A top American general says violent attacks by insurgents in Afghanistan have risen to their highest level since the Taliban were toppled in 2001.
Gen David Petraeus, who commands US forces in the region, said things had worsened over the past two years and reached a new high in the past week.
Speaking in Washington, Gen Petraeus warned of difficult times ahead.
He said this was partly because US forces were targeting what he called militant sanctuaries and safe havens.
There are currently more than 70,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, mostly under Nato command.
The Obama administration plans to send an additional 21,000 troops.
There were more than 400 insurgent attacks last week, compared with less than 50 per week in January 2004.
“Some of this will go up because we are going to go after their sanctuaries and safe havens as we must,” Gen Petraeus, who heads US Central Command, said in a speech at the Washington think-tank Center for a New American Security.
“But there is no question the situation has deteriorated over the course of the past two years in particular and there are difficult times ahead.”
Gen Petraeus said he was facing challenges in Afghanistan which had not featured during his time in Iraq and which included difficulties in relations with local people.
He stressed the need for “being good partners and good neighbours and having enormous concern, needless to say, about civilian casualties in everything we do”.
Correspondents say civilian casualties are causing growing public outrage throughout Afghanistan and friction between the US and Afghan governments.
Published: 26 May 2009
Even after declaring victory in Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, the country’s leaders seem unable to distinguish between the enemy — the brutal but apparently vanquished Tamil Tiger separatists — and innocent bystanders. Despite appeals from Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, and from others, the government has not given international aid organizations full access to government-run camps, where an estimated 280,000 civilians are said to be in desperate need of food, water and medical care.
The Tamil Tigers have a history of using civilians as human shields and the government claims it must screen out rebels hiding in the camps. But aid workers suspect other motives, including a desire to deny access to witnesses who may have seen abuses by government forces. In the last months of the fighting, President Mahinda Rajapaksa callously rejected international pleas for a cease-fire to let civilians escape the war zone, while his troops shelled the area.
We support the call by Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, for an international investigation into possible war crimes committed by both sides. The United Nations Human Rights Council is debating the issue this week in Geneva.
After killing most of the rebels, including the Tigers’ ruthless leader, the government is now offering reconciliation with the Tamil minority. We hope this is more than just lip service.
It must be prepared to forge a political settlement that gives Tamil civilians, who make up about 12 percent of the population, more autonomy in provinces where historically they have lived. It must also end all abuses, including restrictions on movement, and politically motivated killings. And it must work swiftly to resettle civilians back in their villages.
The government has asked for international help to rebuild. Foreign donors should make clear that any support is dependent on an agreement to open up the camps to international aid workers.
Some experts fear that President Rajapaksa and his government view all Tamils — long oppressed by the Sinhalese majority — as supporters of the Tigers. Most were driven to the guerrillas as a desperation move after decades of abuse. Until the government treats all of its citizens fairly, there is no chance for the peace that President Rajapaksa has promised his country.
Britain and other EU countries sold military equipment worth millions of pounds to the Sri Lankan Government in the last three years of its bloody civil war with the Tamil Tigers, The Times has learnt.
Britain approved commercial sales of more than £13.6 million of equipment including armoured vehicles, machinegun components and semiautomatic pistols, according to official records.
Slovakia provided 10,000 rockets worth £1.1 million, while Bulgaria approved sales of guns and ammunition worth £1.75 million, according to EU documents and officials.
It is impossible to verify whether all the approved sales were delivered as the governments involved do not publish those details. Only Slovakia has confirmed delivery of the rockets.
The approval of the sales still raises the question of whether weapons from the EU were used in the last five months of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, during which UN officials estimate that 20,000 civilians were killed.
“I think we need answers about what these were used for,” said Mike Gapes, a Labour MP who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee and is a member of the Committee on Arms Export Controls.
The sales were cleared despite the 1998 EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, which restricts transfers to countries facing internal conflicts or with poor human rights records and a history of violating international law.
They were approved while the EU called for peace talks in Sri Lanka, saying that it did not support a military solution, and expressing concerns about human rights abuses after the collapse of a 2002 ceasefire.
The US also sold Sri Lanka millions of pounds of military equipment in 2006-07 but suspended all military aid and sales early last year because of concerns about alleged rights abuses.
