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Sri Lanka Fortnightly News Bulletin - 12 - 26 July

Sri Lanka Fortnightly News Bulletin - 12 - 26 July 2001

Air force base attacked, Political crisis in Sri Lanka deepened, Massive anti-government protests, Divided opinion on referendum, Catholic delegation to meet LTTE, Sri Lanka to allow media access to war areas, Other news
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.aumailto:willie@apex.net.aumailto:willie@apex.net.auwillie@apex.net.au
New Zealand - Malathy mailto:malathy@ihug.co.nzmailto:malathy@ihug.co.nz

1. Air force base attacked
==========

In the early hours of Tuesday 24 July, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE) carried out a daring suicide attack on Sri Lanka's heavily
guarded international airport and adjoining air force base, destroying
13 aircraft and causing hundreds of millions of dollars of damage. At
least 20 people, including 15 suspected rebels, were killed and many
more wounded in the assault that struck at the heart of the island's
military and civil establishment. An estimated 15 to 20 guerrillas of
the LTTE penetrated the military air base and later went on to bomb
aircraft at the International Airport. The airport reopened on
Wednesday. The Voice of Tigers claimed on Tuesday that the LTTE
commandos who attacked the Katunayake air base had destroyed eight Sri
Lankan Air Force planes. The break-up given is as follows: Two Kfir
fighter bombers, two MIG-27s, one MI-24 helicopter gun ship and three
fast trainer aircraft. It is believed the LTTE attack is to commemorate
18 years since thousands of Tamils were killed and persecuted in race
riots that rocked the country in July 1983.

Analysts believe the final figure of losses, including losses in the
tourist industry, will be much higher. In addition to the immediate
damage done to aircraft and airport installations, it will take Sri
Lanka a long time to erase the image of violence and chaos from the
minds of potential tourists. Arrivals in the first four months of the
year were up about 7 per cent over the same period in 2000 when Sri
Lanka earned about $375 million from tourism.

British Foreign Secretary, Mr Jack Straw condemned the suicide attack by
LTTE. In a statement released in London, Mr Straw called on the Sri
Lankan government and the rebels to cease hostilities, and said Britain
was ready to help in the peace process. The US State Department warned
Americans to defer non-essential travel to Sri Lanka and cautioned those
living there to be careful in the wake of a deadly suicide attack. "The
attack demonstrates the rebels' ability and willingness to select
targets without regard for the safety of civilians, including tourists,"
the State Department said.

Sri Lankan air force launched retaliatory air strikes on Tamil Tiger
positions in the north of the country, hours after a rebel attack
crippled the island's only international airport. Military spokesman
Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne, told Reuters news agency: "I can confirm
some planes have taken off for the air strikes."


2. Political crisis in Sri Lanka deepened
==========

President Chandrika Kumaratunga addressed the people of Sri Lanka on
television on Thursday 12 July, following her decision to prorogue
Parliament until September 7 and to conduct a referendum on August 21
for a new constitution. Sri Lanka's opposition parties vowed to pursue a
"civil disobedience" campaign to protest against the President's
decision to prorogue Parliament and to conduct a referendum. A number of
civil society representatives, including the National Peace Council
(NPC), also expressed concerns over the President's decision.

Opposition parties also requested Speaker, Mr Anura Bandaranaike, to
reconvene the parliament. On Sunday 15 July, Speaker rejected the
request by the opposition parties. He said, in a letter to the Leader of
the Opposition Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe, that as the Speaker he had no
authority to reconvene a parliament suspended by the President.

On Monday 16 July, opposition parliamentarians forced their way past
police barricades and entered the suspended parliament, defying the
Presidents order barring them from the parliamentary building. The joint
opposition group decided to hold protest rallies and to file an
impeachment motion against the President. The Peoples Liberation Front
(JVP) was the only opposition parliamentary party which did not attend
the meeting.


3. Massive anti-government protests
==========

On Thursday 19 July, thousands of opposition activists led by the UNP
defied a police ban to protest against the suspension of parliament.
Police used tear gas and live bullets against the demonstrators, and two
persons were killed and over 70 were wound with a number of people in a
critical condition. Demonstrators fought running battles with the police
in various parts of Colombo city. Police spokesman Senior Superintendent
of Police, Mr Rienzie Perera, admitted that police fired live bullets
and not rubber bullets at the protestors. The postmortem examination of
the two people killed during the demonstration has revealed that both
were killed by gun shot injuries.

The opposition parties condemned President Kumaratunga for ordering
police to use live ammunition against anti-government demonstrators. The
leader of the UNP, Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe, accused the government of
trying to assassinate him by firing at his jeep, but said he was saved
by his bodyguards who pushed him to the floor and whisked him away. In a
Statement issued on 20 July, Amnesty International condemned the police
action against demonstrators and the invoking of the 1981 Referendum Act
by the government. The AI statement is at

http://www.web.amnesty.org/web/news.nsf/WebAll/561EF603AC3B895D80256A8E005DD454?OpenDocument

The government expressed its sorrow over the death of two protesters in
Colombo, saying that this is something that UNP has anticipated.
However, according to media reports, the government was sharply divided
on the high-handed police action under instructions from the defense
ministry to suppress the opposition protest campaign. Among the
ministers who were critical of the action were Fisheries Minister
Mahinda Rajapakse, Constitutional Affairs Minister Prof. G L Peiris,
Public Administration Minister Richard Pathirana, and Aviation Minister
Jeyaraj Fernandupulle.

The JVP, which did not take part on Thursday's protest, held a number of
protest rallies outside Colombo on Monday 23 July.


