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Sri Lanka’s ignored war

[IHT, Friday, 26 December 2008 17:40 No Comment]

Asia’s longest civil war is building to a violent crescendo. In Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese-majority government should be pressed to accept a cease-fire, to permit a political settlement.

 

Government forces are besieging the rebel Tamil Tigers in the north. Since abandoning a cease-fire in 2006 and a Norwegian-sponsored peace process earlier this year, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, Defense Minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, have been vaunting their intention to crush the Tigers once and for all.

 

There is little chance the brothers’ military campaign will produce anything other than a new phase of protracted guerrilla warfare. Meanwhile, over 200,000 civilians have been uprooted from their homes. On ground flooded by monsoon rains, they struggle to survive in frail lean-tos, dependent on aid agencies that operate under the Sri Lankan Army’s severe restrictions.

 

Both sides have abused civilians. The Sri Lankan military has bombed and shelled villages, schools, hospitals. An official of the World Food Program told the BBC recently that conditions for displaced people in the northern conflict zone are "as basic as in Somalia." And Human Rights Watch has accused the Tigers of preventing 230,000 displaced civilians from fleeing the war zone so they can be used as human shields, and to provide a pool of potential recruits.

 

Tamil civilians of northern Sri Lanka are suffering a man-made disaster. Ethnic or nationalistic pride should not be allowed to inflict such suffering on civilians who committed no crime but to be trapped in a war zone.

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