British MPs and MEPs, as well as activists against the arms trade, said that the EU should have done the same as early as 2006, when the ceasefire began to unravel.
“The EU had an obligation not to supply these things,” said Malcolm Bruce, a Liberal Democrat MP who visited Sri Lanka last month. “There were too many unanswered questions. With hindsight, Britain’s sales did violate the EU code of conduct.”
John Battle, a Labour MP, former Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister and now a member of the Committee on Arms Export Controls, said: “We should have been sharper off the mark and so should the EU.”
He called for an immediate suspension of EU arms sales to Sri Lanka until it lifted all restrictions on journalists and aid workers.
Several MPs and MEPs also called for the EU code of conduct, which became legally binding on December 8, to be strengthened to ensure consistency and transparency across the 27 member states.
The code says: “Member states will not allow exports which would provoke or prolong armed conflicts.” It also says that member states should “not issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression”.
Until December 8, however, it was up to member states to decide whether the criteria applied to any given arms sale.
Slovakia said that its rocket deal was justified because there was no UN arms embargo on Sri Lanka, the island had a right to defend itself and the Tigers were banned in the EU as a terrorist organisation.
Britain disputed Slovakia’s position at the time but approved its own arms sales out of concern that countries, such as China, would take its place.
Arms sales approved by the British Government include:
2008 £4 million of equipment including military sonar detection items and components; components for aircraft military communications equipment and military communications equipment
2007 £1 million of equipment including ejector seats, grenades, ground vehicle military communications equipment, military parachutes
2006 £8.6 million of equipment including 50 semi-automatic pistols, components for combat aircraft, military aircraft communications equipment, armoured all-wheel-drive vehicles, components for general purpose and heavy machineguns, small arms ammunition
Source: Times research
THE TIMES ONLINE
Richard Lloyd Parry in Seoul
A Pakistani army spokesman says it could take another week to 10 days to remove the Taliban from Mingora, the main city in the Swat valley.
Maj Gen Athar Abbas told the BBC that troops were engaged in street battles and clearing the city house by house.
He said the army now controlled a corridor from a suburb to the city centre and had captured three of Mingora’s five main crossroads.
The fighting began after a peace deal broke down earlier this month.
Hundreds have died and more than a million have fled Swat since the operation against the Taliban was launched.
Although the army has troops based inside Mingora, the Taliban has effectively been in control of the city.
Maj Gen Abbas said that in the current operation, which began on Saturday, advancing troops had linked up with government forces inside the city.
He said that five militants had been killed and 14 arrested in Mingora on Sunday.
He added that soldiers were having to search buildings one at a time.
He also said that the operation could be “painfully slow”, as up to 20,000 civilians were still trapped there and the army wanted to avoid civilian casualties.
“Hopefully it will not be more than a week or ten days,” he said.
“We have to clear each and every house, we have to search the streets, all those buildings which are not occupied we have to ensure that no explosives or booby-traps are there. It will take some time.”
Journalists are not allowed near the city so it is not possible to verify the army’s claims.
But the success of Pakistan’s military operation in the region hinges on a swift victory in Mingora, says the BBC’s Shoaib Hasan in Islamabad.
This fresh assault on the Taliban has the full backing of the US, which has identified Pakistan and Afghanistan as central to the international battle against Islamist extremism.
Scene of beheadings
Although the military has always had bases in Mingora, the city has effectively been under Taliban control in recent weeks.
One of the intersections the army says it has regained control over is Green Square where the Taliban is thought to have carried out several beheadings.
A citizen in Mingora confirmed this, but told the BBC that fighting was continuing in four nearby villages: Takhtaband, Garozai, Nawakalay and Shahdara.
There was no comment from the Taliban on the latest fighting in Mingora.
The army also said it had made progress in other parts of the Swat valley, with the city of Matta reportedly cleared of militants.
A curfew remains in place in Matta, and there are already reports of many civilian casualties, but these cannot be independently confirmed.
Our correspondent says the Swat battle is the most important yet in the army’s offensive against the Taliban in north-west Pakistan.
A swift victory would bolster public support for a greater fight against the militants, our correspondent adds.
But anything other than complete victory could diminish public support for the campaign and prove disastrous for Pakistan’s fragile political coalition, he adds .
Nearly 1.5 million people have been displaced by this month’s fighting in the north-western region, and about two million since last August, the UN’s refugee agency says.
