War fears, tension wreck lives in Lanka's east | india | Hindustan Times
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War fears, tension wreck lives in Lanka's east

The area, the only truly multi-ethnic part of the island, saw blood-letting in a two-decade civil war which was halted by a 2002 ceasefire.

india Updated: Jan 20, 2006 12:18 IST

Unnerved by fears that a civil war may resume, perhaps within weeks, tension between communities is spiralling in Sri Lanka's northeast and growing numbers are fleeing their homes, aid workers and residents say.

The area, the only truly multi-ethnic part of the island republic, saw horrendous blood-letting in a two-decade civil war which was halted by a 2002 ceasefire.

Now, all-too familiar inter-communal tensions have started to resurface.

In a village by a military base near the northeastern port of Trincomalee, Pannathurai Malika said families from the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil and Muslim minorities had been able to live alongside each other until late December.

"Then, one soldier was killed in the village," said Malika, a 47-year-old Tamil woman who used to own a general store.

"The Sinhalese people in the village said the Tamil families had conspired to kill him. One night, there were six shots fired at my house."

Days later, after the almost exclusively Sinhalese military professed ignorance over the attacks on Tamil villagers, all 30 Tamil and Muslim families fled to a nearby church, leaving their village -- set up 16 years ago as an ethnic co-operation pilot project -- to the Sinhalese.

Malika's shop, damaged in the shooting, was left shuttered.

Sri Lanka's north is almost exclusively Hindu Tamil, while the south is predominantly Sinhalese, who are mainly Buddhist. The Muslims, who live mostly in the east, also speak Tamil but many consider themselves a separate community.

Trincomalee is almost the only place where the communities come into everyday contact.

It is a relationship that is being tested almost to destruction, much like the ragged four-year ceasefire between Tamil Tiger rebels and the government.

While decades of fighting in the Tigers' quest for a Tamil homeland has pitted Tamil against Sinhalese, Muslims too have been caught up in the violence. Most are opposed to the Tigers.

Diplomats and officials say the Tigers were behind a string of attacks since December on troops in army-held areas near the Tigers' de facto state covering a large swathe of the northeast.

Some say the rebels are keen to provoke an army reaction to restart the civil war that killed over 64,000.