Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Continued violence puts tsunami aid effort at risk

Violent clashes between militia groups and government forces in the east of Sri Lanka during the past week could jeopardize the post-tsunami reconstruction effort according to Christian Aid's emergency coordinator in Colombo.
Intermittent gunfire and explosions in and around Trincomalee town have been reported by Christian Aid staff over the past few days following the killing of three Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres on Sunday. These killings were widely believed to be the work of the 'Karuna' faction - a militant group based in the east, which split from the LTTE in April 2004.

The Trincomalee area was severely hit by the tsunami in December and many people lost their lives. Tens of thousands of others were made homeless and many are still displaced and living in temporary or transitional shelters.

According to humanitarian aid workers, an attack on Thursday evening involving militia group cadres and navy personnel in the vicinity of a military camp on the Voice of Germany Road in Nawatcholai, Kuchaveli, forced a number of civilians to flee into the nearby jungle for safety. This was just one of many violent incidents occurring throughout Trincomalee District in the past few days.

Nick Guttmann, head of Christian Aid's humanitarian division, said: 'It would be a tragedy if people who have already lost their homes in the tsunami are now again been forced from their temporary shelters due to fear of fighting in the area.'

If the violence continues it will make the process of helping people to rebuild their homes and communities extremely difficult and dangerous.

Not only are the people of Trincomalee recovering from the effects of the tsunami but also from twenty years of protracted conflict between the LTTE, fighting for a separate Tamil homeland, and the Government of Sri Lanka.

A ceasefire agreement between these parties has lasted more than three years. In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, many in Sri Lanka thought that the disaster would help forge greater cooperation between these parties and re-ignite a stalled peace talks.

Unfortunately such hopes soon faded as tensions developed over agreeing a mechanism for channeling post-tsunami aid through to the LTTE controlled areas, although just a couple of weeks ago, almost six months after the tsunami, both sides appeared to have made a break-though with the signing of an aid agreement.

However, the increasing incidents of violence in Trincomalee risks undermining much of this recent progress. Mr Guttmann said: 'All sides now need to show restraint. There is too much at stake.

'If violence spreads it will not only jeopardise essential rebuilding work, it will further increase the chronic poverty that already exists in many parts of post-conflict Sri Lanka. War exacerbates poverty.'