Bodies dumped in wells, dead children hung from rafters and underage boys abducted to fight: during two decades of civil war, such atrocities were commonplace in Sri Lanka but a ceasefire since 2002 halted the worst of the attacks on children.

Now, with violence rising, nightmare tales and gory pictures are again emerging from the island's war-battered north and east.

In addition, many of these areas were badly hit by the deadly 2004 tsunami, and the nation's combatants are finding fertile ground in camps for survivors of the disaster.

 

The government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who want a separate homeland for the island's for minority Tamils, blame each other for trying to provoke a war but deny doing anything wrong themselves.

 

Ceasefire monitors and other observers say that, despite denials, the security forces, Tigers and breakaway ex-rebels have all been involved in abductions, attacks and killings, risking restarting a war that has killed some 65,000.

 

Fear of retribution

 

"Some people come for boys and take them away ...  Some come back but refuse to say what happened. They said their faces were covered with cloth and they didn't know where they were taken"


Indrajh Piyaraj, a Sri Lankan man

In the island's east, temporary relief camps like Thiraimadu were hastily built but these have to proved to be easy places for children to be abducted to be trained as soldiers.

 

"Some people come for boys and take them away," Indrajh Piyaraj, 24, told Reuters as he returned from washing.

 

"Some come back but refuse to say what happened. They said their faces were covered with cloth and they didn't know where they were taken."

 

Not everyone gets away from abductions alive.

 

In a nearby village close to the front line of rebel Tamil Tiger territory, a few burnt scraps of cloth and discoloured sand mark where three young men were shot and burned.

 

After the funeral, the family refused to say who they believe killed the men for fear of retribution. Villagers were also too scared to say.

  

With more than 700 people dead so far this year, almost all of them in the past three months, apportioning blame in each case is almost impossible.

Little interest

 

High profile attacks such as a bus blast that killed 68 civilians or suicide bombs in Colombo make international headlines.

 

Killings and abductions do not. More than 200 people have disappeared in the northern Jaffna area since December.

 

Few aid agencies or local journalists dare dig too deep or talk too much on the record. Local aid staff have gone missing and four media workers have been killed so far this year.

   

Nonetheless, main donor nations and aid agencies are growing increasingly impatient.

 

Most diplomats say the Tigers kick-started the recent escalation of violence, but others say the government began by backing breakaway ex-rebels led by former Tiger commander Karuna Amman who have attacked the mainstream rebels in the east.

 

The government denies backing Karuna, but aid workers still trying to rebuild tsunami-damaged areas say his fighters operate with increasing impunity.

 

UN children's fund UNICEF says that, like the Tigers, Karuna is now abducting child soldiers -probably dozens during June.

 

Anger

 

Angry over the rising violence, the European Union and Canada followed Britain, India and the United States in listing the Tigers as a terrorist group, threatening to hit their funding from Tamils overseas.

 

"We have higher expectations of the authorities and security forces of a democracy -because they represent democracy"

 

Dominick Chilcott, Britain's ambassador to Sri Lanka

Donor nations were also taking an increasingly tough line after reports of rights abuses by the military in the past six months, making barely veiled threats to cut or freeze aid promised after the tsunami and 2002 truce.

 

They also say the Tigers must choose politics not violence, give up child soldier recruitment and halt use of suicide bombers. Abuses on the government side must also be punished.

 

"The strong support of the British government, and I suspect of other governments, can only be sustained over the medium term if that is the case," said Dominick Chilcott, Britain's ambassador to Sri Lanka.

 

"We have higher expectations of the authorities and security forces of a democracy -because they represent democracy."