Farah Mihlar: Neither side has any reason to celebrate

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The Independent Online

Today is a momentous day. I should be celebrating, like most Sri Lankans. I grew up as a Muslim in Colombo in fear of the deafening blasts of the Tamil Tiger suicide bombings. The Tigers ethnically cleansed 60,000 Muslims from their territory. Their campaign was horrific.

But when I travelled to Tiger-controlled areas, I realised that civilians there confronted another even more powerful enemy. I met children who drew only pictures of air force planes that dropped bombs over their homes. Hundreds of women had lost their husbands – killed, disappeared, abducted or imprisoned. It was ugly and sad and unknown to the rest of the country.

This is all supposedly history now. People are jubilant. Yet, I feel unable to share in this thrill. I cannot understand how my people, my family and friends, can blind themselves to the carnage behind this victory. In the past four months alone more than 6,500 people have died, because the Tigers brutally held them captive as human shields and government forces continued their indiscriminate attacks.

The fighting is supposedly now over, but this does not mean Sri Lanka's problems are. The country still faces a humanitarian crisis that has to be viewed in the context of the Sri Lankan government's disastrous human rights record.

This latest success on the part of the government was diplomatic and political, as well as military. Every UN official, human rights group, journalist or politician who questioned them was dubbed a terrorist. Posters covered the walls of Colombo with pictures of David Miliband and Hillary Clinton with the word "terrorist" imprinted on their faces. The government brilliantly used neo-colonial arguments in the corridors of the UN to shut out Western criticism.

This deafness to international pressure cannot be sustained – Sri Lanka has already appealed for international aid to rebuild the war-torn areas. The British Government must continue to work with the US to keep Sri Lanka top of the UN agenda. They should not be put off by Sri Lanka's wrath; there are hundreds of thousands of people in displaced camps who need support.

I do not wish to undermine the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. Having lived through their terror, I know what this means for the country. But for there to be a lasting peace there has to be justice, accountability, freedom and equality for all.

Farah Mihlar works for Minority Rights Group International