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Archive for August 11th, 2008

The Sri Lanka Army, finally set foot in the district of Kilinochchi last evening as part of a fully mobilized operational army after over a decade. Although Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) teams have gone well beyond Kilinochchi, a massive mobilization of troops such as this has never entered Kilinochchi in over a decade.

The 58 Division, facing stiff resistance from Tigers at Vellankulam, effectively surrounded the village to cut off the enemy from three directions, in preparation for further operations to come. It was during this course of action that they entered Kilinochchi District by crossing the Vellankulam-Tunukkai road to the east of Vellankulam.

Tigers, taken by surprise at Illuppakadavai, have dug large trenches around Vellankulam in advance to prevent faster mobilization of armour. 58 troops, spearheaded by specially trained bunker-buster teams from 2 Commando, will take the upper-hand soon as the Tigers are unable to resist the Army’s small group, armour, artillery and MI-24 attacks launched day and night, field commanders said.

If the LTTE loses Vellankulam, it will expose the grounds of tactical importance (GTI) of Tunukai, Mallavi and Mankulam, thus exposing the A-9 and eventually Kilinochchi. If they lose Vellankulam, the last bastion remaining for the LTTE in the west coast would be Nachchikuda in Pooneryn.

Moving further north to Nachchikuda is not an option for the Tigers as the 53 and 55 could get mobilized at any time. In other words, the loss of Vellankulam, Tunukai, Mantai and Mankulam in that order would expose Kilinochchi and subsequently Pooneryn, thus reducing the Tigers to mere insurgents within a matter of few months unless Prabhakaran comes up with a series of daring attacks, which is unlikely at this point.

(Defence Wire)

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The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are facing increased pressure from the army as Wanni is now surrounded by 6 SLA divisions. Of these 57, 58, 59 and 61 divisions have seen the bulk of the action and have made much progress in the past several months. Although not given much publicity, small squads from the 53 and 55 divisions of the army have been launching attacks on LTTE defenses in Muhamalai, Kilali and Nagarkovil on a daily basis, in an attempt to prevent the LTTE from launching a massive attack on Jaffna peninsula.

On yesterday (10th) dawn, units from the army’s 53 division stormed the LTTE FDL in Kiali, killing at least 15 LTTE cadres and overrunning several bunkers in the process. SLA units returned to their original position after razing the captured bunkers to the ground. Military Intelligence has warned of a possible LTTE thrust upwards as the pressure on LTTE strongholds such as Mullaithiv and Kilinochchi is increased. LTTE has a 1000 strong troop concentration in Mahamalai/Nagarkovil/Kilali axis, majority of them being experienced and battled hardened cadres.

(Defence Net)

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Accusing international non-government organisations (INGOs) of disseminating ‘wrong’ information to media on the civil war with Tamil rebels and rights issues, the government has moved to tighten the visa regime for foreign workers in this country.

“The government wants to control the number of people going into sensitive (conflict) areas due to negative stories appearing in the media overseas,” said a foreign humanitarian worker who declined to be named. “We are careful not to criticise the government. There is a kind of subtle censorship. We are careful what we say or visas could get cancelled,” she said.

President Mahinda Rajapakse’s nationalist government has always frowned on the activities of INGOs, particularly those promoting peace or involved in humanitarian work in war-torn areas where rebels control territory.

Since the December 2004 tsunami, which laid waste to a large part of this island country’s coastline, there has been a proliferation of INGOs promising to bring relief to the survivors. Efforts to bring order to these humanitarian agencies have been complicated by intensified fighting between government troops and Tamil rebels over the last two years.

Both United Nations agencies and NGOs have raised the issue of civilian casualties from the war coming on top of tsunami resettlement issues, especially in the Tamil-dominated north adn east, annoying the government.

In a report released in June, the United Nations Economic and Social Council said that the war was seriously hampering tsunami reconstruction work. “The most significant challenge to the recovery process in Sri Lanka is ongoing civil conflict. Escalating violence over the past few years has set back reconstruction efforts in the north and east of the country, though it continues largely apace in the south,” stated the report.

The ministry of internal administration, responsible for registration and control of NGOs, justifies the ‘streamlining’ of procedures relating to the grant of visas to expatriates working with NGOs, saying that a large influx of expatriates for ‘reconstruction and rehabilitation work’ has made the issue of visas complicated.

Gomin Dayasiri, a prominent lawyer, told IPS in an interview that the restrictions on foreign workers are essentially because of a few NGOs. “The new rules on NGO personnel are the consequence of a cause-and-effect syndrome created by a stupid few in the NGO mainstream which has unfortunately discredited the silent and substantial contribution made by many in the NGO community in our society.’’

