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Archive for April 23rd, 2008

Sri Lankan soldiers patrol the Jaffna peninsula on April 6, 2008. At least 52 guerrillas and 38 soldiers were killed and hundreds more wounded during an offensive on the northern Jaffna peninsula.

At least 52 Tamil Tigers and 38 soldiers were killed and scores wounded in fierce fighting Wednesday between advancing Sri Lankan troops and the rebels in the northern Jaffna peninsula, the military said.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said that heavy fighting broke out when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) “launched a pre-dawn attack on the military’s forward defences at Kilali and Muhamalai areas.

“At least 52 LTTE cadres were killed during these clashes. The death toll of the soldiers has risen from 15 to 38,” he said, adding 84 soldiers were also wounded in one of the worst outbreaks of fighting this year.

“Some of the wounded soldiers have been airlifted to Colombo for further treatment,” he said.

“Our troops successfully retaliated the LTTE offensive and went forward about 500 metres into LTTE-held areas along the eight-kilometre Forward Defence Line from Muhamalai to Kilali,” Brig. Nanayakkara said.

He said the Sri Lanka Army’s 55 and 53 divisions “are now consolidating their newly captured positions”.

Meanwhile, the pro-LTTE Tamilnet website quoted rebel sources as saying that the military’s pre-dawn attempt to break into LTTE-held areas on the northern front had been “fully thwarted”.

“Sri Lanka Army units that attempted to break the Forward Defence Line of the LTTE in Kilali, Muhamalai and on several other positions were forced to retreat, leaving behind dead bodies,” the report claimed.

Claiming that the fighting lasted well over eight hours, it said that the Sri Lankan Army suffered heavy casualties as the Tigers put up stiff resistance.

“Casualty details would be released after the ongoing clearing mission is completed,” the Tigers said.

The escalation in violence between the advancing government troops and the LTTE in the Wanni, Jaffna and Mannar regions has left hundreds of combatants dead.

Independent verification of the battlefront casualties are not possible because journalists are barred from visiting the area.

Fighting has escalated in Sri Lanka since December 2005. The military captured the whole of the eastern province from the LTTE last year and it is now trying to seize rebel territory in the north.

(News Post India)

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The Peace Secretariat regrets the death of Father M X Karunaratnam, in a roadside bomb attack on the road between Mankulam and Mallavi. The LTTE has blamed what they term a government Deep Penetration Unit for the attack, while the military claims it was the LTTE. Father Karunaratnam was head of what is termed the NorthEast Secretariat on Human Rights, and had been deeply critical of the LTTE as well as of the government, in view of the forced conscription that has been reported by so many agencies operating in the North of the country now.

This is the tenth episode in which civilians have died at the hands of unknown agents after hostilities resumed following the LTTE attacks on Muttur and Muhumalai in August 2006. The first of these, on October 10th 2006, related to a van that exploded after it was released by court, while the next four claimed five lives due to what seem to have been untargeted shrapnel or shelling.

The next five relate to claymores, all of which exploded in territory currently held by the LTTE. One of them, in which a dozen persons died, on January 29th 2008, took place in Mannar, fairly close to the forward lines of the Sri Lankan army. The other four took place deep in LTTE controlled territory, so, if the armed forces were responsible, they would have had to penetrate about twenty miles on each occasion.

It would be difficult to do this unless some ground support were available. If the LTTE really believes then that these explosions, three of which claimed one or two lives each while the other claimed thirteen, were the responsibility of the armed forces, they must assume at least some degree of local involvement. This may seem unlikely, given the stranglehold the LTTE has on the local population, but perhaps in the context of increasing suffering through this, there has been a substantial change in attitudes.

The belief that such a sea change had occurred governed the report of the Jaffna University Teachers for Human Rights, which attributed the destruction of a van at Iyankerny on 27th November 2007, causing 13 civilian deaths, to local people disgusted with the LTTE.

Though it claimed that the bomb itself may have been supplied by the armed forces, it was almost categorical in claiming that the explosion was not attributable to any DPU. That revelation suggested for the first time the deep hatred felt amongst some people in the Vanni for their taskmasters, though it is possible that the targeting of civilians including children was not deliberate, but the result of an essentially amateur approach.

Whatever the cause of these deaths, they should not be repeated. Other Tamil militant groups, having realized the suffering intransigence causes, have abandoned the military option and entered the democratic process. Tamils in the North can see how things have changed in the East, and seem more interested in a political settlement than seemed possible under any previous government. If the LTTE really believes that the government has penetrated so deep into its territory, it must realize that continuing militarization, more conscription, more disruption of health and education, more reliance on a world that is tired of terror, will get it nowhere. The extraordinarily good record of the Air Force, with allegations of civilian deaths in just half a dozen cases out of one hundred and seventy carefully targeted aerial attacks, is a tribute to the precision of the personnel involved and also the information they have received. That information has not come out of the blue.

It is not likely that their awareness of the feeling against them will make the LTTE rethink. But they should be aware that, as UTHR pointed out, the people are not only tiring of continuous suffering, they are taking steps to find relief. Attempts to persuade the international community, as the LTTE terms their few interlocutors in the world at large, to bail them out will not succeed when there is ample evidence that the Tamils at large have begun to understand the need for democratic pluralism. Resistance to totalitarianism may be limited to begin with, but with elections and other opportunities presenting themselves, the civilians in the Wanni may soon make themselves free. In that case the efforts of Fr Karunaratnam to stop the scourge of child soldiers and forced conscription would not have been in vain.

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha,Secretary-General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process

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