Army shells Tamils, LTTE prevents their flight: rights body

February 20th, 2009 - 6:27 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, Feb 20 (IANS) The Sri Lankan government should immediately cease indiscriminate artillery attacks on civilians in the north and its policy of detaining displaced people in internment camps, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Friday.
Since early January 2009, civilian casualties have skyrocketed in the fighting between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The 45-page report, “War on the Displaced: Sri Lankan Army and LTTE Abuses against Civilians in the Vanni,” is based on a two-week fact-finding mission to northern Sri Lanka in February. The government has prohibited journalists and human rights monitors from going to the battle zone in the Vanni, making access to information difficult.

“This ‘war’ against civilians must stop,” said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch. “Sri Lankan forces are shelling hospitals and so-called safe zones and slaughtering the civilians there.”

Human Rights Watch also called on the LTTE to allow civilians to leave the war zone, stop shooting at those who try to flee to government-controlled territory, and cease deploying forces near populated areas.

Human Rights Watch said that both the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE were responsible for the dramatic increase in civilian casualties in the past month - approximately 2,000 killed and another 5,000 wounded, according to independent monitors on the ground.

As the territory held by the LTTE has decreased - now a short, narrow strip on the northeast coast of the island - displaced people under their control have been dangerously forced into a smaller and smaller space.

In violation of the laws of war, the LTTE has refused to allow civilians to flee the fighting and repeatedly has shot at those who have tried to reach government-held territory. The LTTE continues to subject civilians under their control, including children, to forced recruitment and deadly forced labor on the battlefield.

“With each battlefield defeat, the Tamil Tigers appear to be treating Tamil civilians with increased brutality,” said Ross. “They’ve shot at those trying to flee and stepped up forced recruitment and forced labour.”

The Sri Lankan government has indicated that the ethnic Tamil population trapped in the war zone can be presumed to be siding with the LTTE and treated as combatants, effectively sanctioning unlawful attacks. Sri Lankan forces have repeatedly and indiscriminately shelled areas crowded with displaced persons. This includes numerous reported bombardments of government-declared “safe zones” and of the remaining hospitals in the region, Human Rights Watch said.

“All civilians who manage to escape the Tamil Tigers are held by the government in squalid military-controlled camps and hospitals with little access to the outside world,” said Ross.

“The government seems to be trying its best to keep its role in their ordeal away from public scrutiny.”

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