Feature Article

Sri Lanka military 'jeopardizing' peace talks - LTTE

[TamilNet, Thursday, 13 February 2003, 06:29 GMT]
The Liberation Tigers this week condemned the attack Wednesday on their unarmed female cadres in Manipay by Sri Lankan soldiers and warned that such incidents would "seriously jeopardize" the Norwegian peace process, the London based Tamil Guardian reported.

At least eight unarmed cadres from the LTTE’s political wing were hospitalized after they and several civilians who had rushed to their assistance were severely assaulted by armed Sri Lanka Army (SLA) troops.

Many of the victims suffered knife wounds. All were later transferred to an LTTE hospital in the Vanni. The attack began when SLA troops, objecting to LTTE women cadres wearing their belts over their shirts, attempted to cut the belts off.

"We condemn this brutal attack on our cadres and members of the public by the Sri Lanka Army in the strongest terms," the Tamil Guardian quoted Mr. Anton Balasingham, Chief Negotiator and political advisor to the LTTE, as saying.

Mr. Balasingham said he had registered a strong protest with the senior Sri Lankan leaders and the government of Norway.

Describing the incident as "an intolerable provocation," Mr. Balasingham said "the peace talks with the Sri Lankan government will undoubtedly be seriously jeopardized if such incidents continue."

"It is up to the Sri Lanka government to maintain discipline amongst its military personnel and ensure the peace process is not put at risk," he said, adding, "We consider this a grave violation of the ceasefire agreement [signed last February]."

Mr. Balasingham pointed out that the assault had taken place amid widespread dismay in the Tamil community after three LTTE cadres were compelled to take their lives last week to avoid being taken into custody after their vessel was intercepted by the Sri Lanka navy.

"This deliberate attack on our cadres and the subsequent violence against civilians is a severe blow to Tamil public confidence in the peace process which has been weakened by the military’s refusal to honour key aspects of the ceasefire agreement," he said further.

Mr. Balasingham said the issue of LTTE women cadres being allowed to wear their belts over their shirts had been discussed at the fifth round of peace talks in Berlin last weekend after the Sri Lanka troops had refused to allow women dressed thus to pass.

The LTTE had pointed out that it was up to the women cadres to decide how to wear their belts and the Sri Lankan government officials had agreed to resolve the problem amicably, he said.

The LTTE’s political wing described the attack in a statement issued from its political headquarters in Kilinochchi and condemned it as a "serious ceasefire violation."

"This attack is intended to provoke the LTTE, which has been sincerely engaged in the peace process," the statement said.

Pointing out that several other incidents had been raised at the fifth round of talks in Berlin, the LTTE statement said the Sri Lankan government had assured the LTTE on the matter, but the attacks were continuing it said.

Calling for action to be taken against the personnel involved in this and other truce violations, the LTTE statement urged the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) "to take a firm stance and ensure such attacks do not continue."

The incident at Mannipay began at about 9.30 Wednesday when a group of unarmed women cadres from the LTTE’s political section passed the Sri Lanka Army base in the area.

On spotting the LTTE cadres, SLA soldiers repairing the base perimeter stopped them and began assaulting them, demanding that the Tigers surrender their waist belts.

The troops were joined by others from inside the camp. Over fifty military personnel both in and out of uniform participated in the attack, along with members of the paramilitary Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP).

The LTTE cadres were beaten and kicked and attacked with knives, chains and iron bars. Several soldiers held down one of the cadres and ripped her belt off.

A journalist of Tamil regional daily was also severely assaulted by the SLA soldiers and his camera was damaged. One SLA soldier snatched the media accreditation card when he showed it to identify him as a journalist.

Several civilians in the area rushed to assist the cadres but were also attacked by the soldiers. Eight wounded cadres were rushed to hospital when the attack, which continued for more than an hour even after the arrival of the members of the SLMM in Jaffna town, abated.

But at about 12.30 pm, an estimated two hundred Sri Lankan troops wearing masks arrived in buses and other vehicles along the Kankesanthurai road and assaulted residents in the area with poles and sticks.

Many civilians fled from the area while others protested to international ceasefire monitors who had arrived at the scene. But the officials of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) were unable to restrain the soldiers. Several people were injured.

At a press conference Wednesday, Jaffna area commander of the Sri Lanka Army, Major General Sarath Fonseka, he would take appropriate steps to ensure that incidents like that at Manipay would not be repeated.

Heated arguments ensued between the SLA and the LTTE officials at the conference conducted at the SLMM office in Jaffna.

The LTTE Jaffna political leaders produced samples of the waist-belts being used by their women cadres. Major General Sarath Fonseka said he has no objection in using the waist-belts.

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