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Sri Lanka: A Victory for Whom?

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The government of Sri Lanka has declared a military victory over the eastern provinces, once controlled by the Tamil Tigers. This victory has not brought relief to the people, who are enduring massive human rights abuses including harassment, displacements, disappearances and murders.

Last week, the Sri Lankan government declared victory in the battle for the east, wresting control over LTTE rebel stronghold of Thoppigala. Such declarations come months after the military announced its liberation of the East; still, a military spokesperson added that there are still areas in the jungle around Thoppigala that are yet to be cleared1. So what does this victory call really mean?

Victory does not imply stability

Conditions in the east of the island are extremely volatile. On Monday 16 July, a government official was killed after being shot at close range outside his well-guarded office, in Trincomalee2. The Asian Human Rights Commission reported the stabbing death of a young woman that occurred on 7 July, laying blame on the Sri Lankan army or Special Task Force in the Batticaloa district3.

Paramilitary forces aligned with the government are wreaking havoc in the east as well. It is well known that the TMVP—in collusion with its military wing known as the Karuna group—operate openly with the knowledge and acquiesce of the government’s military. The Karuna group is known to recruit child soldiers, operate its own policing and tax system and harass the civilian population4. The government continually denies its collusion with Karuna. Elections in the east are being forced through and it is suspected that the TMVP will be in a favourable position.

Civilians have not gained

The civilian population in these areas has faced extreme hardship during the battle for the east. In March, over 130,000 persons were displaced in Batticaloa, fleeing the incessant shelling5. The government began to return displaced people back to their homes, under suspicions of forced resettlement. The areas were not approved by NGOs and UN bodies prior to resettlement. This week, an umbrella group of humanitarian agencies signalled their concern over lack of continual access to the areas of resettlement; security checkpoints are reportedly telling agencies that it is unsafe to travel to these zones as a result of uncleared landmines, begging inquiry into living conditions of resettled people6.

Besides local elections, the government also announced plans for a special economic zone project in Trincomalee as part of “socio-economic rejuvenation”7. This “zone” will cater to Sri Lanka’s prosperous garment industry, set to be operable by October of this year. Contracts with foreign investors are to be signed this week. The government is fast-tracking control of the east, without first settling and securing the safety of its people.

As President Rajapakse announced victory celebrations, the LTTE released public statements vowing to attack key economic targets8. The government is causing a stir with pomp and audacity, while the people of the east suffer. True victory can be declared only when the people of Sri Lanka are treated equally, have access to justice and can live in peace.

1 Sri Lanka declares fall of rebel east, Tigers defiant
2 Eastern PC Secretary shot dead in Trinco
3 SRI LANKA: Young woman brutally stabbed to death by members of Armed Forces
4 International Crisis Group: Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Crisis
5 Sri Lanka’s displaced need greater assistance, says UN refugee official
6 SRI LANKA: NGOs face difficulties accessing resettlement areas in east
7 Govt. to setup economic zone in Trincomalee
8 LTTE threaten economic targets