Sri Lanka's 25-year war between the Sinhalese Buddhist majority government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), may be coming to an end, according to Sri Lanka's president Mahinda Rajapakse. For a couple of weeks, Rajapakse has been announcing that the Tamil rebels, who seek an autonomously ruled area in the country's north, are on the edge of defeat. The former control of around 7,000 square miles by the LTTE has been reduced to a negligible piece of land.
The intense battling between the army and the militants has produced a civilian crisis. Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians have fled the north. Another 250,000 - 300,000 are reported to be trapped between the two fighting forces who are battling not only over geographic territory, but also the information landscape. Depending on who you listen to, either the LTTE or the Sri Lankan government is to blame for harming civilians.
The United Nations accuses the LTTE of preventing civilians from leaving the war zone and shooting some, as well as recruiting child soldiers. Much of this charge has been repeated in India by External Affars minister, who charges that the LTTE are using civilians as human shields and have killed some attempting escape. India has a substantial Tamil population and has pledged to support civilians, as has nearby Australia. Al Jazeera reportage cites witnesses who also clain the LTTE is shooting at civilians.
The LTTE has denied the child recruiting charges on its website, as well as charging the Sri Lankan Army with killing hundreds using cluster bombs, in recent days.
Tamils in the United States are charging the Sri Lankan government with having cut off humanitarian aid to the north to such a degree that it amounts to genocide. The group, Tamils against Genocide, will hold a demonstration in Washington DC on February 20 with the hope of alerting the Obama administration of their view.
A Pakistani news source today suggests that Indian intelligence is giving tacit aid to the Tamil Tigers, by spreading disinformation as well as through more direct support. Pakistan, of course, may have its own reasons for discrediting India.
As with all conflicts, the actual situation is more complex than either side would have us believe. Ahilan Kadirgamar, spokesperson for the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum explained how LTTE control, civilian fear and Sri Lankan Army's disgregard combine to trap civilians Democracy Now:
The immediate concern ... is the humanitarian situation in the district of Mullaittivu. While the LTTE is on its last legs, there are about 250,000 people trapped in that area. And the government is going forward with the offensive. The LTTE is not allowing the civilians to leave. There is a designated safe zone; however, the shelling, in particular, is continuing to kill civilians. There’s also concerns that many of the civilians trapped in that territory are perhaps unwilling to come out of that territory also because of a lack of internationally mandated rehabilitation camps. The rehabilitation camps are currently controlled by the security forces, and there’s a lot of fear for the civilians to also come out of the territory.
But the LTTE is also holding the civilians more or less hostage. And in the past, the LTTE has had no concerns about provoking violence on the civilians who have tried to gain legitimacy. At the same time, the military also does not seem to care much about the civilians at all. This war is being fought with much Sinhala nationalist propaganda. So it’s a very serious situation, probably the worst we’ve seen in the last couple decades.