Posts Tagged ‘Tamil Tigers’

Sri Lanka: Tamil oppression worsens despite war’s end

July 19, 2009
Brian Senewiratne | Green left Online, July 19, 2009

The Sri Lankan government claims that, after its military victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which was fighting for an independent homeland in the island’s north-east for the Tamil minority, Tamil “terrorism” has been crushed, and that the outlook for the country is rosy.

In reality, Sri Lanka’s problems have gotten worse. The need for international action against the crimes of the regime is more urgent than ever.

This year, the regime’s genocidal war on the Tamil people killed more than 30,000 Tamils this year. This occurred after the government removed international witnesses.

Continued >>

UN urges Sri Lanka war crime probe

May 27, 2009
Al Jazeera, May 26, 2009

Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war has left thousands dead and forced many to flee their homes [AFP]

The United Nations human rights chief has called for an independent investigation into whether war crimes were committed in the final stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said there was reason to believe that the government and the Tamil Tigers had “grossly disregarded the fundamental principle of the inviolability of civilians”.

“Establishing the facts is crucial to set the record straight regarding the conduct of all parties in the conflict,”  Pillay told a special session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

She said thousands of civilians had been killed or injured in fighting between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) since December.

In a video message to the council, Pillay reiterated concern over allegations that Tamil rebels prevented civilians from fleeing the combat zone and used them as human shields.

She also highlighted reports that the government fired heavy artillery on the densely populated area, and claims that the army may have killed rebels who were trying to surrender.

‘Outrageous suggestion’

Pillay said ensuring accountability for abuses committed would be important for the nation’s reconciliation.

But Dayan Jayatilleka, the Sri Lankan ambassador, said it was “outrageous” to suggest the government be investigated.

Pillay’s comments come as the UN Human Rights Council tries to reach consensus on their approach to the aftermath of the conflict, with two separate draft resolutions tabled for UN special session.

On one side, a Western-led group is demanding unrestricted access to around 300,000 Tamil civilians said to be forcibly held in government-run camps, and also calls for an inquiry into allegations of war crimes.

The other resolution, backed by Sri Lanka and its allies, praises its government for liberating Tamil civilians and its humane treatment of those displaced.

Sri Lanka declared total victory over the LTTE a week ago after killing their leaders.

The UN estimates that up to 100,000 people died during the 26-year conflict, including at least 7,000 civilians killed since the beginning of the year.

Sri Lanka accused of ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Tamil areas

May 26, 2009

The Sri Lankan government has been accused of launching a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” following its victory over the Tamil Tigers in the country’s 26 year civil war.

By Dean Nelson in Trincomalee |
Last Updated: 9:14PM BST 25 May 2009

Sri Lankan government has been accused of launching a campaign of

Sri Lankan government has been accused of launching a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” following its victory over the Tamil Tigers Photo: KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/AP

Aid officials, human rights campaigners and politicians claim Tamils have been driven out of areas in the north-east of the country by killings and kidnappings carried out by pro-government militias.

They say the government has simultaneously encouraged members of the Sinhalese majority in the south to relocate to the vacated villages.

One foreign charity worker told the Daily Telegraph the number of Tamils disappearing in and around Trincomalee, 50 miles south of the final conflict zone in Mullaitivu, had been increasing in the last three months.

He claimed to have known 15 of the disappeared, three of whom had been found dead. He said all three bodies showed signs of torture, while two were found with their hands tied behind their backs and single bullet wounds in their heads.

Another aid worker said the killings were part of a strategy to drive out the Tamils.

“Eastern province is vulnerable, there’s cleansing by the Sinhalese. There will be more problems with land grabbing. The demography changes and the Tamils who are the majority will soon become a minority,” he said.

He claimed many villagers had moved out after the army declared their land to be part of a ‘high security zone’ and Sinhalese had been given incentives to move in to provide support services to new military bases.

Many Tamils sold their homes and land at below-market prices after members of their families had been killed or had disappeared, he said.

One western human rights advocate said Tamils in and around Trincomalee were terrified because they believed the police were either complicit in, or indifferent to, the numbers disappearing or found dead. “There’s no investigation. It’s a climate of terror and impunity,” he said.

A local campaigner for the families of the disappeared said the killings were speeding the flight of Tamils from the area. “When there’s a killing other Tamils move out. Who goes to the Sinhalese police? You either live under threat or you move out,” he said.

