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(New York) -- A spate of killings between factions of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) threatens Sri Lanka’s ceasefire, Human Rights Watch warned today. More than a dozen people have been murdered over the last month in apparently politically motivated killings attributed either to the LTTE or a faction led by the LTTE’s former eastern commander, Colonel Karuna, who broke away from the LTTE in March 2004.

“These targeted killings sadly show that the ceasefire has not meant an end to the violence that has plagued Sri Lanka,” said James Ross, senior legal advisor for Human Rights Watch. “The LTTE and pro-Karuna forces should immediately halt these killings.

The violence between the LTTE and Karuna’s group has spiraled in recent days. On July 25, police found the bodies of eight persons, most of whom were believed to be senior aides to Karuna, in a house outside the capital Colombo. They were apparently shot and killed while asleep. Police investigating the killings said that there was no evidence of crossfire or a gunfight, and that the killings appeared to have been committed by someone within the house.

Even before the police were notified of the killings, the LTTE announced that these victims had been killed by “dissidents” within Karuna’s own faction, and stated further that the killers had sought and received refuge with the LTTE.

“Regardless of who perpetrated the killings, the LTTE’s open protection of criminal suspects is an affront to the rule of law and the ceasefire agreement,” said Ross. “Human Rights Watch calls on the LTTE to immediately turn them over to Sri Lankan authorities.”

Human Rights Watch expressed serious concern at the recent spate of unlawful killings in and around Batticaloa, in eastern Sri Lanka. Kunjithamby Sivarasa, a local government official, was shot dead by LTTE cadres on July 9 at his home in the village of Ariyampathy. Velayutham Raveendran, a senior Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) member, a political party opposed to the LTTE, was shot by armed gunmen on a motorbike at a bus stop in Akkaraipattu town, south of Batticaloa, on July 21. More than 100 EPDP members have been killed since the February 2002 ceasefire agreement.

The LTTE has claimed responsibility for the public executions of Balasuntaram Sritharan and Thillaiampalam Suntararajan on July 8 at Illupadichchai junction. Their dead bodies were found by the side of a road, blindfolded, with manacles around their ankles. The LTTE publicly stated that the two men had been sentenced to death as pro-Karuna “traitors” and called on all Sri Lankan Tamils to identify any other such “traitors.” Aiyathurai Nadesan, a Tamil journalist, was shot in Batticaloa on May 31. On May 24, Eastern University lecturer Kumaravel Thambaiah was shot and killed at his home in Batticaloa. The Karuna group is suspected in both killings. The apparent intention of such executions is to terrorize the local population and prevent the exercise of the basic rights of free association and expression.

Kanapathipillai Mahendran, known as “Satchi Master,” and Sarvanamuttu Shanthakumar, were killed in Batticaloa prison by a fellow inmate and LTTE cadre on July 14. The LTTE claimed that “Satchi Master” had been campaigning for Colonel Karuna and his supporters from within the prison. The killings raise serious questions over the security and management of the prison, particularly when authorities know that members of rival groups are being held within the same building. Human Rights Watch called on the Sri Lankan authorities to explain how lethal weapons were allowed inside the prison, and to ensure that known rival factions are kept securely away from each other.

In the midst of this upsurge in violence, the LTTE recently organized the NorthEast Secretariat on Human Rights (NESHOR), a body intended to promote respect for human rights.

“Unfortunately, the renewed violence makes it essential that the LTTE’s new human rights secretariat quickly demonstrates its effectiveness in protecting the rights of people in LTTE areas,” said Ross.

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