Home » News

Sri Lanka: What Kind of “Victory”?

[AlertNet, Sunday, 17 May 2009 20:46 No Comment]

After months of battle, government forces tightening an ever constricting noose around the Tamil Tigers seem to have finally beaten the rebel group. Still, deep concerns remain for tens of thousands of civilians caught up in the fighting.

The Tigers’ "international representative", Kumaran Padmanathan, has been quoted conceding defeat, though fighting is still probably continuing in small pockets where some groups of fighters remain. The Sri Lankan government released a press statement yesterday saying that all the civilians were out of the conflict zone.

But that is a strange and very worrying claim. In recent days, the UN had been estimating that 50,000 to 80,000 civilians were still trapped. What has happened to them? The UN’s description of a "blood bath" last weekend could be an understatement. The US may have fresh satellite images that could help answer the question.

Whatever the case, there are surely hundreds or even thousands of injured people — civilians and non-civilians — in desperate need of evacuation and medical treatment. The ICRC needs to be granted full access to the region immediately to treat and evacuate any survivors. This was previously prevented by the government on security grounds, but the authorities have no excuses now if, as they say, the military operation is over.

Of the civilians who are already in the government’s care, the cases of four individuals in particular need to be highlighted. They were government-employed health workers in the conflict zone trying to help treat the wounded to the very end. Unfortunately, the government also suspects them of providing information from inside the zone to international journalists and others over the past months — including evidence of government shelling of areas with large concentrations of non-combatants, which may constitute a war crime.

Doctors Varatharajah and Shanmugarajah, and Dr. T. Sathiyamurthy, the regional director of Health Services in Kilinochchi, are currently believed to be in custody at Omanthai. Also at risk is the Additional District Secretary from Kilinochchi, who is now in one of the internment camps in Vavuniya. The ICRC has apparently not been allowed access to them.

Some have said that the army’s attacks on medical facilities in recent weeks were a deliberate attempt to silence these individuals. True or not, the government’s history of disappearing its critics gives cause enough to fear for the lives of these individuals now in their custody.

Reuters AlertNet is not responsible for the content of external websites.

[Full Coverage]

(For updates you can share with your friends, follow TNN on Facebook, Twitter and Google+)

Comments are closed.