Violence rages in Sri Lanka as the country appears to be back at war
Tue August 15, 2006 12:00 EDT .
MATTHEW ROSENBERG - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Was it a children's home or a rebel base? Perhaps more importantly, is there a difference? Jayawardana's words may seem callous, but the sentiments like his are becoming more the rule than exception on either side of the ethnic divide in Sri Lanka - , where intense fighting in recent weeks looks increasingly like an outright renewal of civil war.
The government and Tigers may both insist they're committed to a 2002 cease-fire, but ``we're essentially back at war,'' said Nalim Fernando of the Asia Foundation.
``This is really what the war looked like,'' Fernando said. ``There really weren't a lot of big set piece battles. It was really the drip-drip of low-intensity conflict.''
Many believed the 2002 truce heralded the beginning of the end of Asia's longest running war, a conflict probably know best for Tigers' use of suicide bombings and child soldiers.
But in the past two years, midnight disappearances have morphed into bombings and shootings that have in turn given way in recent weeks to open conflict along the frontiers separating government and Tiger territory in the country's north and east.
The latest fighting between the government, dominated by Sri Lanka - 's 14 million predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese, and the Tigers, who have fought since 1983 for an independent homeland for the country's 3.2 million largely Hindu Tamils, may have been overshadowed by crises in the Middle East and elsewhere. But it has been among the world's bloodiest.
Nearly every day, one side or the other releases reports of civilians slaughtered in a church or combatants wiped out in the jungles claims that are often as much fact as fiction, and nearly impossible to verify
But in one indication of the mounting death toll, the only group that kept a reliable tally a Nordic cease-fire monitoring mission says it has lost count in recent days.
Last week, more than a thousand people were thought to have died since the start of the year, many of them civilians. Now, death tolls are ``pure guesswork,'' said a Western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to undermine his relationship with Sri Lankan officials.
In the last few days alone, the government says it lost 90 soldiers in fighting on the northern Jaffna Peninsula and killed some 200 rebels a figure that's likely inflated, but nonetheless indicative of the high costs both sides are enduring.
Monday saw an auto rickshaw packed with explosives blow up in Colombo, the capital, killing seven in an attack blamed on the Tigers.
And then there was the air raid in the northeast that may or may not have hit a children's home. Nordic monitors and aid workers say dozens died, although no one has a precise figure.
Whether it was a school or a rebel base remains an open question. The monitors said those killed were between the ages of 17 and 20 a group that fits the demographic of typical Tiger fighters.
What is clear is that attacks like the rickshaw bombing and air raid stiffen the resolve on both sides.
In the south, where the Sinhalese dominate, analysts say support for the fight is swelling.
``They are using children to kill us, and then they say don't attack the children,'' said M.W. Jayasinghe, a 33-year-old accountant in Colombo. ``What can we do? They are a violent people.''
The rebel-held north has been largely cut off by the fighting, but Tamil civilians interviewed there earlier this summer, as violence mounted, were no less wary of the Sinhalese.
``We don't want to fight, but we have to it is the only we have won any freedom,'' said Markanbu Anandan, a 48-year-old Tamil mason in the Killinochchi, the rebel's de facto capital.
The latest round of fighting began in late July over a rebel-controlled water supply near the eastern port of Trincomalee. It spread over the past week to other parts of the east and the northern Jaffna Peninsula, the Tamils' heartland that remains under government control.
Aid workers estimate that about 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, and across the north and east, fighting has cleared the streets of villages and towns.
The south has never seen opening fighting, and streets there remain crowded with people shopping, eating and going about their daily routines.
But nowadays there's an edge to everyday life the government on Tuesday even ordered all schools temporarily closed for fear they could be targeted by the Tigers.
The move was a relief to Saritha Guruge, a 44-year-old mother of two in Colombo.
With schools shut for the rest of the month, ``at least I don't have to worry about my children when they are away from me,'' she said.
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Published: Tue Aug 15 12:25:34 EDT 2006