Government Passes Out Rations in Battle Area
VALVETTITHURAI, Sri Lanka (AP) _ The government has begun distributing rice and flour to hungry Tamils whose homes and businesses were destroyed when Sri Lankan forces captured this Tamil guerrilla stronghold.
About 2,000 Tamils gathered to receive rations Friday at a Hindu temple. Col. Lalith Gunarathna, the army supervisor, said more than 50,000 rations were being issued daily at 27 sites in the northeastern Vadamarachchi area.
Some of those who received rations in Valvettithurai had seen their homes reduced to rubble during a weeklong campaign that began May 26 against Tamil rebels here and in nearby towns. Others who returned from refugee camps to Valvettithurai, a port town of 15,000, found their shops and houses looted.
″Many people were forced to go without food for two or three days,″ said S. Nath, 43, who follows the Tamil custom of using one name and an initial.
The government has said the confirmed death toll for the offensive was 166, including 46 civilians. Tamil groups have said the toll could be significantly higher.
In New Delhi on Friday, the Indian government said it wanted to resume talks with Sri Lanka aimed at halting the longstanding sectarian violence between Tamil rebels and the Sinhalese-dominated government.
″We want ... friendly relations with Sri Lanka, and the sooner it happens the better. We want the human suffering to end,″ said K. Natwar Singh, Indian minister of state for external affairs.
About 6,000 people have been killed since Sri Lanka’s civil war began in 1983. Tamil rebels are fighting to establish an independent nation for their ethnic minority in Sri Lanka’s north and east.
Southern India is home to some 50 million ethnic Tamils.
Also Friday, 1,000 Buddhist monks chanted in Ampara, Sri Lanka, as a massive funeral pyre was set ablaze to cremate the bodies of 31 monks killed in a terrorist attack the government blamed on Tamil rebels.
The sectarian violence escalated into a diplomatic crisis between India and Sri Lanka on Thursday when India sent a fighter-escorted airlift to drop 25 tons of food and medicine over Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated Jaffna Peninsula.
Security officials who took reporters on a tour of Valvettithurai and its environs Friday said most of the packages dropped by parachute fell on rebel- controlled territory in the peninsula’s western sector.
One day earlier, Sri Lankan gunboats turned back 19 Indian fishing boats carrying relief supplies intended for the Tamils. Sri Lankan officials said the aid was not needed and they would provide any relief necessary.
The airlift prompted Sri Lanka to re-examine its rudimentary air defenses. Government officials said they were in touch with ″a friendly South Asian nation″ to help it build a defense against future intrusions.
Government sources said Friday the nation was Pakistan, India’s long-time enemy and rival on the subcontinent. The Pakistani ambassador met with Foreign Minister Shahul Hameed on Friday.
The government saw last week’s army campaign against Tamils in the north as its most important victory in the war, but it drew the wrath of India, the huge neighbor to the north from which the Tamils migrated centuries ago.
Tamils make up only 18 percent of this tea and spice island’s 16 million people and claim the majority Sinhalese, nearly all of whom are Buddhists, discriminate against them.
India, which is overwhelmingly Hindu like the Tamils, has played an ambiguous role in the struggle. It often acts as mediator, but Tamil rebel groups also have exile headquarters in its southern Tamil Nadu state.