Bloody Sri Lanka
southern asia |
imperialism / war |
Sunday May 17, 2009 01:19 by Financial Times
At last, the United Nations Security Council has spoken. It has seen what has been miserably apparent all year: that there is a bloodbath under way in the ever-diminishing territory held by rebel Tamils in north-eastern Sri Lanka.
True, the end-game in this long and vicious civil war has been clouded by the swirl of unverifiable reports and propaganda from both sides. Yet, as leaked UN satellite pictures as well as eyewitness accounts from the front attest, it is perfectly clear that innocent civilians, including women and a lot of children, are being killed in their hundreds, mostly by air strikes and shelling by the government.
The tiny spit of beach and jungle that is the last redoubt of the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE), once the most formidable irregular army in the world, is being pounded to bits, with upwards of 50,000 Tamil refugees in the middle. According to the UN, more than 6,400 civilians have been killed since the end of January, including hundreds last weekend.
That prompted Barack Obama to warn that “this humanitarian crisis could turn into a catastrophe”. And on Wednesday, the Security Council finally called on the army to cease using heavy weapons, and the rebels to lay down their arms and let civilians in the area flee.
Yet this was a mere statement, and a feeble one at that, rather than a legally binding resolution. The UN should threaten both sides with prosecution for war crimes. Council members led by China – whose no-questions-asked funnelling of arms to the Sri Lankan government helped tip the balance in this 25-year old conflict – insist it is an internal matter posing no threat to regional or international stability. That is short-sighted sophistry.
To begin with, China’s sudden eruption on this island in the Indian Ocean is part of its competition for regional influence with India.
Just as important, the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa rode to power on a wave of Sinhalese chauvinism, now fanned by the ugly triumphalism with which Colombo is contemplating the final liquidation of the Tigers. No one should mourn the passing of the ruthless and sanguinary LTTE. But the Tamil cause will reignite from the embers of this war unless the Sinhala majority shows magnanimity and gives the Tamils control of their own lives.
Mr Rajapaksa has only defeated the resourceful LTTE’s conventional capability. Until Iraq, the Tigers were the world’s most prolific suicide bombers. They will regroup – and expand offshore – with a vengeance that will match the government’s vengefulness.