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Sri Lanka Government Pledges to “Wipe Out” Tamil Bases

April 23, 1987

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ The air force bombed Tamil guerrilla outposts Thursday as government officials vowed to launch a new offensive and wipe out the rebels.

The government, led by the island’s Sinhalese majority, has blamed the Tamils for bombings and massacres that killed more than 230 people in the past week.

The declaration of an all-out offensive was made at an emergency session of Parliament came as discontent mounted over the government’s handling of the 4- year-old civil war between Sinhalese and Tamils.

There were calls for the resignation of the 80-year-old president, Junius R. Jayewardene, whose ministers told Parliament that the air force carried out a second day of bombings against Tamil rebel outposts. The government said about 100 people were killed in the two days of air strikes on the Jaffna Peninsula in northern Sri Lanka.

Land Minister Gamini Dissanayake said the Tamil rebels repeatedly spurned diplomacy and ″have decided to kill people like mosquitoes. ... The terrorists do not respect anybody.

″We have decided to wipe them out,″ he said. ″It may cost many lives, but it cannot be avoided.″

The rebels, belonging to several organizations, demand autonomy or independence in the country’s north and east, where most Tamils live.

The war took on a new viciousness a week ago, when 127 people, including women and children, were massacred after guerrillas waylaid buses and trucks and separated the mostly Sinhalese victims from other passengers.

On Tuesday, a car bomb exploded at the main bus station in the capital, killing at least 106 people and injuring 295. Some unofficial accounts say the toll is closer to 200 dead.

Sri Lanka, sometimes referred to as the ″teardrop of India″ because of its pear-shape, lies just off India’s southeast coast. Tamil militants maintain exile headquarters in southern India, where many of their ancestors came from generations ago as spice and coconut plantation laborers.

In the past, India denounced any effort by Sri Lanka to overcome the rebels by force.

But government official Percy Samaraweera told Parliament Thursday that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s government had now revised its stand.

″Until today, Rajiv Gandhi did not grasp what the situation here was,″ said Samaraweera, deputy minister of public administration. ″Now he does, and he has asked us to settle our problem ourselves.″

Angry opposition members charged the government’s efforts to settle the Tamil conflict peacefully had only encouraged the rebels.

″You in the government are murderers ... You cannot even provide security to Colombo, the capital,″ Dinesh Gunawardene said in the noisy Parliament session. ″You must take full responsibility of turning this motherland of ours into a land of blood and tears.″

The government also faced opposition in the streets, as protesters in Colombo and two other towns demanded Jayewardene’s resignation because of the bus station bombing.

Many of the demonstrators were Buddhist monks, who denounced the president’s previous offers of limited autonomy to Tamils to settle the conflict.

About 18 percent of the country’s 16 million people are Tamils, who are mostly Hindus. They accuse the majority Sinhalese, most of whom are Buddhists, of discrimination. The Sinhalese control the government, military and economy.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, one of the Tamil groups accused by the government of the bus station bombing, said from its exile headquarters in south India that the air raids killed ″a large number of Tamils.″

Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said the air force used Italian-made Marchetti planes and helicopters fitted with machine guns for the attacks.

The Tamils began to agitate for more autonomy in 1956 when the government declared Sinhala the country’s official language. The conflict escalated into civil war in July 1983 after Tamils killed 13 soldiers.

The conflict has now taken more than 5,500 lives, many of them civilians killed in revenge attacks blamed on Tamil fighters, government forces and home guard units of government-armed Sinhalese youths.

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