Friday, April 28, 2006

The Word from Sri Lanka

Latest news from the Sri Lanka based unit of the international peace activist organization Nonviolent Peaceforce:


April 25, 2006

While this report is being prepared, LTTE-controlled sea side areas
close to our office in Mutur in the East are being targeted in a
coordinated action by the Sri Lankan Navy and Airforce. The bombs and
shelling by a naval craft and fighter jets, which can be felt and heard
by the team members from their position in the office, are part of a
retaliation for the suicide bomb attack on General Fonseka, Chief
Commander of the Sri Lanka Armed Forces, at the army headquarters in
Colombo earlier today. Meanwhile, the Airforce has assured us that the Mutur
town and our team are safe. The town has lost electricity and reports of
casualties from the area targeted are coming in slowly but the exact
numbers will not be known until the enforced curfew expires.

It appears the suicide bomb was set-off by a young female, who pretended
to be pregnant while visiting the army hospital. Early reports inform us
that she threw herself on top of the army vehicle with the General,
killing his five body guards and three civilians. Twenty-seven people
were injured. The General sustained injuries but miraculously survived.
This evening the President of Sri Lanka has appeared on national
television and asked the people to remain calm. For the moment, Colombo
is under curfew until dawn while the army is conducting house searches
in certain areas.

At the moment, it is difficult to predict what will happen next but the
incident definitely has decreased further chances of the talks, which
are meant to enforce the current Cease Fire Agreement, in Geneva taking
place any time soon. Last week, the LTTE temporarily pulled out of the
talks, claiming that a level of normality in the East will need to
emerge first.

In recent weeks there have been almost daily attacks on the security
forces in the East and North. Some of these have also killed and injured
civilians, including two NGO workers killed by a claymore mine attack
while passing an army convoy. There have also been shootings, killing
and retaliation on civilians for the mine attacks blamed on the LTTE,
mob killings, burning of houses and shops, gun fights between partners
and displacement of communities.

The worst violence has been seen in the Trincomalee district. The
violence included a terrible bomb set off in the busy market on April
12th killing at least five persons, including one child. Within minutes,
a Sinhala mob came and targeted revenge at mostly Tamil shops, homes and
civilians, leaving at least 19 more civilians dead and over 30 shops
burned. The ethnic violence continued in other areas where Sinhalese and
Tamil communities border. Thousands of villagers from the areas have
moved to public places of worship or schools for safety.

In the context of this tension, after witnessing the aftermath of the
bombing of the market and assisting several of the injured people to a
hospital, our Trinco Team was attacked by an angry crowd of Sinhala
youth while returning to the office. The crowd surrounded the NP vehicle
which was marked with the NPSL sign and flag. Members of the crowd
slapped and punched the driver, FTM Charles Oloo Otieno, who was trying
to turn the vehicle and move away from the hostile scene. Parts of the
truck were ripped from the side. The team was also threatened with a
hand grenade. Before they could leave from the area heavy stones were
thrown at the vehicle, smashing the side and back windows. Luckily the
team was not seriously physically injured. However, the whole event took
place 30 feet (10 meters) from a police/army checkpoint and the forces
present made no attempt to intervene. The team recovered quickly
from the attack and continued work the next day, hence it provided
protection for the delivery of relief to those displaced by the violence.

Due to the diplomatic skills of its local translator, the team managed
to reach out to the gang who had attacked them in the days afterwards.
Subsequently, their leaders have apologized to our field team members
and agreed to take part in a local peace meeting between the
communities soon.

The next 48 hours will tell us more about the situation and whether we can
expect a further increase in violence or are faced with a serious
war scenario. Questions that need to be answered are: Are today's
suicide bombing and the subsequent retaliatory attacks by the armed forces
indications that the CFA is officially dead? Will the EU now decide to
ban the LTTE, which the government of Sri Lanka has lobbied for, hence
further isolating the LTTE? How will NPSL operate if war breaks out?

For the moment, we are assessing the situation daily and continue to
provide protection to civilians, where possible. But the environment we
work in is extremely complex and the circumstances are increasingly more
dangerous.


Marcel C.A. Smits
Project Director Nonviolent Peaceforce Sri Lanka

3 comments:

Jacky Treehorn said...

S,

I hope the Geneva talks don't fall through but perhaps the best way to solve this conflict is by the example of the local neighborhood talking it out.

LC

The Sujewa said...

Hey LC,

An outfit that uses a pregnant woman as a suicide bomber (that would be the LTTE) while peace negotiations are happening is probably not too interested in peace. We'll see how it goes, but I have very little expectations given the past 10 years or so of history of this 50some - 20some year old conflict (it started in 1948, intensified in '83). I think the hard truth is that some on-going conflicts will have to be resolved through war, this might be one of them. It is all up to the Sri Lankans living in Sri Lanka of course, since they will have to live with the stress of the situtation or pay the price of war.

Either way, I look forward to the end of this conflict so that SL can move on to better things.

The killings aside, Sri Lanka is a pretty cool place - the food is excellent, a nice place to visit/vacation at (provided u do not encounter a rare tsunami) says mom.

- Sujewa

The Sujewa said...

" Sri Lanka, where most of the people are cool & friendly (as long as you do not try to overthrow the government, set up a separate state or inslut The Buddha)". That's my introduction to the country.

- Sujewa

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