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Civilians are dying in large numbers

[TOI, Sunday, 1 February 2009 19:33 No Comment]

Reports from the war zone in Sri Lanka indicate that civilians are dying in large numbers. Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council, a Colombo-based human rights organisation, spoke to K Venkataramanan:


What is the situation of Tamils in Sri Lanka?

As far as the civilians in the north are concerned, they will continue to face the collateral effects of the war. They will not be able to live in the villages, as they used to. In the foreseeable future, they have to move out. Others are likely to be caught in the midst of the fighting.

What about Tamils in the south?

They will be under surveillance, as they would be suspected to be LTTE accomplices or members. They will feel a lot of insecurity and be subjected to fear and harassment.

Does the military victories of the Sri Lankan army provide an opportunity to settle the problem?

The victory would break the stalemate that has existed for years. The two parties have been unable to break the stalemate so far. The focus will now shift from the military dimension to the political dimension. That provides an opportunity for forward movement.

This government has shown itself to be capable of adapting to the rapidly changing situation on the ground. In order to promote economic development, it may change its focus or strategies. It is our hope that it will show progress in the political process.

Is the situation bleak?

It is not bleak. But it requires a leap of faith to expect a positive scenario to materialise. I work for that.

Coming to the present situation in the conflict, what is the lot of civilians caught in the war zone? How many people are trapped there?

No doubt, civilians are dying in large numbers. And they are being kept there against their will. I have reliable information that the LTTE is firing out of civilian zones. We know about 230,000 people have come from outside Mullaitivu. They have moved from west to east. We should also expect that there would be original inhabitants (of Mullaitivu). The numbers could be between 300,000 and 400,000.

Is the media under threat in Sri Lanka?

The assassination of Lasantha Wickremetunga (editor of The Sunday Leader), a well-known journalist and well-connected in the highest levels of the government and among diplomats, has been assassinated.

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