Friday, October 29, 2010


The Convenor of the Inter University Students' Federation (IUSF) Udul Premarathne was arrested by police today (29). An open warrant for the arrest of Premarathne was issued by the Colombo Magistrate this morning, the police said.

He was arrested when he returned after attending a discussion at the opposition United National Party's headquarters.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Sri Lanka Navy Chief visits India's Southern Naval Command

Colombo Page

Sri Lanka Navy Commander Vice Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe who is in India has visited the headquarters of India's Southern Naval Command in Kochi.

Southern Naval Command Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Shrikhande received the visiting Sri Lankan Navy Chief and his wife at the Naval Air Station INS Garuda, Indian media reported.

Reportedly, the Sri Lankan Navy Commander has received training at the Indian naval establishment in Kochi as a young Lieutenant in 1981.

According to Sri Lanka's Defence Ministry Vice Admiral Samarasinghe arrived in New Delhi on October 19 for an 8-day official visit on the invitation of the Indian Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma.

Vice Admiral Samarasinghe had earlier participated in the golden jubilee celebrations of the National Defence College at New Delhi.

Sri Lankan Navy Chief has called on India's Defence Minister A. K. Anthony and met other senior officials. He was accompanied by Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to India, Prasad Kariyawasam.

Vice Admiral Samarasinghe is due to return to Sri Lanka today.

© Colombo Page

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Sri Lanka's moral policing: Rajapaksa's big cover-up

The Economist

Damage to Sri Lanka’s wondrous Sigiriya frescoes—5th-century depictions of lovely women with ample and mostly bare breasts—sent President Mahinda Rajapaksa clambering up to the rock fortress that houses them for an anxious look. Yet contemporary portraits of the barely-clad female form offend the eye of Mr Rajapaksa’s po-faced regime.

Since he was re-elected in a landslide in January, Mr Rajapaksa has sought to make good on a campaign promise to “create a society with good values and ethics”. In Colombo, this has meant police tearing down “indecent” posters and flyers. Citing a law against obscene publications, the officer who led that operation said he had ordered his men to remove any image of “women with their legs out”.

In a country whose textiles firms turn out thousands of racy bras and frilly knickers a year—including for Victoria’s Secret, an American apparel firm with longstanding ties to Sri Lanka—at least one lingerie company has stopped advertising. The crackdown will spread to other cities. But it has been delayed while Sri Lanka’s own vice-and-virtue squad launch another assault, on internet pornography.

Real-life lewdness is also out. In July police rounded up hundreds of red-faced couples caught holding hands, cuddling and kissing in public. In Kurunegala, a town near the centre of the island nation, they scoured hotel rooms for unmarried lovers. Similar crackdowns have been reported in many other places.

Prathiba Mahanama, a legal expert at the University of Colombo, says arresting consenting adult couples is illegal and suggests the victims could sue. But these efforts are popular. They are also backed by Sri Lanka’s powerful Buddhist clergy, whose support Mr Rajapaksa has carefully fostered. In March Sri Lanka denied a visa to Akon, a Senegalese-American singer, after he was pilloried by Buddhist monks for a pop video that showed women in bikinis dancing around a statue of the Buddha.

Victims of Mr Rajapaksa’s moral rage might wish to reach for a consolatory drink. But that is also frowned on. Advertising alcohol is banned to the extent that televised scenes that show drinking are pixellated. Oddly, parties flowing with free booze were a common feature of Mr Rajapaksa’s presidential campaign.

© The Economist

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Rising bread prices expose trade vulnerabilities

By Amantha Perera | Inter Press Service

There was a time when being a breadseller here in Colombo enabled Charmindha to have modest dreams. But the teenager from Sri Lanka’s rural south has been seeing his daily earnings slide in the last two months, and indications are that’s not going to change anytime soon.

"My sales have dropped by about 20 percent," says Charmindha, who gets a two-rupee (2 cents) commission for every loaf he sells. In the past, he says, he would sell as much as 120 loaves each time he made his round on a motorbike through residential neighbourhoods here. "Now," he says, "if I do about 100 (loaves) it is a good run."

