Sri Lanka

Fate of Sri Lankan Tamil Minority: Choice of Boiling Pot and Burning Stove

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, February 2009 (ID. 2009-02-01)
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Unbiased international humanitarian agencies report that Tamil freedom fighters - the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) - are not allowing Tamil civilians in their areas of control to leave for Sri Lankan government controlled areas. This is unacceptable and inexcusable. We urge in the strongest terms that those civilians wanting to leave must be allowed to do so.

The same humanitarian agencies also report that conditions of refugee camps set up by Sri Lankan government for those Tamil civilians leaving LTTE areas are appalling and that Sri Lankan government offers very limited freedom of mobility to these civilians. Human Rights Watch reported of "drastic shortage" of food, shelter, water and sanitation supplies in these camps. It added that people [Tamil civilians coming from LTTE areas] are "held indefinitely in army-run prison camps". It also said, "The government's 'welfare centers' for civilians are just badly disguised prisons." One international aid official likened these camps to Nazi concentration camps.

In spite of all this, LTTE must allow those civilians wanting to leave. I suggest that humanitarian agencies with knowledge of the conditions of government run camps go into LTTE areas and talk to civilians. Those who make the choice to go to these camps must be allowed to leave. That is the right thing to do.

Tamil civilians in the war zone are like in the proverbial boiling pot and burning stove situation. (1) If they stay in LTTE areas they lack adequate food, medical supplies and shelter (because the Sri Lankan government severely restricts access to relief agencies). These civilians are also at death's edge because of Sri Lankan Air Force bombings. There are reports that Sri Lankan military purposively targets civilian areas to force them to flee to government areas. (2) If they are able to leave for government areas they were put in relief camps that are short of food, medical supplies and decent shelter (because government would not provide them or allow relief agencies to provide them). As we stated earlier, these relief camps remind humanitarian officials of prison camps and Nazi concentration camps. There are also "disappearances" of camp residents, never to be seen again.

Are these the only two choices that we want for Tamil civilians? Or, for that matter, for any human being? There should be a third choice for the Tamil people of northeast Sri Lanka - To live in peace with honour and dignity that every human being is entitled. Will they get that option soon or forever doomed to know nothing but war and refugee camps?

Let the International Community enforce a ceasefire now, followed by mediated peace talks.


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