Rights group slams Sri Lankan rebels over abuses
Mon December 15, 2008 07:32 EST .
BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka - are resorting to forced conscription and labor from civilians amid a major military offensive on the rebels' northern stronghold, a human rights group said Monday as the army seized another rebel-held town.
The government has pledged to crush the guerrillas by the end of the year and has launched a major offensive against them in recent months, capturing key towns and forcing the rebels into a shrinking stronghold in the country's northeast.
Human Rights Watch said ``in the face of an ongoing government military offensive'' the rebels have resorted to abuses that include forcing civilians in the rebel heartland to fight or work under abusive conditions, and restricting their movement.
As the group ``loses ground to advancing government forces, their treatment of the very people they say they are fighting for is getting worse,'' said Brad Adams, the Asia director for New York-based rights group.
``Trapped in the LTTE's iron fist, ordinary Tamils are forcibly recruited as fighters and forced to engage in dangerous labor near the front lines,'' Adams said, referring to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam group by its initials.
Human Rights Watch said in its statement that the group, which has a long history of forced conscription, ``has recently gone beyond its long-standing 'one person per family' forced recruitment policy in the territory it controls and now sometimes requires two or more family members to join its ranks.''
``The LTTE claims to be fighting for the Tamil people but it is responsible for much of the suffering of civilians,'' Adams said.
Rebel spokesmen could not be contacted for comment because all communications to the north have been severed in the fighting.
In the past, rebels have denied similar allegations, saying civilians have voluntarily joined them.
Meanwhile, government troops seized control of Ampakamam village in rebel-controlled Mullaitivu district after hours of fighting Monday, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said. He called the battle a key step toward defeating the rebels.
Fighter jets bombed a defense line in the rebels' de facto capital of Kilinochchi on Monday, said air force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara. He did not provide details on damage and casualties.
The air strikes are in support of ground troops locked in battles on the outskirts on the rebel capital. Soldiers there have faced stiff rebel resistance for weeks, despite recently predicting the city's ``imminent fall.''
Separately, the military said in a statement that at least 12 battles broke out throughout the day Sunday in Mullaitivu. It said soldiers recovered the bodies of four rebels.
Other fighting tool place along the front lines in Kilinochchi and Jaffna districts. The military said soldiers were wounded in the fighting but did not say how many.
It was impossible to obtain independent accounts from the battlefield because journalists are barred from the war zone.
The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have suffered marginalization at the hands of successive governments controlled by ethnic Sinhalese.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.
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Published: Mon Dec 15 08:32:52 EST 2008