Major bakeries and bread manufacturers are having similar experiences. Bakery Owners’ Association President Newton Jayawardena tells IPS, "In the urban areas we have witnessed a drop in bread sales about 10 to 15 percent. In the rural areas its worse, we have witnessed a drop of about 25 percent."

For sure, the rising price of baked goods is largely to blame for their waning sales across the country. A month ago, a 450-gramme bread loaf cost 43 rupees (39 cents). Today its price is 46 rupees (41 cents).

Bakers say that they have had to raise prices for their products in part because of escalating world wheat prices. Jayawardena even says, "That is the only reason, there was nothing else."

But that may not an accurate statement. In fact, the government has imposed a tax of 10 rupees on every kilo of wheat imported in an effort to make locally produced rice more attractively priced in the market.

Sri Lanka’s latest rice harvest has been forecast to be a bumper crop of 2.54 metric tonnes.

In a country brief released earlier in October, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said, "The Government has re-imposed an import tax of 15 percent on imported wheat to reduce consumption of flour and support rice prices in anticipation of the bumper Yala (second half of the year) harvest. Farmers are provided with fertiliser subsidies, which resulted in increased rice production."

"(A) bumper harvest has led to significant drop in rice prices," the FAO also said. "On the other hand wheat prices have increased, mainly due to policy interventions on wheat imports."

Indeed, as wheat and bread prices increase, rice prices are going in the opposite direction. Some rice varieties now cost 20 percent less compared to just a year ago, and as bread disappears from dinner tables across Sri Lanka, there can only be more rice on the plates.

As in other Asian countries, rice is a staple in Sri Lanka. But since the 1970s, bread has been part of breakfast and dinner for many Sri Lankans as well.

According to the Census and Statistics Department, a typical Sri Lankan household consumes on average about nine kilogrammes of bread and other wheat products a month. That’s much lower than the monthly rice consumption of 36 kg per household, but data show that with the exception of rice, bread outranks other food items in a Sri Lankan home.

Yet even bakers and baked goods sellers themselves are pessimistic of bread holding that position for long.

Bakery Owners’ Association officials say that in the poorer areas of the country, people already appear to be scratching bread off their shopping lists.

"In the urban areas, where the richer communities are, we still see people buying bread and other bakery products because of the convenience," says association secretary Rohan Hettiarachchi. "In the poorer areas, I don’t think people can afford to pay almost 50 rupees per loaf."

And much as they may want to, producers of baked goods would be unable to lower their prices unless the government gives the industry a generous tax break.

According to the FAO, global wheat production forecasts were at 646 million tonnes for this year, a five-percent drop from 2009. It blames this on the low wheat production in Russia, which has been much larger than the increased wheat outputs of the United States and China.

Last August, Russia banned wheat exports and reports indicate that the ban is likely to be in place for some time. That only means world wheat prices will stay high.

Rough estimates have the annual sales of the baked goods industry in Sri Lanka as reaching as much as 150 billion rupees (1.34 billion dollars). But industry insiders now say they may lose about 20 percent in profit in 2010 year compared to the 2009 figure.

Sri Lanka’s baked goods industry provides direct employment to at least 120,000 people, even as it indirectly supports other sectors such as transport, poultry growing, and dairy, according to the Bakery Owners’ Association.

Just a few months ago, it also supported the dreams of a young man from the country of someday making it big in the city. But even Charmindha has realised that he will have to find a new job soon if he wants his dreams to come true, bread just does not sell like it used to.


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Friday, October 29, 2010

Sri Lanka: War widows left in poverty

By Subash Somachandran | World Socialist Web Site

Nearly three decades of communal war waged by successive Colombo governments against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) left tens of thousands of women as war widows. In the south of the island, many wives lost their husbands who were dragooned into the army as economic conscripts and used as cannon fodder in the fighting.

In the North and East, it was not only the wives of LTTE fighters who became war widows. Pro-government death squads “disappeared” or murdered hundreds of Tamil civilians, who were allegedly connected to the LTTE or critical of the war. Many thousands more civilians died in the murderous offensives waged by the military in the final months of the war that ended in the LTTE’s defeat in May 2009.

