Sri Lanka civilian killings on the rise: rights group

Chandi Dharmaratne

NEW YORK, Sept 19, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s government and Tamil Tiger rebels have stepped up killings of civilians in a surge of violence this year that has shattered gains made under a 2002 ceasefire, a leading rights group said Tuesday.

More than 60,000 people have been killed in Sri Lanka’s Tamil separatist conflict in the past three decades.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the government and rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have exploited communal tensions rather than defuse them to threaten the truce brokered by Norway.

“The human rights abuses that characterized the ceasefire period — politically motivated assassinations and ‘disappearances’ — have increased since April,” the rights group said in a 56-page report.

The report’s release coincides with Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse’s visit to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly in which he is expected to focus on attacks by the rebels.

“Both the government and the Tamil Tigers have exploited rather than dampened the rising communal violence between Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims,” the report said. “Impunity for even the most serious crimes remains the norm.”

Fighting which escalated in December