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Civilians await war in Sri Lanka Tigers' lair

Written by: Staff

KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka, May 10: In rebel Tamil Tiger-held Sri Lanka, residents already scarred by decades of war are putting rebuilding on hold as they brace for a new conflict they say is now inevitable.

Peace talks remain indefinitely postponed, while killings and suspected Tiger rebel attacks on the military have become daily events. More than 200 people have died since early April, and the rebels say the island is on the fringes of war.

''Next time you come, all this may be flattened,'' said 60-year-old Victoria Wijeyarajah near Kilinochchi, the headquarters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. ''Already, people are planning to leave Kilinochchi if war should happen.'' Victoria fled the town in 1996, shortly before government shelling destroyed her home.

Her new house is nearly complete, windows still needing glass and the walls needing plaster. She says it will stay that way.

''I won't continue to do anything on this house because of the uncertain future,'' she says, sitting on the half-finished porch. ''Noone will lend money because of this situation.'' Yesterday the rebels, who have fought for an ethnic Tamil homeland for two decades in a conflict that has killed more than 64,000 people, said they would not come to peace talks.

Both sides say they want peace, but a 2002 ceasefire is under mounting strain.

Until recently, there were few signs of LTTE fighters in the territory they control, in contrast to the massive army presence just across the border. Their 10,000-20,000 fighters, including Black Tiger suicide bombers, stayed hidden away in jungle camps.

Now, all that is changing. Heavily armed rebels man checkpoints and cut back brush to prevent army commandos laying ambushes.

The military denies that its wartime deep penetration units are operating behind rebel lines, but the prospect worries nervous civilians.


At the southern checkpoint with army territory, there are freshly built trenches so staff can take cover in the event of air or artillery strikes. In Kilinochchi, nobody has started building bunkers yet, but people say they will begin soon. ''If war comes, we may have to go back into the jungle,'' says Victoria's 28-year-old daughter Shanthi, a doctor at the rebel-run Kilinochchi hospital. ''It looks as if there will be war.'' In four years of peace, Kilinochchi has grown from a bombed-out ruin to a thriving centre of the rebel de facto state, housing courts, a law school and police headquarters.

Shortages and war do not seem to worry 34-year-old Thiya Rajh, a former fighter who now helps mind the town's martyrs cemetery where nearly 2,000 Hindu and Christian Tiger fighters lie under secular grey marble stones.

There are over 100 memorials to suicide bombers. ''The signs are that war will resume,'' he said, looking out over the graves. ''We are always ready to face death. If I am called, I will go.''


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