After the LTTE’s collapse, the army herded more than a quarter of a million Tamil civilians—men, women and children—into military-run detention camps. In addition, thousands of young people were interrogated and dragged off to unknown centres for “LTTE suspects”. Those who have been released have returned to war-ravaged towns and villages without basic services and little or no aid.

Deputy Minister for Womens Affairs and Child Development, M.L.A.M. Hizbullah announced late last month that he had a list of 89,000 war widows—49,000 in Eastern Province and 40,000 in Northern Province. Among them were 12,000 below the age of 40 and 8,000 who had at least three children. “We need help to look after the war widows and we are seeking help from abroad for this,” he said.

In reality, the Sri Lankan government has washed its hands of these victims of its war. Widows who can produce a death certificate for their husbands receive 50,000 rupees ($US442) in compensation. The remainder are given only 150 rupees a month. This sum is even not enough to cover food for one person for a day, let alone a family for a month.

Saroja Sivachandiran, director of the Centre of Womens Development, a voluntary organisation in northern Jaffna, provided the WSWS last week with its statistics for war widows in the North: 26,340 in Jaffna district; 5,403 in Kilinochchi, which was the LTTE’s administrative centre; 4,303 in Vavuniya and 3,994 in Mannar. The figures for the district of Mullaithivu, where the military’s final offensive took place, are not available.

The husbands of these widows were either killed in fighting or disappeared, Sivachandiran explained. In Jaffna district alone, 3,118 widows are under the age of 40, and 38 are under 20. The statistics also show that 1,042 women were widowed after their husbands committed suicide—victims of the economic and social crisis produced by decades of war.

Sivachandiran said: “Although their husbands were abducted before their eyes, the women had to keep silent as there was no guarantee for their lives. Even when a complaint was made to the police, the courts or the government-appointed Human Rights Commission, they did not receive proper decisions and are still waiting for their husbands.”

Most young widows live with their parents or relatives, while many of the middle-aged women live on their own. They survive with the aid of some voluntary groups or the meagre government assistance. Some widows earn a little income in casual jobs or by running small businesses. It is common to find women, including widows, working for businesses on low wages. Some have been traumatised and should receive medical help.

Sivachandiran added: “What is the situation of the abducted people? The government has the responsibility to make inquiries and find them. The wives saw their husbands taken away. Here everything is decided by the government. We don’t have any confidence that these women will get any justice.”

The WSWS spoke to several widows in the Jaffna area. All of them were very thin—a clear sign that they did not have proper meals. They were wearing old clothes and lived in makeshift accommodation.

Kamala, 30, explained: “My husband died at the age of 26. He produced Palmyra toddy [a type of alcohol]. He worked in the neighbouring village. As usual on May 15, 2006 my husband left for work at 7 a.m. He usually returned at 10 a.m., but he did not come back. We searched for him and finally found him dead that evening. His body was buried in the soil inside a deserted house. His legs had been tied, his head had been beaten and his neck had been cut. We have no doubt that it was done by the navy.

“I have been injured in a shell attack. I still have pieces of shell in my body. Now I am unable to walk properly. I have two children. My father cares for us. He is a fisherman and very poor. I would not be in such a situation if my husband were alive. The government gives me 150 rupees per month. My seven year old girl and six year old boy study at a local school. I don’t have a house and live in a shanty.”

Krishna, also 30, said her husband died in December 2000. He was asked to join the LTTE for training. He refused twice but the LTTE finally took him off by force. Her son and daughter are now 12 and 10. When WSWS reporters spoke to her in mid-October, she still had not received the government’s 150-rupee allowance for September.

Krishna was detained last year in the military’s detention camps and had only recently returned. She lives with her mother. When she was released she was given 25,000 rupees, 12 sheets of corrugated iron and six bags of cement to build a house. She has just finished building a small hut. “The war devastated our lives,” she said.

A widow, 50, from Akkarayan in the district of Kilinochchi said: “My husband was killed in a shell attack by the military in May last year at Mullivaikkal [in the Mullaithivu district]. I have two sons and two daughters. My elder daughter has finished the advanced level [university entrance] examination. The army arrested her when we entered the military-controlled area. I have still not found her. We were sent to the Ramanathan [detention] camp. We asked several military officers about my daughter, but they did not tell us anything.

