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Archive for July 15th, 2008

Surf's up

Surfers around the world have discovered a new place to ride the waves, a tear-shaped island in the Indian Ocean called Sri Lanka.

Despite a civil war that has claimed 70,00 lives over 30 years, the island the size of West Virginia is especially popular with Israeli surfers, and the government is planning to install cameras along the best beaches so surfers can monitor the waves over the Internet.

All this is good news to Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke, who served as Sri Lanka’s envoy in Washington for the past three years and is retiring to his homeland after a 40-year diplomatic career. At 63, however, he is not planning to hit the surf, but he sees its potential for tourism.

The surfing phenomenon is a sign of hope for his troubled nation, Mr. Goonetilleke said in an interview at the Sri Lankan Embassy. The eastern region has some of the best waves, but it had been under the brutal control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) until the government recently drove the rebels out of that stronghold.

The Eastern Province held elections last month, and a former Tamil rebel is now the chief minister of the region.

“This could be the Hawaii of the Indian Ocean,” Mr. Goonetilleke predicted. “When that happens, people will be too busy making money to go back into the jungle and fight.”

The ambassador said his government knows that redevelopment in the east is the key to peace in the region. The rebels have retreated to a strip of territory in the northern part of the island, but will remain a threat until Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran agrees to negotiate seriously and end his quest for a separate homeland for the ethnic-minority Tamils.

Mr. Goonetilleke defended his government against charges from international human rights groups and noted that prosecutors have brought cases against hundreds of suspects accused of abusing civilians. The government has engaged in a half-dozen rounds of talks with the Tigers, who use negotiations to regroup or refocus their attacks, he said.

“We held talks in 1985, ’87, ’90, ’95, 2002 and 2006. Each time, the LTTE walked away from the table,” he said, adding that he was involved in the 2002 negotiations. “They have engaged in a 30-year destructive war and achieved nothing.”

As for himself, Mr. Goonetilleke thinks he has achieved some success in his tenure in the United States. The Bush administration added the Tamil Tigers to its terrorist list in 2003 and has closed many Tamil charities accused of raising money for the rebels. However, he has spent more time explaining to congressional critics, human rights groups and nonprofit organizations the dangers facing Sri Lanka.

“Most of my time has been spent explaining what is happening in my country to people who do not understand the real dynamics of the danger facing my country,” he said.

(Washington Times)

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Surf’s up

Surfers around the world have discovered a new place to ride the waves, a tear-shaped island in the Indian Ocean called Sri Lanka.

Despite a civil war that has claimed 70,00 lives over 30 years, the island the size of West Virginia is especially popular with Israeli surfers, and the government is planning to install cameras along the best beaches so surfers can monitor the waves over the Internet.

All this is good news to Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke, who served as Sri Lanka’s envoy in Washington for the past three years and is retiring to his homeland after a 40-year diplomatic career. At 63, however, he is not planning to hit the surf, but he sees its potential for tourism.

The surfing phenomenon is a sign of hope for his troubled nation, Mr. Goonetilleke said in an interview at the Sri Lankan Embassy. The eastern region has some of the best waves, but it had been under the brutal control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) until the government recently drove the rebels out of that stronghold.

The Eastern Province held elections last month, and a former Tamil rebel is now the chief minister of the region.

“This could be the Hawaii of the Indian Ocean,” Mr. Goonetilleke predicted. “When that happens, people will be too busy making money to go back into the jungle and fight.”

The ambassador said his government knows that redevelopment in the east is the key to peace in the region. The rebels have retreated to a strip of territory in the northern part of the island, but will remain a threat until Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran agrees to negotiate seriously and end his quest for a separate homeland for the ethnic-minority Tamils.

Mr. Goonetilleke defended his government against charges from international human rights groups and noted that prosecutors have brought cases against hundreds of suspects accused of abusing civilians. The government has engaged in a half-dozen rounds of talks with the Tigers, who use negotiations to regroup or refocus their attacks, he said.

“We held talks in 1985, ’87, ’90, ’95, 2002 and 2006. Each time, the LTTE walked away from the table,” he said, adding that he was involved in the 2002 negotiations. “They have engaged in a 30-year destructive war and achieved nothing.”

As for himself, Mr. Goonetilleke thinks he has achieved some success in his tenure in the United States. The Bush administration added the Tamil Tigers to its terrorist list in 2003 and has closed many Tamil charities accused of raising money for the rebels. However, he has spent more time explaining to congressional critics, human rights groups and nonprofit organizations the dangers facing Sri Lanka.

“Most of my time has been spent explaining what is happening in my country to people who do not understand the real dynamics of the danger facing my country,” he said.

(Washington Times)

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Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikkal (TMVP), the LTTE rebel group-turned-political party, has formally joined the All-Parties Representative Committee (APRC) constituted by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to find a solution to the ethnic conflict.

The TMVP was invited to join the APRC by its chairman Tissa Vitharana, after its impressive performance during the election, held in May, in the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC).

Minister Vitharana said the TMVP had nominated Batticaloa Mayor Sivageetha Prabhakaran to represent it at the APRC. The committee is expected to meet next week.

