The New York Times reports on escalating political violence in eastern Sri Lanka. Much of Sri Lanka’s eastern province is controlled by the LTTE, which has been battling against a breakaway faction of the Tamil Tigers called the TMVP (Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal) for the last year and half. The group is led by a former LTTE commander called Karuna, and is alleged by some to be operating with the blessing of the Sri Lankan army. In the past year, abductions and assassinations have increased in the region: 190 documented killings occurred this year between February and November, compared to 60 last year:
There is no sanctuary even at a relief camp here for families displaced by the tsunami. Since February three women at the camp have been widowed.
Dayaniti Nirmaladevi’s husband was gunned down as he fetched noodles one night. Radhi Rani’s husband was shot after a fishing trip. Koneswari Kiripeswaran lost her parents and her only child, age 4, to the tsunami, only to have her husband shot dead at a bus stop on his way back to work in Qatar.
All three women said their men had been active in political organizations opposed to the notorious ethnic separatist group – the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – but had given up politics. It is impossible to verify their claims.
p>LTTE supporters have been attacked, as well:
Here in Batticaloa the violence is not limited to enemies of the Tigers. One night in late September, Khandasami Alagamma’s husband was eating dinner in the front yard of a pro-Tiger charity where he worked as a night watchman when five grenades were lobbed at the building. He was killed instantly.
A visit to Batticaloa turned up a chilling inventory of violence.
On Oct. 1 a mason hired to repair a Hindu temple was shot to death as he slept on its terrace; the police say they do not know why. The day before, the vendor of a pro-Tiger newspaper was shot dead on a busy street. On the Wednesday before came the grenade attack on the pro-Tiger charity, and on the Saturday before that, a tailor was killed inside his shop just after sundown. He is believed to have been an informer, but for which side is unclear.
The atmosphere of intimidation and fear makes finding out the facts of these crimes difficult, if not impossible:
The violence is terrifying for its opacity. Witnesses rarely come forward. The police say they cannot properly investigate. The targets are generally tied to one faction or another and increasingly include police and military informants. There is a gunshot here, an ambush there. No one claims responsibility. Fear and suspicion fuel a disquieting silence.
“Really, we do not know who is killing whom,” said the Rev. S. Jeyanesan, the pastor at St. John’s Church here. “People live in fear. People say they only open their mouths to eat. People don’t speak.”
p>In addition to the threat of abduction and murder, families must also try to protect their children from forced conscription:
In the hierarchy of fear, one of the most frightening aspects of life here is the recruitment of children into battle. They are recruited at schools, village markets and even at Hindu festivals, which draw thousands. Unicef recorded a spike in the practice in July, though the Tigers have long denied recruiting children.
How do parents protect them? In Tiger country across a lagoon from Batticaloa, one family keeps two of its teenage boys hidden at home, forbidden even to step out of the yard. To keep them entertained, they have gone into debt to lease a television.
In the same family, a 17-year-old girl has been married off; the Tigers do not take married women. The eldest son has been dispatched to work in the Middle East. Another boy, who served with the Tigers for two years, is in a church-run orphanage to avoid being taken again. “I can’t bring him home,” his mother said flatly. “He wouldn’t stand a chance.”
None of the mothers agreed to give their names, or those of their children, for fear of fatal retaliation.
More on the conflict here.