Sunday, June 18, 2006


Sri Lanka on brink of war Government troops assault church with grenades after bus bombing and warnings of Tamil Tigers 'fear and panic' attacks Dan McDougall in Kebitigollawe.
Sunday June 18, 2006The Observer

Violence escalated in Sri Lanka yesterday when government forces stormed a Catholic church where 200 people had sought refuge, opening fire and hurling grenades at civilians cowering inside.
Witnesses say at least five died and scores were injured. The military denied responsibility for the attack, blaming Tamil Tiger rebels who hours earlier had attacked a navy base in the same northwestern fishing village, Pesalai, triggering a naval and helicopter battle.
The past few days have seen by far the worst bloodshed since the often-violated ceasefire was signed in 2002 by the government and the Tigers, who control much of Sri Lanka's north and east.
In a hospital in Mannar, near Pesalai, injured villagers gave near-identical accounts of security forces indiscriminately shooting into the Our Lady of Victory Church. 'We were all inside the church when the navy and army broke in and opened fire. A grenade was thrown,' said Mariyadas Loggu, 46, being treated for hand injuries. 'If this is what the people responsible for security do, where can we go?'
Sri Lanka is again on the brink of all-out civil war. Analysts conceded last night that the Tigers may be returning to 'fear and panic attacks' on tourist targets - similar in scale to the 2001 suicide attack on Colombo's airport, which destroyed half the Sri Lankan Airlines fleet, temporarily wrecking tourism and economic confidence. Jehan Perera, director of the country's National Peace Council, said the crisis was entering its deadliest phase in a decade. 'The message coming from the Tigers is they will stop at nothing. They are saying they will also target civilians if their demands are not met. Or they could be trying to push the government into a war. It's clear a concerted campaign of violence is under way.'
Some of the victims of that campaign were buried in a mass ceremony amid a maelstrom of unrelenting grief in the town of Kebitigollawe on Friday.
Sixty-eight people - 15 of them small children - died on Thursday after a landmine, allegedly planted by Tamil rebels, ripped through a bus on the outskirts of the town. Even as the traditional Sri Lankan mourning flags hung limply in the humid evening air, the sound of retaliatory government airstrikes could be heard. And again last night the north-east of Sri Lanka was a frontline shuddering to the boom of fighter jets pounding alleged Tiger positions. Colombo's military also claimed that 37 people had been killed in a sea and land battle with Tigers yesterday afternoon.
In Kebitigollawe yesterday a senior Sri Lankan military source told The Observer that government planes had hit targets near the Tigers' stronghold of Kilinochchi, in 'direct' retaliation for the bus landmine, despite the fact that the Tigers continued to deny responsibility for the attack.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have fought for 20 years to carve out a separate homeland in the north and east for Sri Lanka's 3.2 million Tamils, largely Hindu, oppressed for years by the majority Sinhalese Buddhists. The 2002 ceasefire ended large-scale fighting, but violence has persisted, intensifying after the assassination last August of the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar - leaving 600 soldiers, rebels and civilians dead in the past six months. Both sides have repeatedly said they want peace, but neither has shown the flexibility needed to make concessions. This month the Tigers walked out of talks in Norway without even meeting the government delegation.
Among political analysts the consensus is that neither side wants to resume peace talks on their current basis and both share the blame for the bloodshed.
For the villagers of Kebitigollawe, the failure of a diplomatic resolution to the crisis was all too apparent this weekend. At the height of the troubles in the late Nineties this area was a no man's land. In the past few days it has once again found itself at the heart of South Asia's most debilitating conflicts. On the dusty roads around the town traffic is scarce with many expecting another assault soon. Many made the journey to pay their respects to the landmine victims on foot.
'Why are we caught up in this?' cried Priyantha Mahesh, 37, on Friday, over his daughter Devinda's coffin. 'What has she done to be in this coffin? Who chose for her to die?'
Alongside Devinda, aged four, in the school hall, which had become a makeshift morgue, the caskets of 14 other children lay in a row.
The choking stench of death was inescapable as mourners filed passed the open caskets. Schoolchildren, accompanied by a saffron-robed monk, walked through the hall, staring open mouthed at the dead. Some recognised classmates, but the youngest remained impassive as if they were participating in some huge game.

World news guideSri LankaTimeline14.11.2003: Conflict in Sri LankaUseful linksTamil NetEelamWebDaily NewsIslandSunday LeaderSunday TimesSri Lanka web serverOfficial site of the government of Sri LankaSri Lanka NetDepartment of information



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