end game is not ending. It is being drawn out with an
ever increasing toll to the lives and suffering of the
civilian population estimated by the UN and the
international agencies to be 200,000 and by the
Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) at 70,000.
According to UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian
Affairs and UN Relief Coordinator, Sir John Holmes who
recently visited Sri Lanka, in his statement to the UN
Security Council on February 27, 'the number of
casualties from the fighting, among whom we believe are
many civilians, cannot be verified in the absence of
independent sources, since humanitarian agencies and the
media have no access to the area, but we believe dozens
of people per day at least are being killed and many
more wounded.' (Emphasis added)
recent days the international community has repeated its
calls for a pause in the hostilities to allow for the
evacuation of civilians. This requires the agreement of
both sides and is not forthcoming. The government will
deal with the LTTE on the basis of surrender and the
LTTE adamantly refuses to do so even though it is
abundantly clear that they have suffered a devastating
conventional military defeat.
grim and despicable logic of the LTTE seems to be one of
simply raising the costs of war even though the outcome
in military terms is a foregone conclusion. That the
civilians are being used as human shields and that some
have been shot and killed for attempting to escape is
beyond dispute from all the accounts that have eked out
of this otherwise "hermetically sealed" conflict in
terms of information and reportage.
entrapment of the civilians at present is tantamount to
the LTTE serving them up as human sacrifices in order to
reinforce the argument internationally, of war crimes by
the Sri Lankan government and of humanitarian
argument will still be made that there are civilians in
the Wanni who are there on their own volition and will
not move out for a variety of reasons including support
of the LTTE and a "Masada type" last stand, the desire
to stay with their family members who are LTTE cadres
and fear of the reception they will be accorded by the
government if they do leave.
Free to go
Whatever credence is given to this argument and it
cannot be dismissed out of hand, the point is that even
it is a minority of those trapped in the Wanni who want
to move out and escape the horrific suffering they are
being subjected to, they must be allowed to do so. The
charge of crimes against humanity cuts both ways and the
LTTE leadership must realise that they cannot escape it.
violations of international humanitarian law and the
laws of war are by no means one sided. Whilst it is
necessary, correct and safer and non-controversial to
slam the LTTE for its barbaric excesses, the GOSL has
yet to convincingly rebut the charges that its artillery
has hit medical facilities, civilians within and outside
the no fire zone and that its strategy in the face of
the humanitarian catastrophe in the Wanni is driven by
military considerations to the point that it is better
described as one of elimination of the LTTE and its
support base, rather than one of containment which
accords civilian protection the priority it deserves and
demands in these and all other circumstances.
argument that the forces have to respond to LTTE firing
surely does not hold when it is known that such a
response will result in civilian deaths and injuries,
given the space and the number of people trapped within
it? Sir John Holmes in his statement to the Security
Council pointed out:
government has assured me at every level that they have
virtually stopped using heavy weapons because of their
recognition of the need to spare the civilian
population, who are of course their own citizens. It
remains unclear how far this is the case in reality.
surely any strategy of maintaining the level of
hostilities and the inadequacy of food and essential
supplies to the point that the civilians will be
compelled to "make a dash" of it en masse, is an
egregious affront to the noblest traditions of the land
and to universal norms and standards of civilised
behaviour in this day and age.
the end game ends will have lasting consequences for
peace, unity and reconciliation in
It must already scar the memory of the civilians trapped
there as an unimaginably awful collective punishment.
The government and the LTTE must hold back from
slaughter and civilian sacrifice and let the people come
out into safety and security.
latter responsibility rests with the government and here
the assurances given to Sir John Holmes in respect of
minimum international and national standards must be
upheld. Independent monitoring of this is essential and
crucial in this respect is the unrestricted access of
the international humanitarian actors to the civilians.
Assurances were given to Sir John Holmes on these and
other issues. He told the Security Council:
urged the government to move swiftly to eliminate
progressively the military presence inside the IDP
sites, and to ensure increasing freedom of movement for
the IDPs. I also raised specific concerns with the
government about the transparency of the initial
security processes and about cases of family separation,
and stressed the need for enhanced monitoring by the
ICRC and the UNHCR.
assured by the government that UNHCR can be present
during the screening as displaced leave the Wanni area,
and that the government will soon complete the
registration of existing IDPs and distribute temporary
ID cards, which will help allow increasing freedom of
movement. I understand that IDPs over 60 years of age
have already been allowed to move out of the IDP sites
to stay with relatives outside the camps where
John also raised the issue and was assured by the GOSL
that IDPs would be allowed to return to their places of
origin as soon as possible - a goal of return of 80% of
the IDPs by the end of the year was identified, once
de-mining was completed.
much of this has commenced and what is the demonstrable
progress that can be recorded?
faith in respect of all of this will guarantee
protracted conflict. The absolutely urgent and pressing
need is to end the horror of entrapment in the Wanni.