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Civilian cost of Lanka's new war

Civilians will bear the brunt of increasing violence, Christian Aid has warned, after the Sri Lankan government's official withdrawal from a ceasefire with Tamil Tiger rebels.

The government said the truce, which has been in place since February 2002, was redundant because it had been broken so many times.

For the past 18 months the Sri Lankan military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have clashed despite the ceasefire technically being in place.

'Sri Lanka has seen 18 months of a 'hidden' war while the ceasefire was still officially in place. Civilians are caught in the middle with nowhere safe to go’ said Laurent Viot Christian Aid's representative in Sri Lanka.

Hidden war toll

Around 5,000 people have been killed since early 2006, taking the total number of dead since the war started in 1983 to around 70,000. Much of the conflict in the past two years took place in areas where civilians had already been displaced by the tsunami.

Christian Aid expects to see significant increase in conflict related displacements in 2008 which threatens to offset benefits from three years of tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction in the north and east of the country.

The government decision to pull out of the ceasefire comes a few weeks after the 2008 budget was voted through parliament with a large increase in the defence budget.

The current confrontation opens the possibility of an all out war and also increases the risk of insecurity in the south of the island. Bombings and political killings have recently increased in the capital Colombo, the latest being a roadside bomb on Wednesday which killed four and injured 20 others.

No military solution

However Christian Aid believes there can be no armed solution to the conflict even in the event of a military victory by either side. The intensification of the armed conflict will only delay negotiations for an equitable settlement while compromising future lives and prosperity.

‘Furthermore parties to the conflict have to meet moral and legal responsibilities towards all Sri Lankan civilians,’ said Mr Viot. This applies to internally displaced people from the north and east as well as to long term refugees who have fled to Tamil Nadu in India.

In the north and east of Sri Lanka Christian Aid has had a large tsunami reconstruction programme for three years. Christian Aid is also working in the south of the island on tsunami rehabilitation and long-term development work.