He said much of the “ethnic cleansing” was being done in the name of economic development in which Tamil villagers were being moved out to make way for new roads, power plants and irrigation schemes, while Sinhalese workers were being drafted in with incentives including free land and housing.

“Thousands of Sinhalese are coming in, getting government land and government assistance from the south. It’s causing huge tensions,” he said.

He and others fear this model will now be applied to the north where the final army onslaught to defeat the Tamil Tigers left 95 per cent of the buildings demolished or heavily damaged.

Since the victory earlier this month, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government has been under pressure to ‘win the peace’ with a generous devolution package for Tamils in the north.

Ministers have said they want to break the identification of the Tamils with the northern and eastern provinces and integrate them into the Sinhalese majority population throughout the country.

In Colombo, billboard posters have contrasted the “divided” pre-victory Sri Lanka, with the Tamil north and east shaded red, and the “united” post-war island.

Ministers have said billions of dollars will be needed to rebuild the area’s roads, buildings, schools, hospitals and water, electricity and communications infrastructure. Community leaders and Tamil politicians fear this will mean a further influx of Sinhalese.

R. Sampanthan, the parliamentary leader of the Tamil National Alliance and an MP for Trincomalee said he shared these fears. A new road being constructed from Serubilla, a Sinhalese village in Trincomalee district to Polonaruwa, a Tamil village, was under construction and Sinhalese families were being settled on either side of the road as it snakes further north-east.

“It’s ethnic cleansing, and we’re concerned that this is what they will also do in the north,” he said.

Sri Lanka on brink of catastrophe as UN aid blocked

May 20, 2009

May 20, 2009

The body of Vellupillai Prabhakaran is carried on a stretcher through a group of Sri Lankan soldiers at Nanthikadal lagoon
Image :1 of 3

The Sri Lankan Government has blocked access to aid workers trying to help the nearly 300,000 civilians displaced by the army’s victory over the Tamil Tigers, raising the prospect of a humanitarian catastrophe.

In the capital, Colombo, President Rajapakse announced the “complete defeat” of the rebels yesterday as state television showed pictures of what was said to be the corpse of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Tigers’ leader. Mr Rajapakse vowed in an address to the nation to press ahead with a “homegrown political solution” to end ethnic divisions between the majority Sinhalese population and minority Tamils.

As he spoke, an estimated 80,000 people — mostly Tamil, many of them sick, malnourished or suffering from battlefield wounds — were making their way on foot from the war zone In the north to government-run camps that are already swamped. The UN is not being allowed any access to them, The Times has learnt.

Accounts of conditions inside the camps — gained from testimony recorded covertly by aid workers — and the journey to them are

Preema, a Tamil woman, arrived at the 400-hectare (990-acre) Menic farm camp on Sunday. She had left Mullaivaikal, the centre of the fighting, where the Tigers had made their final stand before being defeated, days before, after being shelled heavily.

She set out with her husband, mother and two children, to wade through the Nandikadal lagoon — a waterway strewn with mines — in a desperate attempt to reach safety.

There were deep craters where the lagoon had been bombed and people often drowned, she said. A man offered to carry her ten-year-old daughter. Preema never saw them again. Her husband was taken away later by government troops at a checkpoint in Oomanthai, where refugees are being forced to strip before being allowed to pass, after admitting that he had worked for the Tigers. Her mother died in the lagoon.

“Everything is lost,” said Preema, holding her son, 7. “Please help me find my daughter. Not knowing anything is making me crazy.”

Inside one camp, Nandani, 76, described being forced to stand for up to five hours a day queueing for food.

Kala, a middle-aged woman, spoke about the constant indignities of her new life. “I do not have underwear. I am unable to use the Kotex that the Red Cross handed out,” she said, holding a packet of sanitary towels she had been given before the organisation’s access to the camp was restricted.

Kothai, another woman, said: “There is a bad distribution system within the camp. Every time it is the same people that get \. Men crowd around and push the women and children aside.”

Government officials did not answer requests for comment. Access for aid agencies to another 200,000 refugees already in the internment camps — which the Government call “welfare villages” — has been severely restricted since Sunday, preventing the administration of basic care.

Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, is due to travel in Sri Lanka on Friday to offer help to rebuild the ravaged northeast of the country and urge the Government to reach out to the Tamil population.

