Sri Lanka's tough laws condemned

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: BBC
| Date: 20000505

Sri Lanka's opposition politicians have criticised the government for assuming sweeping new powers after heavy losses inflicted on the army by the rebel Tamil Tigers.

The leader of the opposition United National Party, Ranil Wickramasinghe, told the BBC that the government had taken what he described as desperate measures to keep public order and control dissent.

Mr Wickramasinghe said Jaffna town - on the northern peninsula where the army is coming under increasing pressure from the rebels - is under threat of falling to the rebels.

The new Public Security Act, introduced a day after the authorities put Sri Lanka on a war footing, allows the government to impound property, prohibit strikes, ban newspapers and censor foreign media.

Tamils advance

Its introduction coincides with Tamil Tiger rebels continuing to make military gains in the northern Jaffna peninsula.

(Click here to see a map of the Jaffna peninsula)

The Tigers are about 15 miles from Jaffna town, their former stronghold.

The government said the sweeping new legal changes were necessary for national security and to ensure all funds for non-essential development work go towards the fighting.

Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh ruled out military help In another move, the foreign ministry says it is restoring diplomatic ties with Israel, which were broken off 30 years ago.

Sri Lanka has bought gunboats and aircraft from Israel and analysts suggest it may seek military support after India appeared to rule out any intervention.

India has said it is giving urgent consideration to some requests from Sri Lanka - although it has ruled out intervening militarily.

Former allies

Israel once trained and armed Colombo's security forces who were battling Tamil Tiger rebels and in 1990 sent military advisors to help local security forces.

Sri Lanka suspended full diplomatic relations with Israel in the early 1970s, demanding the Jewish state withdraw from the occupied territories.

The Tigers - who are fighting for a separate homeland for the minority Tamil community in the north and east of the island - appear to be in a strong position to retake the whole of the Jaffna peninsula.

However, the Sri Lankan military says it is blocking their advance.