Mon, Sep 25, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Sri Lankans flee town for second time in two months

LEAVING AGAIN People who fled the war last month had just returned home, only for hostilities to start anew

AGENCIES , COLOMBO

Members of the Women for Peace and Democracy group protest against war in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Thursday to mark International Day for Peace. The women urged the government to return to negotiations with the rebels in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

PHOTO: EPA

Thousands of Muslims are fleeing their homes in embattled northeast Sri Lanka for the second time in as many months and thousands more remain stranded there, aid workers said yesterday after a rebel front vowed to recapture the newly resettled area.

Families who had fled the northeastern town of Mutur because of fighting between the military and the Tamil Tigers last month only returned from tent cities and refugee camps two weeks ago after the army drove the Tigers out.

Now the military is blocking many resettled civilians from leaving again.

stranded

Around 1,500 families left Mutur for nearby Kinniya on Saturday. More than 1,000 families were stranded at a jetty yesterday after the government suspended ferry service to the port of Trincomalee, one local aid worker said.

"The military and the government are not allowing them to move," he added. "They have stopped the ferry and also on the land route they are stopping them."

The thwarted exodus came after a previously unknown rebel front called Tamileela Thayaga Meedpu Padai distributed leaflets in the town warning residents to leave immediately.

"The final preparations have begun to recapture ... Mutur," the leaflet said.

"Do not remain in Mutur... you will only face destruction," it said.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were not immediately available for comment, but demand that the government must give back the nearby town of Sampur, which the army captured. The town sits on the southern lip of the strategic harbor of Trincomalee.

under pressure

Tens of thousands of people displaced by fierce fighting in and around Mutur had spent weeks camped out in emergency shelters in schools in the eastern town of Kantale, but government officials said they were under pressure to return life to normal for the town's regular habitants.

"The security forces are giving protection to the civilians in Mutur, so there is no need for them to go because of this LTTE threat," a military spokesman said.

"They are telling people not to leave, because security is provided by the security forces," he added.

Elsewhere, the Tigers fired artillery and mortar bombs at the Kiran and Vavunathivu army camps in the Batticaloa district, the defense ministry said in a statement.

"Tiger terrorists fired artillery and mortars for two hours," the statement said. "Troops retaliated with artillery and mortars at the Tiger terrorist camps."

The ministry said there were no casualties among security forces, but the guerrillas suffered unspecified damages. The statement could not be independently confirmed.

The Tigers and the government have both told peace broker Norway they are prepared to meet for talks after a five-month deadlock to end a new chapter in the civil war that has killed hundreds of civilians, troops and rebels since late July.

However, analysts and diplomats are sceptical the talks will actually happen, and fear the fighting will erupt again unless the two sides address the core issues of human rights abuses by both sides and the rebels' central demand for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in the north and east.

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