|A Tiger-Made Crisis|
|Thursday, 26 February 2009|
Sri Lanka's government stands firm against terrorists using civilian human shields.
The Sri Lankan government is steadily gaining ground against the terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and an end to that country's 26-year-old civil war may finally be in sight. Now the United Nations, European Union and U.S. worry about a looming humanitarian crisis in the conflict zone. With the Tigers reportedly holding civilians hostage as human shields, Colombo has few good options. But the worst would be to stop now.
The army says it has the Tigers cornered in a 24-square-mile patch in the Northern Province. But as many as 250,000 civilians, most of them innocent Tamils, may be trapped in that zone. While the government has tried to establish routes for them to leave and is providing camps for those who do, the Tigers reportedly refuse to allow the majority of these civilians out. They're too valuable as human shields, and as PR tools.
The government's options are either to push forward in the knowledge there will be civilian casualties or to heed international calls for a break in the fighting for a few days in the hopes the Tigers will allow the civilians out. Colombo insists it must keep the pressure on the Tigers, especially when it's so close to victory.
This week has seen renewed calls from the U.N., the EU and the U.S. for a temporary pause in fighting to allow civilians to flee. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday that the U.N. "would strongly support a suspension of fighting." Also Monday, a conclave of European foreign ministers in Brussels called for an immediate cease-fire while a State Department spokesman said Washington "want[s] to see" Colombo and the Tigers "discuss ways to end the hostilities."
The danger is that any let-up in the assault will give the Tigers time to regroup, thus extending the conflict and the civilian suffering even longer. A reminder of the danger the Tigers still can pose came with Friday's kamikaze aerial attack on Colombo with two small planes. That attack also casts doubt on the sincerity of the request for a cease-fire the Tigers issued Monday, especially since that proposal didn't include a promise to lay down their arms.
Nor is there any guarantee the Tigers would honor a break in the fighting, let alone allow the civilians to leave. The last time a formal cease-fire was negotiated, in 2002, the Tigers spent the following four years violating it frequently. Tiger leaders must also be keenly aware that their human shields are their last remaining "defense" against a Sri Lankan army better equipped and trained than any in the country's modern history.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's military offensive has made more progress against the Tigers than any effort in the past 26 years. The civil war has come at a high cost in Sri Lankan blood and treasure, a cost that may grow as this offensive reaches its conclusion. But the cost of stepping back from the fight would be higher still.
|Last Updated ( Friday, 09 October 2009 )|
|< Prev||Next >|