“Three months have passed since we were resettled. Our house had been demolished. The military did not allow us to return to our land. Now we are living in a tent given to us by a non-government organisation. The tent will flood when the rain comes. I don’t have any income. I receive only the government’s relief. They said it would stop after six months. My three children are going to school. I am unable to afford their expenses.”

She expressed her anger at the government and all political parties, including the various Tamil parties. “None of the political parties has come to help us. They only arrive at election time,” she said. Referring to the government’s boasting about economic development, she added: “It is just for show when the government talks about ‘economic war’ and ‘nation building’ while it keeps us here in tents starving.”


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Friday, October 29, 2010

US to build super base to contain China's military build-up

Praveen Swami | Telegraph

The expansion will include a dock for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a missile defence system, live-fire training sites and the expansion of the island's airbase. It will be the largest investment in a military base in the western Pacific since the Second World War, and the biggest spend on naval infrastructure in decades.

However, Guam residents fear the build-up could hurt their ecosystem and tourism-dependent economy.

Estimates suggest that the island's population will rise by almost 50 per cent from its current 173,000 at the peak of construction. It will eventually house 19,000 Marines who will be relocated from the Japanese island of Okinawa, where the US force has become unpopular.

The US's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said that this could trigger serious water shortages. The EPA said that dredging the harbour to allow an aircraft carrier to berth would damage 71 acres of pristine coral reefs.

The EPA's report said the build-up would "exacerbate existing substandard environmental conditions on Guam".

Local residents' concerns, however, have been sidelined by the US-China strategic competition. China has significantly expanded its fleet during the past decade, seeking to deter the US from intervening militarily in any future conflict over Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, and to project power across disputed territories in the gas and oil-rich South China Sea.

Beijing's naval build-up is also intended secure the sea lanes from the Middle East, from where China will import an estimated 70-80 per cent of its oil needs by 2035 supplies it fears US could choke in the event of a conflict.

China has therefore invested in what are called its "string of pearls" a network of bases strung along the Indian Ocean rim, like Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan and in developing a navy which can operate far from home.

Experts agree China does not currently have the capability to challenge US supremacy in the Pacific and Indian Ocean. "China has a large appetite", says Carl Ungerer, an analyst at Australian Strategic Policy Institute, "but it hasn't got enough teeth".

But China clearly intends to add bite to its naval arsenal. The country has acquired several modern Russian-made submarines and destroyers. Its shipyards are building new nuclear-powered submarines, as well as an aircraft carrier. There have also been reports that China is planning to test a new type of ballistic missile, the Dong Feng 21D, which would effectively render US carriers defenceless.

"China's charm offensive is over", says Ian Storey, an expert at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, "and its given way to what you might call an adolescent foreign policy. The country's flexing its muscles, letting us know it won't be pushed around".

The US is also investing another £126 million on upgrading infrastructure at the British-owned Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia, 700 miles south of Sri Lanka.

Key among the upgrades at Diego Garcia, which are due for completion in 2013, will be the capability to repair a nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine which can carry up to 154 cruise missiles striking power equivalent to that of an entire US aircraft carrier battle group.

Diego Garcia, which has served as a launch-pad for air strikes on Iraq and Afghanistan, is already home to one third of what the US navy calls its Afloat Prepositioned Force equipment kept on standby to support military deployment anywhere in the world.

© Telegraph

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Activists remember those lost in civil war

UCA News

Activists and priests have joined with victims’ families to remember thousands of people who “disappeared” during Sri Lanka’s long civil war and insurgency.

“Forced disappearance is a crime against humanity. Let us not allow it to happen again,” rights activist Dr. P. Saravanamuttu told the 20th annnual commemoration ceremony organized by the Families of the Disappeared Movement in Colombo on Oct. 26.

“We all have a stake on this national issue. Now it is time to come together with concrete action and make it a matter of conscience of all citizens of this nation,” he added.

Delegates from leading political parties, civil society organizations, churches and embassies attended the event along with representatives from the Asian Forum Against Disappearance (AFAD).

