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Sri Lanka's Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished
Review by Tamil Solidarity
Manny Thain, Secretary, Tamil Solidarity
It is nearly three years since the Sri Lankan regime declared victory against the LTTE, the Tamil Tigers. That so-called victory cost the lives of at least 40,000 Tamil civilians. Hundreds of thousands were rounded up in squalid detention camps. Thousands have disappeared. The north and east of Sri Lanka is under military occupation. The wounds run deep and are still fresh, the suffering unbearable.
One of the few voices raised against the regime of president Mahinda Rajapaksa has been Channel 4. On 14 March, it screened its second documentary on the war, Sri Lanka's Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished.
Horrific footage showed sustained attacks on a United Nations food convoy, trapped in the first of the supposed 'no-fire zones' along with hundreds of thousands of civilians. Despite sending GPS coordinates, UN bunkers continued to be shelled.
After UN staff had made frantic calls to the Australian high commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital, the shelling shifted away from the bunkers but remained inside the no-fire zone. Clearly, the authorities had direct knowledge of the situation and the army was in full control of the shelling.
'Hostage rescue operation'
In mid-April 2009 the Sri Lankan army blasted a line through the middle of the no-fire zone, claiming that this was a 'hostage rescue operation'. In reality, it was a full scale military assault.
Tens of thousands of people were dumped into huge detention camps. On 22 April army spokesmen insisted that no heavy artillery had been used and no civilians had been killed. The UN says the death toll was at least 15,000.
The Sri Lankan regime deliberately understated the numbers of people in the no-fire zones. UN figures show that, by the end of April, well over 125,000 people remained trapped. On 28 April Rajapaksa went on CNN to say that there were 5-10,000.
By 3 May the no-fire zone consisted of an area no more than a mile across. Field hospitals, overwhelmed with dead and dying, were shelled. The regime refused access to the Red Cross.
LTTE fighters who had been captured or surrendered were executed. Sexual violence was perpetrated against female Tamil Tigers.
Channel 4 highlighted the execution of Balachandran Prabhakaran, the 12-year-old son of the LTTE leader. He had been shot many times.
Sir John Holmes, then head of the UN's humanitarian operations, admitted that the Rajapaksa regime "ran rings around the UN". It knew that, for geopolitical reasons and commercial self-interest, no government was prepared to speak out against the massacres.
There was, Holmes said, an "implicit green light", a deadly "diplomatic dance" which allowed the regime to continue with its brutal policies with impunity.
At the 2011 Commonwealth meeting in Australia, Rajapaksa shook hands with Queen Elizabeth II, and Sri Lanka was named as the venue for its next heads of government meeting in 2013. No wonder his regime feels it can get away with murder.
20 April day of action
A day of action to build the fightback for the rights of Tamil people in Sri Lanka will be organised by Tamil Solidarity on 20 April.
It will involve leafletting and other campaigning activity, a forum for debate and discussion, and a new play.
See www.tamilsolidarity.org for details.
In The Socialist 21 March 2012:
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