Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Sri Lanka's Dirty War

New York Times editorial, April 30, 2009

In recent months, as authorities sensed potential victory, the attacks have gotten ever more fierce. The United Nations estimates that more than 6,000 people have been killed and nearly 14,000 wounded just since the end of January.

While there are no good guys in this fight, the government must do all that it can to avoid harming civilians in a war zone. You know officials have something to hide when they bar aid groups and journalists from the war zone, as Sri Lanka has done since last year.

Army troops in Sri Lanka are closing in on a dwindling band of Tamil Tiger separatists who are outgunned on an ever-narrowing battlefield. It would be a relief if this 25-year fight finally ends. In the meantime, tens of thousands of terrified civilians are trapped in the conflict zone — a strip of land about four miles long — and are running out of food and water. They must be allowed to leave.

Human rights groups have accused both the minority Tamils, who pioneered suicide bombing as a weapon of war and are widely classified as terrorists, and Sri Lanka’s government of gross violations. After several failed attempts at peace talks, the army began this latest offensive. In recent months, as authorities sensed potential victory, the attacks have gotten ever more fierce. The United Nations estimates that more than 6,000 people have been killed and nearly 14,000 wounded just since the end of January.

While there are no good guys in this fight, the government must do all that it can to avoid harming civilians in a war zone. You know officials have something to hide when they bar aid groups and journalists from the war zone, as Sri Lanka has done since last year.

Sri Lanka has callously ignored calls for a humanitarian cease-fire. This week the government said the army would stop using heavy weapons against the rebels, but watchdog groups say that they have received reports that fierce shelling continues.

American officials say privately that they will try to delay Sri Lanka from getting a desperately needed $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund until all civilians are allowed to leave the war zone and aid workers have full access to refugee camps. Other countries should join that effort. The European Union is warning that unless Sri Lanka quickly declares a cease-fire, it will have to rethink its aid and trade. Japan and India should use their even greater economic leverage.

Sri Lanka’s leaders and the rebels must be warned that they could face prosecution for war crimes. Once this fighting ends, the government and the Tamils must be persuaded to pursue a serious political settlement, or this long and brutal war would certainly reignite.

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Europeans Fail to Get Sri Lanka Truce

by Thomas Fuller

One of the highest-level European delegations to visit this war-torn country in years failed Wednesday to persuade the Sri Lankan government to declare a temporary truce with ethnic Tamil rebels.

Chettikulam internment camp Sri Lanka April 30 2009
Displaced Sri Lankans watched the British and French foreign ministers arrive for talks Wednesday at a camp in Chettikulam.

“They’re not willing to do that,” David Miliband, Britain’s foreign secretary, said in an interview after talks with Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and other officials. “The furthest the government has gone is to commit to no heavy weaponry and to minimize what they call collateral damage, mainly the damage to civilians.”

The delegation, which also included Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France, paid a one-day visit as intense fighting raged near tens of thousands of civilians who were being held as human shields by Tamil rebels.

Tamil groups say the government has broken its promise, made Monday, not to use heavy weaponry, a claim backed by a government doctor in the combat zone who told The Associated Press on Tuesday that shelling into the zone had killed a number of civilians.

Mr. Kouchner, who has spent four decades in conflict zones and is a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, said in an interview before his departure that he did not entirely trust the Sri Lankan government’s assurances.

“Do I believe them? No, not completely,” he said. But he said he discounted claims by the rebels even more.

Both foreign ministers will report their findings to the European Union and the United Nations Security Council.

Tensions have risen between Sri Lanka and foreign governments over the plight of the estimated 50,000 civilians captive in the combat zone.

As a reflection of those strains, the European delegation was without a third official, Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, who was denied permission to enter the country. Sweden recalled its top diplomat in the country over the episode. Sri Lanka now says Mr. Bildt is welcome to visit in May.

Reuters reported late Wednesday that the United States had decided to delay a $1.9 billion International Monetary Fund bailout for Sri Lanka’s central bank to pressure the government to do more to help trapped civilians.

Mr. Kouchner said he recognized the difficulty faced by the government, which believes it is close to winning its 25-year war against the Tamil Tigers. The government and its supporters say they fear that any lull in the fighting would allow the Tigers to regroup, as they have in the past.

“They told us: ‘This is not Iraq, this is not Afghanistan. This is our internal fight,’ ” Mr. Kouchner said.

As he and Mr. Miliband toured refugee camps on Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s Defense Ministry reported “hours of intense close-quarter fighting” between rebels and government troops.

The Sri Lankan Navy, meanwhile, said it had thwarted a sea-borne rebel attack, destroying what it described as four suicide boats. Rebel-controlled territory, which once covered nearly one-third of the country, has been reduced to three square miles, the military said Wednesday.

As a measure of the civilian casualties in the conflict, a field hospital that Mr. Kouchner visited received 60 patients on Wednesday alone.

Around 6,500 civilians have died since late January and twice that number have been wounded, according to the United Nations.

The European delegation is the latest of several high-profile visits in recent days centered on the plight of the civilians. Senior Indian officials and the United Nations humanitarian coordinator both failed to persuade the government to stop the fighting.

The United Nations and foreign governments have also tried but failed to persuade the Tamil Tigers to let the civilians go. It is unclear whether they would change their minds if the government agreed to a cease-fire.

Humanitarian conditions in the rebel-held zone and in the camps across northern Sri Lanka are dire, according to doctors, aid agencies and the United Nations.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees described “overcrowding, malnourishment, dehydration and limited medical facilities” at the refugee camps.

 

 

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