Is the World Ignoring Sri Lanka’s Srebrenica?

Update | 10:57 a.m. As Somini Sengupta reported in The Times earlier this week, despite a two-day pause in fighting, the Sri Lankan government has “rebuffed international appeals to protect civilians trapped in a war zone in its northeast.” Now some visual evidence of the damage that fighting has caused is coming to light.

Ms. Sengupta explained on Sunday why Human Rights Watch calls this small area of northern Sri Lanka “one of the most dangerous places in the world.”

An estimated 100,000 ethnic Tamils are trapped in a deadly and shrinking five-square-mile wedge of land in northeastern Sri Lanka, where the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, fighting for an ethnic homeland for 25 years, have effectively held them hostage as a civilian shield.

A video report from Channel 4 News in London on Thursday (embedded below), showing scores of civilian victims killed last week in the crossfire between Sri Lanka’s government and the rebel Tamil Tigers (officially known as t is clear that the L.T.T.E.), in a part of the country off-limits to journalists, is difficult to watch. The images are as disturbing as those that filled television screens during the conflicts in Bosnia in the 1990s but, as Channel 4’s Lindsey Hilsum points out in her report, this bloody war, now possibly in its last throes, has been taking place largely out of sight of the international media. As in the final months of the war in Bosnia, the failure of the combatants to refrain from shelling encircled, densely-populated civilian pockets is producing shocking results. Channel 4’s Alex Thomson wrote on Thursday in an email newsletter, “You have to ask: is Sri Lanka becoming another Srebenica?”

Looked at from another point of view, some observers blame the Tamil rebel force for not allowing civilians to leave the war zone. As The Times reported on Thursday, the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, said in a joint statement”

It is clear that the L.T.T.E. have been forcefully preventing civilians from leaving the conflict area and we deplore their determination to use civilians as a human shield.

Since Sri Lankan authorities have barred journalists from the war zone, these images, shot by an aid group working with victims of the fighting, are a rare glimpse of the toll the fighting is taking on the civilian population in northern Sri Lanka.

Human Rights Watch has posted an audio slide show featuring graphic, disturbing images of victims in the same part of Sri Lanka in an audio slide show called “Trapped and Under Fire,” on their Web site.


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