In separate developments over the weekend:
Pakistan’s army began an offensive against the Taliban on 2 May after the peace deal broke down and the militants began expanding their area of influence.
In Swat, the army says that about 15,000 members of the security forces are fighting between 4,000 and 5,000 militants.
It says more than 1,000 militants and more than 50 soldiers have been killed since the offensive began.
Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels have admitted for the first time that their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is dead.
A statement issued by the Tigers said their “incomparable leader” had “attained martyrdom” and declared a week of mourning.
A spokesman for the group also told the BBC that it would now use non-violent methods to fight for Tamils’ rights.
Sri Lanka’s army last week released pictures it said showed Prabhakaran’s body after its final offensive.
The statement from the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) said he was killed “fighting the military oppression of the Sri Lankan government” last Sunday.
The rebels had made a last stand in the north-east of the island after Sri Lankan troops cornered them in a coastal strip.
The Tigers’ defeat brought to an end their 26-year fight for a separate Tamil homeland.
The statement was signed by the defeated group’s head of international relations, Selvarasa Pathmanathan.
It said that the LTTE had declared a week of mourning for their dead leader, starting on 25 May.
The statement called on Tamils all over the world to “restrain from harmful acts to themselves or anyone else in this hour of extreme grief”.
In a telephone interview with the BBC, Mr Pathmanathan said Prabhakaran had died on 17 May but did not give details of the circumstances.
Mr Pathmanathan said the Tigers would now use non-violent methods to fight for the rights of Tamils.
“We have already announced that we have given up violence and agreed to enter a democratic process to achieve the rights for the Tamil (self) determination of our people,” he said.
Most of the Tamil Tigers senior leadership is believed to have been killed in the fighting.
Sri Lankan officials gave conflicting reports of the death of Prabhakaran.
They initially said he had been killed in an ambush by commandos as he tried to break through government lines in an ambulance.
But the army later said his body was found on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon and he had been shot in scrubland – probably during fierce fighting.
Tamil Tiger officials at first denied Prabhakaran’s death, insisting that he was “alive and safe”.
Sri Lankan officials have said that more than 6,200 security personnel were killed and almost 30,000 wounded in the final three years of the war. Estimates for Tamil Tiger deaths vary from 15,000 to more than 22,000.
About 275,000 Sri Lankan civilians are still displaced because of the fighting, posing a huge problem for international aid agencies.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Sri Lanka on Friday to see the situation for himself.
At the end of his visit a joint UN-Sri Lankan statement said that the government had pledged to investigate claims of human rights violations committed during the conflict.
But the government has rejected UN calls to allow aid agencies unhindered access to refugee camps.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa said authorities had to identify any remaining rebel fighters in the camps.
The Star Online
GENEVA: Malaysia and China are among 12 countries supporting a Sri Lankan bid to try to quash Western censure of alleged human rights abuses committed during its final phase of war against the Tamil Tiger rebels, diplomats said on Friday.
Colombo declared total victory over the Tigers on Monday after cornering them in the north-east of the island and killing off their leaders in a climactic battle.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay last week backed calls in the West for an independent inquiry into possible war crimes in the tiny zone she said may have become a “killing field”.
Fending off outside criticism, Sri Lanka on Friday presented to the UN Human Rights Council a draft resolution stating the “principle of non-interference” in internal matters and respect for its sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.
The other countries backing the Sri Lanka draft are: India, Pakistan, Bahrain, Bolivia, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Nicaragua, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia.
Western diplomats, who are also preparing a resolution to be presented at a special Council session on Sri Lanka on Tuesday, said Colombo’s developing country allies were likely to band together to deflect serious scrutiny of its record.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, speaking at a rally in Colombo, brushed off Western calls for a war crimes probe into acts by government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The United Nations said this week that the conflict had killed between 80,000 and 100,000 people since erupting into full-scale civil war in 1983. The toll includes unofficial and unverified tallies showing 7,000 civilian deaths since January.
Nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians, who followed or were taken by the Tigers as the military relentlessly cornered them, are now in crowded camps after fleeing in the final months.
Aid groups say that Sri Lankan authorities prevented access to the conflict zone and hampered the entry of life-saving medical supplies and evacuations of wounded people.