Dayasiri, who insists he is not anti-NGO or a nationalist as perceived to be, says a ‘visible and vocal’ few tend to equate the terrorists with freedom fighters and those who fight terrorism as vultures of human rights.

“With the war going against the terrorists now, they (some NGOs) are even worse than terrorists. At least the terrorists fought for a cause they believed in for which they were prepared to sacrifice their lives. The NGO vocalists sang for their supper for which they were rewarded and now the entire NGO community has to suffer being regulated. The bottom line is that the nationalists have now set rules for the internationalists for being unbalanced and getting their equation bizarre,” he said.

Recently, Dayasiri appeared for the Sri Lanka army in a court case to defend it against accusations that it was responsible for the massacre of 17 local aid workers attached to an INGO. On Aug. 6, 2007, 17 workers, including four women, were found shot dead in the office of Paris-based humanitarian group, Action Contre la Faim (ACF), in the eastern town of Muttur, soon after the army had captured the town from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

While the government said the LTTE was responsible for the massacre, the rebels and human rights activists have been pointing fingers at the army.

The issue came into the international spotlight with several western governments backing the ACF’s call for an independent investigation. In June this year, ACF pulled out of a presidential probe into the killings, saying it was disappointed with the way legal proceedings were going and “the blatant lack of will of the Sri Lankan government to establish the truth.”

“ACF sees the launching of an international inquiry as the only reliable means for identifying the perpetrators,’’ ACF executive director Francois Danel said.

Earlier to that on Mar. 31 the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), headed by former Indian chief justice P. N. Bhagwati, withdrew from its watchdog role. It charged the presidential probe with failing to investigate 16 high-profile incidents of rights violations in 2006 and 2007 and falling short of international norms and standards. The IIGEP had experts from 11 countries: India, France, Indonesia, the U.S., the Netherlands, Bangladesh, Canada, Cyprus, Britain, Australia and Japan.

The new rules governing NGOs will not apply to U.N. agencies and accredited foreign organisations that work with the government. Sri Lankan authorities, in addition to tightening rules for expatriate workers, also want to reduce the number of expatriates hired by NGOs.

The maximum period of visa for an expatriate worker is three years as against earlier when the period could be extended. The rules permit the head and deputy to be expatriate appointments, but organisations have been told they must advertise all other positions locally and only if unavailable, would an expatriate be permitted to fill these positions. “The concept here is that NGOs should recruit locally as far as possible and should only find expertise for the posts which cannot be filled locally due to unavailability of suitable candidates,” the regulation says.

Expatriate workers must be cleared by the defence ministry; their dependants or family members cannot work; and their visa is invalid once they quit the job before the work contract ends. There have been many cases, in the past, of expatriate workers changing jobs and remaining in the country for periods of up to eight to 10 years.

The head of a peace-promoting INGO says many of these restrictions have been in place over the past year but on an ad hoc basis. “In that sense this is welcome because it brings these together and streamlines them into a formal process,” he said, adding that the situation during the tsunami was ‘very unruly’ and complex for local authorities.

“There were many problems caused by foreign NGO workers and I believe the concern of government over the large number of expatriate workers, to some extent, is justified,” he said. In some cases the number of foreign workers per INGO jumped to 50 from just four after the tsunami. However, he said, the challenge for NGOs is not in the rules but whether officials would make it more difficult for expatriates to operate with all this bureaucracy and procedures. The process of appeals of rejection of visa applications has also not been clearly laid out, he said

U.N. workers are permitted to stay on four-year visas which may be extended in exceptional cases. But a senior U.N. worker said the rules would affect dozens of foreign volunteers who work for U.N. Volunteers (UNV). She said the government was also making if difficult for expatriates to work in war-devastated areas, particularly sections of the northern Wanni region which are controlled by the rebels. “There is too much paper-work, time and energy involved in bringing down expatriates and then more rules to get them into conflict areas,” she added.

The proposed new law governing NGOs is the culmination of an exercise last year by a parliamentary committee that has been probing NGOs and their activities. Included in its probe were details from NGOs of journalists, politicians, government and private sector officers who have directly or indirectly benefited through NGOs.

Last year NGOs operating in conflict areas were accused in the media of funding Tamil rebels. Among these groups were Save the Children, Britain, World Food Programme (WFP) and the Swiss-based ZOA. They have all vigorously denied the allegations and said humanitarian aid was meant for affected people.

In some cases, the parliamentary committee cancelled or did not extend the visas of 40 foreign workers for security reasons — implying suspicion of links with the Tigers.

There are more than 1,000 registered NGOs in Sri Lanka, with at least ten percent of that number being INGOs.

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