International community unsure about how far to nudge Sri Lanka on toning down aggression

March 19th, 2009 - 5:01 pm ICT by ANI  

Bangkok (Thailand), Mar.19 (ANI): Even as the fighting between Sri Lankan troops and the LTTE continues in northeast Sri Lanka, an international debate is raging over how far to push Colombo on toning down its aggression vis-a-vis the rebels.
The Red Cross, which normally prefers quiet persuasion to arm-twisting, has raised the alarm over a humanitarian crisis in the remaining pocket of rebel-held territory, where makeshift hospitals are out of needed drugs and food supplies are dwindling. But according to the Christian Science Monitor, this outcry has failed to sway Sri Lanka’’s government, which dismisses its critics as biased and reliant on propaganda from the LTTE, which has fought a bloody war for self-rule since 1983.
Colombo has defended the military’’s conduct in pushing back the rebels and say the onus is on the LTTE to let Tamil civilians flee the conflict, not use them as shields or force them to fight.
Behind the diplomatic exchanges are divisions within the international community over the proper response to apparent violations of international law by both sides.
Some United Nations officials have muffled internal reporting from the war zone, to the frustration of aid workers and human rights activists who accuse the UN of cowardice in the face of a belligerent government.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay broke ranks on Friday.
In a stern statement, she said that 2,800 civilians may have died and more than 7,000 been injured since January 20. Most of these casualties occurred in the 7-1/2-mile-long no-fire zone and were the result of Army shelling.
Certain actions by the warring parties “may constitute violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” she added. Sri Lankan officials promptly denied the allegations.
The countrys Minister of Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe criticized the use of “unsubstantiated statistics” in an “unprofessional statement,” and questioned why the data were similar to those used by pro-LTTE websites.
In fact, the sensitive data aired by Pillay were based on first hand daily reporting by UN national staff and aid workers trapped in the no-fire zone.
The briefing paper said several weeks of food and medicine shortages had led to deaths from malnutrition and from preventable diseases.
Senior UN officials in Sri Lanka are reluctant to go toe-to-toe with the government in its hour of near-victory over the LTTE, say diplomats and aid workers.
Donors are also frustrated by the tactics of the LTTE, which is forcibly recruiting boys and girls to fight and moving its heavy guns into the no-fire zone, effectively provoking retaliation against civilians.
Far from laying down their arms, the rebel leadership may be preparing to make a final stand.
Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona, a former UN diplomat, has described the Human Rights Commission report as partisan. (ANI)

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