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Sri Lanka: Army captures Kilinochchi, editor murdered

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By Chris Slee

On January 2, after five months of fighting, the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) finally captured the town of Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka.

Kilinochchi had for many years been the administrative centre for areas controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a group fighting for self-determination for Tamils living in the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka.

The population of Kilinochchi had been evacuated to other LTTE-controlled areas before the SLA entered the town, which had been devastated by aerial and artillery bombardment.

The war has had a terrible effect on the civilian population. A statement by the Australian Federation of Tamil Associations (AFTA) refers to the SLA's northern offensive, which began in late 2007 after a similar offensive in the east, as a "genocidal military onslaught.... because of the indiscriminate artillery and multi barrel shelling and aerial bombardment, more than 300,000 people were forced to flee the advancing army of occupation and become IDPs [internally displaced people] in their own homeland, while thousands fled across the sea to nearby India. Some of the IDPs have been on the move for nearly a year now and have been living without permanent shelters, exposed to the heavy monsoon rains."

AFTA said it was "shocked and dismayed by the absolute silence maintained by the international community" about this onslaught. It appealed for action by various countries, including the United States, India and Australia, to bring about an immediate ceasefire, and to "persuade the Sri Lankan government to enter into peace negotiations with the LTTE to find a political solution that recognises the right to self-determination of the Tamil people".

However, the United States government has rejected the idea of negotiations with the LTTE. A statement issued by the US embassy in Colombo welcomed the SLA's capture of Kilinochchi, and said: "We hope it will help hasten an end to the conflict.... The US does not
advocate that the government of Sri Lanka negotiate with the LTTE, a group designated by the United States since 1997 as a foreign terrorist organisation".

Instead the US advocated that the Sri Lankan government talk to other Tamil groups to reach "a political solution that Tamils...see as legitimate", in the hope that this would "erode the support of the LTTE".

While the government is waging war on the Tamil people of the north, it is also repressing dissent in the predominantly Sinhalese south of Sri Lanka. Lasantha Wickramatunga, the editor of the Sunday Leader, a weekly newspaper critical of the government of president Mahinda Rajapaksa, was murdered by "unknown gunmen" on January 8.

This is part of a pattern of violent attacks on critics of the government. Amnesty International said last year that at least ten media workers were killed over a two-year period after Rajapaksa came to power, while others were abducted, detained or had disappeared.

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