“These people have endured one of the cruellest military sieges of modern times — daily shelling over several months,” an international aid worker said. “They need urgent help.” There are fears that the camp populations — especially children — will be hit by contagious diseases. Chickenpox, hepatitis A and dysentery outbreaks have been reported. Medical facilities are said to be woefully inadequate.

There are also concerns that the suffering will radicalise previously moderate Tamils, especially amongst the community’s international diaspora, which had been a key source of funding for the Tigers.

Most Sri Lankans are delighted by the defeat of the Tigers, a terrorist force that fought for 26 years for an independent Tamil homeland, propagating a war that left at least 70,000 dead. Many Tamils were against the rebels after they recruited child soldiers and terrorised their own people.

Tamils in the camps describe being fired on by both sides in the conflict.

Vavathan, 59, said that Tiger troops had forcibly recruited children as young as 15 in the conflict zone, even in the final stages when it was clear that they had lost the conflict. “The war was over, why were they still taking the children?” she asked.

There were doubts over the sincerity of Mr Rajapakse’s pledge to build bridges between the Sinhalese and Tamil minority. He has seldom brooked dissent, his opponents say.

Sri Lanka’s uneasy peace

May 19, 2009
Al Jazeera, May 19, 2009
The Sri Lankan army says it has killed the top leaders of the LTTE [AFP]

Al Jazeera correspondent Tony Birtley has covered the Sri Lankan conflict since 1992. As the government declares victory over the Tamil Tigers he takes a look at the prospects for peace in the country.

In the lair of the Tigers the last bullets, apparently, are being fired in a bloody war that has cost tens of thousands of lives, billions of dollars and deprived one of South Asia’s most beautiful countries of peace for more than 30 years.

According to the Sri Lankan government, the war is all but over, one of the world’s most ruthless and sophisticated rebel organisations has been defeated.

Peace and reconciliation will follow, it says, and Sri Lanka will pick up the pieces and live in harmony.

But will it?

Certainly the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have ceased to exist as the conventional fighting force they evolved into.

They once numbered 30,000 strong and inflicted heavy defeats on the Sri Lankan military over the years, defeats that hurt the pride and prestige of the armed forces.

To understand the strength of the Tigers you have to understand the support they commanded from nearly a million Tamil diaspora spread throughout the world.

They provided the money and the network that gave the LTTE their arms, supplies and channels.

Continued support

Political and financial support for the Tamil Tigers remains strong [AFP]

Although some were forced to donate to the cause, many gave voluntarily and that support remains. If anything it is stronger than ever before.

The images of wounded, suffering Tamil civilians hurt and cowering in so called safe zones enraged many.

To critics of the Sri Lankan government it merely reinforces the view that injustice and discrimination against Tamil civilians that led to the start of this conflict still exists.

They point to the use of army controlled camps for the displaced, the fact that thousands of Tamils have disappeared without anyone being charged, and that few have been allowed to return to their homes.

The Sri Lankan government has always denied discrimination against Tamils.

They argue that their mission was to liberate Tamils from Tigers control and refute allegations that the security forces have been involved in either abductions or extra judicial killings of civilians.

Right or wrong it indicates the level of mistrust that exists between the two sides, mistrust that will take time to break down, mistrust that led to the formation of the Tamil Tigers in the 1970s.

Everyone said that the Sri Lanka problem could never be solved by military means, only by political means.

‘Political solution’

In video

Can Sri Lanka win the peace?
Sri Lankans celebrate end of war

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president, proved everyone wrong, but he had to spend a small fortune on the military to make it happen. He says a political solution will now follow.

But the question is, with whom? Who is there left to talk to?

The LTTE leadership has been decimated and many free thinking Tamil leaders have been killed or fled the country.

Critics say any political solution with the Tamils who remain will be meaningless.

The Tamil Tigers started as a hit and run guerrilla organization with deadly effect.

It is not beyond possibility that it could rise from the ashes and go back to doing what it did best.

In 30 years the Tigers never touched the coastal areas where foreign tourists spend their holidays. That could easily change.

The Sri Lankan Tourism Industry is already preparing for an end of war campaign to bring holidaymakers back to the Island. A cash strapped government is banking on it.

But one bomb could so easily shatter those hopes.

