Business and commerce in Sri Lanka’s port city of Trincomalee were paralyzed as a three-day strike in protest against renewed violence by the Tamil Tiger guerillas entered its last day Jan. 14. Main roads in the town were deserted except for government troops on patrol. Shops, government offices, schools, public markets, banks and transportation were all closed in the hartal (strike) called by the Sinhala Vimukthi Sanvidanaya, a civil organization of the dominant Buddhist Sinhalese ethnicity. A Jan. 13 rally in support of the strike was reportedly attended by Tamils and Muslims as well as Sinhalese. (Qatar Gulf Times, Jan. 15) Authorities said they also suspected that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was involved in the work stoppage. The Marxist JVP is currently a key ally of President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government. (PTI, Jan. 13) The TamilNation website accuses the JVP of representing “Sinhala Buddhist fundamentalism in Marxist garb.”
Meanwhile, two groups of Sri Lankan Tamils, together numbering over 30, have fled to India by boat, fearing that the island is sliding back towards civil war, authorities in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu report. Both groups left from Mannar on Sri Lanka’s northwest coast. Recent months have seen escalating violence between Sri Lankan government forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) guerillas in the area.
“They said they fled their homes fearing death in the crossfire,” police deputy superintendent V. Subramanian said from Rameswaram, the town where both groups arrived. Police said the new arrivals are now in a camp where about 650 Tamil refugees are living after tens of thousands fled to southern India during the island’s civil war in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Fears are growing of a return to a war that killed more than 64,000 people before a 2002 truce. Suspected Tigers killed nine sailors in a mine attack on Sri Lanka’s north coast on Jan. 12. Similar attacks killed 39 military personnel in December—many in Mannar. The LTTE has generally denied involvement, while accusing the government of not upholding the truce.
Colombo has repeatedly said it will not be provoked into resuming war, but new President Rajapakse is juggling the demands of hardline allies and an increasingly frustrated military.
“This attack comes at a time when President Rajapakse is making a sincere effort to consult with political parties and … [peace mediator Norway] in order to move the peace process forward,” the government said in a Jan. 12 statement. (Gulf Times, Jan. 14)