Headlines

SRI LANKA: Local Water Dispute Turning Into Open War

Amantha Perera

COLOMBO, Aug 3 2006 (IPS) - As heavy fighting continued Thursday between the Sri Lankan army and Tamil rebel militants, to gain control over an irrigation sluice near Trincomalee port, fears are growing over the fate of a ceasefire brokered by Norway in 2002.

As heavy fighting continued Thursday between the Sri Lankan army and Tamil rebel militants, to gain control over an irrigation sluice near Trincomalee port, fears are growing over the fate of a ceasefire brokered by Norway in 2002.

Fighting broke out, on the weekend, between the army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), to settle a dispute over the operation of the sluice, at Mawilaru, that feeds farmers who are largely ethnic Sinhalese.

The government has accused the Tamil Tigers (as the LTTE is known) of closing the sluice gate and depriving 15,000 civilians of water supplies. But the Tigers say that civilians upstream of the sluice have blocked it to protest a government move to scrap a proposed drinking water project that would benefit ethnic Tamils and is being funded by the Asian Development Bank (AsDB).

After negotiations mediated by the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM), an the all-Nordic group that monitors the ceasefire, failed to settle the dispute, government troops supported by artillery and air cover launched an operation in to capture the area around the sluice.

Details of the fighting remain sketchy but most of the action seems to be directed at capturing the strategic Muttur town that overlooks Trincomalee port, which both sides now claim to be in control of.


A statement issued by the defence ministry said the army had repulsed repeated attacks on the town and inflicted “heavy casualties, killing over 40 Tiger cadres and wounding 70 other terrorists”.

But the Tigers have disputed the government claim and the affiliated TamilNet.com website said their fighters had overrun four Sri Lankan army camps and entered Muttur to engage the army.

Tamil and Sinhalese farmers have accused each other of trying to gain exclusive control over the sluice and the paddy fields it irrigates. “This is an attempt to get the Sinhalese out of this area,” Suruvavila Saranakeerthi Thero, a Buddhist monk leading protests on the government side told IPS.

He said that the Tigers had planned the closure and had in fact informed Tamil farmers in the area not to cultivate this season. “Not only Tamil farmers but Sinhalese also had stopped cultivating. If the harvest fails, the villagers will leave,” he said.

According to the monk, around 30,000 acres of paddy land are affected by the closure. He said that violence over the past six months had already forced many Sinhala villagers to flee. Around 900 people have been killed since December in hostilities between the LTTE and the army.

Tamils living in the area around the sluice, that is under the control of the Tigers, accuse the government of reneging on earlier promises to build a reservoir system in the area. ‘’The Northeast Rehabilitation ministry promised that they would build water tanks to supply water to seven villages in the LTTE-controlled areas. But, now they have changed their plans and are only going to build water tanks in the government-controlled areas. That water will not be supplied to us. Besides, no one has provided aid to the displaced civilians in the LTTE areas. That’s why we closed the sluice,” Tiger political head in Trincomalee, S Ellilan said.

When Tamil civilians met with SLMM chief, Ulf Henricssson, last week, their demands included restoration of the water reservoir project and removal of restrictions on transport of construction material into areas under Tiger control. Henricsson could not provide any assurances and before he could return with the government’s reactions to the demands, fighting erupted in the area.

”The ceasefire is definitely existent in all these areas excepting for Sampur (area south of the Trincomalee harbor). There is too much of violence in this area. We are unaware what this might lead into,” Henricsson said in Colombo.

Monitors have been unable to reach the area of the fighting due to security fears. Bombs fell close to where Henricsson himself was holding discussions with the Tigers and civilians, last week.

Despite the bloody battle over Muttur town, the government has continued to insist that it is committed to the ceasefire.

The February 2002 truce halted more than two decades of sectarian violence spearheaded by the Tigers who are demanding a separate state for the country’s minority Tamils in the north east of the island.

The ethnic war began in 1983 when the Tigers took to arms in 1983 to fight for a homeland for Sri Lanka’s Tamils, who claim discrimination at the hands of the Buddhist Sinhalese majority.

While the ceasefire continued, negotiations for a political settlement have been almost non-existent in the last three years. Since April 2003, the two sides have only met once – in January in Geneva.

There is now a threat of the SLMM being rendered defunct due to a Tiger deadline that all nationals from European Union be removed from monitoring duties by Sep. 1. Already Sweden, Finland and Denmark have said that they would comply with the request, leaving the SLMM with a mere 20 monitors. “There is always a possibility of a full scale war as the ceasefire agreement is under threat,” Henricsson said.

 
Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Environment, Headlines, Human Rights

SRI LANKA: Local Water Dispute Turning Into Open War

Amantha Perera

COLOMBO, Aug 3 2006 (IPS) - As heavy fighting continued Thursday between the Sri Lankan army and Tamil rebel militants, to gain control over an irrigation sluice near Trincomalee port, fears are growing over the fate of a ceasefire brokered by Norway in 2002.
(more…)

 
Republish | | Print |


cases and concepts in comparative politics pdf