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A Sri Lanka News Bulletin - 4th May to 17th May

A Sri Lanka News Bulletin - 4th May to 17th May


War and Norway's Peace Efforts - Sinhala Muslim Riots - No Confidence Motion Against Government - Press - What Tamils Say.

A news bulletin on Sri Lanka produced by Australian and New Zealand activists working for peace in Sri Lanka. contact: Australia – Willie mailto: willie@apex.net.au New Zealand - Malathy mailto: malathy@ihug.co.nz

War and Norway's Peace Efforts

===============

LTTE terminated its unilateral four month long ceasefire on April 24th. This was followed by the Sri Lankan Army offensive in the Jaffna peninsula at the beginning of May. Within a few days of launching the offensive, heavy casualties forced the Army to withdraw to its initial position prior to this offensive. The UK Guardian wrote:

"Satellite uplinks bring live TV pictures of street battles in Gaza and the West Bank into our homes, but the march of technology has not reduced the volatility of editorial decision-making on foreign issues. Of the roughly three dozen armed conflicts under way around the world, only a handful get attention and even then it is spasmodic rather than sustained. Top place in this league of unreported wars surely goes to the struggle between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who want their own homeland. Close to 300 troops were killed in a single battle last week but it hardly caught the attention of the world media."

As possibilities for peace talks faded, the Norwegian peace envoy, Erik Solheim remained optimistic. Following on from the military debacle the government of Sri Lanka indicated to Norway that it is prepared to enter into a bilateral agreement with the LTTE for de-escalation of hostilities in order to take the peace process forward.

Two important international developments took place during these few days. Firstly the Canadian High Commissioner Ruth Archibald visited Vanni. She met LTTE political wing leader Thamichelvan. Archibald has told reporters that, ''The only reason the meeting took place, is because it is the first time a Canadian high commissioner has been given permission by the Sri Lankan government to go into the Vanni.'' Secondly, Sri Lankan foreign minister Kadirgamar met United States Secretary of State Gen Powell. The press release stated that Powell reaffirmed US commitment to the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and also hoped that the government will do its part to bring about cessation of hostilities soon.

In the meantime the Norwegian peace envoy, Mr. Erik Solheim, came to Colombo and held talks with the President, as well as the Leader of Opposition, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, and diplomats including the Indian, U.S. and Canadian envoys. On return from Colombo Solheim first cancelled a scheduled meeting with Anton Balasingam in London. However he met Balasingam a few days later. Soon after this there were media reports stating that the Sri Lankan government is ready to sign a modified Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the LTTE and that the President may announce the date and venue for peace talks scheduled for this month. This announcement was angrily refuted by both Erik Solheim and the LTTE. LTTE issued a statement where they accepted that progress has been made on the MoU but no agreement has been reached. Their statement also said that they have requested that the ban on LTTE be lifted.

Norway's peace envoy Erik Solheim again arrived in Sri Lanka on Tuesday, May 15th, for another round of shuttle diplomacy. Solheim met with the leaders of Tamil and Muslim parties and briefed them on the latest developments with regard to Norway's peace initiatives. He also met the President. He will be visiting the northern Vanni region where he will hold discussions with the LTTE leaders.

Rauf Hakeem, joint leader of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) who met Erik Solheim said he expected the country's minority Muslims to be involved in negotiations with the LTTE. He told Solheim that the Muslims would not consider any settlement reached with the LTTE as "legitimate" if the minority community was not included in the peace negotiations.

In the meantime a convoy in which Mr Thamil Chelvan, the leader of the political wing of the LTTE, was travelling towards Mallavi where he was scheduled to meet Solheim was hit near Kokkavil by a claymore blast set off by a deep penetration team of the Sri Lanka army on Tuesday afternoon, sources in Vanni said. One LTTE trooper was killed and two were wounded in the blast.

Sinhala Muslim Riots

========

On 2nd May in Mawanella (half way between Colombo and Kandy) ethnic riots broke out between Sinhala and Muslim communities. Police shot dead one person and injured two other curfew breakers in an attempt to control the riots. Early reports suggested that the trouble flared over the price of cigarettes. However, UNP alleged that the real reason for the trouble was the refusal of a Muslim shop owner to pay protection money to a private security guard of a PA government minister. UNP called for the arrest of the PA minister. The minister has denied the charges. The UNP spokesperson also alleged that the riots would not have got out o control if the police force had remained impartial.

On the following Friday Muslim worshippers at a Mosque in Colombo, threw stones and demonstrated against the violence against Muslims in Mawanella. 12 hour curfew was imposed in Colombo.

In the meantime the President has alleged that the entire incident is a conspiracy against government. The Lanka government as usual is reported to be probing into the Sinhala-Muslim clashes. Police in Sri Lanka is reported to have arrested a Muslim politician in connection with rioting in the capital, Colombo.

There were also Sinhala-Muslim riots in Mutur in Trincomalee following on from the above incidents. Twelve shops were gutted by fire. Some of them belonged to Sinhala traders and others to Muslims.

Sri Lanka's main Muslim party, SLMC, is now warning that it will withdraw its support to the government unless violence against Muslims is ended.

