Dispute over Water Reservoir Triggers Rising Violence in Eastern Sri Lanka

In early August 2006, control of a disputed irrigation canal and reservoir in eastern Sri Lanka continues to be at the center of the worst fighting since a 2002 truce. Confrontations in the north and east of the country are now widespread, as Sri Lanka is continuing its slide back toward civil war. A Tamil Tiger spokesman declared the ceasefire over, but both sides are keen to avoid blame for the violations. The truce is intact only on paper and may unravel completely.

Norwegian peace envoy Jon Hannsen-Bauer said: “As it stands now, there is no reason for optimism.” The international Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), meanwhile, is powerless. In fact, staff from Sweden, Denmark, and Finland is being pulled out, reducing SLMM personnel by two thirds to just 20 people.

The heavy fighting in the town of Muttur, south of the city of Trincomalee, was triggered after the Tamil Tigers closed the nearby Mawilaru sluice gate in late July, cutting off water to as many as 60,000 farmers and about 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares) of farmland. The Tigers justified their action by saying that the government had reneged on a promise to build a water tower for areas under rebel control. The government responded with air strikes and assaults by ground troops.

The Tigers reopened the disputed irrigation canal on August 8. But even though the government had indicated it would call off its offensive in that event, it now says it will continue its military campaign with the aim of capturing the sluice gate.

More than 30,000 people have been displaced by the latest violence, and reports suggest that at least more than 800 people had died this year even prior to the current clashes.

Amal Jayasinghe, “Sri Lanka Launches Air Attacks on Tiger Rebels,” Yahoo News, 26 July 2006. Link: news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20060726/wl_sthasia_afp/srilankaunrestattacks;_ylt=AiE8KR_UnZuwou_Wkf8l7.
Dilip Ganguly, “Fighting Marks End to Sri Lanka Cease-Fire,” Washington Post, 31 July 2006.
Link: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/31/AR2006073100388.html?nav=rss_world.
Peter Apps, “Sri Lanka Fighting Rages, Aid Workers Cannot Help,” Reuters, 2 August 2006.
Link: www.today.reuters.co.uk.
Simon Gardner, “Sri Lanka War to Deepen Before Any New Peace Talks,” Reuters AlertNet. 4 August 2006,
Link: www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/SP139711.htm.
Peter Apps, “Sri Lanka Fighting Rages on After Rebels End Blockade,” Reuters AlertNet, 9 August 2006.
Link: www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/SP340142.htm.
Source: pdmin.coe-dmha.org/apdr/index.cfm?action=process3&Sub_ID=200&news=20366.
Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), via ReliefWeb, 7 August 2006, www.reliefweb.int/rw/RWB.NSF/db900SID/JOPA-6SPB8P?OpenDocument.