As a government Sri Lanka has lost some friends. It has replaced them with the likes of China and Libya.

But money cannot buy happiness.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and wounded in pursuit of a united Sri Lanka. That has been achieved geographically, but not yet politically.

The war has been won but what about the peace?

Sri Lanka: Urgent Need for Human Rights Protection in Sri Lanka, Says Amnesty International

May 19, 2009

Dire Humanitarian Crisis Unfolding in Sri Lanka as Government-Rebel Conflict Ends, Says Human Rights Group

Contact: AIUSA media office, 202-544-0200 x302,

Amnesty International, May 18, 2009

(Washington) — As the war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) reaches its final hours and the humanitarian crisis unfolds, Amnesty International is calling for key steps to be adopted to ensure civilians and captured fighters are protected.

“The Sri Lankan government must ensure that its forces fully respect international law, including all provisions relating to protecting civilians from the effect of hostilities,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director. “The government should accept the surrender of any LTTE fighter who wants to surrender and treat humanely LTTE fighters who have laid down their arms. In turn, the LTTE must also protect civilians and any Sri Lankan soldier they take prisoner.”

There are more than 200,000 displaced people, including approximately 80,000 children, who need relief but also protection from abuses in Sri Lanka.

Amnesty International calls on the Sri Lankan government:

*To allow full access to national and international humanitarian agencies, including the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to all those in need and facilitate their operations.

*To allow immediate and unfettered access to national and international independent observers to monitor the situation and provide a safeguard against human rights violations, including torture or other ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances.

*To take measures to protect displaced people, including putting in place immediately a proper registration process, as a key safeguard against abuses such as enforced disappearances.

“In addition, the international community must require the prompt deployment of international monitors to be stationed in critical locations, including registration and screening points, displacement camps and places of detention,” said Zarifi.

Amnesty International is supporting the convening of a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council to sustain attention to the evolving situation in Sri Lanka and is calling for the United Nations to immediately establish an international commission of inquiry.

“The commission should investigate allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by all warring parties in the course of the conflict and make recommendations on the best way to ensure full accountability,” said Zarifi.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.2 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

For more information, please visit:

UN: Sri Lankan attack a ‘bloodbath’

May 11, 2009
Al Jazeera, May 11, 2009

The pro-LTTE website Tamilnet released what they said were pictures of the shelling [AFP]

The UN has described the alleged killing of hundreds of Sri Lankan civilians in the country’s offensive against the separatist Tamil Tigers as a “bloodbath”.

The comments on Monday followed a weekend military attack on the last remaining stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE), in the northeast, that is said to have killed at least 378 civilians.

“We have consistently warned of a bloodbath scenario, and the large-scale killing of civilians over the weekend including at least more than 100 children shows that that bloodbath has now become a reality,” Gordon Weiss, the UN spokesman for Sri Lanka, told Al Jazeera.

The UN, like all international organisations and journalists, is banned from the war zone by the government.

However, Weiss said he was confident that the report of the deaths and more than 1,000 others wounded from a doctor working at a makeshift state-hospital in the area were correct.

“[Ban Ki-moon], the UN secretary-general, has consistently asked that we be allowed into the area to assess for ourselves the true condition of people there … we are relying on the only sources we have,” Weiss said.

“The government doctors reporting from that zone, to the best of our knowledge, have proved consistently reliable.”

LTTE accusations

Thileepan Parthipan, an LTTE spokesman, blamed the government for the deaths.

“In that area, there has been continuous shelling. Many Tamil civilians were killed,” he said.

Focus: Sri Lanka

Q&A: Sri Lanka’s civil war

The history of the Tamil Tigers

Timeline: Conflict in Sri Lanka

‘High cost’ of victory over Tigers

Caught in the middle

“More than 3,500 people were injured. A nearby hospital received 378 dead bodies.”Some bodies are still on the streets. There were people inside bunkers which collapsed in the shelling.”

Anton Stephan, a Catholic priest inside the zone, also spoke of heavy military bombardment.

“They are fighting civilians. They’re using cluster bombs, cannons. They’re shooting towards people,” he said.

However, the government accused the LTTE of killing civilians in order to blame the deaths on the military.

Gotobaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s defence secretary, told Al Jazeera on Monday that the government is not to blame for the civilian deaths “at all”.

