Troops beefed up security in Sri Lanka's restive east yesterday ahead of the funeral of a pro-rebel legislator gunned down at Christmas mass, as escalating attacks stoked fears of a return to civil war.
Sporadic attacks continued overnight near rebel-held territory. A policeman was shot and wounded while on duty in the eastern district of Batticaloa, where Tamil politician Joseph Pararajasingam was shot dead after taking Communion, and two soldiers were wounded in a grenade attack in the far north.
Leaflets were scattered overnight in Batticaloa carrying a warning from a renegade rebel faction locked in a feud with the mainstream Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, ordering residents not to attend the funeral.
"Security has been tightened. More troops and policemen are providing security," said military spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe. "There will be so many people attending the funeral and we don't want any incident to happen in Batticaloa."
The rebels have blamed Pararajasingam's killing on militants - a veiled reference to the faction led by a breakaway rebel commander called Karuna - and accuse the government of helping them. The government blames the LTTE.
The politician's body was taken to the northern rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi this week, where he was laid beneath a red rebel flag emblazoned with a roaring golden tiger and crossed rifles.
Violence is escalating, with near daily attacks against the military. Twenty-five military personnel have been killed in two deadly mine blasts in the past week alone. The Tigers deny involvement, straining a truce between the sides.
The army found two mines planted by the roadside in the northwestern district of Mannar in the early hours of yesterday.
The government has held back from retaliating in the hope the rebels will be shunned and isolated by the international community.
Sri Lanka's stock market has plunged with each successive major attack as panicked small investors sell their holdings, but economic analysts - no strangers to years of war - say the wider market is not yet betting on a conflict.
The exchange fell nearly 4 percent on Wednesday after a near 7 percent fall a day earlier, but clawed back ground yesterday as small investors bought shares lured by comparatively low prices and was up 4.02 percent by 1030 (local time.)
Many ordinary Sri Lankans closer to the action in the north and east however fear a return to a two-decade civil war that killed more than 64,000 people, displaced hundreds of thousands more and hamstrung the US$20 billion economy.
Many displaced by war were displaced again by Asia's tsunami and are worried they may have to flee and restart their lives yet again.
Many aid groups are drawing up contingency plans to pull staff out and discontinue their tsunami aid programs in the north and east, and some smaller groups have already started to recall staff to Colombo.
The government and the Tigers are poles apart over the rebels' demands for wide political powers in the north and east, where they want to build a homeland for ethnic Tamils, many of whom feel sidelined economically by the island's majority Sinhalese who dominate the south and the island's politics.