No Confidence Motion Against Government

========

On May 9th the Leader of the main opposition United National party (UNP), said that it hopes to present a vote no confidence motion against the government next month. UNP members have unanimously supported this move in a parliamentary group meeting. The riots against the Muslim community and the resulting threat by SLMC, the main Muslim ally to the PA government, to withdraw its support puts the government in a very shaky situation. The main Tamil party TULF has stated that it will not support the vote of no confidence motion. However, it has been suggested that some pro-LTTE groups have urged TULF to vote the government out.

Press

=====

The Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) issued its annual report on the Press freedom day. In the report it slammed the Sri Lankan government for its tactics to stop the free flow of information. It listed the murder of the last remaining journalist working for the foreign press in Jaffna, Mylvaganam Nimalarajan. He was murdered in his home, despite it being located in a military security zone. A BBC commemorative programme for the Press freedom day, also cited the fate of the Tamil journalist Mylvaganam Nimalarajan.

Other incidents listed are: Assault on BBC journalist Elmo Fernando by the supporters of the Sinhalese extremist organisations; assault on Valampuri journalist Velupillai Thamichelvan, by soldiers in Jaffna; death threats to Sri Lal Priyantha; sentencing Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga and Sinha Ratnatunga the editor of the Sunday Times, for their articles critical of the government; and the attack on Anton Mariyadasan, a journalist with the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, in Vavuniya, possibly by the LTTE.

Other News

====

Hundreds of white-clad mothers staged a silent sit-down protest in heart of the capital Colombo to mark Mothers Day on May 14th and urged the government and Tamil Tiger guerillas to free prisoners taken in the country's 18-year ethnic war. The organizers said that a prisoner exchange is the best way to start a peace process and end the pain of these women.

Ms. Marie Colvin's eye operation is reported to be successful. She was wounded by the Sri Lankan troops when she tried to get back across government lines in April after spending several days in rebel territory. The UK Guardian reported on a performance in UK by a Sri Lankan group made up of wounded Sinhala soldiers and seriously affected Tamil civilians. It can be read at:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4179800,00.html

Bernard Costa, the 76 year old parish priest at a church in Negombo, 30 kilometers north of Colombo, was strangled before being stabbed in the vestry. Police still had no clue about those involved in the slaying. Some reports stated that the priest has been working hard against child prostitution.

In an AIDS awareness meeting the health minister stated that government plans to hold seminars and workshops on AIDS to educate women, who are leaving the country to work as housemaids in foreign countries, especially to the middle east. He said 8000 Sri Lankans are suffering from AIDS of which about 50% are those who arrived from the Middle East countries. It is notable that the money send by Sri Lankan maids working in middle east is a substantial contribution to the foreign exchange earnings for the government.

The coalition led by Ms. Jayalitha Jeyaram, who was convicted in dozen corruption cases for abuse of power while she was Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (India)during 1991 - 1996, won a landslide victory in Tamil Nadu state election. She was sworn in as the new chief minister. Ms. Jeyaram was also a popular cinema actress.

What Tamils Say

========

A Jaffna Excise inspector, in a meeting to take action against illicit alcohol, said that the Sri Lankan government sends liquor to Jaffna more regularly than school text books. He said that the government says there is no room in the ships to send textbooks to Jaffna but it sends a very large quantity of liquor to peninsula. He said this is being done with the clear aim of destroying the Tamil society.

Mr. Mahasivam, Secretary of Ceylon Tamil Teacher's Union said that the Education Ministry has given false information as Sri Lankan soldiers use only 55 School buildings in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. He said over 100 Schools are occupied by military in the region.

Dr.E.Gnanakunalan, Deputy Director of Health Services in the Northeast Provincial Ministry of Health said that fear of reprisal silences Trincomalee torture victims. He said that thirty to forty torture victims in Trincomalee district seek medical and psychological treatment every month and that there are over five hundred torture victims in the Trincomalee district who do not get proper physical and psychological treatment.

A. Adaikalanathan, MP for the Vanni and the leader of the Tamil Eelam Liberation organization (TELO), speaking in Parliament on the vote to extend the state of Emergency said that no self respecting Tamil will vote for the extension of the Emergency and its regulations. He said that the Sri Lankan security forces behave as though no Tamil has their fundamental right. He said that most Tamils in custody are subjected to torture and the most pernicious methods of torture are practiced on the Tamils by the security forces today.

Rt. Rev. Rayappu Joseph, Bishop Mannar said that human rights abuses are frequent and widespread in Mannar. The ordinary people here have experienced so much terror that they have got no idea now that they have the right to even live. He said Sivamani and Wijikala who reported their rape by soldiers are actually exceptions to the rule and most persons who have been severely tortured here are so terrified of reprisals that they do not come forward to speak the truth before the law. He said thirteen persons have been reported missing here since January and that the families of only two have ventured to officially register their complaints.

Mr.V.T Thamilmaran, senior lecturer in law at the University of Colombo, addressing a meeting organised by the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance said that there is a great divide between the Sinhala and Tamil media today and that both are totally alienated from each other. He went on to say that as a result promoting ethnic harmony is well neigh impossible through the media.

---------------

A news bulletin on Sri Lanka produced by Australian and New Zealand activists working for peace in Sri Lanka. contact: Australia – Willie mailto: willie@apex.net.au New Zealand - Malathy mailto: malathy@ihug.co.nz

END

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