The Web Sri Lanka In Focus

Thursday, 14 February 2008

25 rebels killed in Sri Lanka clashes

Fighting between government troops and Tamil rebels continued Thursday in northern Sri Lanka, with at least 25 insurgents killed, military officials said.

Ten of the rebels were killed in two separate engagements in Mannar, some 320 km north of the capital Wednesday, when troops repulsed two rebel attacks in the area, while two government soldiers were wounded, officials said.

Eight more rebels were killed in Vavuniya, 240 km north of the capital, in two confrontations Wednesday. Two anti-tank mines were recovered in the area.

Seven more rebels were reported killed in Welioya, 320 km northeast of the capital Wednesday.

Fighting between government troops and rebels has intensified over the past few weeks as security forces have launched operations from several fronts to recapture parts of the north, currently held by the rebels.

The military and the government have vowed to crush the rebels within a year and recapture the rebel held areas.

The government has also been forced to intensify security in the capital and northern province, as rebels have carried out attacks on civilian targets, including three buses and a railway station, killing more than 80 civilians since January.

The military has been claiming that the rebels have been suffering heavy casualties in the north, but there has been no independent confirmation of the figures given by the military. No civilians have access to these areas of fighting


Sri Lanka court flays indiscriminate arrest of Tamils

Sri Lanka's Supreme Court has rapped the police for indiscriminately arresting Tamils in drives meant to nab Tamil Tiger suspects or their collaborators.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Sarath Silva Wednesday asked the police to formulate rules on detention, arrest and investigation of Tamils who might be suspected of being agents of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The LTTE has been waging an armed struggle to secure an independent Tamil state of Eelam in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

The Supreme Court said the rules for detention should be submitted to it March 4.

The order came on a fundamental rights petition filed by the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), a political party cum trade union representing Tamils of Indian origin in Sri Lanka.

Many Tamils arrested, detained or summoned to police stations in Sri Lanka during the now frequent anti-terrorist drives are Tamils of Indian origin who come from the tea and rubber plantations of central and south Sri Lanka and who have nothing to do with the Tamils in the war-torn northeast of the island.

On Jan 7, the Supreme Court had said it was a violation of the constitution to search houses without reasonable grounds. The court had come down particularly heavily on searches at night.

Counsel for the CWC M.A. Sumanthiran said in his submission that the police had gone to the extent of asking the Tamils of Modera, in north Colombo, to submit details of their bank accounts.

Tamils living in Maradana in central Colombo, who were waiting for their visas to go abroad for work, had been arrested. Subsequent to a bomb blast in Nugegoda, a suburb of Colombo, Nov 28 last year, Tamils living in lodges were picked up and sent to a maximum-security prison in Boosa in the island's south.

Eighty-two Tamils thus taken were still languishing in Boosa, he said. And more recently, 198 Tamils were arrested in Colombo.

Meanwhile, the media watchdog Free Media Movement (FMM) protested against the detention of the Associated Press photographer Gemunu Amarasinghe Feb 12 for taking pictures of a school for a story on the LTTE's threat to school children.

Parents standing in front of the Isipathana Mahavidyalaya (high school) near Tamil minister Douglas Devananda's office apprehended Amarasinghe on suspicion and handed him over the police, who detained him for two hours. Minister Devananda faces threats from the LTTE assassination squad.

On the same day, eight scribes were detained while covering an unruly protest at Galle.

The FMM pointed out that TV journalist Aravinda Sri Nissanka was arrested Jan 23 for taking shots of pedestrians crossing the road ignoring traffic signals.

Jaffna, in north Sri Lanka, has become one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, according to media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF).

"A wave of murders, kidnappings, threats and censorship has made it (Jaffna) one of the most dangerous places in the world for the press," RSF said Wednesday. Two Jaffna scribes were killed in 2007, it said.

According to statistics available with the UN, Sri Lanka has reported the largest number of disappearances.

Among the disappeared in 2007 were two journalists, Subramaniam Ramachandran of Thinakkural daily and Vadivel Nimalarajan of Uthayan daily, RSF said.

