Collective Punishment of Trapped Civilians in the ‘No Fire Zone’ in Sri Lanka Should Stop!
By Dr. Siri Gamage – Australia, 15.4.2009
The reported death and injury to a large number of Tamil civilians in the so-called ‘No Fire Zone’ in the North-Eastern edge of Sri Lanka is receiving widespread international attention, including from the UN and other agencies as well as governments. While it is understandable that the government of Sri Lanka wants to complete its military mission against the ruthless LTTE sooner than later, there is no justification for harming the entrapped civilians in the process. If the military has to wait another week, two or a few months in order to gain the upper hand over the remaining LTTE cadres and leadership, it should do so in the interest of the considerable number of civilians entrapped and their plight due to the reported lack of food, shelter, medicine etc. Otherwise, further civilian deaths in this zone can be highly counterproductive.
It is interesting to note that both the Sri Lankan government as well as the LTTE has denied responsibility for the weekend massacre. However, the ICRC ship keeps ferrying the critically injured in hundreds out of the No Fire Zone. Therein lies the possible truth! Someone is killing civilians in the No Fire Zone in unacceptable numbers.
When the military and the navy have surrounded the tiny No Fire Zone, which is restricted to about 3 kilometres at length, and 1.5 kilometres in width -or slightly larger- it now looks like an Open Prison Camp where the government is holding the upper hand. According to media reports, there is no escape route for the trapped LTTE leaders and cadres or the civilians. The government is asking the civilians to come out but the LTTE cadres mingling among the civilians are preventing them from doing so. Some reports indicate that the civilians who are trying to flee are being shot at by the LTTE.
When there are no independent reports from the No Fire Zone, the only sources of information available to outsiders is the propaganda on both sides streamed into news channels around the world on a daily basis. They are not reliable as the denial of responsibility for this latest massacre shows. It is always the other side that kills civilians caught in the crossfire! Along with the growth of war machineries over the decades, the media machineries also have become sophisticated to construct the truth the way the warring parties desire.
For the conclusion of military mission in this tiny piece of territory-which is mostly sand near the sea- there has to be a process following international norms of war. As the UN Secretary General has highlighted, the Sri Lankan government should outline the terms under which the remaining LTTE leaders and cadres can surrender. The LTTE may or may not accept these terms. In this event, the Government should ask the UN body to come up with a solution within a reasonable period of time such as a month or two at the maximum.
It may be that a delegation authorized by the Security Council liaises with both sides for an acceptable conclusion to this part of the military mission. Paramount in the minds of LTTE leaders may be their concern for safety if they surrender to the military.
The government should make it clear to the UN and others that the due process will be applied to any LTTE leaders and cadres who surrender -perhaps via a Third party like the UNE SecurityCouncil delegates, or even a delegation from India. It may also be possible that the countries such as the US, UK, France and India are able to send several well equipped large ships near the No Fire Zone and retain the civilians for a period of time until the government officials survey them and allow the civilians to come on shore.
If such a solution is feasible and acceptable to the international bodies, then the LTTE cadres may not be allowed to take their remaining arms to these ships. However, this is only feasible, if thenumber of civilians trapped in the No Fire Zone is less than 50,000. A worry for the government can be the possibility of the LTTE leaders and cadres seeking political asylum in Third Countries. However, these matters should be discussed with a representative international delegation and some agreement reached.
If the reports of civilian massacres in the tiny No Fire Zone are true, it can only create a negative image not only of the military and the government but also of all Sinhala people as murderers with no human conscience. The government’s claim to its military campaign as a ‘rescue mission’ will also be highly discredited. It is time that the government of Sri Lanka and its military show magnanimity in victory by listening to the international community and agreeing to a compromised solution – that does not dilute its ultimate aims.
Rather than discarding the Western governments for its lop sided positions and criticisms on human rights grounds, the government can in fact obtain their assistance along with India for such a conclusion, with their cooperation. The only person who will not like such a solution will be Prabhakaran because of the Indian government attitude towards LTTE resulting from Rajiv Gandhi episode. He should be compelled or allowed to decide his fate for himself by devising an end to the situation where civilian security is provided.
– Asian Tribune –