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Leading Sri Lanka Tamil Politician Claims 'Genocide' by Military

Tamil Tiger rebels say Sri Lanka's military has renewed shelling Tuesday of the only remaining combat zone. The top government doctor in the rebel-controlled territory says at least 45 patients died when a mortar hit the admissions ward of the only remaining medical facility there. The military has repeatedly denied using heavy artillery to try to protect tens of thousands of civilians trapped with the rebels. It says three divisions continue advancing to rescue all the civilians in the final phase of the offensive to defeat the rebels in the sliver of coastal land they still hold. A senior opposition politician contends the Sinhalese-dominated military is deliberately targeting ethnic Tamils.

Sri Lanka's government says the impending battlefield defeat of the Tamil Tigers, regarded as a terrorist organization, will bring national reunification and return democracy to the Tamil-dominated north.

An opposition member of parliament, representing the northern Jaffna district, sees only more trouble ahead, because the government is failing to win Tamil hearts and minds.

In a VOA interview, Suresh Premachandran, of the Tamil National Alliance, blamed the military for civilian deaths during this year's offensive to retake the north and wipe out the rebels.

"Within five months, more than 10,000 killed and 20,000 injured," he said. "Definitely it's a genocide. Definitely the international community is having the duty to stop it."

Top Army commanders contend troops have not killed a single civilian during their offensive.

Government medical workers in the combat zone report hundreds - and possibly thousands - of civilian casualties in recent days.

The TNA's Premachandran blames the military for this latest artillery barrage and predicts more Tamil deaths.

"Definitely they are the people who are shelling and if they are going ahead with this sort of slaughtering, definitely within another two or three days time another few thousand are going to get killed," he said.

Government leaders accuse the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam of firing artillery, killing civilians and then blaming the military.

Premachandran says the LTTE has been fighting for a "just cause," but acknowledges the rebels - condemned for their urban suicide bombings and political assassinations - have committed "excesses."

The TNA has 22 members in parliament, representing the Tamil north and east. Premachandran says he and his party believe in negotiations and the political process to settle the Tamil question in the island nation.

But Premachandran says he has grown increasingly impatient with the political climate, describing the reaction when he and other Tamil politicians speak in parliament.

"Immediately all the people who are in the ruling party start to shout, 'You LTTE bugger' and things like that. They are not prepared to listen to us. They are not prepared to discuss matters with us," he added. "If [an opposition member of parliament] speaks the truth, if he criticizes the undemocratic matters happening in this country, immediately he will be called as an LTTE'er."

Premachandran says such accusations have a chilling effect. Three of his fellow TNA members of parliament have been assassinated.

The office of President Mahinda Rajapaksa says it is reaching out to Tamil parties to rebuild civil society in the north.

The Tamil National Alliance says it is boycotting such meetings with the government until it shows sincerity in discussing a ceasefire with the LTTE and accepts a political solution.