Uncomfortable truths and unconscionable lies

The heightened exodus of IDPs from the Government (GOSL) designated No Fire Zone and the government announcement that it would cease using heavy weaponry, shelling and aerial bombardment against the LTTE and give priority to the protection of civilians, raises serious questions with regard to its conduct of the war, especially in light of the statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights of  March 13, that actions by both the GOSL and the LTTE could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Consider for a moment what the exodus have revealed.  Official GOSL figures put the numbers that have come out of the Wanni at close to 200,000 and the numbers still trapped inside as between 15-20,000.  For months the UN and humanitarian agencies as well as civil society groups maintained that there were anywhere between 200 -250,000 persons in the Wanni, some arguing that the figure was more likely to be around 300-350,000.

Civil society groups in particular were branded as traitors for going with the figures given out by the UN and humanitarian agencies.  The GOSL insisted throughout this period that there were only 70,000 persons trapped in the Wanni and made much of the fact that they were feeding them and supplying them with essential items.

What is the truth and where does it lie?  Has the GOSL been deliberately starving out some 150,000 – 180,000 of its own citizens?  Has it been shamelessly employing siege tactics against them?  Is there any denying the horrendous state of the IDPs who have come out?

Even if the local media is too cowed to ask these questions, unwilling or unable to publish the visual images of this horror, the rest of the world has read about it and seen the images. Accountability must follow.

Clear admission

Likewise, the announcement by the GOSL that it will cease using heavy weaponry and aerial bombing, and give priority to the protection of civilians. Despite the fervent denials to the contrary over the last months, is this not a clear admission that the GOSL was shelling and bombing its civilians in the No Fire Zone, which the GOSL, had designated as such?

Confidential UN satellite images taken between  February 5 and  April 19, and leaked on  April 30, clearly show that the No Fire Zone has been bombed, despite being designated as such by the GOSL on  February 12.  There is concern that the use of heavy weaponry and aerial bombing continues with reports of a medical facility being hit on April 29.

According to an al Jazeera report of  May 1, Foreign Secretary Kohona has admitted to targeting LTTE heavy guns in the zone.  The report states:

But on Friday, confronted by the latest UN satellite imaging agency (Unosat) pictures showing craters which were formed inside the zone between February and April this year, Kohona at first challenged their authenticity before admitting targeting the Tiger’s heavy guns.

He said, however that it was before civilians flooded the area and maintained that the government adhered to international law.

Peter Bouckaert, Emergencies Director for Human Rights Watch is quoted in the  May 1, online edition of The London Times as follows:

This is incontrovertible evidence that the Government has been lying for months.

US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, according to a Reuters report of  May 1, has made clear that the US had doubts about GOSL denials regarding the use of heavy artillery in the NFZ.  According to the Reuters report:

“Despite the Government of Sri Lanka’s promise to suspend combat operations, most accounts indicate that shelling into the conflict zone continues,” she said in remarks prepared for delivery at the closed door meeting.

War crimes

David Milliband on his return to London from Sri Lanka, has told the House of Commons that any alleged war crimes should be investigated “urgently, independently and credibly.”   Following their visit to Sri Lanka, the Foreign Ministers of Britain and France are reportedly in favour of Sri Lanka being put on the agenda of the Security Council.  According to Milliband in an interview with the BBC:

‘I think we were right; Britain, France, the US, to raise this issue at the United Nations last Friday, this does belong on the United Nations Security Council agenda. This is a civil war that does have regional and wider ramifications and, obviously, a massive civilian emergency as well.’

The need for an independent, international investigation is clear.  Both the GOSL and the LTTE have engaged in action that as the High Commissioner for Human Rights has pointed out, could amount to war crimes.  Failure to investigate these allegations will have serious repercussions for protracted conflict into the future and constitute an egregious reinforcement of the culture of impunity that has enveloped this country on account of the war.

Peace, reconciliation and unity require that uncomfortable truths are faced up to and unconscionable lies exposed.

It is time for the GOSL to cease the siege against its people in the Wanni and for the LTTE to let the people it has treated as hostages, go in peace.  And if there is an international community, there must be accountability.

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Source : The Sunday Leader

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