

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said they had given security guarantees both for the aid ship and for a smaller ferry that will begin evacuating expatriates from Jaffna with foreign residency or nationality, as well as some aid workers.

The ferry, scheduled to leave on Thursday, will carry other emergency staff into Jaffna, which has changed hands several times during two decades of war and which is seen as the cultural centre of the Tigers' fight for a Tamil homeland.

"We have given the green light to evacuate the expatriates from the Jaffna peninsula," said head of the rebel peace secretariat S. Puleedevan. "We are only taking defensive measures and responding to any new attack."

More than 800 people had died this year before the recent battles. The Tigers said 88 of their fighters had died since, but diplomats believe it is likely far more. Army figures of more than 130 troops dead are also seen as probably too low.

Several hundred civilians are also feared to have died and more than 160,000 people have fled their homes. The fighting has made it all but impossible to independently verify tolls. Reuters

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Disease fears rise in crowded new Sri Lanka camps (9 August 2006)

Illness is spreading in Sri Lanka refugee camps packed with thousands of people fleeing the fighting in the east, doctors said on Wednesday, citing poor sanitary facilities and overcrowding.

Aid workers say more than 30,000 people had arrived in the northeastern town of Kantale after days of artillery fire and street battles between troops and Tamil Tiger rebels, doubling its population.

"This is a disaster," medical doctor Mohammed Shahir, who drove down from central Sri Lanka to help, told Reuters in the largest camp in a school in the town.

"The sanitary facilities are not working. It is too crowded. People are coming down with skin and digestive infections."

The school was originally designed to hold some 200-300 children. Now, aid workers say 6,000-9,000 thousand people are living there. The smell of sewage hangs in the air between the classrooms and rough white tarpaulin tents pitched outside.

"There are only two toilets," said 48-year-old mason Kdir Batcha Anzar, who like thousands of others fled the town of Mutur on foot through mortar fire and clashes last week. "We don't get enough food. We left everything there. We just fled with a plastic bag."

There was more fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers on Wednesday, despite the rebels ending a blockade of a disputed water sluice which triggered off the most serious conflict since a 2002 truce.

The United Nations reported 80 cases of diarrhoea on Tuesday, a result of the poor sanitary facilities in the refugee camps in Kantale. Shahir said his clinic saw 400 patients, many of them now suffering from diarrhoea.

"There are also wounds getting infected, upper and lower respiratory tract problems," he said as his staff handed out medicines. "Most of them are women and children. There are also some who have psychological problems after what happened."

Aid is getting through. Trucks carrying water tanks, wood and other stores rumble through the streets past aid agency vehicles, many of them diverted from rebuilding projects after the 2004 tsunami.

After the tsunami, many people had feared a second disaster if disease was allowed to take root in the camps. Then, it was avoided and aid staff hope they can do it again.

"Right now there is no epidemic, but if this continues it could be a serious problem," Oxfam spokesman Ravi Prasad told Reuters in the camp.

Oxfam is distributing 100,000 litres of water a day and has started building some chemical pit toilets. But aid staff say the government has simply allocated too little space and people must be moved on to more sites.

"The problem is simply that the camps are too small for the number of people," said Amjad Mohamed Saleem, Sri Lanka country director for London-based group Muslim Aid. "It's not sustainable." Reuters

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Sri Lanka president wants Tigers to discuss demands (4 July 2006)

Sri Lanka's president said on Tuesday he wanted to discuss a solution to the island's ethnic conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels, but again denied that renegade ex-Tigers were operating in army-held territory.

Attacks on mainstream Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by ex-rebels known as the Karuna group are seen helping push Sri Lanka towards renewed civil war. More than 700 people have been killed so far this year and suspected Tiger attacks are rising.

"They are all Sri Lankans," President Mahinda Rajapakse told Indian television station NDTV. "So we can discuss this ... This is what I am asking them, to come and discuss what they want."

The military accused the Tigers of firing on civilian fishermen and army positions early on Tuesday, wounding one member of an anti-Tiger political party. The military had fired back in several incidents, they said.

The Tigers say they want a separate ethnic Tamil homeland in the north and east. Rajapakse has previously ruled that out, but he told NDTV that he and a committee of experts were preparing an outline solution that could then be discussed.

"I don't want to give them something and tell them to eat it," said Rajapakse, whose hardline majority Sinhalese Buddhist and Marxist allies oppose concessions to the Tigers. "We will give them an outline, we can get the LTTE to sit and draft what they want... they can discuss."


Working in consultation with India, Norwegian mediators say they still hope the island's peace process can be restarted. The Tigers say they will not return to talks until army killings of Tamil civilians cease. The government denies such murders take place but international truce monitors say the evidence is clear. Many fear the Tigers simply want war.

Diplomats are also extremely sceptical of repeated denials that the government backs fighters led by ex-Tiger eastern commander Karuna Amman, who is attacking the LTTE.

"We have said in our territory... we are not allowing anyone to operate," said Rajapakse. "No faction of the LTTE or Karuna or anyone can come in (government) controlled areas with weapons."

But monitors and aid workers on the ground in the east say that is clearly not the case. Not only are the Tigers apparently able to enter government areas to attack the military, but they say Karuna increasingly operates with impunity.

The Karuna group itself denies it has government support, but their camps are widely said to be close to military bases while the army is accused of doing nothing to halt abductions of dozens of young men and children to fight for Karuna. Reuters

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Sri Lanka's uncivil war (30 June 2006)

The festering ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has taken 70,000 lives since 1983. And now, after a suicide bomber killed the deputy chief of the Sri Lankan army Monday, there is reason to fear that an already tattered cease- fire signed in February 2002 between the government and the rebel Tamil Tigers is about to be submerged in another round of bloodshed.

