Sri Lanka police break up Tamil war remembrance service

Updated 17 May 2014
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Sri Lanka police break up Tamil war remembrance service

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s police broke up a remembrance service for ethnic Tamils killed in the separatist war, residents said Saturday, as the military prepared to celebrate its victory over Tamil Tiger rebels five years ago.
Tamil politicians attempted to stage the remembrance on Friday at local council offices in the northern battle-scarred town of Jaffna, defying a ban on public commemorations of war victims, witnesses said.
The government is planning a major military “victory parade” on Sunday to mark five years since the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels, who waged a decades-long battle for a separate homeland for minority Tamils.
Services have been banned to honor Tamil rebels and remember civilians killed in the conflict which ended in 2009 after claiming at least 100,000 lives.
In Jaffna, police barricaded the building, preventing politicians from entering, and smashed a banana tree branch brought to the service in a Hindu religious practice to commemorate the dead, witnesses said.
“They lit camphor lamps just outside the council wall because they could not go in,” a witness said asking not to be named. “But, a policeman stamped on the camphor and snuffed out the flames.”
There were no reports of arrests in Jaffna, 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Colombo, but authorities have warned they would use tough anti-terror laws against those defying the ban.
Government forces declared an end to the 37-year war after killing Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in a final battle in the northeast on May 18, 2009.
Local residents in Mullaittivu district where he died told AFP this week they will hold private memorials but no public events out of fear of arrest.
Human Rights groups have said at least 40,000 civilians were killed in the final months of the fighting alone and have accused government forces of war crimes, an allegation Colombo strongly denies.
The defense ministry said arrangements were in place for Sunday’s parade in Matara, the southern heartland of the majority ethnic Sinhalese and the birthplace of President Mahinda Rajapakse.
“All arrangements have been finalized for the holding of the 5th Victory Day in Matara on Sunday,” the ministry said, adding that more than 7,500 troops and police will be deployed.
Over 100 military vehicles, 40 ships and gunboats and 35 military aircraft will take part in the celebrations in the coastal town of Matara.


Divided UN council heads to Sweden for farmhouse retreat

Updated 9 min 10 sec ago
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Divided UN council heads to Sweden for farmhouse retreat

United Nations, United States: After a week of bitter acrimony over Syria, UN Security Council ambassadors are heading to a farmhouse in southern Sweden for a retreat to try to break the deadlock over how to end the war.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley and her Russian counterpart Vassily Nebenzia will be among the 15 ambassadors joining Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the secluded getaway in a country setting.
The three-day retreat beginning Friday comes after one of the council’s most divisive periods, with the United States and Russia split over the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma that lead to military action by Washington and its allies against Syria.
The council met five times on Syria last week including on Tuesday when Russia vetoed a US-drafted resolution setting up a chemical weapons probe while two other proposed measures failed to pass.
The Russia-US rivalry prompted Guterres to declare that the Cold War was “back with a vengeance.”
Asked whether he expected awkward moments during the Swedish retreat, Nebenzia told reporters: “I will see how they feel about dealing with me after all that happened.”
“It’s not news to anyone that the council is divided on Syria,” said Sweden’s Deputy UN Ambassador Carl Skau. “There is some need for humility and patience at this moment.”
The council will be staying at Backakra, the summer residence of Dag Hammarskjold, who was the United Nations’ second secretary-general.
The residence located on the southern tip of Sweden, far from Stockholm, is a “fitting and inspiring venue” to reconnect with the power of diplomacy, said Skau.
“It’s a place to roll up our sleeves, take off our jackets and ties and come up with some real and meaningful ways forward,” he said.
The annual brainstorming session usually takes place in upstate New York, but Sweden, which is a non-permanent council member, offered to host this year’s gathering.
Guterres had told council members that the focus of the meeting would be his plan for a “surge of diplomacy” to address conflicts worldwide, but the council’s deadlock over Syria is emerging as the top priority.