Sri Lanka's Tamil rebels warn of retaliation against Sinhalese
Wed September 6, 2006 11:33 EDT .
CASSIE BIGGS - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels on Wednesday warned that the majority Sinhalese would pay the price for the ``absolute misery'' ethnic Tamils have suffered due to weeks of government airstrikes and shelling.
Sri Lanka - has been convulsed by three decades of conflict between the Sinhalese-dominated state and ethnic Tamil rebels who have been fighting for a separate homeland for the country's Tamil minority in the north and east.
The conflict one of Asia's longest running killed about 65,000 people before a 2002 cease-fire that has all but shattered amid the last six weeks of tit-for-tat shelling and bombing in the north and east.
The recent battles, including the military's capture Monday of a Tiger-held enclave in the east, have killed hundreds more and forced about 220,000 people from their homes, according to the United Nations.
Most are now living in squalid refugee camps in the Tamil-majority northeast where food and medicine is running low and movement across rebel and government lines has been curtailed.
S.P. Tamilselvan, the Tiger's political head, told Norway's ambassador on Wednesday that Tamils were suffering ``absolute misery,'' and criticized the international community's lack of action, the rebels' peace Web site said.
He warned that the majority Sinhalese would have to ``face the consequences soon.''
Tamilselvan's comments were the clearest indication yet that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were preparing to retaliate for the government's capture of the key rebel enclave.
Government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella, responding to Tamilselvan's comments, said the rebels ``have not been saints for the past 25 years and they have done much more damage to the civilian population in the past.''
``Killing people is part of their strategy,'' he said.
Senior rebel leader Seevaratnam Puleedevan earlier told The Associated Press that unless the army withdraws from Sampur, it would be considered an act of war.
``By attacking and occupying our territories, the Sri Lankan government has disrupted the whole (peace) process and their actions have brought the cease-fire agreement to the brink of collapse,'' Puleedevan said.
Analysts had warned that the military's push on Sampur could harden the insurgents' resolve and invite retaliation on the battlefield and in relatively peaceful parts of the island, such as Colombo, where the rebels have repeatedly set off suicide and roadside bombs.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment.
Meanwhile, a breakaway faction of the Tigers widely believed to have military backing said it had overrun four camps belonging to the mainstream rebel group in the east.
The Karuna faction is now in total control of rebel-held areas in eastern Ampara district, T. Thuyavan, a spokesman for the group, said in a phone call to The AP on Wednesday.
The Tigers control vast swaths of the north and hold pockets of territory in the east along with the government and Karuna.
Karuna was a powerful Tiger leader credited for many of the rebels' victories over security forces.
He broke away in 2004 and maintains a stronghold in the southeast where his fighters, estimated to number only a few hundred, regularly attack the Tigers. They are also widely believed to be backed by the military, although the government strongly denies this.
Nordic monitors of the 2002 cease-fire said they were investigating the claim.
The government maintains its Sampur push was to protect its strategic Trincomalee naval base, and that it wants peace with the rebels, but analysts said the Karuna attack indicated otherwise.
``The attack by the Karuna group, which is widely believed to be given logistical assistance by the Sri Lankan military, suggests that the limited war is still continuing,'' said Jehan Perera, an analyst at the independent National Peace Council, a Colombo-based think tank.
Large-scale conflict between the rebels and security forces broke out in 1983, although ethnic strife between the country's largest minority and the majority Sinhalese has existed for centuries.
The latest open fighting began in late July over a rebel-controlled water supply near Trincomalee. It then spread to other parts of the east and north.
Many of those killed are civilians caught in the crossfire, but are also increasingly ``strategically targeted'' by both security forces and the Tigers, the U.N.'s envoy on extrajudicial killings, Philip Alston, said in a statement.
Alston praised a government plan to invite international experts to probe abductions and killings, including the deaths of 17 local staff of international aid agency Action Against Hunger.
Cease-fire monitors said they believed security forces were complicit in the aid workers' deaths earlier this month. The government denied it.
Associated Press writer Bharatha Mallawarachi contributed to this report.
Published: Wed Sep 6 14:49:51 EDT 2006