Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Sri Lanka's Forgotten Conflict

Boston Globe editorial, July 17, 2008

China and competing Asian powers India and Pakistan could help end the conflict. But they have been more interested in doing business in Sri Lanka and securing geopolitical influence there - just as they have in Burma and elsewhere. The solution to Sri Lanka's conflict must be political, not military. Rajapakse should be encouraged to strike a deal that grants Tamils substantial autonomy in their own homeland areas.

PARTISANS of human rights have been rightly outraged this year by the behavior of ruthless regimes in Burma, Zimbabwe, and Sudan. But when the government of Sri Lanka was stripped of its seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council this spring - a body that includes Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Russia among its members - hardly anyone noticed, outside of the small community of human-rights organizations.

This inattention has a price. It means there is scant outside pressure on President Mahinda Rajapakse to protect civilians caught up in a vicious war between the army and separatist guerrillas known as the Tamil Tigers. Tamil civilians in the northern Jaffna peninsula are exposed to indiscriminate bombing and artillery shelling, and a strict army pass system keeps much of the civilian population from escaping.

Human Rights Watch has called on the government to stop the arbitrary detention of Tamil civilians, who have been held in a kind of concentration camp in the north. "The Sri Lankan government shouldn't treat civilians as criminals just because they're fleeing a conflict area," said a recent statement from the group's Asia director.

China and competing Asian powers India and Pakistan could help end the conflict. But they have been more interested in doing business in Sri Lanka and securing geopolitical influence there - just as they have in Burma and elsewhere. The solution to Sri Lanka's conflict must be political, not military. Rajapakse should be encouraged to strike a deal that grants Tamils substantial autonomy in their own homeland areas. If not, the war will drag on, and Sri Lanka's government may find itself classified alongside the regimes in Burma, Zimbabwe, and Sudan as an international pariah.

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