Sri Lanka: When a ceasefire isn't enough

The opposition Tamil Tigers announced a unilateral ceasefire today, which the Sri Lankan government immediately dismissed.  Successive government offensives in recent months have reduced the Tiger-held area to a 5 square-mile strip of land along Sri Lanka’s northeastern coast.  (If you’re new to this story, the Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for independent state in the north and east of Sri Lanka for the island’s Tamil minority.)  Trapped with the Tigers are an estimated 50,000 civilians, who’ve been used by the Tigers as human shields and a source for forced recruitment.  The Sri Lankan government has pointed out that the Tiger didn’t allow civilians to leave the war zone during an earlier two-day ceasefire declared by the government; the U.N. confirmed that fewer civilians left the war zone during the ceasefire period than during periods of fighting.

The Tigers’ ceasefire declaration said nothing about allowing civilians to leave the war zone.  Amnesty International has reported that the Tigers have attacked civilians trying to flee the area.  AI also said that the Sri Lankan government has used heavy artillery in attacking the Tigers, which has resulted in civilian deaths and injuries.

You also need to understand that some young Tamil men who have managed to flee the war zone have  “disappeared” after being detained by the army (and by “disappeared”, I don’t mean they just vanished; rather, the government had first detained them but is now denying knowledge of their whereabouts).  AI had warned last month that civilians fleeing the war zone were at risk of enforced disappearance and other human rights violations, if they were suspected to be members or supporters of the Tigers.  I was sickened to read last Friday that enforced disappearances were now occurring.  Fleeing civilians should be protected from any Tigers who may be mixed with them, but given the long history of enforced disappearances by the  Sri Lankan security forces, any screening process by the army of the fleeing civilians should be supervised by international monitors.  

Here’s what I think should happen:  The Tigers should announce that any civilians who wish to leave the war zone would be free to do so.  If they don’t make this announcement immediately, the Tamil diaspora should publicly call on them to do so.  The Sri Lankan government should announce that it is agreeing to a pause in hostilities to allow civilians to leave and aid to enter the zone.  The Tigers and the Sri Lankan government should allow the U.N. team currently in Sri Lanka to enter the war zone to monitor civilians leavning the zone and the distribution of aid to those still in the zone.  The Sri Lankan government should announce that international monitors will supervise the screening of all civilians leaving the zone.  The government should also say that the U.N. and other international agencies will have access to the camps housing the civilians who’ve left the zone, so that they won’t be at risk of human rights violations from the security forces.

If anyone has any better ideas for protecting the trapped civilians, I’d welcome your comments.  We must do whatever we can to save them.  Visiting the AIUSA website and writing the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers is one thing you can do.  I’d welcome other ideas as well.

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18 thoughts on “Sri Lanka: When a ceasefire isn't enough

  1. What international community including the Tamil diaspora should do is to accept the fact that LTTE is responsible for the ongoing situation as well without continuously putting the blame on GoSL. GoSL is not only under pressure from the internatioal community to halt the war but from the 20million citizens as well (who has been actually suffering from the LTTE terrorism for 25 years) to carry on untill the LTTE is fully destroyed. And Srilanka hasn't forgotten that LTTE has been using ceasefires
    all along in critical situations (to them) as an opportunity to reorganize and restrengthen their crumbling power.
    LTTE is an internationally banned terrorist group and under no circumstance they should be mistaken as a representative (if not sole) of Tamils.
    GoSL is already under too much pressure from every side and sadly all this would only postpone the crushing of one of the world's most dangerous terrorist groups further and letting them oppress all the Srilankans(irrespective of their ethnicity) to further infinity.

  2. The state of Srilanka is on the verge of becoming an international war criminal.
    'Disappearances' is so much like a Rwanda or a Nazi Germany situation. The need of the hour is for the UN and the US to get into Srilanka to make sure a truth and reconciliation happens and all the perpetrators of genocide be it the Srilankan Government [GoSL] or the Tigers are brought to book.

    The end of the Tigers is not the end of the problem. Without the Tamil Tigers, and without the International community, the GoSL will definitely indulge in ethnic cleansing, genocide, forced sterilisation of tamil men and women. This has happened before under earlier leaders, and will happen unless the world moves in to SL and stops the carnage. Remember Srilanka has a unitary constitution, where Tamils have not represenation.

    The GoSL runs 'welfare' camps for IDPs, unless the UN and the US get in there and enforce Human Rights, the GoSL will have a free hand to mutilate millions, under the orders of its far right groups. It must be noted that the top leadership of GoSL is very close to the far right.