Anglican Bishop Kumara Elangasinghe of Kurunegala accused the government of failing to stop the disappearances. “The government has an undeniable moral responsibility to stop these vicious practices,” he said.

Families of the Disappeared Movement’s reports indicate that there were over 45,000 disappearances in Sri Lanka during the 1980s. Another 75,000 more people have disappeared since 2004.

“We approached all possible authorities, police, ministers and many other influential people for help,” a relative of one disappeared person told “Some politicians even misled us. Years have passed. Yet, not a single trace of them was found,” he said.

Oct. 27 is the Day of Commemoration of Forced Disappearances in Sri Lanka. A forced disappearance occurs when a person is secretly imprisoned or killed by agents of the state or by a criminal group.

© UCA News

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Sri Lanka's Military tries to polish its' image on Reality TV

By Amantha Perera | TIME

During the last years of Sri Lanka's battle against the Tamil Tigers, the military hierarchy used to receive a regular — if somewhat unusual — request: members of the forces wanted to be on reality TV.

At the time, while the decades-long civil war was still being fought, requests were turned down, says Lakshman Hulugalle, the director general of the Media Centre for National Security. Not anymore. The war has been over for almost 20 months and now the soldiers, sailors and air-force personnel are getting a shot at their 15 minutes of fame in Ranaviru Real Star (War Hero Real Star), a new reality-television show that will be open only to members of the forces. Officials say the show, set to debut on Nov. 6, will give the service personnel a chance to showcase their talents off the battlefield.

Up until now, singing and dancing is not what members of Sri Lanka's three forces have been known for. The army, navy and air force were front and center in national headlines for over two and half decades in a bloody separatist war on the island that ended in May 2009. The war that cost more than 70,000 lives created a stereotype of the front-line fighters and their commanders as being hardened, emotionless armed soldiers.

Now that the nation is at peace, the military wants to break that mold. "When someone is holding a gun, there is always a certain image that people have of that person," Hulugalle says. "There is so much that people don't know [about the soldiers]. When we used to visit bunkers at the front, we saw some of them had written poems or drawn pictures." The talent contest is the latest effort by the Defense Ministry to humanize the government soldiers' image. At the show's kickoff press event earlier this month, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the country's Defense Secretary and the man credited with being one of the driving forces behind the defeat of the Tigers, said, "We want to emphasize the human behind the weapon."

It's not the first measure the Defense Ministry has taken to reinvent the image of the military since the end of the war. When Sri Lanka confronted a threatening dengue epidemic earlier this year, armed forces were used extensively to clean up mosquito breeding areas. Military units stationed in the country's former conflict zone in the north have used the large manpower at their disposal to build badly needed public trust that was ruptured during the war — distributing artificial limbs and wheelchairs to war-injured civilians, cleaning up and repairing hospital wards, preparing agriculture land for cultivation, building houses and even repairing Hindu temples damaged during the war.

For now, it appears that the acceptance of the sunshine campaign is still drawn along the same lines that split the country during its long war. The members of the three forces, predominantly from the majority Sinhala community, are hugely popular in the country's south. But a stiffer reception is afforded to them in the north, where most minority Tamils live and over which the Tigers fought for a separate country. Large numbers of troops are still stationed in the Vanni, a wide swath of land in the north that was under the control of Tigers for over a decade until the war's end last year. More than 300,000 Vanni civilians displaced by the last bout of fighting have left the welfare camps, where little over 26,000 remain now.

The returning civilians are trying to shake off the aftereffects of the war and build normal lives as best they can. This is where the new image the military is seeking will be tested. Kandaiah Ramakrishnan, whose name has been changed at his request, has lived in the Vanni for over three decades. He has seen it all: the Tigers, the government forces and even Indian peacekeepers who were stationed there over two decades back. He is willing to give the government and the military a clean slate for now. "I don't think anybody will regret the chance they got to return home and live peacefully," says the 60-year-old government education officer. "The sterner test would be how we get to live from now on."

