Colombo (AsiaNews) The government and rebels are trading accusations as the death toll of a series of attacks increases steadily, with more than 80 people killed in Colombo and the north.
This morning, seven people (four soldiers and three civilians) were killed when a mine went off in the capital. The blast went off near the residence of the President, Mahinda Rajapakse, as an army convoy escorting the Pakistani ambassador, Bashir Wali Mohamed, drove past. The ambassador was unhurt.
The blast came after two terrorist attacks in the north struck a church and children's home in crossfire between the Sri Lankan army (SLA) and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The death toll is very high: at least 76 civilians were killed and 150 injured.
Yesterday, St Philip Neri Church came under fire in Allaipiddy, one of a group of islets off Jaffna that is under army control. Dozens of civilians were in the church to seek shelter from fighting in the islets. At least 15 people were killed and 20 injured.
And early this morning, at least 61 girls were killed and 129 injured in an air raid on a children's home in rebel-held Mullaitivu, also in the north. School girls from the area were undergoing a two-day residential course on first aid when the bombs hit them.
The army admitted air raids took place but denied knowledge of the attack on the children's home. It also claimed that it was the Tigers, not SLA troops, who fired on St Philip Neri Church. But the parish priest of Allaipiddy, Fr Amalraj, told AsiaNews that most people in the north believed both attacks had been perpetrated by the army. Fr Amalraj is currently in rebel-held Kilinochchi.
Another priest, who preferred not to be named, told AsiaNews: "It is very difficult for us to get information about what is happening in Jaffna because communication lines have been nearly all cut. However, we met one woman who was injured in the attack on the church and who was brought here by the LTTE to be treated. She said that when the LTTE landed in Allaipiddy yesterday, the army personnel fled from the church area, telling people sheltered there to join them if they wanted to. Some people went. Then the army shelled and hit the church, killing or injuring many of those who had stayed behind. One priest of Allaipiddy and two more from nearby Kayts took the injured to Jaffna hospital." A pro-Tiger website claimed the army shelled the church from its base in Palaly.
Since 11 August, fighting in Sri Lanka has shifted from east to north. Jaffna, the current epicentre of the clashes, is under tight curfew. Fr Amalraj said this made people outside Jaffna very anxious. "The worst thing is that there is no communication with Jaffna," he said. "I have just met 20 fishermen from Mandaithivu they went out fishing yesterday and could not return home. They are so worried about their families, but no one can contact people there."
People have reportedly taken refuge in schools and churches in and around the Jaffna Bishop's house. "In other areas, however, people were not so lucky since the curfew does not allow them to leave their homes," said Fr Vinny Joseph, director of Jesuit Refugee Service in Sri Lanka. "We have heard that many civilians were killed and wounded in the crossfire, that the LTTE asked the people to move out but the army did not allow them to do so."
The Tigers have ruled out any hopes of peace talks, saying the government offensive has made this impossible. "And yet, most people here are saying they just want the war to be finished once and for all," said Fr Amalraj. The priest left Allaipiddy in May when eight people, including two children, were shot dead in a house near St Philip Neri parish church. The victims' relatives blamed the massacre on Sri Lankan Navy personnel. "This is the history of the conflict, that innocent people are targeted and killed," added Fr Amalraj.