Sri Lanka Bombs East, Tells People For Their Own Good

On Wednesday July 26th, Sri Lankan Armed Forces bombed LTTE-controlled areas in Trincomalee district in response to the July 22nd closure of the Mavilaru sluice gate preventing water from reaching farmers in government-controlled areas. Two civilians were wounded, and two houses were destroyed. This is the first aerial bombing since a June 15th SLAF retaliatory strike on LTTE-controlled areas in Trincomalee, following a landmine explosion that killed 63 civilians aboard a bus in Anuradhapura district. Trincomalee district was also subject to aerial strikes in the Muttur region, following a suicide bomber's assassination attempt on SLA Commander, Lt-Gen. Sarath Fonseka on April 25th. Both attacks were immediately attributed by the government and several media outlets to the LTTE. The group denies involvement, despite both events carrying the hallmarks of their previous actions.

Sri Lanka's most recent military action arrives in the wake of extrajudicial killings, disappearances and other outbreaks of violence on the part of the government, the LTTE, the Karuna group, and "other armed groups," killing over 800 people this year. The majority have been civilians.

In defense of the bombings, military spokesperson, Keheliya Rambukwella, had this to say:

"Aircraft carried out several bombings purely as a humanitarian gesture to support the movement of irrigation engineers who went there to open the gates," he said. [Link]

Of course, it remains unclear as to how aerial bombing would assist engineers who went to "open the gates" assisted by ground troops, let alone the civilians being subjected to this "humanitarian gesture." This includes tens of thousands internally displaced in LTTE-controlled areas, those who are on the move in response to the latest strikes, and 15,000 farmers in government-controlled areas who depend on these irrigation waters for their livelihoods.

According to pro-LTTE website, Tamilnet.com, LTTE Trincomalee District political head, S. Elilan claims the closure is a civilian protest against the government, which has not fulfilled plans to build water towers to ensure clean drinking water to villages in LTTE-controlled areas, and has been withholding dry rations from IDPs. The claim of a civilian-initiated protest is dubious at best, and despite a meeting with Norwegian-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), the LTTE will not lift the blockade due to continuing air strikes and artillery fire. Bombing continued Thursday and Friday on LTTE-controlled areas, with the sluice remaining closed. LTTE cadre and civilian casualties have been reported, with numbers varying from source to source.

On late Saturday morning, in a completely unexpected move, the SL armed forces bombed the Thenaham Conference Centre northwest of Batticaloa. Formerly used as LTTE headquarters, the centre was being used as a reception hall for SLMM monitors, visiting foreign politicians, and journalists. The same evening, the LTTE asked SLMM monitors to declare that the 2001 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) is not in force, claiming that the recent strikes are "tantamount to a declaration of war."

Mr. Elilan further said that the Sri Lankan armed forces were taking steps to move troops by land to LTTE controlled Mavilaru. "We would retaliate fiercely if Sri Lankan troopers enter our Mavilaru area. It will lead to serious consequences," said Mr.Elilan. [Link]

At a same day press briefing in Colombo, military spokesperson Rambukwella denied claims of an "action of war":

"This will be a carefully planned venture, we do not want unnecessary destruction." [Link]

Then why target a reception hall that has nothing to do with the water closure?

Thus, the question that is nevertheless being asked is: Is this a return to war? Media pundits have speculated on the possibility several times during the past five years of ceasefire, most recently after the Anuradhapura bus explosion and the April 25th strikes. Whereas these stories' images of spectacular violence drew headlines around the world, sources on the current situation are few and far between, as most local and international press do not have correspondents in the Eastern Provinces, relying instead on government and LTTE agitprop to piece together a story. Nobody knows the ground situation, with any meaningful analysis of the situation effectively foreclosed.

In the international media for example, The New York Times published a summary briefing on the second day, then filed a standard Reuters report on the fourth day of bombings. Curiously, the BBC's Tamil and Sinhala services are both reporting the story, but the main South Asia page is not.

What nobody seems to be asking, however, is what it would take to create peace in the country.

Meanwhile, both Denmark and Finland plan to withdraw their truce monitors by September 1st, following an LTTE demand that EU-member truce monitors pull out, claiming that they could not be neutral, as a result of a recent EU ban of the group. Swedish monitors will continue with the mission for now, but as the BBC notes:

The three EU states provide 40 of the 57 monitors on the team. Norway and Iceland have said they cannot fill the gaps alone.

Moreover, the SL government, while denouncing the departure of Danish and Finnish monitors, has pointedly noted that any changes to the SLMM require the consent of all parties to the CFA. With the only monitoring group in Sri Lanka disintegrating, no independent human rights commission, and a stalled political process evident in the withdrawal of both parties from talks in April and more recent squabbles over the All Party Conference, the human security situation in Sri Lanka is increasingly dire.

Which begs the question: The SLMM's equivocal statements notwithstanding, where is the international community? Even Sri Lanka's donor co-chairs (Japan, UK, US, and EU) who have made aid to SL contingent on a continuing peace process and were quick to condemn the events of April 25th and June 15th, have yet to issue any response.

The bombing continues. Its anyone's guess as to what will happen next.

Summary: 
Sri Lanka Bombs East, Tells People For Their Own Good

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Comments

Thanks for blogging this

Thanks for blogging this kettikili. I know way too little about this conflict and helps to have an informed source talking about it.

Two points: one, on the media coverage: this has aggravated me my whole life. I don't understand what the purpose of "major media" sources is if they don't cover events like this more readily; that's really what they're paid for.

Did the wires pick it up at all? How was their coverage? In the U.S., at least, that's how newspapers outside of major markets get their international stories.

Second, this made me curious: "What nobody seems to be asking, however, is what it would take to create peace in the country."

So...should I ask? :)

Thanks for writing a blog on

Thanks for writing a blog on this. Everyday as I peruse the daily news, I see the death toll in Sri Lanka steadily rising. and the situation rapidly escalating This is major news, and I know too little. So I'm glad that you put this up.

Speaking of not having a clear idea of what's happening in Sri Lanka, do you have any suggestions-- books, articles, and other pieces-- that might be helpful to put this situation in context? Perhaps a good book that you know of that is comprehensive and gives a good general overview of SL politics (for those of us who would like to know more)?

[...] But like Sri Lanka’s

[...] But like Sri Lanka’s now-defunct 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), without a consistent political process, it’s a stop-gap measure. And as we should be well-aware by now, the island doesn’t take too kindly to damming. [...]

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