Putting the record straight
The Times of London
Your editorial on Sri Lanka: ‘The Barbed Wire returns’ was an
improvement on the article by Jeremy Page that also used emotive
language, but it still had errors which should be corrected. You talk of
some 250,000 civilians trapped by the fighting.
The government has pointed out that District Secretaries, now safe
ensconced in government areas, have confirmed that there was much
duplication in the lists of those to whom government continued to send
food for the last several years.
|The letter below was sent by the Secretary of the Ministry of
Disaster Management and Human Rights to the Times of London, in response
to an editorial which referred to Sri Lanka,though it noted that
concentration camps were a creation of the British.
Our estimates are that there are no more than 100,000 civilians left
in the clutch of the Tigers now, about 40,000 having got to government
controlled areas in the last few weeks.
You mention a ‘safe zone’ in which the Army wants to imprison
non-combatants. The term actually refers to the zone designated by the
army for civilian safety in the area still under the control of the
The first such area was subject to Tiger fire, as confirmed by the UN
which noted, when people in the area were first hit, that ‘we believe
that firing this morning most likely was from an LTTE position’. You
only note that the Tigers fired on civilians as they tried to escape,
not that they also killed those who were waiting helpless in the areas
into which they had been dragooned.
It is all too easy, as you say, to predict starvation, despair and
death. The Tigers have been doing this for ages, while inflicting
starvation, despair, forced conscription and death on those who remained
under their control.
That is why so many have tried to escape to government controlled
areas, defying the predictions of Tigers and those who credit them. You
claim that people fleeing the crossfire have been killed by mines.
People are not fleeing crossfire, they are being led out by
courageous community leaders such as priests and nuns, who are shot for
their pains, as was testified to by the nun now in Trincomalee hospital.
The mines were laid by the LTTE, in a practice that they have indulged
in ruthlessly, increasing numbers now precisely to stop people trying to
escape from them.
You then claim that the ICRC ‘was forced yesterday to evacuate 160
patients from a makeshift hospital where artillery shelling killed 16
people earlier in the week’. The ICRC, while it accomplished the
evacuation with the cooperation of the LTTE as well as the government,
in accordance with its mandate, noted in its release that ‘The ICRC is
supporting the Ministry of Health in Trincomalee district as it provides
care for this exceptional influx of patients.... ICRC personnel are
providing support for Ministry of Health staff who are treating the
dozens of patients that continue to arrive in the area every day’.
Perhaps even belatedly you might acknowledge the fact that the
Government has continued to equip and staff hospitals and provide
healthcare for areas that were under LTTE control for years, because the
people there are our citizens and Sri Lanka provides free health
services to all of us.
The Sri Lankan Army’s plans for camps to intern Tamil civilians is
brutal and illegal. It will help neither peace nor reconciliation on the
island It was one of the 20th century’s most bestial images, and one
that was invented by the British.
The concentration camps set up by Lord Kitchener to intern Boer
women and children were officially intended to shelter civilians while
the British Forces conducted a scorched-earth policy to deprive Boer
combatants of food and shelter. In fact, they were places of brutality,
hardship and death. More than 26,000 people died in some 50 makeshift
camps across South Africa.
You then comment that, ‘The United Nations is planning for an exodus
of 150,000 people. But the troops appear intent on holding them,
ostensibly for their safety but in fact to root out any supporters or
relatives of the Tiger fighters’.
This is rank confusion. The Government is planning for an exodus of
about 150,000 people, as noted above (not the 250,000 you mention
elsewhere in your leader) and the UN is helping them in this. No one
wants to hold the people back except the Tigers.
Both the UN and the government want the civilians in government
controlled areas, where the UN is helping the government with temporary
The UN has agreed that the civilians should be kept there or in
welfare villages, though it is urging rapid resettlement, the opposite
of what it urged in the East when the government resettled those who had
been displaced far more quickly than anticipated.
In this case the Government knows that demining will be slower, so it
is catering for the possibility that some will still be on its hands in
a couple of years, but it had long decided to begin resettlement within
a few months at least in areas it took over a year ago.
I hope you will publish this letter as a correction of your errors. I
attach too an article I wrote in response to the piece by Mr Page. I
realize it is long, but I believe your readers deserve a thorough
analysis of a subject to which Mr Page fails to do justice.
Prof Rajiva Wijesinha