The APRC has not been convened for a while after the Jathika Hela Urumaya and Mahajana Eksath Peramuna suspended their participation pending the accommodation of the TMVP in the committee, said Mr. Vitharana.

The committee’s activities would be “accelerated as the committee now has representatives reflecting almost the entire spectrum” of political views in the country, he said.

Separately, the military has claimed 19 LTTE cadre were killed and 20 injured in clashes in Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar and Welioya.

The Defence Ministry said troops confronted the LTTE while “consolidating operations in the newly liberated areas” in Vavuniya.

Three soldiers were injured in the fighting.

(The Hindu)

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A renegade rebel leader has returned to eastern Sri Lanka after a four-year absence to publicly support the government’s efforts to restore orderly political administration in region, a party spokesman said.

Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, better known as Colonel Karuna, who returned to Sri Lanka two weeks ago from London after serving a jail term for using a forged passport to enter Britain, visited his former hometown of Batticaloa, 240 kilometres east of the capital, on Tuesday.

“I am meeting with the party supporters and the public to listen to their issues and find solutions to their problems,” Muralitharan, leader of the Tamil People’s Liberation Tigers (TMVP), said in a telephone interview. Earlier in the day he met with representatives of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), who brought up allegations that his group had conscripted children into the movement.

He said the ICRC submitted a list of children who have gone missing in recent months and in turn he had appointed one of his party members to look into the allegations, check the whereabouts of the children and report within two weeks.

The TMVP is one of the Tamil rebel groups which has been accused of conscripting children into their armed forces, which continue to operate despite the group entering the political mainstream and contesting two local elections.

Muralitharan was a senior fighter of the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and represented the group in the Norwegian peace talks before pulling out in April 2004.

His TMVP now holds political power in the eastern province, which has been brought under the full control of security forces that have driven the rebels out of the area. The government has been restoring civil administration in the eastern province after resettling most of some 250,000 displaced persons.

(Earth Times)

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Elite units kick in

Operating independently as the Commander’s Reserve, the elite units of the Sri Lanka Army have added fresh impetus to the fighting in the North as of late. On the 11th and 12th of this month (Friday and Saturday), The Sri Lanka Army’s Special Forces successfully ambushed an LTTE Tractor and Double-cab respectively in the general area west of Weli Oya.

The double-cab was part of an LTTE leader’s security detail, but the leader was missing during the attack. The tractor, however, was full of reinforcements and vital ordnance for LTTE units in the Nayaru sector.

Last Thursday and yesterday, three 4-man teams of elite Commandos (2CR) crept into areas south of Veduthalthivu and launched a daring, face to face combat operation killing over two dozen experienced LTTE cadres from the Charles Anthony and Imran Pandian Regiments.

The battle that lasted the better half of that day culminated with the induction by the LTTE of 200 of its own ‘elite’ units to which 2 Commando Regiment also responded by adding another three 4-man teams. Four Commandos laid down their lives in this operation.

Yesterday, an 8-man team of Commandos crept into an LTTE bunker-line east of Veduthalthivu and launched another devastating attack on Tigers. Commandos brought back 5 bodies of Tigers from the scene.

Commando operations in the Mannar sector is being conducted under the direct supervision of Brigadier Shavendra Silva who is the Brigade Commander of the Unit.

(Defence Wire)

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A special security plan will be launched to ensure protection of 3 VIPs whose lives are threatened by terrorist attacks as per intelligence information. These VIPs are due to arrive in Sri Lanka for the SAARC summit that is to be held later this month. The special security program will include defenses for terrorist attacks from air and land as well as monitoring suspicious activity using advanced surveillance equipment.

In addition to the security plan launched by Sri Lankan forces, the respective VIPs will also bring their own security personnel. For example the Indian prime minister will be accompanied by the National Security Guards (Aka Blackcats). In addition to ground troops, several helicopters of the Indian Air Force will also be part of the air defence system during the SAARC summit. At least 3 ships of the Indian Navy are also deployed in the seas off Sri Lanka during this time.

(Defence Net)

Meanwhile the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are facing increased pressure from the armed forces in Mannar front. One of their major sea tiger bases in Viduthalaithiv is now under siege by the army’s 58 division. In addition to the regular infantry units of the 58 division, several squads of the Commando regiment are also deployed in this area. It was only 5 days ago that 12 personnel from the Bravo Squad of 2nd commando regiment infiltrated the southern defence line of Viduthalaithiv and killed 27 LTTE cadres. More than 150 experienced cadres from LTTE’s battled hardened brigades were called in by LTTE’s Mannar commander Lakshman, to repel the Commando raid. Sgt A. Kumara and Corporal N. Wanasinghe who lead two of the three 4-man teams into battle were killed in action during the 6 hour firefight that ensued. The LTTE has further reinforced its defences around Viduthalaithiv after this incident.

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With the Sri Lankan army closing in on the Wanni, the headquarters of the Tamil Tigers in the north of the island, the embattled civilian population has been hit not only by scarcities but also by deep insecurity, according to humanitarian agencies remaining in the area.

