Paul Tighe, Bloomberg
Sydney: Sri Lanka’s government is ignoring the rights of the minority Tamil population in its statements to the summit of South Asian leaders being held in New Delhi, the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said.
“It is crucial that the voice of the Tamil people be heard” at meetings of forums such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, TamilNet cited S.P. Thamilchelvan, the LTTE’s political head, as saying yesterday.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday appealed to leaders at the summit to boost the fight against terrorism, citing a new air unit created by the LTTE as a threat to the region. The LTTE is forced to counter the aggression of the Sri Lankan military, Thamilchelvan said in response to the president’s speech.
Fighting in Sri Lanka escalated last year as two rounds of peace talks failed to make any progress toward ending a two- decade conflict waged by the LTTE to create a separate homeland in the island nation. The LTTE bombed a military base 26 March near the capital, Colombo, in what it said was the first attack by its new air wing.
Sri Lanka’s government is trying to “exploit the prevailing global atmosphere against the armed resistance by the people who are left with no other alternatives than fighting for their rights,” Thamilchelvan said, according to TamilNet. “It has engaged its armed forces and paramilitaries in a genocidal war against the Tamil people.”
The LTTE raid shows that South Asia “is not safe from the barbaric terrorist groups,” Rajapaksa told the summit. Efforts to curb terrorists must be “sustained and far reaching and must include their sources of sustenance.”
The forum, known as Saarc, must work together on a counterterrorism strategy embracing the region, Rajapaksa said, according to an e-mailed transcript. The group, which consists of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives, was established in 1985.
Sri Lanka’s government blamed the LTTE for a 1 December suicide bombing in Colombo that targeted Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the president’s brother. The minister escaped injury in the attack that killed two soldiers.
The army deputy chief of staff was killed in a suicide attack last June and the LTTE was blamed for the worst suicide bombing against the military in October when 98 sailors died.
The LTTE, classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and India, has accused the government of trying to impose a military solution rather than agree to a political settlement.
The group has an estimated 12,000 fighters, including a 4,000-strong naval force known as the Sea Tigers. Tamils make up less than a fifth of the population of 20 million people.
Fighting in the past six months forced as many as 200,000 civilians from their homes, the United Nations said last month.
Almost 4,000 people have been killed in violence in the past 15 months, compared with 130 deaths related to the conflict in the three previous years, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission said last month. The Norwegian-led group observes a 2002 cease- fire between the government and Tamil Tigers.
The LTTE says the military is supporting a breakaway rebel faction known as the Karuna group, an allegation the army denies. The splinter group takes its name from Colonel Karuna, a former LTTE commander in the island’s east, who in March 2004 broke away from the main command in the north.
Karuna, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., denied his forces fight alongside the army. Karuna said he has formed a political party, the TMBP, and intends to contest provincial and national elections, according to BBC.
He also questioned the LTTE’s commitment to the peace process. Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran told members to drag out peace negotiations to allow time for the rebels to buy weapons and “be ready for the next stage of fighting,” the BBC cited Karuna as saying.
He also rejected a UN report that his group continues to recruit child soldiers.
The 2002 cease-fire helped bring about uninterrupted growth in the country’s $26 billion (Rs1,11,592 crore) economy. International donors, led by the U.S., Japan, the EU and Norway, have appealed to both sides to come to peace talks to prevent a resumption of war.