The Web Sri Lanka In Focus

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Sri Lanka Tigers say resisting military onslaught

Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels said Thursday they were resisting a major military thrust into their territory and said they had killed at least 25 government troops in two days of fighting.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said they pushed back security forces from the Catholic pilgrim area of Madhu in the coastal district of Mannar, where heavy fighting has raged in recent weeks.

“The Sri Lanka army adamantly initiated several clashes within 1,500 metres of the church premises,” a statement said. “The LTTE defenders successfully repelled the Sri Lanka army offenders.”

The separatists added that more than 90 soldiers had been wounded, placing their own losses at one killed and three hurt over the two days.

The LTTE statement came as the military said they killed 75 rebels for the loss of three soldiers in Mannar, Vavuniya and Weli Oya on Wednesday and Tuesday.

The latest defence ministry casualty claims bring to at least 2,595 the number of rebels said to have been killed by security forces since January.

The ministry has reported losing 154 soldiers in the same period.

The figures given by both sides in the decades-old ethnic conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives cannot be independently confirmed as journalists and rights groups are barred from front-line areas.


India requested to allow rice exports to Sri Lanka

Hit by soaring prices of rice, the Sri Lanka government has requested New Delhi to exempt the island nation from its recent curbs, including hike in rice export duties. “President Mahinda Rajapaksa is directly speaking to the governments of India, Pakistan and Burma, with the aim of importing rice from these countries. We hope there would be a positive outcome,” Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Bandula Gunawardena told IANS Thursday.

He said that immediate import of rice from these countries would help ensure availability of rice at a reasonable rate in the local market, especially on the eve of the Sinhala-Tamil New Year.

Sri Lanka has always looked to India whenever it faced a rice crisis in the local market, but it has been badly hit with the Indian government banning the exports of non-basmati rice.

A top Indian diplomatic official confirmed the request made by Colombo and said it has been passed on to New Delhi for consideration.

Gunawardena said that Myanmar has agreed to sell 100,000 metric tonnes of white rice to Sri Lanka.

“I am leading a delegation to Burma on Friday to finalise this deal,” Gunawardena said, adding that the Pakistani government has also agreed in principle to export 50,000 metric tonnes of rice to Sri Lanka.

“With these two countries conceding our request, we hope that neighbouring India would also consider our request positively,” he said.

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Ministry sources said there was an artificial shortage of rice in the local market due to hoarding and the unfavourable weather that has hindered the milling of rice.


LTTE accuses Army of initiating clashes

Denying that it has deployed arms around the historic Madhu Church in north-western Mannar, the LTTE has accused the Sri Lankan Army of initiating clashes within the premises of the famous Christian place of worship.

The Sri Lankan Army (SLA), it alleged, "makes false accusations" by reporting that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has deployed its guns near the 400-year-old church.

"The LTTE Operational HQ, Mannar, denies that baseless allegations and points out that LTTE has guns of enough ability to fire from quite some distance and better places to position them," the LTTE said in a statement last night.

The rebel outfit claimed it had never violated the rules of the church and "anyone with simple military knowledge would see the tactlessness of deploying guns in a public place".

The Sri Lankan military has alleged that the LTTE fired mortar bombs inside the church premises on Tuesday.

The Bishop of Mannar, Rev Rayappu Joseph, meanwhile said he had "successfully" appealed to the LTTE not to deploy arms around the Mannar church, media reports said.

He prayed for calm and peace during a function in Mannar, where Christians took out a march earlier this week to urge protection for the shrine.

The LTTE statement claimed that its forces had successfully repelled "the Sri Lankan Army advances and had found warlike materials including RPG launchers left behind by the Sri Lankan security forces".

Sources: Hindu

Nominations closed for eastern Sri Lanka elections

The nominations to contest Sri Lanka's Eastern Provincial Council election was closed on Thursday with the voting to take place on May 10, elections officials said.

Nominations were accepted from registered political parties and independent groups to contest local councils at the three different districts in the province.

Parties and groups handed in their nominations at the Election Department offices in the Batticaloa, Ampara and Trincomalee districts and the handing over period passed without any incident, defense officials said.

Some 12 political parties had handed over nominations for the Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts while 11 political parties had handed over for the Ampara district, officials said.

They said 15, 19 and 22 independent groups respectively are vying in the three districts.

Over 980,000 voters are eligible to vote, officials said.

Several applications from both political parties and independent groups were rejected in the three districts.

The Eastern Provincial Council election on May 10 will be the first such since November 1988.

The east was then part of the north and east provincial council until the two provinces came to be de-merged in late 2006 through a court order.

The two provinces came to be merged as a result of the India-Sri Lanka Peace Accord of July 1987.

Source: Xinhua

Fighting in Sri Lanka kills 32 Tamil rebels, 9 soldiers, military says

Battles, roadside bombings and mortar attacks across Sri Lanka's turbulent north killed 32 Tamil Tiger rebels and nine government soldiers, the military said Thursday.

The newly reported fighting Wednesday took place along the front lines separating government-controlled territory with the rebels' de facto state in the north, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.

The casualties brought the death toll from fighting Wednesday to 45 rebels and 10 soldiers, he said. All the soldiers were killed in roadside bombings and mortar attacks, he said.

In the worst clash, 18 rebels and seven soldiers were killed in the Mannar region, he said.

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan did not answer calls seeking comment.

It was not possible to independently verify the military's claims because journalists are banned from the war zone. Both the government and rebels often exaggerate the other side's casualties and underreport their own.

Fighting had fallen off over the past week because of heavy rain, but appears to have escalated again in recent days.

Nanayakkara said the rebels were fiercely trying to recapture land the military had seized.

"They keep on attacking those locations ... and we repulse them," he said.

The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 for an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have been marginalized for decades by successive governments run by ethnic Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.

Source: IHT