The Wanni brings together the districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu (on the east coast) and parts of Vavuniya and Mannar (on the northwest coast).

In heavy offensives government troops have taken control of at least 80 percent of Mannar and Vavuniya, while the other two districts are still being held by the rebels. Last year, the Tigers lost much of the eastern district, including the harbor town of Trincomalee, to the Sri Lankan army.

Confident of winning his war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse told reporters in India on Sunday that he was now prepared to hold talks with the rebels, provided they disarm.

‘’I am ready today. Let them keep their weapons down because whenever they are weak they are ready for talks,’’ Rajapakse said in a statement reproduced in the Sri Lankan defence ministry’s website.

But, according to the LTTE, army offensives since mid-2006 are causing a grave humanitarian crisis, having displaced more than 100,000 people in the Wanni region. ‘’Many of the displaced are forced to live in the open space,” according to a statement posted on the website of the LTTE’s ‘peace secretariat.’

The LTTE has been fighting since the 1980s to carve out a separate homeland for the island nation’s Tamil minority, claiming discrimination at the hands of the Sinhalese majority.

In January, Rajapakse’s nationalist coalition government ended a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE brokered by Norway. After two rounds of peace talks held in Geneva and Oslo failed, the army launched a series of offensives into the Tamil-dominated north and east of the island.

According to humanitarian agencies, residents of the northern town of Kilinochchi, where the LTTE has its headquarters, are now using kerosene to run their motorcycles and a handful of cars. Many huddle inside homes at night as government planes bomb rebel targets at random in the town. Other are being prevented by the rebels from fleeing the area.

“We are seriously concerned about the situation of food, fuel and non-food items getting through. There are also dozens of people who have been displaced a multiple number of times,” a top U.N. humanitarian official who did not want to be named told IPS.

Other humanitarian workers say forced conscription of young people, closure of schools and outsiders visiting the Wanni being forcibly detained by the Tigers are other issues. “But the biggest humanitarian problem more than food is the insecurity and uncertainty,” one worker said.

The situation in the Wanni worsened earlier this month when the ‘A-9’ road giving access to the region was closed after the International Red Cross (ICRC) which runs the two access points — with the joint sanction of the government and the rebels — pulled out after government planes allegedly bombed a ‘location’ near the ICRC barriers.

On Jul. 7, the ICRC returned and reopened the road following assurances from both warring factions that ‘no-war’ zone would be respected. The closure of the road severely hit supplies in an area that is home to about 500,000 people.

S.B. Divaratne, Commissioner-General of Essential Services (CGES), who is responsible for coordinating supplies of essentials to the war-affected areas, told IPS that all food needs have been approved based on needs sent by senior government officials in the region. “In the past month there may have been shortages due to some transportation problems but now the trucks are moving.”

But a government official in Kilinochchi, who declined to be named, said over telephone that the shortages of food and fuel stocks were causing distress to the displaced people. He said claymore mines planted by unknown persons in the area had increased the risks. “Our officers are reluctant to go to certain areas due to this problem,” he said, citing the case where a regional government officer was killed after his motorcycle hit a mine on Jun. 29.

The rebels have accused the Sri Lankan army of triggering blasts within their territories using its Special Penetration Units. The military has acknowledged the existence of this special, guerrilla-type unit but says their targets are all rebel related rather than the civilian population or government workers.

A regular update provided by a coordinated group of U.N., local and international non-governmental organisations working in the Wanni and other war-affected areas shows that as of Jul. 3, some 170,736 people have been displaced since January 2006 from the three Wanni districts.

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) country team said the security situation in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts remains tense and unpredictable with ‘’air raids becoming increasingly common throughout the region’’ and the ability to address humanitarian needs resulting from the intensified conflict ‘’seriously impaired by the limited material and stocks” in its report.

The report said stocks are low in the food, shelter and health sectors, while of further concern is the inability of agencies to reach vulnerable populations due to limited ‘fuel quotas.’ It said the movements and daily operations for the U.N. and NGO partners are impacted by the limited fuel supplies allowed into the Wanni. Other NGO sources said that even if the CGES approves requests by U.N. agencies and NGOs for food and fuel stocks, the quantities could get reduced based on ground-level decisions by military field commanders.

A senior U.N. humanitarian worker agrees that this is a problem. “There are different levels of clearance through the line ministries and the military and anything can change at some point,” she said. On Jul. 2, the CGES approved a total of 24,800 lt of diesel and 1,030 lt of petrol for a period of one month for eight U.N. agencies working in the Wanni, but this amount is totally inadequate.

“For the residents particularly in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, it’s a no win situation. They don’t know what to do while their movements are also restricted by the rebels and presence of (army-laid) claymore mines,” a journalist based in the area told IPS.

The journalist, who did not want to be identified because of strict reporting rules in the area, said residents finish off all work by 6 pm as there is no power and kerosene is restricted to light lamps. Students are unable to study at night and are more concerned about when the next air attack would come.

“We try to work with government agencies to ease the sufferings of the people. Some officials are extremely helpful and understanding but often the final decision on supplies are sometimes beyond their control,” the U.N. worker said.

(IPS)

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