“It is very easy to find out who is killing the civilians because there are 200,000 people who have escaped from the LTTE area to government-controlled areas and anybody can talk to these people,” he said.

“The day before yesterday, a thousand people tried to cross to a government-controlled area and the LTTE fired directly at these people.”

Reduced territory

The government announced on Friday new borders for the region it calls a civilian safety zone in the northeast where the fighting is happening. The coastal area is now 3sq km in size.

The UN called for fighting to halt and for the government to help civilians.

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the northeastern war zone in recent weeks [AFP]

“The UN has repeatedly said to the government that they must not use aerial attacks and heavy ordnance in a tiny patch of land that is about the size of Central Park in New York and we have also said to the LTTE that they need to separate their forces from the civilians who are trapped in this area,” Weiss said.”There are about 50,000 to 100,000 civilians in this area and they need to let these civilians escape from this zone.”

Paul Castella, the head of International Committee of the Red Cross in Sri Lanka, told Al Jazeera that those trapped “have very little to eat, almost no medicines and very little way to protect themselves from the sun.

“In practice, at any time of the day or night, people can be hit by a shell or a stray bullet. And this is making life for the people extremely difficult.”

‘Very difficult position’

Weiss aqcknowledged that the Sri Lankan government was in “a very difficult position” regarding civilians’ safety.

“They are well within their rights to be taking the Tamil Tigers head on. The Tamil Tigers have proven themselves to be a brutal and intractable foe, and they are responsible for keeping civilians inside this zone.

“The onus is really principally on the government at this stage because they are the sovereign government of this territory”

Gordon Weiss,
UN spokesman

“But that being said, the onus is really principally on the government at this stage because they are the sovereign government of this territory. They have a higher degree of responsibility.”They are signed up to international treaties and protocols that protect civilians in precisely these circumstances and that’s why international humanitarian law and the wars law exist.”

The LTTE is believed to be close to defeat in its 26-year battle for a separate homeland in the northeast of the island for the country’s minority Tamils.

The group used to control a wide swath of Sri Lanka’s north, but the territory they hold has been reduced to the 3km strip of coastline following military advances this year.

In recent weeks fierce fighting has forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee to state-run refugee camps outside the zone, but more remain trapped by the conflict.

The government has refused to continence a humanitarian ceasefire saying it would allow the LTTE to regroup.

Sri Lanka army kills 257 civilians in latest strike against Tamil Tigers

May 10, 2009

• Doctor says latest assault is bloodiest he has seen

• Sri Lanka military denies shells are being used in territory controlled by Tamil Tigers

French surgeons in Sri Lanka
French surgeons performing surgery in the operation room of the French emergency rescue operation hospital near the northern Sri Lankan town of Cheddikulam. Photograph: Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images

A massive artillery barrage by the Sri Lankan army last night killed at least 257 civilians and left another 814 wounded in the small strip of territory that remains under the control of Tamil Tiger rebels.

A doctor working in the warzone described the assault as the bloodiest he had seen in the government’s offensive against the Tamil Tigers.

Dr V Shanmugarajah said he feared many more may have been killed since some bodies were being buried on the spot without being brought to the makeshift hospital he runs.

Shanmugarajah described seeing shells fly through the air, with some falling close to the hospital, forcing many to flee to bunkers for shelter.

The rebel-linked TamilNet website said about 2,000 people were feared dead. It accused Sri Lankan forces of launching the attack, a charge the military denied.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said it was only using small arms in its effort to wipe out the Tamil Tiger rebel group and there “is no shelling taking place”.

The government had sent medical supplies into the warzone in recent days but a shortage of doctors, nurses and helpers has made treatment difficult, Shanmugarajah said.

“We are doing the first aid and some surgeries as quickly as we can. We are doing what is possible. The situation is overwhelming; nothing is within our control,” he said. Shanmugarajah said he had sought the help of volunteers to dig graves.

The government vowed two weeks ago to cease firing heavy weapons into the tiny coastal strip that remained under rebel control in an effort to avoid civilian casualties. But medical officials in the area have reported that air strikes and artillery attacks have continued unabated, despite the presence of an estimated 50,000 civilians in the tiny conflict zone.

Sri Lanka admits bombing safe zone

May 2, 2009
Al jazeera, May 2, 2009

The images appear to show clear signs of air raids in the ‘no-fire zone’ near Mullaitivu [Unosat]

The Sri Lankan government has admitted carrying out air raids in the so-called no-fire zone in the country’s northeast, where the army is battling Tamil Tiger fighters.