There have been helpful calls for restraint from the outside world. The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, has called on both sides to return to peace talks under Norway's auspices. The Norwegian government's special envoy has admirably pledged to persist in Norway's mediation efforts. But international mediators and cease-fire monitors can do only so much if the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse of Sri Lanka and Tamil Tiger leaders do not act to prevent a renewal of civil war and forge a durable peace agreement.
At present, the two sides appear far apart. The memory of old atrocities seems to overwhelm a recognition of the need to accept compromises for the sake of peace. Tamils harbor deep and justified grievances over the discrimination they have suffered at the hands of the Sinhalese majority. The suicide bombings and assassinations carried out by the Tigers over the years have left government officials and many Sinhalese so fixated on their exposure to terrorist violence that they ignore the injustices Tamil civilians in the north and east of the island have suffered.
A political solution is needed. It will have to include a new constitutional arrangement that frees Tamils in the northeast from submission to the Sinhalese-dominated central government.
The international community should press the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers alike to come to the negotiating table in Oslo and work out a loose confederation that retains Sri Lanka's unity, grants the Tamil northeast self-governing autonomy, and puts an end to the island's long agony. The Boston Globe

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Pre-ceasefire measures in Sri Lanka (28 June 2006)

A day after the assassination of its Deputy Chief of Army Parami Kulathunga by a suspected LTTE member, Sri Lanka declared that it was reverting to security arrangements prevalent prior to the February 2002 ceasefire pact with the Tamil Tigers.

The announcement here late on Monday night came even as United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged all sides to return to the negotiating table.

The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) said in the wake of the stepped up violence by the LTTE it had re-activated or re-introduced all security measures in Government-controlled areas that remained operational before the 2002 Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA).

The SLA said security forces and police had taken steps to strengthen security arrangements.

"Accordingly, the troops serving at all points including the new ones will conduct thorough checking with immediate effect after re-introducing road barriers and other checkpoints, as deemed necessary. Transport of all consignments of consumer goods and other items into cleared areas will also thus be brought under one hundred per cent checking at these points."

A political analyst said revival of the pre-2002 security measures would cause hardship to the civilian population.

"Following the 2002 CFA the Government was not implementing provisions of Prevention of Terrorism Act in letter and spirit. Several items like iron bars, urea, small batteries, steel balls and cement banned were allowed to be transported freely. May be the Government would consider a kind of permit system for movement from North to South and vice versa.

"Perhaps these steps are required in view of the prevailing security scenario but the common people would not be the ultimate suffers," he said.

In a statement from New York, Mr. Annan condemned the Monday attack and urged resumption of the peace process.

"The Secretary General appeals to the parties to redouble their efforts to resume peace talks under the facilitation of the Norwegian Government," his spokesman said in a statement referring to negotiations between the Government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Hindu

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Tigers vow reprisals as Sri Lanka launches new strikes (26 April 2006)

Sri Lanka's military launched new strikes on Tamil Tiger areas in the island's northeast on Wednesday, a day after a deadly suicide bomb attack blamed on rebels shattered an already fragile ceasefire.

Military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe said the new strikes came after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fired on naval patrol craft off the eastern port of Trincomalee for a second day.

The Tigers said they would retaliate if the government continued the attacks, launched after a suspected suicide bomb in the capital killed nine and wounded the army commander.

"It is like a war situation in Trincomalee. If the attacks continue, the LTTE will be forced to take military defensive action," S. Puleedevan, head of the Tigers' peace secretariat, told Reuters.

Border crossings to rebel areas were closed and some aid workers helping rebuild after the 2004 tsunami said they were evacuating from the north and east. United Nations agencies stayed where they were, but cancelled transport.

Tiger northeastern political leader S. Elilan said shelling was continuing, that at least 10 bodies had been recovered and 25 people injured, with the number of fatalities seen likely to rise. One bomb had fallen in government territory, he said, killing other civilians.

The attacks were the first official military action since a 2002 ceasefire halted the two-decades-old civil war and raised hopes of a lasting peace. They followed a string of suspected Tiger attacks on the military and ethnic riots against Tamils.


Swedish Major-General Ulf Henricsson, who heads the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) that oversees the truce, said if air strikes continued, peace talks would become difficult. The worst case scenario was a return to war, he said.

"We still have a valid ceasefire agreement. No party has ended it, but of course it is not a ceasefire right now," he told Reuters.

The government had repeatedly said it would not be provoked, but changed tactics following the suicide bombing.

"This is a containment action. It is also designed to deter. Over and over again servicemen were killed in callous attacks," said Palitha Kohona, head of the government's peace secretariat, adding that he still hoped the Tigers would come to talks.

More than 100 people had already died in the bloodiest two weeks since the truce even before a female suicide bomber, disguised to look pregnant, blew herself up at Colombo's high-security army headquarters.

The Tigers on Tuesday denied responsibility for the suicide bomb attack, but the truce monitors say it is highly unlikely to be anyone else.

In a fax, the High Security Zone Residents' Liberation Force (HSZRLF), a suspected Tiger front group, took responsibility for the attack.

"HSZRLF feels that the LTTE is merely wasting time by maintaining a ceasefire," it said.

The Tigers indefinitely postponed a second round of peace talks that were to take place last week in Geneva, accusing the government of obstructing the transport of eastern rebel leaders to a pre-talks meeting. The Tigers say they are examining new government proposals.

But diplomats say they were looking for an excuse to pull out, angry the government has not reined in renegade group of ex-rebels, the Karuna group, which has been attacking the mainstream Tigers in the east.

Some fear the Tigers may be planning a return to the battlefield to win their goal of a separate Tamil homeland. Reuters

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� 2004 APC Process.  Last updated Wednesday, August 23, 2006