There are signs that the military has succeeded to some extent in getting closer to the Tamil community, especially due to the construction and development work it has undertaken in the north. "In our research in the north, we found that there were mixed feelings toward the army," says Chris Chapman, head of Conflict Prevention at the London-based Minority Rights Group International. "In some instances, the army is seen to be helping people, building homes and transporting goods so that construction can happen." But the enduring overmilitarization of the Vanni — not to mention the horrific end of the conflict in which more than 330,000 people were displaced and, according to some U.N. reports, as many 7,000 civilians died — has left many residents deeply skeptical. "There is certainly a major issue of trust amongst Tamils. They not only associate the army with human-rights violations in the last stages of fighting, but there have been historical patterns of violations," Chapman says.

Outside Sri Lanka, the government and the military continue to face allegations of human-rights abuses during the final phases of the war. In a May report titled "War Crimes in Sri Lanka," the International Crisis Group said it had evidence of civilian casualties toward the end of the fighting, and that it would hand over the evidence to authorities that could protect witnesses. The government dismissed the report, saying that any investigation into alleged violations would be undertaken by a national body and that they were not open to international investigations, as the Crisis Group demanded in the report.

Last week, Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris told a forum at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies that the government has since invited international rights groups to submit evidence of any allegations of crimes committed during the war to a commission it had set up. But Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Crisis Group, stating in a joint letter that the commission failed "to meet basic international standards for independent and impartial inquiries," have rejected the invitation. An advisory panel on Sri Lanka set up by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also sought public submissions along similar lines last week, but Crisis Group officials told TIME that the evidence they say they have is unlikely to be submitted to the U.N. panel at this time. "We are planning on submitting to the panel some of our public reports on Sri Lanka, including our May 2010 report 'War Crimes in Sri Lanka,' in which we lay out what we believe is widespread and credible evidence of war crimes committed by both the LTTE [Tigers] and the Sri Lankan military in the final months of the war," said Alan Keenan, the Crisis Group's Sri Lanka project director.

Meanwhile, the Global Tamil Forum, a body representing Tamils living outside Sri Lanka, released pictures last week of what it said were incidents of massacres committed by government forces during the last stages of the war. (The organization, however, said that it could not vouch for the authenticity of the pictures, which it said it obtained from a Tiger intelligence operative.) The government rejected the pictures as the latest attempt by the pro-Tiger lobby to discredit it.

That controversy, however, has done little to dampen Sri Lanka's anticipation of the first episode of Ranaviru Real Star. TV trailers are running regularly and weekend newspapers are publishing articles on the show, trumpeting it as the first reality talent show anywhere in the world wholly dedicated to members of the armed services. A helicopter has been modified to serve as the judges' podium and the winner's take is likely to be worth up to $89,000.


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Friday, October 29, 2010

Sri Lanka eases check points in capital

Agence France-Presse

Sri Lanka said Wednesday it would begin dismantling a dozen permanent military check points in the capital which are a legacy of decades of ethnic conflict on the island nation.

Two permanent road blocks on the southwestern edge of Colombo will be removed Wednesday and 10 other similar points will be gradually eased, the Government Information Department said.

"It has become possible to dismantle the permanent check points with the improved security situation. The permanent road blocks will be replaced with alternate surveillance such as snap road blocks," a department spokesman said.

It was not clear what will happen to dozens of other check points across the country, where troops armed with automatic assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades stand guard behind sand-filled bags or heavy metal barricades.

In a sign of the changing role of the check points and atmosphere in the country, some check points had started featuring advertising space targeting motorists who are routinely held up while their vehicles are searched.

Sri Lankan troops wiped out the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May last year following a no-holds-barred military offensive.

Colombo, a city of 650,000 people, had been tightly guarded during the fighting which saw key economic and military targets, politicians and military commanders targeted by the rebels in the capital.

Since their defeat, the Tigers have not been able to stage any attacks anywhere on the island, but Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne told parliament this month that separatists living in the United States and Norway were trying to stage a comeback.

Sri Lanka is still under a state of emergency which gives police and security forces wide powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods without trial.

Shortly after the crushing of the Tigers, the government eased some of the provisions in the emergency laws, but many measures have been brought back recently under different legislation.

The United Nations estimates that up to 100,000 people died in the ethnic conflict which lasted from 1972 until 2009.

The opposition accuses the government of using emergency laws to stifle political dissent and the media, charges denied by the authorities.


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