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Key Irrigation Channel Reopened in Sri Lanka

  • Patricia Nunan

An irrigation channel has been reopened in eastern Sri Lanka, after its closure prompted two weeks of fighting between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels. Both sides are taking credit for opening the channel.

Water is again flowing for 60,000 villagers living on government-held land in eastern Sri Lanka.

On a Web site Wednesday, the Tamil Tiger rebels said they re-opened an irrigation channel from a reservoir in rebel territory in response to an appeal by a Norwegian envoy. The rebels had shut off the water nearly three weeks ago.

The rebels also say they repelled an attempt by Sri Lankan forces to seize the channel early Wednesday.

Two weeks ago the Sri Lankan military launched an offensive against the rebels. The government says it attacked only after negotiations over the channel failed.

Military officials in the capital Colombo also are taking credit for reopening the channel, calling it a victory for Sri Lankan forces.

Civilians leaving the area say the recent fighting has been vicious, and that at best, their safety was ignored. Some were the victims of direct attack. Seventeen local aid workers from the French group Action Against Hunger were killed at their office, and appear to have been executed.

Analyst Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, from the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, says the international community should put more pressure on the government and the Tamil Tigers to observe basic human rights.

"It's important we inject some kind of sanity, humanity, decency into this, because it's getting worse, and the way the two sides operate seems to be almost with a sense of impunity. That should not be allowed to continue, even if the two sides insist that they have to engage with each other militarily," said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu.

Norway has taken the lead role in Sri Lanka's peace plan, and helped broker the 2002 cease-fire that was intended to end two decades of ethnic war. The Tamil Tigers had pushed for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority because of what they say is oppression by the Sinhalese majority.

But with more than 800 killed this year, analysts say that truce has become increasingly irrelevant.

Despite an appeal by the Norwegian envoy, the Tamil Tigers continue to demand that cease-fire monitors from European Union countries leave Sri Lanka. They made the demand after the EU officially labeled the rebels a terrorist organization in May.

The 54-member observer mission would lose roughly two-thirds of its members, which they say would further undermine the cease-fire.

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