Friday, November 13, 2009

Sri Lanka says emergency rule needed for ‘Shadows of Terrorism’

By Paul Tighe - Sri Lanka will retain emergency rule as it faces the “shadows of terrorism” after the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May ended a 26-year civil war, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake said.

The state of emergency and the presence of security checkpoints are “absolutely necessary as the shadows of terrorism haunt in the background,” Wickramanayake said, according to the government’s Web site. Security forces will have to study whether some of the measures may be relaxed, he said.

The government has cited the need to establish security and clear mines from the conflict zone in the north as a reason for delays in settling more than 280,000 displaced civilians housed in transit camps after the war ended.

The United Nations and U.S. have led international calls for Sri Lanka to swiftly release the mainly Tamil refugees. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government said yesterday more than half of the displaced people have now left the camps.

“We must preserve the freedom and victory gained over terrorism,” Wickramanayake said, adding that some security controls in place during the conflict have been eased. The prime minister was speaking at a ceremony yesterday for war heroes, according to the government.

The number of displaced people in camps has been reduced to 140,087, said Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, the government spokesman and minister of mass media and information. As many as 160,000 displaced people have been returned to their places of origin, he said yesterday, according to the Information Department.

Mine Clearing

An estimated 1.5 million mines and unexploded ordnance contaminated 500 square kilometers (193 square miles) of the north when the war ended, Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka’s army commander, said Oct. 27.

Civilians are returning to areas around Kilinochchi, the town in the north where the LTTE had its headquarters. A program has begun to settle more than 16,000 people in the Mullaitivu district in the northeast, the government said.

The army defeated the last Tamil Tiger forces in a battle at Mullaitivu in May, killing leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his commanders and ending their fight for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east of the South Asian island nation. Thousands of civilians were caught between the opposing forces in the final weeks of the conflict.

Tamils are being kept in “conditions of internment” in the camps, Navi Pillay, the UN human rights commissioner, said in September, a comment rejected by the government in Colombo.

John Holmes, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, will visit Sri Lanka Nov. 17-19 to assess progress settling the displaced people, the UN said yesterday. Holmes visited the country in February, April and May.

Fonseka Resigns

General Sarath Fonseka, Sri Lanka’s chief of defense staff, resigned yesterday amid speculation he will challenge Rajapaksa in presidential elections scheduled to take place before April next year. Fonseka was head of the army during the operations that led to the defeat of the LTTE.

The war against the Tamil Tigers was won by the ground forces though some others tried to take the credit for the victory, the country’s Island daily newspaper cited Fonseka as saying yesterday on its Web site.

Boasting about the military victory serves no purpose as security forces need to stop any attempt to revive the LTTE, Fonseka said. It would be a “grave mistake” to assume the killing of Prabhakaran ended the threat of separatism, he said.

Rajapaksa, in a speech in June marking the victory over the LTTE, said he won’t allow the “shadow of separatism” to remain, as he pledged to build a united Sri Lanka.

Tamils make up almost 12 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 20 million people. Sinhalese account for 74 percent, according to a 2001 census.

© Bloomberg

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