Heartless terrorists use civilians as pawns
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s directive to the
Sri Lankan armed forces to observe a 48-hour pause in their victorious
offensive operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam may be
“less than the full humanitarian pause of several days” pressed for by
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon but it will be greeted with relief
worldwide. Coinciding with the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, this
concession from a position of total military dominance is aimed at
securing safe passage for an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 civilians.
The plain truth is that they are held hostage by the LTTE in a 17
square kilometre sliver of coastal land in the North that has been
demarcated by the government as a No Fire Zone (NFZ). The Tigers have
lost no less than 15,000 square km of territory that was in their
military control when the current war began in August 2006.
As Velupillai Prabakaran’s dream of winning ‘Tamil Eelam’ through
armed struggle turned into a nightmare for Tamils trapped or displaced
from their homes in the conflict zone, he and the remnants of his
battle-hardened cadre have had nowhere to turn.
Facing annihilation, they have had no moral compunction in moving
into the NFZ with heavy weapons, and using the hard-pressed civilians as
a last-ditch shield. Refusing to acknowledge the very idea of a
humanitarian NFZ, they have made it clear that the lives and welfare of
Tamils, whose sole representative the LTTE claims to be, just do not
count in this horrible travesty of a liberation struggle.
There can be no other explanation for this refusal to heed
international humanitarian appeals.
The 65,000 Tamils who have escaped to government-controlled areas
since November 2008 give the lie to the LTTE’s claim that the Tamil
people are staying with it voluntarily.
Mr. Ban Ki-moon has struck the right note at the right time by
calling on “key members of the international community” to support this
pause and do all they can “to avert further death and suffering in Sri
It should not be too difficult to persuade the Sri Lankan government
to extend the pause to the “several days” Mr. Ban wanted if it means
stepping up the international pressure on the LTTE and giving it no
choice but to allow civilians “wishing to leave the conflict zone... to
do so without hindrance.”
That is the real solution to the humanitarian crisis. It will
inevitably mean the final defeat of, or surrender by, the LTTE leaders.
Sri Lanka’s Tamils certainly have longstanding grievances.
The Tamil question can be resolved only through their winning equal
rights and genuine devolution of power along federal lines in their
areas of historical habitation. But what the world needs to be clear
about is that the LTTE, far from being an effective instrument of a just
political struggle, has been the biggest obstacle in the way of Tamils
winning their demands within a united Sri Lanka.