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 Post subject: War, Tsunami, War again ........ Sinners Forever?
 Post Posted: Sat May 20, 2006 3:23 pm 
War, Tsunami, War again ........ Sinners Forever?
Where a deserted beach means war, not paradise

From Jeremy Page in Trincomalee
The Times - UK May 20, 2006


Every day brings another fatal shooting, grenade attack or mine blast. “First there was the war, then the tsunami, now war again,” said Mr Senadeera, 50, who moved here in hope of a quiet life. “When will this misfortune end?” Like many Sri Lankans, he thought it had in 2002 when the Government signed a ceasefire agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam — the Tamil Tigers.

Image
Jayantha Senadeera was proud of the speed with which he reopened his Coral Bay guesthouse after the tsunami. He used to have 200 guests a month, but last month he had only six. Photo: Tom Pietrasik

THESE days the only visitors to the Coral Bay guesthouse are the cows.

Jayantha Senadeera, the hotel’s manager, kicks the sand as he watches them forage along Nilaveli beach — one of the finest on Sri Lanka’s idyllic but incendiary east coast.

It took just three months, he says with pride, to rebuild the beach-front guesthouse after it was flattened by the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. By last summer it was attracting 200 Western tourists a month.

But a year after its reopening, Coral Bay is deserted once more — this time because of a man-made tragedy that has claimed more than 60,000 lives in the past two decades. Sri Lanka is at war again — and Nilaveli, for all its beauty, is right on the front line.

The road through the village is lined with heavily armed soldiers peering nervously into the surrounding jungle. And every day brings another fatal shooting, grenade attack or mine blast. “First there was the war, then the tsunami, now war again,” said Mr Senadeera, 50, who moved here in hope of a quiet life. “When will this misfortune end?” Like many Sri Lankans, he thought it had in 2002 when the Government signed a ceasefire agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam — the Tamil Tigers.

They had been fighting for an independent homeland since 1983, accusing the Buddhist Sinhalese majority of discriminating against the 3.2 million mostly Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka. In the past month, however, that truce has unravelled with clashes that have claimed more than 200 lives.

The violence erupted into open military conflict last week when the Tigers used suicide boats to attack naval ships off the north coast, sinking one and killing 18 people on board.

The Government responded with air strikes around the Tigers’ northern stronghold of Kilinochchi. Now, even the Nordic truce monitors here admit that they are dealing with a “low intensity war”. “Whether it’s a war or not is a matter of definition — either way, there is too much violence here,” said Ulf Henricsson, the retired Swedish Major-General leading the monitoring mission .

Today, he heads to Oslo to ask the mission’s contributing nations for 50 more monitors, two boats, flak jackets and helmets. But without weapons, he can do little to halt the slide towards a full-scale resumption of hostilities. “It’s a tragedy, because they have everything they need to become a wealthy country, if only they could live together,” he said.

One of the areas worst hit in the past month is Trincomalee, an eastern port city 150 miles (240km) from Colombo and five miles south of Nilaveli.

On paper, it should be a thriving shipping and tourist hub: it is the world’s second-biggest natural harbour, surrounded by coral reefs and pristine palm-fringed beaches.

The problem is its explosive ethnic mix: Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim in roughly equal numbers. And while the port itself is controlled by the Government, swaths of territory either side are held by the Tigers.

“We are sitting on a volcano,” one senior local official, who asked not to be identified, said. “We need an external peacekeeping force.”

The present spasm of violence began last year when a Buddha statue was erected next to the central market square, sparking clashes between Tamils and Sinhalese.

On April 12 this year a bomb in the market killed at least 16 people. Within minutes, a Sinhalese mob began rampaging around town, attacking Tamils and torching their businesses.

The Tamils responded in kind and within a few days, 21 people were dead. Then, at the end of last month, the Government launched air strikes on Tiger territory near Trincomalee in response to a suicide bomb attack in the capital, Colombo.At least 16 more were killed. The combined effect, local aid workers say, is that more than 22,000 people in the area have left their homes.

And now the violence is spreading into the Muslim community, which the Tamils accuse of siding with the Sinhalese. Last week two Tamils were shot dead and a Muslim man was hacked to death in Muthur, a town nine miles south of Trincomalee. This week two more Tamils were killed there. And one Muslim man is missing after entering a Tamil area to sell fish.

On the edge of Muthur, some 500 Muslims are sheltering in a former tsunami relief camp after fleeing a Tiger attack on their village. In the town centre, about 600 Christian Tamils, mostly widows and children, have sought refuge in St Anthony’s Church. “If I am going to die, I want it to be in a church,” one said.

Both the Government and the Tigers deny responsibility for the escalation in violence. The Government accuses the Tigers of repeatedly violating the ceasefire, but says it is still committed to the peace process. Mangala Samaraweera, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, met Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, in Tokyo this week to try to increase international pressure on the Tigers.

He said they should be listed internationally as a terrorist organisation, if they did not resume peace talks. The Tigers accuse the Government of failing to back up the ceasefire with policy changes, and of killing hundreds of Tamil civilians to weaken their support base. “We do not want to start a war, or to withdraw from the ceasefire, but we must protect our people,” Daya Master, a Tigers spokesman, said. “The Government says it is ready for talks, but has not created the right atmosphere at the ground level.”

Among political analysts and diplomats, however, the consensus is that neither side wants to resume peace talks on their current basis, and both share the blame for the recent bloodshed.

President Rajapkase won an election last year after allying himself with hardliners opposed to the ceasefire, and his Government is widely believed to have covertly backed Tiger defectors, called the Karuna group, who are encroaching on Tiger territory in the east. The strategy, analysts say, is to undermine the Tigers’ claim to represent all Tamils, while upholding the ceasefire on paper.

The Tigers, meanwhile, are infuriated by Karuna’s defection and concerned that they are losing their wartime credibility.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, the director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, said that both sides felt change was needed before negotiations could achieve anything. “If there were peace talks tomorrow, there would only be further deadlock.”

That is small comfort for the staff at Coral Bay. They have not seen a guest in two weeks. Only five came last month. And they are already buying on credit at the local shop to feed themselves.

“All we can do is hope for peace talks,” said Mr Senadeera. “If there is peace, the tourists will come.”


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