The Tigers also put tremendous pressure on journalists to toe their line, RSF noted. "The pressure might be less visible but at the same time every bit as effective," it said. The LTTE also "summons" Tamil journalists if it has to say something to them.


LTTE’s “Radha” Military Base Bombed

SRI LANKA AIR FORCE fighter craft in another surprise aerial attack on one of the major LTTE military bases in PURAVILKULAM, northeast of VISHWAMADUKULAM, MULLAITHIVU this morning (14) at about 10.30 a.m. destroyed the LTTE’s “Radha” Military Base completely, pilots confirmed.

The air sortie conducted on receipt of precise intelligence and information came in the wake of a series of setbacks being meted out to terrorists in WANNI and MANNAR sectors. Air Force pilots confirmed the destruction of this major military base as a result of the aerial attacks.

Source: SL ARMY

Lankan Navy Chief seeks cooperation to check LTTE

By Praful Kumar Singh

New Delhi, Feb 14 (ANI): Sri Lankas Navy Chief, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, feels that cooperation among Indian Ocean Region states is vital to check the threat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
“The (LTTE) is a huge threat to the island nation and if it is not stopped now it can be threat to other countries as well,” Vice Admiral Karannagoda said.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) seminar here, he said that the cooperation between the navies of India and Sri Lanka is important for countering the LTTE.
He said that cooperation with India has been “extremely successful in countering the LTTE”.
Commenting on the IONS seminar, Vice Admiral Karannagoda said the initiative is important to meet the security challenges of different nations in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and strengthen the maritime security.
He said that to check activities like terrorism, smuggling, piracy, and human trafficking, Sri Lanka is monitoring its area while India is monitoring its own side.
Earlier, the Colombo Post quoted Vice Admiral Karannagoda as saying that “every year, the Indian Coast Guard and the Sri Lankan Navy hold four bilateral discussions. We are conducting coordinated patrols with the Indian navy as well.”
He claimed that the Sri Lankan Navy had destroyed over 10,000 tonnes of material belonging to the LTTE, which could be used for war.
Vice Admiral Karannagoda said the Sri Lankan Navy had destroyed almost all the vessels of the LTTE, which could have helped it sustain the conflict.
The Post quoted Sri Lanka Defence Spokesman Keheliya Rambukkwella as saying that the Lankan Navy chief during his visit will raise the issue of the recent clashes involving Indian fishing boats and Sri Lankan ships.
It was reported that “on February 5 a flotilla of 400 Indian fishing boats in the Sri Lankan territorial waters fired on a Sri Lankan Navy vessel in the seas off Thalaimannar.”
“Navy Chief Karannagoda would raise the issue, among other things, with Indian officials,” Rambukkwella said.


India’s assurance to Sri Lanka on economic support

B. Muralidhar Reddy

COLOMBO: Union Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh called on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa here on Thursday and reiterated India’s commitment to provide economic foundation to the 13th Amendment to the island nation’s Constitution for devolution of powers.

In the course of a courtesy call on Mr. Rajapaksa, the Minister said India would strengthen the economic muscle through investments in key areas. Mr. Ramesh told the President and Prime Minister Ratnisiri Wickremenayake, whom he met earlier, that economic development and integration was a major antidote to terrorism and it would help resolve the ethnic conflict to the satisfaction of all communities. Mr. Wickremenayake told the Minister that his government was going ahead with the implementation of the Amendment in the east and provincial elections were likely to be completed by May. He also said the government would soon appoint an interim provincial council as a preliminary step towards holding of elections.

Mr. Wickremanayake told the Minister that he had extended an invitation to all the heads of the SAARC for the proposed summit in August in Kandy. Mr. Ramesh sought Colombo’s help in expeditious conclusion of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. He told them that New Delhi would encourage Sri Lankan companies to invest in India to boost exports and bridge the trade deficit.

Separately, the military said at least 27 LTTE cadre and eight soldiers were killed along the Forward Defence Lines.

Source: The Hindu

Cathay Pacific to resume Flights to Colombo

Cathay Pacific is to resume its passenger services to and from Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka, with effect from 30 March 2008. The airline will operate a daily service using a Boeing 777-300 aircraft routed through either Bangkok or Singapore.