But Palitha Kohona, the Sri Lankan foreign ministry secretary, told Al Jazeera that the raids had been carried out weeks ago and that the military had focused only on the Tamil Tigers’ artillery guns, well away from civilians.

“As long as the retaliation is proportionate, it is perfectly legitimate and what we did exactly was located these guns and retaliated against those guns,” he said.

“I would challenge anybody to say that these shell holes were created once the civilians moved into the area and became occupied by civilians.”

The apparent admission follows the leaking of UN satellite images showing evidence of such attacks, supporting claims by Tamil groups that aircraft had bombed the area the government designated a safe zone in February.

President’s contradiction

But Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s president, has contradicted Kohona by categorically denying that the military had attacked civilian areas with heavy weapons.

In video

LTTE defector accuses group of civilian murder

“If you are not willing to accept the fact that we are not using heavy weapons, I really can’t help it,” he said.”We are not using heavy weapons. When we say no, it means no. If we say we are doing something, we do it. We do exactly what we say, without confusion.”

The government had for weeks repeatedly denied that its armed forces were using heavy artillery or conducting air raids in the safe zone where it says the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been holding civilians as human shields.

Many who have managed to get out say the fighters were indeed holding them against their will, and fired on them to prevent their escape.

Tens of thousands of civilians, along with members of the LTTE, are believed to still be in the 10sq km area.

On April 19, Kohona told Al Jazeera there was no government shelling in the safe zone.

In depth

Interview: ‘Colonel Karuna’, a defector from the LTTE

“Absolutely not, because the government has issued instructions, very strict instructions, to the military not to use aerial bombing or shelling into this area.”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 Tigers’ heavy guns.

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

Detailed images

Unosat says the pictures show craters which were formed inside the zone between February 15 and April 19, the day before the army breached the Tigers’ defences and civilians started to pour out.

Einer Bjorge, head of the mapping unit at Unosat, told Al Jazeera the pattern of the craters would have required air power.

Focus: Sri Lanka

Q&A: Sri Lanka’s civil war

The history of the Tamil Tigers

Timeline: Conflict in Sri Lanka

‘High cost’ of victory over Tigers

Caught in the middle

“The imagery is fairly clear and shows the time, so anybody can study and compare them,” he said.He said the images were also commercially available from the satellite operator.

“Anyone interested in verifying the images can purchase them if they want. It is commercially available to the public,” he said.

“You can’t get any more transparent than that.”

Meenakshi Ganguly, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Al Jazeera that the pictures did give evidence that civilians were at risk, saying the government may have “deliberately deceived the international community when they expressed concern about the situation”.

“The pictures do prove that heavy weapons were used and indeed civilian casualties did occur, as shown by UN figures of the death toll since January,” she said.

“In fact, HRW once recorded the sound of shelling which was dropping near a hospital.”

Many civilians who fled the war zone said Tamil Tiger fighters used them as shields [AFP]

Yolanda Foster, an expert on Sri Lanka with Amnesty International, said “real fear” is growing for those trapped in the no-fire zone in light of the admission by Colombo that its forces had carried out raids.”We are very concerned that this flagrant disregard for civilians living inside the ‘safe zone’ has now been admitted [by the Sri Lankan government],” she said.

“The government earlier on in the year was making claims that there were not so many civilians in the safe zone as, for example, the figures that the UN and Red Cross were giving out.

“It is not clear that the government can be trusted on its promises.”

Sri Lanka war zone closed to UN

April 28, 2009
Al Jazeera,  April 28, 2009

Thousands of civilians are trapped inside a strip of land held by Tamil Tiger fighters [AFP]

The United Nations’ humanitarian affairs chief has failed in his attempt to bring a halt to fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger separatists in Sri Lanka.

John Holmes was unable to get permission from Mahinda Rajapkase, the Sri Lankan president, to allow a UN aid mission into a pocket of rebel-held land that is surrounded by the Sri Lankan military.

“We don’t have agreement on this [failure to get a UN team into the conflict zone] … I am disappointed about this,” Holmes said during his visit to the country on Monday.

The United Nations estimates that up to 50,000 non-combatants are still in the conflict zone, although the government maintains that the number is less than 20,000.

