Sri Lankan Army massacres Tamil civilians

By Kerry Vernon

In a statement released on May 24, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, the head of international relations for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), announced that Velupillai Prabhakaran, LTTE founder and leader of the movement for a Tamil nation-state in northern Sri Lanka had been killed by the Sri Lankan troops the previous week.. The Sri Lankan media congratulated Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on May 18 for his army’s “military victory” in its 26-year war against the Tamil Tigers after Sri Lankan troops overran the last LTTE stronghold in the narrow strip of land at Mullaitivu.

The Sri Lankan Army (SLA) had continued to attack LTTE positions despite a government declaration on April 27 of a unilateral ceasefire and with thousands of Tamil civilians trapped in the area of the fighting. The May 25 Australian reported that, according to UN estimates, “at least 7000 civilians died in the final stages of fighting in the country’s northern battlezone — an area closed to all but the military, a few aid workers and a mass of civilians caught between the warring sides. But the huge toll on those caught in the crossfire during final battle is only now beginning to emerge.” Estimates for just one field hospital in Pulmoddai, north of Trincomalee, according to the report, showed that “10,191 patients were evacuated between March 16 and May 9 — one week before the Government’s final offensive. Of those, 3118 were treated for serious injuries, including bullet and shrapnel wounds, broken bones and amputations.”

Tens of thousands maimed

The May 25 London Daily Telegraph reported that foreign aid workers had estimated the scale of civilian injuries at one in 10 of the 280,000 civilians who fled the Sri Lankan army’s final assault against the Tamil Tigers. Many had lost limbs or been badly injured and will need prosthetic limbs or wheelchairs. A French charity, Handicap International, which works with victims of war and has a small artificial limb factory in Batticaloa in Sri Lanka’s eastern province, has estimated that 25,000-30,000 people have been maimed by the SLA’s final assault. This contradicts the Rajapaksa government’s claim that the SLA rescued 280,000 LTTE “hostages” without any civilian casualties. According to several media reports, the injured were dispersed to hospitals around the country and camps in the north where only a small number of aid workers are allowed entry and access by foreign journalists has been banned.

At least 200,000 Tamil refugees have been herded into barbed wired internment camps on the 560 hectare Menik Farm on the outskirts of the northern Sri Lanka town of Vavuniy, according to the May 26 London Guardian. It added that the Sri Lankan government had said it will continue to keep Tamil refugees in the camps for up to two years to continue to identify members of the LTTE. The government has said it has already identified 9000 LTTE members who are being sent to “rehabilitation centres” where they will be held for at least a year.

During the final weeks of the SLA military offensive, thousands of Tamils were unable to locate or contact relatives missing or separated, according to the May 26 London Daily Telegraph. Tamil refugees said they had been separated from their families when reaching army checkpoints and transported to different hospitals and internment camps. The internment camps are reported to have held many older people who have since died because they were unable to fend for themselves. Many children are being held alone without relatives and many internees suffer malnutrition and diseases.

The May 27 Sydney Morning Herald reported that foreign aid officials, human rights campaigners and Tamil politicians have said that Tamils have been driven out of north-eastern areas of Sri Lanka by killings and kidnappings carried out by pro-government militias. The SMH reported that disappearances of Tamils around Trincomalee had increased over the past three months with many villagers moving out because the SLA had declared the area they lived in to be a “high security risk”.

‘One thousand killed per day’

New York’s Inner City Press website reported on May 29 that it had obtained leaked UN estimates 7000 Tamil civilians had been killed in April and “one thousand more civilians were being killed every day in May”. ICP “asked UK Ambassador to the UN John Sawers would what the Security Council did and didn’t do as civilian casualties mounted in north Sri Lanka. Sawers responded that ‘we had the votes’ to put Sri Lanka on the Council’s agenda, but chose not to, to preserve ‘unanimity’.”

Britain, along with the US, had backed the Sri Lankan military offensive against the LTTE, which it brands as “terrorists”. In the last quarter of 2008, British arms exports worth £1.4 million were approved for Sri Lanka. This compares with less than £1 million of British arms exports to the country for the whole of 2007. In January, the US embassy in Colombo issued a statement urging the government to press forward with its military offensive against the LTTE, declaring that the “United States does not advocate that the Government of Sri Lanka negotiate with the LTTE, a group designated by America as a Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997.”

A May 28 statement by the Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations (AFTA) deplored a May 27 decision by the UN Human Rights Council to ignore calls for an international investigation into alleged SLA abuses during its final offensive against the LTTE. No concern was mentioned in the resolution about the hundreds of thousands of people facing indefinite detention in government camps. Referring to the military defeat inflicted on the LTTE, the AFTA said: “This defeat was achieved at a heavy human cost and has resulted in making the Tamil nation completely defenceless and shifting the political balance entirely in favour of a brutal and intransigent political establishment of the permanent larger Sinhala nation in the island of Sri Lanka.”

Several Tamil sources have indicated the military defeat of the LTTE is a major setback for the struggle for a Tamil nation-state. However, the brutal imperialist-supported military victory over the LTTE has come at an enormous cost to the Tamil nation. Despite assurances to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Indian government on May 21 that Sri Lanka would implement a law for devolving powers to Tamil-dominated areas and agree to a political solution to the decades-long conflict stemming from systemic discrimination against the country’s 1.5 million Tamil citizens, Colombo has shown what it really has in mind. Up to May 29, Colombo has not allowed unhindered access by UN aid workers to Tamils held in the internment camps. The government has said it will first “weed out” suspected Tamil Tiger rebels.

The Sri Lankan government aims to avoid the revival of a Tamil Tiger movement or a movement for Tamil national self-determination by forcibly separating up to 9000 Tamil youth from their families to be held in military camps for one year. It is forcibly holding over 210,000 Tamils in displaced internment camps while the government plans to recruit and deploy an extra 100,000 soldiers to militarily occupy the Tamil-dominated north of the island. Tamil activists fear that this is meant to change the ethnic makeup of the Tamil speaking areas of the north and east to contain any sentiment for a Tamil nation-state.

The Sri Lankan government now intends to take its campaign of suppression of the Tamil national struggle overseas. “We will start discussion with countries in Europe, Australia, the US, UK, and Canada where the Tamil diaspora was active, to put an end to fundraising and demonstrations against the Sri Lanka”, information and media minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa was quoted as saying in the May 27 Australian.