    The island is of huge strategic importance to the US in its fight against terror in pakistan, and if the humanitarian crisis continues, newer liberation movements will come in, and they could ally with Al Qaeda. The vaccum left by could get filled by islamic conversions of the refugees for the promise of a homeland, and the suicide bombings will start again, ironically in the place where it was born. There is a huge possiblity of this.

    It would be wise to involve India, US, Japan and Australia to monitor the situation so that the IDP issue is solved and tamils are given their homeland.
    There are representatives of the Tigers who believe in democracy and a free society, involve them with GoSL to create the Tamil Homeland [Eelam]. That is the final solution.

  3. What international community including the Tamil diaspora should do is to accept the fact that LTTE is responsible for the ongoing situation as well without continuously putting the blame on GoSL. GoSL is not only under pressure from the internatioal community to halt the war but from the 20million citizens as well (who has been actually suffering from the LTTE terrorism for 25 years) to carry on untill the LTTE is fully destroyed. And Srilanka hasn’t forgotten that LTTE has been using ceasefires
    all along in critical situations (to them) as an opportunity to reorganize and restrengthen their crumbling power.
    LTTE is an internationally banned terrorist group and under no circumstance they should be mistaken as a representative (if not sole) of Tamils.
    GoSL is already under too much pressure from every side and sadly all this would only postpone the crushing of one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups further and letting them oppress all the Srilankans(irrespective of their ethnicity) to further infinity.

  4. The state of Srilanka is on the verge of becoming an international war criminal.
    ‘Disappearances’ is so much like a Rwanda or a Nazi Germany situation. The need of the hour is for the UN and the US to get into Srilanka to make sure a truth and reconciliation happens and all the perpetrators of genocide be it the Srilankan Government [GoSL] or the Tigers are brought to book.

    The end of the Tigers is not the end of the problem. Without the Tamil Tigers, and without the International community, the GoSL will definitely indulge in ethnic cleansing, genocide, forced sterilisation of tamil men and women. This has happened before under earlier leaders, and will happen unless the world moves in to SL and stops the carnage. Remember Srilanka has a unitary constitution, where Tamils have not represenation.

    The GoSL runs ‘welfare’ camps for IDPs, unless the UN and the US get in there and enforce Human Rights, the GoSL will have a free hand to mutilate millions, under the orders of its far right groups. It must be noted that the top leadership of GoSL is very close to the far right.

    The island is of huge strategic importance to the US in its fight against terror in pakistan, and if the humanitarian crisis continues, newer liberation movements will come in, and they could ally with Al Qaeda. The vaccum left by could get filled by islamic conversions of the refugees for the promise of a homeland, and the suicide bombings will start again, ironically in the place where it was born. There is a huge possiblity of this.

    It would be wise to involve India, US, Japan and Australia to monitor the situation so that the IDP issue is solved and tamils are given their homeland.
    There are representatives of the Tigers who believe in democracy and a free society, involve them with GoSL to create the Tamil Homeland [Eelam]. That is the final solution.

  5. It is irony to note the wordings of Sri Lankan President who says that he will not accept the ceasefire offer and that the Tamils have to surrender or fight. The Tamil Tigers have been restricted to an area of 6 sq. km. Then where comes the need to fight? If the Sri Lankan Government is having concern for the welfare of its people it can very well involve itself in construction activities in the liberated land and get the applause of the Tamil population. The terrorist organisation will also lose their base if such a situation arises. But what is happening is the Sri Lankan Government is acting in a very rude, cruel, shameful bombing of houses. They are displacing thousands of its population to in search of few hundreds of terrorists. It is very clear from the developments so far that a genocide is happening in Sri Lanka which is not less in cruel to any other mass killings reported in history. It is time that the United Nations send a Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka and stay there until a fresh Government is established for Tamils. Even when it is supposed that the Sri Lankan Government wins this war, Tamil people will certainly feel unsafe in the hands of a Government which gives no proper recognition to them at present in addition to the merciless killings carried out.
    All nations should come forward and arrange for United Nations interference. This can be the only solution to the Sri Lankan problem.

  6. It is irony to note the wordings of Sri Lankan President who says that he will not accept the ceasefire offer and that the Tamils have to surrender or fight. The Tamil Tigers have been restricted to an area of 6 sq. km. Then where comes the need to fight? If the Sri Lankan Government is having concern for the welfare of its people it can very well involve itself in construction activities in the liberated land and get the applause of the Tamil population. The terrorist organisation will also lose their base if such a situation arises. But what is happening is the Sri Lankan Government is acting in a very rude, cruel, shameful bombing of houses. They are displacing thousands of its population to in search of few hundreds of terrorists. It is very clear from the developments so far that a genocide is happening in Sri Lanka which is not less in cruel to any other mass killings reported in history. It is time that the United Nations send a Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka and stay there until a fresh Government is established for Tamils. Even when it is supposed that the Sri Lankan Government wins this war, Tamil people will certainly feel unsafe in the hands of a Government which gives no proper recognition to them at present in addition to the merciless killings carried out.
    All nations should come forward and arrange for United Nations interference. This can be the only solution to the Sri Lankan problem.

