Sri Lanka rebels’ air attack on capital


Tamil residents at a protest at which rebels were denounced for allegedly using civilians as human shields.
Tamil Tiger rebel aircraft on Friday dropped bombs in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, and a rural town, military sources told CNN.

One or two bombs fell near the nation’s air force headquarters, with one striking the Inland Revenue Department building, the sources said. Another fell in the village of Anamaduwa, some 60 miles north of Colombo. Air defense systems were activated and there was a blackout in Colombo in the wake of the raid, the air force said. The attack came as a leading rights group accused both Sri Lankan soldiers and Tamil rebels of breaking international law and abusing civilians. Both sides “appear to be engaged in a perverse competition to demonstrate the greatest disregard for the civilian population,” according to the Human Rights Watch, in a 45-page report dated Thursday about warfare in the Vanni region of northern Sri Lanka. “This ‘war’ against civilians must stop,” said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch. The group said that both sides are “responsible for the dramatic increase in civilian casualties during the past month.” Independent monitors say around 2,000 have been killed and another 5,000 have been wounded. “In the last two months alone, both sides have committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law, the laws of war. While not all loss of civilian life is a laws-of-war violation, the failure of the government forces and the LTTE to meet their international legal obligations has undoubtedly accounted for the high death tolls.” The rebels have been fighting for an independent homeland for the country’s ethnic Tamil minority since 1983. Government troops and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE recently have been locked in a battle over the rebels’ remaining strongholds in northern Sri Lanka’s Vanni region. The Human Rights Watch said Tamil Tiger territory has decreased to “a short, narrow strip on the northeast coast of the island” and “displaced persons under their control have been dangerously forced into a smaller and smaller space.” The report said that “in violation of the laws of war” the rebels have have not allowed “civilians to flee the fighting and repeatedly has shot at those who have tried to reach government-held territory. The LTTE continues to subject civilians under their control, including children, to forced recruitment and deadly forced labor on the battlefield.”

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The report said the Sri Lankan government has “indicated that the ethnic Tamil population trapped in the war zone can be presumed to be siding” with the Tamil Tigers “and treated as combatants, effectively sanctioning unlawful attacks.” Troops have shelled areas with displaced persons, including government-declared “safe zones” and hospitals. The group said the Sri Lankan government should “immediately cease its indiscriminate artillery attacks on civilians and its policy of detaining displaced persons in internment camps.” It called for the Tamil Tigers to permit “civilians to leave the war zone, stop shooting at those who try to flee to government-controlled territory, and cease deploying forces near populated areas.” Humanitarian groups say as many as 250,000 unprotected civilians are trapped in the area where the fighting is taking place. The report is the result of a two-week fact-finding mission to northern Sri Lanka this month. It comes as journalists and human rights monitors have been blocked from going to the battle zone in the Vanni region. The government in September ordered most humanitarian groups out of the region, worsening the situation for the civilians there.

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