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Stop the genocide: Sri Lanka wages war on Tamil people

November 19, 2011
Saturday, April 18, 2009 – 10:00
By Tim Dobson

Massive protests in London, Toronto, Canberra and elsewhere around the world have demanded the Sri Lankan government agree to an immediate ceasefire and open negotiations with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The Sri Lankan government has instead vowed to continue its military offensive to destroy the LTTE, which has waged a decades-long armed struggle independence. Sri Lanka’ss brutal campaign amounts to genocide against the Tamil people.

Dr Sam Pari, a Tamil activist in Australia, told ABC Online on April 15: “The latest information that we have received from the ground is that the Sri Lankan army is preparing to take on a major military offensive to enter the safe zone, and with the safe zone housing more than 300,000 Tamil civilians we are going to see a bloodbath.”

The so-called safe zone was declared by the Sri Lankan government, who told the media it would be a “no-fire zone”. It is a narrow 14-square kilometre area of sandy coastal land in Sri Lanka’s northern Vanni region.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on April 9 that this safe zone is actually “one of the most dangerous places in the world”. At least 4,500 Tamil civilians have been killed over the last three months. The Sri Lankan Army has been “indiscriminately shelling the ‘no-fire zone”‘.

Meena Kandasamy, in an April 4 Indian New Sunday Express article, cited a United Nations report that says, on average, 63 Tamil civilians are killed and 145 injured by the SLA every day.

The Sri Lankan government continues to deny it has attacked the safe zone. The Sri Lankan president told UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon on March 17 that “no firing whatever was being carried out on the No Fire or Safe Zones declared by the security forces”.

Despite the government’s ban on media and other observers entering the safe zone, reports have still surfaced about the barbarity of the assault.

A doctor working in the safe zone told Human Rights Watch over the phone about one artillery attack: “Between 10 and 11am on March 21, a shell hit a shelter about 200 meters from a church in [the small village of] Valayanmadam. When I went to the site in the evening, two bodies were still lying at the site, while three bodies had already been buried. Nine people had been injured”, he said.

Kandasamy further described the terrible conditions in the safe zone: “Most civilians in the zone subsist on a single meal a day. Chronic malnutrition is simply a matter of time. Potable water, too, is in short supply, distributed at just 10 locations.

“Civilians live in tarpaulin huts and take refuge in bunkers when they hear artillery, multi-barrel and cluster bombs falling. Torrential rain and strong winds last month blew the roofs off a fourth of the dwellings and damaged the temporary toilets.

“Because of the army’s ban on transporting construction material, most people have no choice but to defecate in the open. The area’s medical officers fear an outbreak of water-borne communicable diseases”, Kandasamy wrote.

Health care is almost non-existent for Tamils in the safe zone. “Only one temporary hospital is operational. The zone’s makeshift hospitals at Udaiyarkaddu, Suthanthirapuram and Thevipuram were abandoned after continued artillery attacks.

“A school building at Puthu Maththalan has been converted into a surgical centre. The playground has now become the mortuary.”

The Sri Lankan government told the media it had declared a 48-hour “humanitarian pause” on April 13. Yet fighting continued during this “pause”.

On April 14, the LTTE issued a statement describing the pause as “merely an act of hoodwinking <193> The [LTTE] unequivocally condemns this political swagger aimed at deceiving the world as well as the Tamil people.”

The LTTE instead called for a permanent ceasefire and asked for international backing. A ceasefire would “create a conducive climate for a permanent political resolution to the national question of the Tamils”, it said.

Sri Lanka’s information minister, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, told Bloomberg.com on April 14 that Sri Lanka is “‘not ready” to agree to a ceasefire. “I don’t think there will be another pause in hostilities”, he said, unless the LTTE surrenders.

The Sri Lankan government is now claiming a ground invasion of the safe zone will mean the liberation of Tamil civilians. The government accuses the LTTE of holding Tamil civilians hostage in the safe zone.

Preparations for a military invasion of the safe zone are underway.

An April 16 statement on the Sri Lankan defence ministry website said, “the military maneuvers are expected to set [the] stage for the worlds’ largest hostage rescue operation undertaken by a conventional armed force in modern times”.

The statement accused the LTTE of keeping civilians “through sheer intimidation and torture inside the LTTE’s ‘open-human’ prisons”.

Foreign governments, the UN and even HRW have swallowed the Sri Lankan government’s line and also accuse the LTTE of using Tamil civilians as “human shields”.

Kandasamy offers a very different explanation of why Tamil civilians choose to stay in the safe zone. “Why do the people stay on in such hardship? The greatest fear seems to be that if they leave, they won’t be allowed back”, she said.

“Young Tamils in the zone have never lived in army-controlled areas, but they have heard stories of life under the army. They are also held back by the prospect of confinement in army-run internment camps.

“Only the critically injured and their caretakers [are allowed to] leave when the [Red Cross] rescue-ship arrives.”

The Australian Tamil Information Service pointed out on Tamilsydney.com that, “the government of Sri Lanka has been detaining Tamil Internally Displaced People (IDPs) arbitrarily and indefinitely under close military guard in barbed wire fenced concentration camps'”.

Most of these camps “remain out of bounds for anyone. Aid agencies, humanitarian workers, the media as well as relatives of the detained are denied access to these camps”.

Sri Lanka’s policy of placing those fleeing the conflict zone into concentration camps violates its duties under international law which bans the arbitrary detention of civilians during internal armed conflicts.

“In addition”, ATIS said, “hundreds of men and women, some of whom are only teenagers, have been taken into secret detention or disappeared during the ‘screening processes’ for IDPs who arrive from the LTTE-administered areas <193> Infants, as young as 6 months old, are also confined in these concentration camps.”

Fear of imprisonment by the government, not fear of the LTTE, is the real reason Tamil civilians remain in the safe zone.

Internationally, protests in support of the Tamils are beginning to have an impact. Canada’s foreign minister Lawrence Cannon told reporters on April 9 that Canada had asked the Sri Lankan government to agree to an immediate ceasefire.

Yet Canada, along with the US, England, France and Australia, has refused to impose trade sanctions or cut foreign aid to Sri Lanka as Tamil protesters are demanding.

Western governments could use such diplomatic means to force the Sri Lankan government to stop the genocide and negotiate a peaceful solution.

Their failure to do this makes them the silent partners of this genocide.

From GLW issue 791

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