The Sri Lankan military said on Monday that it had ordered its troops to end the use of heavy weaponry and aerial bombardment in their fight against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), commonly known as the Tamil Tigers.

‘No change’

Holmes met Rohitha Bogollagama, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, before visiting camps in northern Vavuniya where more than 113,000 civilians have sought refuge in camps that are overcrowded and still without enough supplies.

Focus: Sri Lanka

Q&A: Sri Lanka’s civil war

The history of the Tamil Tigers

Timeline: Conflict in Sri Lanka

‘High cost’ of victory over Tigers

Caught in the middle

But David Chater, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, said that the UN official had not managed to secure access to the combat zone for a small team from the world body.

“Absolutely nothing has changed as a result of John Holmes’ visit, apart from another ten million dollars in humanitarian aid being pledged,” Chater reported.

“[That money could provide] at least a bit of relief for those who got out of the combat zone, but no relief for those still inside.”

Aid organisations, journalists and other independent observers are banned from entering the conflict zone, making independent assessment of the continuing fighting impossible.

Sweden’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that he has been refused entry to Sri Lanka on a European mediating mission aimed at bringing about an immediate ceasefire between the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE.

Carl Bildt was due to visit the country on Wednesday with his British and French counterparts, but he told the Associated Press that Sri Lankan authorities did not give him permission to enter the country.

David Miliband, the British foreign minister, and Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, will be allowed into the country, Bildt said.

‘Army halted’

“We ask the international community to intervene in this problem and save our people… We [the LTTE] carry weapons to save our people and protect their rights”

Thileevan, an LTTE spokesman inside the conflict zone

The Sri Lankan government said on Monday that it would stop intensive fighting against the LTTE in an effort to ease the suffering of civilians, although the statement contradicted earlier assertions that it would continue its fight against the Tigers who had offered a ceasefire on Sunday.A statement from the president’s office said on Monday: “Combat operations have reached their conclusion.”

Soldiers will “confine their attempts to rescue civilians who are held hostage and give foremost priority to saving civilians”.

The military has also ordered troops not to use “heavy-calibre guns, combat aircraft or aerial weapons, which could cause civilian casualties”, the statement said.

The Sri Lankan government had previously said that no heavy weapons were being used in populated areas and that the operation was merely a “rescue” exercise.

But Chater said that hostilities had not necessarily ended.

“The government is determined there should be no pause in the fighting … [The government] says it knows how ruthless [the Tamil Tigers] are and have no intention of negotiating with them unless they lay down their arms and surrender.”

LTTE accusation

A pro-Tamil Tiger website on Tuesday accused the military of continuing to pound areas of the conflict zone populated by civilian.

Thileevan, an LTTE spokesman inside the conflict zone, also told Al Jazeera that the area had been shelled heavily.

“We don’t know how many people were killed because we could not get out of this area. But when I went to the hospital this morning I saw hundreds of severely wounded people,” he said on Tuesday.

Holmes’ attempt to get access to the conflict zone was rebuffed by Colombo [AFP]

“We ask the international community to intervene in this problem and save our people… We [the LTTE] carry weapons to save our people and protect their rights.”A day earlier, the Tamilnet website quoted S Puleedevan, an LTTE spokesman, as saying the government’s announcement on non-use of heavy weapons was an attempt “to deceive the international community, including the people of Tamil Nadu [a Tamil-majority Indian province]”.

The Sri Lankan military has denied the LTTE claims, but says it is aiming to capture more territory and that its aim is to wipe out the Tamil Tigers.

Tamils in India have been pressuring the Indian government to intervene to bring about a ceasefire in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan forces are continuing with “humanitarian operations aimed at rescuing” the remaining civilians trapped in the island’s northeast, where the LTTE is defending a narrow strip of jungle, the military said on Monday.

“We reduced the coastline they have to 6km from 8km last week,” Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman, said.

“Our operations are continuing, and yesterday we managed to rescue another 3,200 civilians,” he said.

About 110,000 civilians escaped from the LTTE-held combat zone last week after an ultimatum by the government for the Tamil Tigers to surrender.

Sri Lanka’s government has said it is on the verge of defeating the LTTE after 37 years of conflict, and has consistently brushed off international calls for a truce.

On Sunday, the government also rejected an LTTE call for a unilateral ceasefire.

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