4. Divided opinion on referendum
==========

The Sunday 'Island' of 22 July reported that 16 political parties
including the Peoples Alliance and its constituents had indicated that
they would campaigning for a 'Yes' vote at the forthcoming referendum.
Seventeen parties including the UNP, Tamil United Liberation Front
(TULF), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) will be campaigning for a 'No'
vote. Thirteen parties including the JVP, All Ceylon Tamil Congress,
Muslim United Liberation Front and the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP)
have said that they would be neutral, the commissioner said. As the
country moves into greater political instability and while the economy
continues its downward trend, the government has yet to inform the
public about the new constitution. The Catholic Bishop's Conference in
Sri Lanka criticised the government's decision in their weekly editorial
of "The Messenger" and asked what format the new constitution would
take.


5. Catholic delegation to meet LTTE
==========

Almost three hundred individuals from the Catholic missions on the South
West region, headed by the Catholic hierarchy and other religious
leaders will stride into the Vanni area on August 2, for a three day
visit to persuade the LTTE leaders to think peace. Rev. Fr. Basil
Wickremasinghe, Director of the Seth Sarana movement, a peace promoting
wing of the Catholic community, told journalists yesterday at a press
conference at the Bishops House, Borella that the LTTE was favourable
toward their visit according to information received by the
Administrator of the Madhu Church. He said that the LTTE had confirmed
that they would be nominating some of their leaders for a discussion
with the clergy members. Full military protection too had been assured
by the Army up to areas controlled by the military, Fr. Wickremasinghe
said.


6. Sri Lanka to allow media access to war areas
==========

The state-run Daily News reported on Tuesday 17 July that the government
has lifted restrictions placed on media personnel to travel to the
war-torn north and east of the island. The Special Media Information
Centre said in a statement that journalists who intend to report
activities and civil life in the war areas are now free to travel there.
Earlier, approval from the defense Ministry had to be obtained to enter
these areas. The Free Media Movement (FMM) welcomed the decision by the
government and requested the LTTE to reciprocate the government's
decision by allowing journalists to visit areas under its control
without hindrance.

Because of the very severe restrictions, only a few local and foreign
journalists have managed to travel to war torn areas in the north and
east of the Island. The last issue of Asia Times published an article by
a journalist who recently visited Jaffna
http://atimes.com/ind-pak/CG19Df03.html

7. Other news
==========

President Kumaratunga has named the members of a three man commission
which will inquire into the 1983 anti-Tamil riots in Colombo and other
parts of the island. The commission will be chaired by former Chief
Justice S.Sharavananda, Mr.M.M.Zuhair PC, and Mr.S.S.Sahabandhu PC. The
commission, which has been directed to submit its report within three
months, is expected to find out what led to the pogrom and the killings,
who all led and organised them, what kind of damage they caused to
property and how the victims could be compensated now, what the riots
did to the multi-ethnic social fabric of Sri Lanka and what could be
done to prevent such a catastrophe in the future.

In a statement on 20 July, The Director general of the United Nations
Children's Fund (UNICEF) urged the LTTE to live up to its commitment not
to recruit children into its ranks, and urges the Government of Sri
Lanka to ease restrictions on humanitarian activity and address the
critical shortage of teachers in conflict-affected areas. The UNICEF
statement is at

http://www.unicef.org/newsline/01pr61.htm

The Jaffna University Undergraduate, Mr Krishnasamy Thivviyan, detained
by the Sri Lanka army and Police since 2 July was produced before a
judge in Jaffna on Tuesday 17 July. The student told the judge in open
court that he bled from his nose and mouth when he was severely
assaulted in detention. The judge remanded the student until 24 July.
The judge directed the Police to admit Thivviyan to the Jaffna Teaching
Hospital and to obtain a medical report about his condition.

The Director General of Census Mr D.G.W.Nanayakkara said that no census
related work could take place in Jaffna and other LTTE controlled areas
because the government staff engaged in the work were threatened by the
LTTE. The non-LTTE Tamil parties too had opposed the census operations
in the North. Even the Eelam Peoples' Democratic Party (EPDP), which is
part of the government, opposed the census in the Jaffna peninsula. An
EPDP spokesman had told the press that President had agreed to exempt
Jaffna from the operations. The final census count has shown that the
island has 3.5 percent fewer people than the authorities had
originally thought. The July 17 census showed the island's population
was 18.66 million, down from an original estimate made at the end of
last year of 19.35 million.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said last week that it has planned to
lend Sri Lanka around $25 million to help civilians displaced by the
ongoing war. "Information has been gathered through an ADB-financed
technical assistance grant, and the project loan, for $25 million,
should be discussed by ADB's Board of Directors in October," the bank
said in a statement. The project will focus on the northern and eastern
parts of the country, which have borne the brunt of the 18-year war.

Other war casualties according to government sources: On July 14 three
soldiers and an LTTE militant have been killed in the east. On July, 16
Tamil Tiger rebels set off a landmine in the heart of the northern town
of Jaffna wounding nine soldiers and a civilian. 10 more people were
killed in fighting elsewhere. On July 20, Tamil Tiger rebels shot and
killed four women members of a government-supported village militia in
northern Sri Lanka. On July 23, one Policeman and a Home guard
were killed by the LTTE pistol group in the east.

Tamilnet reported that villagers living 12 km. south of
Batticaloa, are being forced to carry out hard labour by the
elite Special Task Force troops stationed in the village. The
troops summoned 25 villagers to the camp on Sunday and
ordered them to clear jungles and shrubs along Manmunai
lagoon.

ENDS

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