New satellite imagery analysis released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) offers a glimpse on Sri Lanka’s northeastern war zone. The analysis – initially requested by Amnesty International USA and Human Rights Watch – compares two images from May 6 and May 10, 2009, in order to produce additional evidence on the recent attacks. It “reveals evidence of probable artillery shelling as well as major population displacement”, according to a press release by AAAS. The images show numerous possible shell impact craters and destroyed houses. The most visible feature of the image comparison is the removal of thousands of likely IDP shelters from the central part of the so-called “Safe Zone” between May 6 and May 10. The image analysis shows several new possible shell craters primarily in the area of removed IDP structures.
Over the weekend, more than 400 people – including more than 100 children – are reported to have been killed in a two-day bombardment of the 2 square kilometre area designated as a “Safe Zone” by the Sri Lankan army. Both sides have been accused of the attacks, with neither side taking responsibility. It is hard to determine who actually shelled the area, let alone the exact death toll or number of civilians in harm’s way, because journalists and outside organizations, except for the International Committee of the Red Cross, are not allowed in the area. As a result, this has been dubbed a “war without witnesses“. On Sunday, the government deported a British news team, further weakening the transparency.
Despite calls from the UN to halt the bloodshed and protect civilians, reports today claimed that a school in the area that was converted to a makeshift hospital has been shelled, killing 47 and wounding more than 50. The hospital was housing many of the wounded from this weekend’s attacks. Many of those injured over the weekend were scheduled to be evacuated by the International Committee of the Red Cross today, as food and medical supplies are scarce, but this was unable to happen due to the continuation of heavy artillery fighting. In recent weeks, almost 200,000 civilians have fled the L.T.T.E. controlled area. The L.T.T.E must ensure that those civilians remaining in the area are protected, provided with basic necessities, and given the option to leave. In addition, the Sri Lankan government must end indiscriminate attacks on civilians and allow aid agencies and independent observers – including journalists – into the region so that the crisis is portrayed in a transparent way and those responsible for human rights violations can be held accountable.