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Lawlessness Grows in Strife-Torn Sri Lanka

Human rights activists march during an anti-government protest in the capital, Colombo, demanding more investigations into reports of abductions.
Human rights activists march during an anti-government protest in the capital, Colombo, demanding more investigations into reports of abductions. (By Eranga Jayawardena -- Associated Press)

But in many abduction cases, victims say they are scared to go to the police.

Mano Ganesan of the Civil Monitoring Commission, which has documented 133 cases of abduction, is cynical about the government's handling of the matter. "The real culprits -- the big fish -- will not be apprehended," he said. "This government has been appointing committees and commissions to monitor the human rights situation, but there is no action on the ground."

The outcry over human rights violations prompted the government to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to look into 16 high-profile cases. Its first case is the killing of 17 aid workers employed by Action Against Hunger, or Action Contre la Faim.

But incidents continue. A recent move by the government to evict Tamils from temporary accommodation in the capital on the grounds that they posed a threat to national security stirred up huge controversy. The Supreme Court later ordered the suspension of evictions.

Tamils are not alone in losing basic rights, though the group is particularly vulnerable.

Vajira Dharmasena is a Sinhalese nurse in the main government hospital in Vavuniya, a garrison town in the north with a majority Tamil population. She lives in the Sinhala settlement of Mamaduwa and says people live in fear of attacks by the rebels, known as the Tamil Tigers.

"We try to avoid using the bus service that plies between Vavuniya and the village because we're afraid it will be targeted," she said. "We live in fear. At night people living near the forward defense lines come to the town to sleep. Schoolchildren can't study."

Eleven journalists have been killed since August 2005, according to an international media monitoring mission, which was in the country last month.

"Killings and attacks against journalists remained unsolved, leading to fears that media freedom is being deliberately and violently suppressed through threats, abductions and attacks," said Jacqui Park of the International Federation of Journalists.

Some countries have decided to withhold or suspend aid to Sri Lanka until they see the situation in the country improving.

Following the cease-fire, Sri Lanka was declared eligible for aid through Millennium Challenge Corp., set up under President Bush to reward countries that are well governed. But the U.S. ambassador in Colombo, Robert O. Blake, said in a recent television interview: "In the context of the collapse of the cease-fire and in the context of the decline of some of the indicators on governance, we unfortunately had to defer consideration of Sri Lanka for the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

"But we very much hope that the president will seize the opportunity to embrace peace now and the [Tamil Tigers] as well, since they are an important part of the process."

A senior official in Sri Lanka's attorney general's department said the state could not file criminal proceedings in cases of violence unless police provided sufficient evidence admissible in court.

Commenting on criticism that the government was violating the rights of Tamil citizens, Rambukwella, the government spokesman, said, "I'm not saying everything is perfect, but 39 percent of Tamils now live in the Western Province," which is controlled by the government.

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