|Bite the LTTE bullet|
|Monday, 02 February 2009|
When discussing the conflict in Sri Lanka, foreign diplomats sometimes appear to have been surgically attached to a pair of rather close fitting blinkers. They seem to be completely incapable of giving up their obsession with tempering any statement critical of one party with equal concern about the other, even when such balance is not only unjustified but also decidedly counterproductive in solving the problems at hand. Both sides are urged to comply with their directives, whatever the situation.
This ostensible even-handedness has appeared to be everywhere of late. The last few days have seen about half a dozen statements of the kind.
First to speak was the British Foreign Minister, David Miliband, who called on the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to ensure the wellbeing of civilians by granting safe passage to those wanting to leave the combat zone. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, promptly added his voice to the debate, expressing some generic concerns about freedom of movement. The Sri Lankan government and the LTTE were asked to take care. Even the International Committee of the Red Cross joined in, calling on the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to allow civilians to leave, particularly those injured and in need of the kind of specialised treatment that isn’t available in the Vanni. They were followed by the European Union Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, Louis Michel, who demanded a ceasefire to enable people trapped in the combat zone to get out. Lawrence Cannon, the Canadian Foreign Minister, also expressed his all too vague hope that the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE would give civilians the opportunity to move if they wanted.
Both sides must indeed do their best to ensure that civilians escape the consequences of the fighting between them. But any statements on the subject ought to take account of what both sides are actually doing, and where blame for the current situation therefore lies.
The Sri Lankan government isn’t by any stretch of the imagination preventing civilians from leaving the combat zone. In fact, as its spokespeople have repeated time and again, this is exactly what is hoped for. Preparations have been made to house people who do come out to the safety of Government controlled areas in temporary shelters, and to provide them with food, healthcare, education and jobs until they are able to go back to their homes. Several thousand people have already made the journey, and many others are expected to come soon. Keeping civilians in the combat zone only makes it harder for the Sri Lankan forces to do their job, and this just delays the inevitable victory. The world really ought to have understood these simple facts by now.
For a long time, ignorant people were attempting to claim that the LTTE wasn’t at fault either. They suggested that civilians wanted to stay because they supported the organisation. This kind of self deception was only possible because of the deafening silence about the LTTE's oppression of people under its control that had endured for so long, particularly during the Ceasefire Agreement. Forced recruitment isn’t a sign of an organisation that enjoys the support of its community, and the world might have understood the real nature of the situation and what needed to be done if better informed people had spoken out then. But things have become pretty clear in recent days. By shooting at civilians attempting to leave, the LTTE has demonstrated that it is the guilty party that is breaking international law by keeping people as a human shield.
The incident in which United Nations expatriate staff members were held against their will after staying back in the Vanni to negotiate the release of their local counterparts and the transport of patients through the International Committee of the Red Cross ought to serve as another wake up call to those who still think that both sides are at fault. Both sides didn’t do that either.
David Miliband and Lawrence Cannon also called on the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to permit humanitarian aid to get through to the people who need it. A variation on the theme came from the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who declared that the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE must declare a ceasefire to enable aid deliveries to take place.
The world has been told that disaster is just around the corner almost every week for the last six months. That it has not yet arrived ought to teach people something, but it never does. Starvation and epidemics appear to be handy demons to be employed when it suits other purposes.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier was the only foreign diplomat to try and back up his claims with evidence, and his information was completely inaccurate. He said that people had been totally cut off from international aid for over ten days, when the World Food Programme had sent up 59 lorries holding 800 MT of supplies that it said would last the estimated 230,000 people in need for a week just six days earlier, while the Government had at the same time despatched another 34 lorries. That the estimate of 230,000 people in need is thought to be an exaggeration is widely accepted now, with similar inflation of the numbers having been found to have taken place elsewhere. The German Foreign Minister suggested with full confidence that there were over 300,000 civilians trapped in the Vanni, for some reason arbitrarily increasing the figures accepted by the United Nations. He might like to explain where the extra people have come from, given that the 2001 Census showed populations of just 120,000 each in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts.
The Sri Lankan government has been pointing out the fallacies in the far too regular attempts to pontificate about humanitarian aid for months, and it seems peculiar that there are still people who refuse to accept that officials are doing their best to ensure that food and medicines are available in the Vanni. This is a service that has been provided throughout the conflict, and one that the Sri Lankan government takes very seriously. Suggesting that there is a lack of will to do the job is ridiculous, and there is no evidence of capacity problems either.
Blame for the problems of the civilians in the Vanni does not lie with both sides, nor even slightly more with the LTTE than with the Sri Lankan government. It lies entirely with the LTTE. People would not be in any danger whatsoever if they were simply allowed to do what they now so obviously wish to do, which is move to the safety of Government controlled territory. Foreign diplomats probably think it doesn't hurt to address both sides, but the problem is that these supposedly even-handed declarations just end up reducing the pressure on the LTTE. Why the LTTE can't be pushed as hard as the Sri Lankan government remains a mystery, particularly when the lives of Vanni civilians are at risk.
|Last Updated ( Friday, 09 October 2009 )|
|< Prev||Next >|