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In today’s news…..

July 22, 2009

Guardian Comment – Sri Lanka’s dangerous silence

The Paris-based non-governmental organisation Action Contre la Faim (ACF) last week accused the Sri Lankan government’s presidential commission of inquiry of failing to identify the people responsible for the killing of 17 aid workers in August 2006, calling it one of the “most serious crimes ever committed against an NGO” and reiterating its calls to the European Union for an “internationalised inquiry into this massacre”.

The government of Sri Lanka continues its farce on the world media stage, parading the five detained Tamil doctors who retracted statements they made on the number of civilian causalities during the final stages of the conflict and prompting calls by Amnesty International for an “independent inquiry” into war crimes. Despite the renunciation by the doctors, who remain in custody and apparently under duress, the UN, aid workers and an investigation by the Times have corroborated the true extent of civilian casualties during the final onslaught.

The Hindu – Veteran Sri Lankan diplomat sacked

Veteran Sri Lankan diplomat Dayan Jayatilleka has been sacked triggering speculation that his protest against Israeli incursion into Gaza could have prompted the move.

Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, said he hadn’t the “foggiest notion” why he was terminated as it was not contained in his letter of dismissal.

Official sources confirmed that Mr. Jayatilleka has been told to “relinquish his duties”.

The diplomat is a strong advocate of devolution of powers to provinces, including those with majority Tamil population, and favours strong ties with India.

“The news item which quoted a Foreign Ministry source, though not explicitly giving a reason has made reference to a statement made by the irrepressible Ambassador (Jayatilleka) when he gave vent to his feelings over the cruel bombing of Gaza,” the Island Newspaper said in an article on Monday.

NY Times Opinion – War Without End

The guns have fallen silent in Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, but the deep wounds of ethnic animosity have not even begun to heal. An estimated 300,000 Tamil civilians remain essentially prisoners in internment camps run by a Sinhalese-dominated government.

To begin easing the deep mistrust between the communities, donor countries will have to pressure the government to be as serious about securing a just peace as it was earlier this year about winning the war.

The final months of combat in the decades-long war between the Sri Lankan Army and the rebel Tamil Tigers were brutal. As government forces tightened a noose around insurgent positions, hundreds of thousands of civilians were caught in the middle.

AFP – ICRC cuts back S.Lanka operations after govt order

The Red Cross on Monday announced the closure of four offices in Sri Lanka following a government order to foreign aid agencies to scale down operations.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said its four offices in the embattled eastern province were closed at the weekend.

“The ICRC reaffirms its commitment to meet the humanitarian needs of those directly or indirectly affected by the recent conflict,” the Geneva-based organisation said in its statement.

It said offices in the Akkaraipattu, Batticaloa, Muttur and Trincomalee areas in the eastern province were shut. The statement did not mention ICRC operations in the north where there are some 300,000 war-displaced civilians.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Australians for Tamil Justice permalink*
    July 22, 2009 1:27 am

    Op-Ed Contributor
    War Without End
    By ROBERT TEMPLER
    Published: July 21, 2009

    The guns have fallen silent in Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, but the deep wounds of ethnic animosity have not even begun to heal. An estimated 300,000 Tamil civilians remain essentially prisoners in internment camps run by a Sinhalese-dominated government.

    To begin easing the deep mistrust between the communities, donor countries will have to pressure the government to be as serious about securing a just peace as it was earlier this year about winning the war.

    The final months of combat in the decades-long war between the Sri Lankan Army and the rebel Tamil Tigers were brutal. As government forces tightened a noose around insurgent positions, hundreds of thousands of civilians were caught in the middle.

    The army was indiscriminately launching artillery shells and air strikes into mixed areas of insurgents and innocents, and the Tigers shot at people who tried to escape. The U.N. estimated some 7,000 civilians, including at least 1,000 children, died and more than 10,000 were injured in the last few months of the war.

    The legacy of atrocities on both sides clearly needs to be investigated if the Tamils and Sinhalese are to share the same island peacefully in the future. The immediate concern is for the 300,000 Tamils still interned behind barbed wire in camps with no government plan for returning them to their homes. Up to two thirds of them are in the giant camp at Manik Farm, where lives are lost every day to overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of clean drinking water and inadequate medical services.

    The government has blamed the United Nations and international aid agencies for the poor conditions, because those organizations are reluctant to build permanent or semi-permanent shelters to house the displaced. The real origin of the problem, however, is the government’s refusal to expedite its “screening” process and allow tens of thousands of the displaced to live with relatives or host families.

    Furthermore, access for international agencies is restricted in ways that limit the effectiveness of aid delivery. Many of the restrictions appear designed to prevent the disclosure of conditions in the camps or the situation that civilians faced during the final months of the war. No private consultations with the displaced are allowed in the camps, and no cameras or recording equipment can be brought in.

    Many of the displaced remain uncertain about the whereabouts or fate of family members from whom they have been separated. Many suspected of involvement with the Tigers have been separated from their families and detained for further questioning, some in undisclosed locations. Some end up in detention and rehabilitation centers that the Red Cross and Unicef have access to.

    One case deserves special mention. Three Tamil government doctors and one senior health official are known to be in government custody and are now threatened with prosecution for cooperating with the Tamil Tigers. As just about the only remaining officials inside the war zone in the final weeks, they worked heroically to save lives and alert the world to the humanitarian disaster endured by civilians trapped in the fighting. On July 8, their captors forced them to recant their stories. This farce should end: They should be freed.

    After winning the war, the Sri Lankan government now risks losing the peace with its approach toward ethnic Tamils displaced by the conflict. Colombo needs to alter course if the country is to begin overcoming years of animosity and avoid having old hatreds and current antipathy turn into the next Tamil rebellion.

    Specifically, the government needs to provide a clear timetable for rapid and full resettlement of those currently interned in all the camps. It also has to make significant improvements in access to and conditions in those camps. Colombo should make public its lists of the interned and allow the Red Cross access to all places of detention and all aspects of the “screening” process conducted by the military and intelligence agencies.

    The international community has a clear role to play in convincing the Sri Lankan government to take these steps. The cochairs of the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka — the United States, the European Union, Japan and Norway — have particular responsibility as they prepare to meet in August. They must send an unequivocal message.

    All donor countries, both acting alone and using their influence in key institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, should condition all new non-emergency economic assistance to the country on their implementation. Creating the basic conditions necessary for a sustainable and equitable peace demands no less.

    Robert Templer is Asia program director of the International Crisis Group.

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