Sri Lanka on Saturday asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan not to visit disaster-stricken areas controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebels, forcing the United Nations into a political situation it had hoped to avoid. Meanwhile, a grenade attack killed at least three people in the eastern part of the tsunami-ravaged country.
Two hand grenades hurled in a clash between Christians and Hindus killed at least three people and wounded 37 in a part of eastern Sri Lanka where international aid workers are helping tsunami victims, police said.
No aid workers were injured or near the explosions, officials said. Annan was in Colombo at the time of the blast.
Two suspected assailants were arrested soon after the attack in a Tamil rebel-controlled area late Saturday, said V.H. Anil, a police officer in the eastern town of Valaichchenai.
He said Christians were angry that Hindus had demolished a church and may have carried out the attack in retaliation.
Clashes between Hindus and Christians are rare since both groups belong the Tamil minority and believe they are oppressed by the country’s Buddhist Sinhalese majority.
U.N. officials said Annan wanted to assess tsunami damage and speak to the people of the battered northeastern coast, where thousands of Tamils were killed and many more lost their homes and livelihoods. Rebel leaders had asked him to visit.
“I’m here on a humanitarian visit. I’m concerned about everyone with need in the humanitarian situation,” Annan said when asked if he would go to the rebel-held north. “But I’m also a guest of the government, and we’ll go where we agreed we’ll go.”
Government officials said on condition of anonymity that Annan was told it could not guarantee his safety in rebel territory and that there was no precedent for a U.N. chief to make such a visit without negotiated agreements.
Tigers, bishop appeal to U.N. chief
But the Tigers, who have fought a 20-year war for Tamil independence from the Sinhalese-dominated south, had invited Annan to tour the northern province. The bishop of Jaffna, the cultural capital of the Tamils, also published an appeal to the U.N. chief.
Senior U.N. officials said they regretted that Annan’s visit to Sri Lanka had become a political issue. Annan toured government-controlled areas of the country Saturday, a day after seeing the damage in Indonesia.
The United Nations didn’t want to push the Sri Lankans on the issue, even though Annan’s decision not to visit the rebel area could affect the U.N.’s smooth relations with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, the U.N. officials said.
The LTTE has complained the Sri Lankan government was not treating their province equally, but Colombo has countered that it was being fair and giving the Tamil north even more than its share.
The war between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE has cost about 65,000 lives since 1983. With few infractions, the two sides have held to a cease-fire signed three years ago.