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Sri Lankan War Comes Roaring Back

Prepared by: Carin Zissis
September 11, 2006

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Escalating violence between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger separatist group threatens to end the shaky 2002 cease-fire and spark another round in a brutal civil war that has caused 65,000 deaths. S.P. Tamilselvan, a leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) called the army’s recent occupation of the formerly Tiger-dominated northeastern city of Sampur a violation of the truce, saying the Tamil populations are in “misery” and warned the Sinhala population, who make up three quarters of Sri Lanka’s 19 million people, that they “face the same fate in the future.” (The Hindu). The terrorist organization, which is known for recruiting child soldiers and pioneering the use of suicide bombings as a terror tactic, has proven a resilient foe for the Sri Lankan military over the course of more than two decades, as this new Backgrounder explains. But the Christian Science Monitor reports that the Tigers are weakened by a breakaway faction, waning support from the minority Tamil population, and the recent crackdown on LTTE operatives in the United States.

Another blow to the cease-fire agreement has been the near-disintegration of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), formed in 2002 and made up, until recently, of five Nordic countries. The rebels forced EU member nations to withdraw in retaliation for an EU decision to join the United States, Canada, India, and Australia in listing the rebels as a terrorist group (VOA). Norway and Iceland will remain members of the SLMM, which has also had disagreements with the Sri Lankan government since the monitoring body blamed the military for involvement in the massacre of seventeen Tamil aid workers (Bloomberg) employed by a French humanitarian agency. N. Manoharan, Senior Fellow at New Delhi’s Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies says neither the LTTE nor the Sri Lankan government show any regard for the monitors or the cease-fire agreement.

As the conflict worsens, so does the human rights situation; the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says nearly 215,000 people have been displaced by the conflict and about 11,000 refugees have fled to southern India. The BBC offers eyewitness testimonies of the humanitarian crisis in areas affected by clashes between rebels and the military. The South Asian Terrorism Portal gives a timeline of the escalating violence over the summer and statistics on Sri Lankan conflict-related deaths, which it says more than quadrupled to over 1,000 in August.

In an interview on PBS’ “The World,” former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Teresita C. Schaeffer says the country has done well in areas such as education and development, but, tragically, "have really made a mess of their politics." In a paper for the South Asia Analysis Group, B. Raman of India’s Institute for Topical Studies gives an overview of the deepening crisis since Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse took office in November 2005. Raman says the conflict is “casting its shadow” over the southern Indian region of Tamil Nadu, where there is growing sympathy for Sri Lanka’s LTTE cause as a result of attacks by the military on Tamil civilians.

A Human Rights Watch report documents how the LTTE raises funds through intimidation of diaspora communities in India, Western Europe, North America, and Australia. The cease-fire agreement and other background materials can be found on the web site for the Sri Lankan government’s Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process.

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