  7. Max appears to be calling for the Sri Lankan government to continue its military offensive until all the LTTE-held area is reconquered. I fear that might result in thousands of civilian casualties.

    Gary and Balachandran both seem to be advocating involvement by the international community in Sri Lanka in ways that would not be likely to be acceptable to the Sri Lankan government. My focus isn't on any debate about proposed future political structures for Sri Lanka but on what should be done, now, to protect the civilians at risk in the war zone.

  8. Sri Lankan Government is clearly committing genocide against Tamils by continuously shelling the safety zone where 165,000+ innocent Tamils are present. Within couple of hours of announcing that heavy weapons will not be used inside the safety zone, Sri Lankan Government violated its announcement and continued its shelling even more now than ever. 5600 Shells within 15 hrs where 165,000+ Tamils are present.
    Sri Lankan Government has blocked the food that was to be sent to the people in the safety zone on April 21st. The Tamils are denied of food and medicine but they do get lot of shelling and bombing by the Sri Lankan government.
    Sri Lankan Government has even refused to allow UN workers inside the safety zone. WHY? This is definitely a war without witness.
    UN needs to act immediately to save the lives of Tamils. If not, Sri Lankan Government will kill all the Tamils within a few hrs or a few days.

  9. Max appears to be calling for the Sri Lankan government to continue its military offensive until all the LTTE-held area is reconquered. I fear that might result in thousands of civilian casualties.

    Gary and Balachandran both seem to be advocating involvement by the international community in Sri Lanka in ways that would not be likely to be acceptable to the Sri Lankan government. My focus isn’t on any debate about proposed future political structures for Sri Lanka but on what should be done, now, to protect the civilians at risk in the war zone.

  10. Sri Lankan Government is clearly committing genocide against Tamils by continuously shelling the safety zone where 165,000+ innocent Tamils are present. Within couple of hours of announcing that heavy weapons will not be used inside the safety zone, Sri Lankan Government violated its announcement and continued its shelling even more now than ever. 5600 Shells within 15 hrs where 165,000+ Tamils are present.
    Sri Lankan Government has blocked the food that was to be sent to the people in the safety zone on April 21st. The Tamils are denied of food and medicine but they do get lot of shelling and bombing by the Sri Lankan government.
    Sri Lankan Government has even refused to allow UN workers inside the safety zone. WHY? This is definitely a war without witness.
    UN needs to act immediately to save the lives of Tamils. If not, Sri Lankan Government will kill all the Tamils within a few hrs or a few days.

  11. In response to Vaani, I'd note that the pro-LTTE website Tamilnet has said that the government has continued bombing and shelling in violation of its own pledge not to use heavy weapons. I'd also note that the Sri Lankan military has reportedly denied this claim and said it is using only small arms in the continuing fighting. Without independent observers in the conflict area, it can be difficult to verify either's side's claims.

  12. In response to Vaani, I’d note that the pro-LTTE website Tamilnet has said that the government has continued bombing and shelling in violation of its own pledge not to use heavy weapons. I’d also note that the Sri Lankan military has reportedly denied this claim and said it is using only small arms in the continuing fighting. Without independent observers in the conflict area, it can be difficult to verify either’s side’s claims.

  13. It's true that people are beginning to be resettled but the number is very small, compared to the over 150,000 people who've fled the war zone in recent months and are now interned in camps which they can't leave (and not counting those who were displaced earlier and still haven't been able to return). I know the Sri Lankan government has promised that most of the recently displaced civilians will be resettled by the end of this year, but aid agencies are reportedly looking for a clear plan from the government as to how this will be accomplished. AI issued an urgent action appeal on Sri Lanka this past Friday (available on the AIUSA website). I'd suggest looking at that (and writing to the government and the LTTE as the appeal requests) to see what AI is now calling for from both sides to the conflict.

  14. It’s true that people are beginning to be resettled but the number is very small, compared to the over 150,000 people who’ve fled the war zone in recent months and are now interned in camps which they can’t leave (and not counting those who were displaced earlier and still haven’t been able to return). I know the Sri Lankan government has promised that most of the recently displaced civilians will be resettled by the end of this year, but aid agencies are reportedly looking for a clear plan from the government as to how this will be accomplished. AI issued an urgent action appeal on Sri Lanka this past Friday (available on the AIUSA website). I’d suggest looking at that (and writing to the government and the LTTE as the appeal requests) to see what AI is now calling for from both sides to the conflict.