And the war continues

With the LTTE and tens of thousands of civilians penned into an area of around 17 square km, the plight of civilians in the northern area of Sri Lanka known as the Vanni has attracted worldwide concern and sympathy, and it could not have been any other way. While the circumstances are completely different, the civilian death toll in the Vanni over the past few months is already at least triple the number of civilians killed in the Gaza massacre of December-January, and still mounting. Meanwhile, the thousands who suffer serious injuries are further victimised by the delay in medical attention or its outright lack; this means, for instance, that injuries to limbs that could have been saved with prompt treatment are instead resulting in gangrene and amputations. Even those who have not lost lives, limbs or loved ones have lost their homes and livelihoods, and live in appalling conditions that could well claim more lives through disease or even starvation. All the while, the LTTE and government of Sri Lanka trade charges, each accusing the other of responsibility for the slaughter. What truth is there in their respective allegations?

Let us start with the LTTE, whose leaders and supporters, especially in Tamil Nadu but also elsewhere, cry Genocide! and accuse the Colombo government of being solely responsible for the carnage. They do not mention the appalling war crimes committed by the rebels, which have been documented by international and Sri Lankan human-rights groups. The most obvious is their use of Tamil civilians as human shields, from behind which they can engage in offensive firing, even shooting those who try to escape. The civilians whom the LTTE claims to represent are effectively being held prisoner or hostage, and deliberately kept in the line of fire to provide cover. The relationship between Tamil civilians and the Tigers is the very opposite of what the latter claims: far from defending the Tamils, the LTTE leaders are using the civilians for their physical and political survival, a violation that is specifically defined as a war crime.

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Himal Southasian