Sri Lankan troops on a mission to flush out the remnants of the Tamil Tiger rebels killed 11 suspected guerrillas in eastern jungles, the military said, in the largest clash since declaring it had won its 25-year war against the insurgents.
Despite that victory, the government cited the continued threat of rebel terror attacks Wednesday as justification for maintaining a 30-year-old anti-terrorism law that gives the police and military sweeping powers of search and arrest in urban centers. The political opposition had demanded the government rescind the 1979 anti-terrorism law and a state of emergency imposed after the 2005 assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, which the government blamed on the rebels.
But the government believes surviving rebel cells wanting to avenge the killing of their leaders, including supreme commander Veluppillai Prabhakaran, could still carry out suicide attacks. "The termination of civil war does not suggest a complete halt to terrorism and related atrocities," Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva told Parliament, where he also is the governing party's legislative leader.
The army also has said rebel holdouts are entrenched in the rugged eastern districts.
After Wednesday's skirmish near the southeastern town of Ampara, the military said it recovered weapons, medical equipment and 11 rebel bodies. It said the army suffered no casualties. It was the second clash in the island's east since the military completed a bruising three-year campaign last week to drive the Tamil Tigers from the north and killed the guerrilla leadership.
The government indicated Wednesday it would maintain restrictions on outside aid to the hundreds of thousands of Tamils uprooted by the civil war, despite complaints from the Red Cross that its workers were being locked out of some displacement camps. Rishard Badurdeen, the minister for resettlement, said a limited number of international aid vehicles were able to enter the camps "subject to security procedures."
He declined to elaborate. Nearly 300,000 Tamils have been herded into barbed wire enclosures near the northern garrison town of Vavuniya under military guard and are unable to leave. The government says it is screening the displaced people for rebels trying to evade the military net.
Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said he has asked the government for access to all displacement camps. "We have access to some camps and we don't have access to others," Kellenberger said in Geneva. Separately in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council rejected calls to investigate allegations of war crimes committed by both sides in the final chapter of the war, and praised the government for crushing the rebels.
Sri Lanka's allies on the 47-member council forced through a resolution condemning the Tamil rebels for using civilians as human shields but stressing that the war was a "domestic" matter that did not warrant outside interference.
The United Nations says at least 7,000 civilians died in the war's final stages. It put the number of deaths since the war began in 1983 at 80,000 to 100,000.
The UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights Tuesday called for an independent team to be sent to Sri Lanka to examine allegations that the Tigers prevented civilians from leaving the conflict zone, and that government forces used heavy artillery in the densely populated area and killed surrendering rebels.