Nirmala Rajasingam: The Sri Lankan government has won – let it stop fighting

To legitimise the LTTE's conduct now will be inimical to the Tamil interests
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The Independent Online

The Sri Lankan government has won its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It should now suspend military action. The safety of Tamil civilians, who have suffered grievously in this war, should be its paramount objective. Any further military offensive in pursuit of the LTTE leadership should be secondary to the interests of civilian safety and welfare.

The world has watched aghast at the level of bloodshed and the horrific plight of the civilians who have now been under siege for months, being dragged around the Vanni jungles by a retreating LTTE. With insistent calls for a ceasefire from the international community, governments and humanitarian agencies, and criticisms of Sri Lanka in UN forums, the government hastens to wrap up its operations against the LTTE, but at what price?

It is publicly known that the LTTE is using the trapped population as human shields and is shooting and killing them when they try to flee. Does the government wish to mow down these hapless people who face lethal fire from both sides? The government has to exercise restraint in order to protect these Tamils, people that they call their citizens.

The government depicts a picture of relieved Tamil civilians escaping to government-controlled areas. It is true that the vast majority are fleeing LTTE control, but many are also fleeing indiscriminate fire by government forces, to areas where there is safety from attack, to find food, water and medical treatment.

Government claims that the army cut through to the No Fire Zone (NFZ) in its offensive three days ago without causing civilian casualties defy reason. The statements that the continued operations are purely for "hostage rescue" belie the actual situation on the ground, with huge civilian losses through indiscriminate fire. This is unacceptable and can only be described as war crimes.

The breakthrough by the government four days ago did give the civilians the first real chance to get to safety away from the conflict zone. But the government is relying on this as justification to press on ahead relentlessly, putting the remaining population left behind in the NFZ, estimated at being at least 50,000, at great risk.

The political ramifications of such further wanton bloodshed in the intractable ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka will be far-reaching and profound. The government must accept that this ethnic conflict will not be won on this battlefield by military means alone; it must understand the fact that indiscriminate armed action will leave indelible scars in the minds of the people it says it wishes to bring back into the common fold.

The international community sought access repeatedly yet permission for full access was not forthcoming.

Belatedly, the government has now sought humanitarian assistance, after months of keeping international help at bay on the spurious basis of "security".

Worse still, access to international media has been refused and even now independent estimates of the trapped population, and their conditions are not known to the world.

The government's opposition to much needed international assistance, backed by the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist lobby in Sri Lanka, borders on the xenophobic. With Tamil civilians streaming into government-controlled territory, what does the government fear from the world's media? The Tamil diaspora is grieving for its trapped brethren.

The Tiger lobby has been able to use this to raise the cry of genocide, to galvanise a significant section of the Tamil diaspora in support of the LTTE.

This lobby has paid scant attention to the atrocities committed by the LTTE against the very people it claims to lead. Instead it has used the plight of the trapped civilians to organise around a single cause, the survival of the LTTE leadership.

Any attempt to legitimise the LTTE's record and conduct at this point will be inimical to the interests of Tamils in Sri Lanka. A military solution to resolve the political problem of ethnic conflict was embraced with enthusiasm not just by the government, but even more so by the LTTE.

The LTTE's exclusivist Tamil nationalism and extreme militarism have led the Tamil community to this political dead-end. Its political and military aspirations are fundamentally opposed to a democratic political future for the Tamils and their peaceful cohabitation with other communities within a united Sri Lanka.

The writer is a Sri Lankan Tamil activist who lives in exile in London. She is currently a steering committee member of Sri Lanka Democracy Forum an international network of progressive diaspora voices