“Sri Lanka does not deserve to be praised, but rather condemned for blocking humanitarian emergency relief to thousands, (and) creating conditions leading to the spread of diseases,” UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said. — Reuters
Colombo, 24 May, :Sri Lanka Governmnet denied that no one approached regarding the surrender of LTTE’s political chief, B Nadesan, and ‘peace secretariat’ head, S Pulidevan. Also Government sources told Asian Tribune that Nadesan and Pulidevan were killed in the battle, when they fought the Sri Lankan soldiers.
PTI news story says that Vijay Nambiar, the UN Secretary-General’s envoy and chef de cabinet, passed the message to Dr. Palitha Kohona but was told the safe surrender of the men could not be guaranteed and that “it may be too late”.
When Asian Tribune contacted Dr. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary, he categorically denied and said Mr. Nambiar did not contact him either about Pulidevan or Nadesan.
Dr. Palitha Kohona said, “This absolutely a false statement. I would say that Mr. Nambiar did not convey anything to me as indicated in that news report. I can also tell you that Mr. Nambiar was not in Sri Lanka on the relevant date. He only came later.
“O.K. He came later, but did he not contact you when he came to Stri Lanka, about saving Pulidevan and Nadesan?” – asked Asian Tribune.
“No. Nambiar never contacted me on the subject of saving either about Pulidevan or Nadesan,” Dr. Kohona said.
The London datelined PTI news report dated 23 May, under the title “Britain and Norway tried to save two top LTTE leaders: report” said, Britain and Norway made a last minute bid to save the lives of two Tamil Tiger leaders, but in vain, as Sri Lankan troops closed in, the media reported today.
It was further reported that the LTTE’s political chief, B Nadesan, and ‘peace secretariat’ head, S Pulidevan, had attempted to surrender, The Daily Telegraph said, in a report quoting Vijay Nambiar.
According to a London datelined PTI news report David Miliband British foreign Minister and Norwegian Minister Erik Solheim and UN officials were all involved in trying to save the two proclaimed LTTE terrorists – B.Nadesan and Pulidevan.
The men were later found dead amid claims that they were shot while waving a white flag, and Western diplomats warned that the Sri Lankan government could face a war crimes investigation.
The report further said,that, Nambiar has said that he was contacted by British officials who asked him to make the Sri Lankan government aware that Nadesan and Pulidevan wanted to surrender.
Nambiar said he passed the message to Dr Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary, but was told the safe surrender of the men could not be guaranteed and that “it may be too late”.
– Asian Tribune –
KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) — Intense fighting between troops and militants has unfolded over the past few days in a hotbed of insurgents and narcotics trafficking in southern Afghanistan, NATO said in a statement Wednesday.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said the fighting is in Marjah, a region in Helmand province 20 kilometers (more than 12 miles) southwest of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.
Recent successful operations against the insurgents in the area have prompted a buildup of militant forces and a spike in militant activity, said ISAF, which noted that Afghan security forces backed by international troops “recently seized a significant quantity of narcotics in the Marjah region.”
ISAF said there is a “clear link” in Marjah “between the narcotics trade, corruption and the financing of the insurgency.” It said the narcotics trade helps pay for weapons, bombs, and suicide bombers.
“Importantly, the influx of foreign insurgents and the end of the poppy harvest always contributes to an annual increase in the number of incidents in this region,” ISAF said. Fighters from Balochistan — the southwestern Pakistani province that borders southern Afghanistan — are among the foreign fighters.
“Troops operate throughout the year and are fully prepared for any rise in seasonal violence, especially given the increase in U.S. forces moving into the area,” ISAF said.
Making note of the importance of preventing civilian casualties during the fighting, ISAF said “it is vital that innocent civilians separate themselves” from militants.
“In doing so they will not be mistaken for insurgents or caught up amongst insurgents whose cowardly tactics see them hiding in the civilian population, thereby causing the loss of innocent lives,” ISAF said.
In another statement, ISAF said Tuesday airstrikes near Lashkar Gah caused civilian casualties when they targeted insurgents who they learned later were “using civilians as human shields.” The incident occurred south of Lashkar Gah in Nawa.
“If this information had been known by ISAF troops, no ordnance would have been used. Tragically, it is believed that eight civilians were killed as a result of the airstrike. This terrible incident again shows the insurgents’ blatant disregard for the lives of Afghan people,” ISAF said.