by Stefan Smith
BATTICALOA, Sri Lanka, April 12, 2007 (AFP) – Tensions are running high in Sri Lanka’s east as government troops fight what they insist is the “climax” of a battle to clear vast jungle areas of Tamil Tiger rebels. Still trying to recover from the 2004 Asian tsunami, the eastern coastal town of Batticaloa and surrounding areas have become a stalking ground for shadowy death squads and private armies engaged in daily murders, kidnappings and extortion, local officials and aid workers say.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced, and most expect the situation to get worse before it gets better.
“It’s miserable for the civilian population. There is a climate of absolute impunity. Everyone seems to have thrown aside the rule book,” said a western aid worker based in the Tamil-majority area.
“There’s a dirty war being fought here, and there seems to be no end in sight,” said the relief worker, who asked not to be named citing the fear of being targetted.
Since a 2002 Norwegian-brokered ceasefire agreement fell apart a year ago, government forces have focussed their efforts on wresting full control of the island’s east and eliminating pockets of intensive Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)