Three flights a week, operating as CX703, will go via Bangkok every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, departing Hong Kong at 18.35 and arriving in Colombo at 00.15 the next day. The return CX700 service departs Sri Lanka at 01.45, arriving in Hong Kong at 12.10.

On all other days of the week the flight will be routed through Singapore. CX711 departs Hong Kong at 16.15 and arrives in Sri Lanka at 22.45, while the return CX710 service departs Colombo at 00.15 on the following day and lands in Hong Kong at 12.15.

Cathay Pacific Director Corporate Development Augustus Tang said, “We are very pleased to be able to resume services to and from Colombo. Sri Lanka is an important market for both passengers and cargo and getting the destination back into our network will certainly be beneficial for the Hong Kong hub.”

Cathay Pacific suspended its operations to Colombo in April 2007 due to security concerns.


Sri Lanka accuses international rights groups of bias towards LTTE

Sri Lankan government yesterday accused international rights groups of bias towards the LTTE as the groups remained silent on the killing of students by the Tamil Tigers.

“These groups who are very quick to blame the government have remained silent on the LTTE's killing of students,” government defence spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said.

He also said that some 14 school children had been killed as a result of recent bomb explosions by the LTTE rebels and also an LTTE female suicide bomber killed 14 civilians including six students at the Fort railway station on Feb 3.

“Some international rights organizations are biased against the government by not blaming the LTTE of killings. They are out to discredit the sovereign government of Sri Lanka,” he said.

Source: Colombopage

Sri Lanka says kills 50 rebels in northern clashes

Sri Lankan troops have killed at least 50 Tamil Tiger rebels in fighting in the island's north, the military said on Thursday.

Fighting between the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has intensified since the government scrapped a 6-year-old ceasefire pact last month. The government says the rebels had used the truce to re-arm.

Sri Lankan forces are trying to drive the rebels from their northern stronghold and bring an end to a 25-year civil war, but analysts say neither side is winning and predict the fighting will grind on.

On Wednesday, troops killed 50 rebel fighters in a series of clashes in the northern districts of Vavuniya and Polonaruwa and the northwestern district of Mannar, the military said.

The military had earlier said a rebel mine blast in Vavuniya on Wednesday killed two soldiers and wounded six, while six more soldiers were wounded in fighting elsewhere.

"The pressure we are applying will be continued," said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara. "Our operations against them will continue to impose maximum casualties to LTTE and regain LTTE-held areas."

The rebels were not available for comment and analysts say both sides tend to inflate enemy casualty figures in the absence of independent accounts of the fighting.

Buoyed by battlefield victories in the east, where it has captured swathes of rebel-held terrain, the government is now seeking to overrun the separatist Tigers' northern stronghold and has vowed to defeat them militarily.

But the Tigers continue to mount deadly suicide attacks and roadside bombings, which are increasingly scattered with some in the capital Colombo.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was deeply concerned about the growing number of civilian casualties as the state and the rebels embark on a new chapter of a civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people since 1983.

The ICRC said 180 civilians were reported killed and almost 270 wounded so far this year in bombings on buses, train stations and in the streets. The Sri Lankan government has blamed most of the attacks on the rebels.


Germany wants sanctions if Sri Lanka continues war

Unless Sri Lanka’s hardline government abandons its militarist path, the EU should impose sanctions, Germany said this week, adding that an EU-Troika will travel to Sri Lanka in early March to assess the situation. In an interview with the Tages Speigel newspaper published on February 9, German Economic Cooperation and Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul also said Germany had frozen new development cooperation projects with Sri Lanka and, because of the deteriorating security situation, was withdrawing half their development personnel from the island as well as closing the German Development Bank in Sri Lanka.

The English translation of extracts of the Tages Speigel interview with Minister Wieczorek-Zeul published in The Morning Leader newspaper Wednesday follow:

Q: In January the Government of Sri Lanka has withdrawn from the Ceasefire Agreement. What can Europe and the world do?

