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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 January 2006, 01:14 GMT
Sri Lanka's balance of fear
Dumeetha Luthra
By Dumeetha Luthra
BBC News, Jaffna

Fear is driving Sri Lanka, as it stands on the edge of a precipice.

Soldier on guard in Jaffna
Tamils accuse the army of killings and abductions
A year ago, there was some hope that the tsunami which wrecked the island would bring the Tamil Tiger rebels and the government closer.

Many thought that the two sides could work together, perhaps through an aid-sharing deal, and try to overcome years of mistrust.

Instead, the deal fell through, relations soured even further, and now the country is the closest it has been to conflict since a ceasefire was signed in 2002.

Talks are deadlocked. The past month has been the bloodiest since a ceasefire was signed almost four years ago. The military has been targeted. Tamil civilians are being killed and abducted.

The northern peninsula of Jaffna has seen some of the worst attacks.

'Popular uprising'

Like all young men preparing to fight their first war, soldiers here are scared and nervous.

But their commanders, who fought the rebels in the last conflict, say they are ready for any eventuality.

Map
At their camp in Palaly, the soldiers are preparing to be deployed around Jaffna.

Fresh-faced young men are already facing an invisible front line.

Every time they leave this base they confront the possibility that a claymore mine attack will blow up their convoy.

Tamil Tiger rebels are blamed for the attacks but they routinely deny any role, describing them as a "popular uprising" of the Tamil people.

Few here believe them. The army says only the rebels have the capability to carry out such sophisticated attacks.

The Tamil people are, however, the worst sufferers - there are increasing reports of them being harassed, kidnapped and killed.

'Masked men'

Mudiyappu Ramedius, a lawyer at the Human Rights Commission office in Jaffna, says the number of such complaints has risen dramatically.

A couple walk into the office to report the abduction of their son.

A woman reports the "kidnapping" of her son in Jaffna
A woman reports the "kidnapping" of her son in Jaffna
They describe how masked men entered their house in the middle of the night. They say they were soldiers accompanied by pro-government militia.

Mr Ramedius says it is impossible to say who is responsible for the kidnapping.

"They are saying that army officers came there [to their house]. Whether it is the army or another group, we cannot tell. This is happening every day. It is the state's responsibility to protect them," he says.

Tamils are being killed regularly by what officials say are "unidentified gunmen".

However the public perception here is that the military is behind these incidents. That in turn creates anger and more violence.

Take, for example, Yogarajah's son, who was shot dead with a friend while on the way to a mechanic. Three men in an auto rickshaw stopped and gunned them down.

"The army shot my son. We have to go and join the Tigers and fight," Yogarajah says.

Fuelling fear

All along the Tamil-dominated coastline, joining the Tigers has become a common cry.

Hundreds of families have already fled, and these incidents are fuelling fear, anger and ultimately violence.

Fishermen in Jaffna
Many people along the coast have been trained to fight by the rebels

Although no-one admits it openly, many here have been trained by the rebels to build up a so-called civil defence force.

One fishermen who does not want to be identified describes the training.

"The training is for day and night offensives, and how to use different types of rifles," he says.

The government denies the killings and disappearances of Tamil people.

However, officials are adamant they will do whatever it takes to keep control in the Tamil areas.

On both sides the balance is one of fear. The military are terrified of attacks, the civilians are terrified of reprisals.

They have seen it before and they are afraid of seeing it again.

It is no wonder that this fear perpetuates the violence - but it could also be the spark that returns Sri Lanka to the dark days of conflict.


What do you think is behind the escalating violence in Sri Lanka? Are you in the affected areas? Can the ceasefire hold in these conditions?

Your comments:

In countries like Sri Lanka a ceasefire agreement can only work if it's heavily backed by the international community. Eventhough they did all they could, it's difficult for Norway to play the only broker. But I think with the rise of violence Sri Lanka is now moving in the spotlight of the international community, which is ofcourse a good thing. But it's a shame that is has to do it this way.
G Koning, London, UK

It's obvious that the ceasefire cannot hold on anymore. For a lasting peace, the CFA has to be implemented fully. All the government cares about is their soldiers. Thousands of schools, churches, temples and public places occupied by Lankan forces have to be cleared. Then, they should clear the paramilitaries and disarm them. This would bring normalacy back. Thereafter, the government have to earn the trust of Tamils by undertaking social programs and creating job opportunities. This has not been done for the past 55 years. What should we expect now?
Vibu Aravind, Jaffna, Sri Lanka

To find out the culprits for all these attacks we need to find out who will benefit from them. The LTTE wants to start the war in the name of Tamil people. But it does not want to be the party to openly break the ceasefire. The LTTE is provoking the army in the hopes that the government will say enough is enough and break the ceasefire. So far it has not worked and now they are forcing Tamil civilians to provoke the army by organizing hartals and violent demonstrations. The only casualties of such events will be Tamil civilians.
P.K. Wikram, Jafna, Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan government is responsible for the escalating violence, at least indirectly. They have failed to honour two important clauses of the CFA by (1) not disarming the armed Tamil groups operating in the area under their control and (2) not vacating the so-called High Security Zones as required by the CFA.
Siva Sivakumaran, Toronto, Canada




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