|What the Boston Globe does not say|
|Monday, 29 December 2008|
29 December 2008
A recent article in the Boston Globe is yet another example of the brilliant disinformation campaign conducted by the Tamil Tigers to save their military leadership from destruction. The article lacks precision and intellectual discrimination, but is loftily sanctimonious in tone to make up for this. It is presented here with a rewritten version of each paragraph to suggest what a more honest exposition would have included.
ASIA'S longest civil war is building to a violent crescendo. In the island nation of Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese-majority government should be pressed to accept a cease-fire, to permit a political settlement.
ASIA'S most brutal terrorist movement is heading to violent destruction. In the island nation of Sri Lanka, the democratically elected government should be pressed to call off its offensive, and abandon its discussions with democratic Tamil forces, so as to give breathing space to the Tiger terrorists.
Government forces are besieging the rebel Tamil Tigers in the north of the country. Since abandoning a ceasefire in 2006 and a Norwegian-sponsored peace process earlier this year, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, Defense Minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, have been vaunting their intention to crush the Tigers once and for all.
Government forces are besieging the terrorist Tamil Tigers in a couple of districts in the north of the country. Since the Tigers walked out of peace talks in 2006, ignoring a Norwegian-sponsored peace process, and launched two ferocious attacks against Sri Lankan forces in the North and East of the country, the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has counter-attacked, with leadership being provided by the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Col Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the brother of the President. Having cleared the East of the Tigers in 2007, the government formally abrogated the Ceasefire in January 2008, paving the way for democratic Tamil forces to contest elections in the East. Following the establishment of a Tamil led Provincial Administration in the East, the government began operations to free the North from the Tigers.
There is little chance the brothers' military campaign will produce anything other than a new phase of protracted guerrilla warfare. Meanwhile, over 200,000 civilians have been uprooted from their homes. On ground flooded by monsoon rains, they struggle to survive in frail lean-tos, dependent on aid agencies that operate under the Sri Lankan army's severe restrictions.
The government’s military campaign has proceeded slowly and steadily, and the Tigers are now confined to an area less than half the size of what they earlier controlled in the North. They are likely to revert to guerilla warfare if their current military structure is dismantled, but with their supply chains disrupted they will be weakened beyond repair unless their foreign supporters can provide them with a lifeline.
Meanwhile they have forced over 200,000 civilians to flee with them into an ever shrinking space. The government continues to provide them with food (which the Tigers also help themselves to), the World Food Programme providing support for about half the total number. Government provided health facilities have, despite the heaviest monsoon in years, prevented any serious outbreak of disease although there were dire predictions each month of epidemics in the following month. Government also continues with the free education it provides to all children, and in December conducted the Ordinary Level Educational Certificate Examination even for displaced children. Though the Tigers claim that they depend on external agencies for all support, the more responsible of those agencies, such as Save the Children, have made it clear that their work only supplements what government provides.
Both sides have abused civilians. The Sri Lankan military has bombed and shelled villages, schools, hospitals. An official of the World Food Program told the BBC recently that conditions for displaced people in the northern conflict zone are "as basic as in Somalia." And Human Rights Watch has accused the Tigers of preventing 230,000 displaced civilians from fleeing the war zone so they can be used as human shields, and to provide a pool of potential recruits.
Both sides are alleged to have abused civilians. However, the record of the Sri Lankan military, even according to various websites associated with the terrorist Tigers, is much better than that of any other armed force struggling against terror. A comparative presentation of statistics would be embarrassing to countries favoured by readers of this paper, but suffice it to say that, in forty air raids conducted by the Sri Lankan air force in November, there were allegations of civilian deaths in just one case.
A former British serviceman working now as a security officer for the World Food Programme, while admitting that food supplies were adequate, said he had seen nothing as bad since he had left Somalia. The World Food Programme has since dissociated itself from his comments.
Meanwhile, though this paper will not be categorical about the Tigers, so as to avoid any allegations of bias against terrorists, it should be noted that Human Rights Watch, which generally reiterates Tiger claims about the excesses of the Sri Lankan government, has accused the Tigers of preventing 230,000 displaced civilians from fleeing the war zone so that they can be used as human shields, and to provide a pool of potential recruits. This paper will not go so far as to say that they are in fact being used as human shields and that they are, children included, being forcibly recruited and thrust into battle lines. If we did so, the world might wonder why no one categorically criticizes such terrorist tactics, but instead all commentators continue with the fiction that both sides are as bad as each other.
Tamil civilians of northern Sri Lanka are suffering a man-made disaster. Ethnic or nationalistic pride should not be allowed to inflict such suffering on civilians who committed no crime but to be trapped in a war zone.
Tamil civilians in two districts of northern Sri Lanka have suffered forced conscription and other horrors for several years, though government has ensured the supply of food, free for over half the population, along with free health services and education. The suffering of the past did not particularly matter to this paper, but now that the area might be liberated, to enjoy the freedom Tamils in the rest of the country do, we note that there are problems and would prefer the control of the terrorists to continue.
Ethnic or nationalistic pride should not be allowed to inflict such suffering on civilians who committed no crime but to be trapped in a war zone, though this paper is prepared to tolerate such suffering for those who live on either side of the North West Frontier and for those in Gaza, just as it did for those in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and for the dispossessed in Diego Garcia. That suffering had to be accepted in the interests of the safety of the readers of this paper, even though in fact there was no war in the Indian Ocean and its inhabitants wanted it declared a Zone of Peace.
Only when the shooting stops can Sri Lanka's government pursue a lasting peace - by granting the Tamils meaningful autonomy in their homelands.
The destruction of the Tigers may permit the development of pluralistic democracy in which former militants who laid down arms and entered the electoral process can provide development for their people through devolution. This paper however would prefer that the Tigers be allowed to live to fight another day, because if other countries solved their problems there would be nothing for us to pontificate about.Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
|Last Updated ( Thursday, 23 July 2009 )|
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