A: The international community must influence both parties to the conflict to seek a political solution and withdraw from the war which brings only suffering to the people. In the beginning of March an EU-Troika will travel to Sri Lanka. If the Sri Lankan government continues to insist on a military option, I will demand that the EU should withdraw the General System of Preference (GSP) offered to Sri Lanka. This concession enables Sri Lanka to export its goods and products to the EU at reduced or exempted tax and duty levies. This step will really bring economic pressure on the GoSL. For Sri Lanka a preference system plus is in place until the end of 2008 which, however, requires good governance.

If the EU continues to accept the present situation the plus is meaningless. The biggest portion of Sri Lanka's exports consists of textile exports. Only garment product exports to the EU markets are valued at US$ 1-2 billion annually. The other part is exported to the United States. It is also important to consult with the US which has also taken up a very critical position towards Sri Lanka in the past weeks.

Q: And development cooperation?

A: For the past two years we have not concluded any new agreements on cooperation as projects cannot be implemented due to the security situation. We are only engaged in completing what we have started earlier. We could make new agreements over _38 million, but we shall not do so at this point.

Q: How should the United Nations act?

A: It would be encouraging if the UN Security Council takes up this issue. However, it seems that it is difficult at the moment for the UN Security Council to act. However, what the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon can do without a formal decision of the Security Council is to send a special envoy to Sri Lanka.

After the departure of the Norwegian monitors who were in place since the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002 there is nobody to document human rights violations. The war is now again in full swing.

Q: Why has Sri Lanka failed to achieve peace after the tsunami of 2004 as it has happened in the Aceh Province of Indonesia?

A: After the tsunami I had greater hopes of Sri Lanka achieving peace than in Indonesia. There were so many initiatives from people from around the world. But it turned out to be different. The reconstruction in Aceh is successful and there is a responsible government set up even in the province of Aceh.

In the north and the east of Sri Lanka where many Tamils live we practically cannot further undertake development projects. I presume both parties to the conflict believe they can solve the conflict which continues from 1983 by military means. However, this is unrealistic. It will result only in more deaths numbering thousands.

Since 1983 more than 75,000 lives have been lost in the fighting between the government and the LTTE. The LTTE considers itself as a freedom movement but the EU banned the LTTE as a terrorist organisation almost two years ago. It is such a beautiful country and its people are very motivated. I feel a genuine responsibility for the people of this country. If the violence increases the international community has a responsibility to act.

Q: Should tourists travel to Sri Lanka?

A: It is up to the Federal Foreign Office of Germany to issue travel recommendations. However, we are withdrawing half of the personnel working in development cooperation and we will close the office of the German Development Bank (Kreditanstalt fuer Wiederaufbau), because the security situation is very critical.

Source: LiveLeak

Sri Lanka to take up sea attack issue with India

Colombo, Feb 13 (Xinhua) The chief of the Sri Lankan Navy is to take up the issue of an attack against a Sri Lankan naval ship from a flotilla of Indian fishing boats, a government spokesman here said Wednesday.

Commander Wasantha Karannagoda, who is currently on an official visit to India, would raise the issue, among other things, with Indian officials, spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters.

The Sri Lankan Navy said Feb 5 that up to six sailors had gone missing after a naval boat was fired upon from a flotilla of 400 Indian fishing boats, which were poaching off the seas off Talaimannar in the north.

The Navy said it had lodged a protest with the Indian embassy in Colombo, calling for a thorough investigation into the incident.

"We have evidence in the form of one survivor who maintains that fire emerged from Indian fishing boats," Navy spokesman Commander D. P. K. Dassanayake said.

The Sri Lankan Navy maintains close monitoring of its northern seas with India. The Navy's sea patrol troops have often been accused of firing at Indian fishing boats.


180 civilians killed over last six weeks in Sri Lanka: ICRC

More than 180 civilians were killed in bomb blasts over the last six weeks in Sri Lanka, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Wednesday.

"In the first six weeks of 2008, more than 180 civilians were reported killed and almost 270 injured in a series of attacks on civilian buses, railway stations and individuals in Colombo, Dambulla, Kebetigollawa, Madu, Okkampitiya and Weli Oya," ICRC said in a statement in Colombo.

"The number of civilians affected by violence throughout Sri Lanka, either by being directly targeted or as by-standers, has reached appalling levels," the ICRC said.

"Many of the victims have been children on their way to or from school," the ICRC added.