Sri Lanka: a question of credibility

May 3, 2009

If we’re to believe the Sri Lankan military, they’ve killed no civilians during their offensive against the opposition Tamil Tigers in recent months.  They claim that the security forces have only killed Tiger fighters.  However, the military itself admitted that it’s become harder to distinguish between civilians and the Tigers, since the Tigers have, according to the military, shed their uniforms for civilian clothes.  AI has reported that the military has used heavy artillery in indiscriminate attacks causing civilian casualties.  The Sri Lankan government doesn’t help its credibility in making these kinds of claims.

The Tigers can’t exactly lay claim to great credibility either, though.  They announced a unilateral ceasefire a week ago but last Thursday, said that their gunboats had attacked the Sri Lankan navy.  What happened to their ceasefire?  The Tigers yesterday said today that they were ready to engage in a process to bring about a ceasefire; if that happened, would the Tigers observe it anymore than the one they announced themselves?

I’m grateful that the Sri Lankan military hasn’t yet launched an all-out offensive to reconquer the remaining Tiger-held territory, since I can’t see how they could do that without causing massive casualties among the estimated 50,000 civilians trapped by the Tigers in the war zone.  There are a number of steps each side should take immediately, if we’re to avoid these casualties.  The steps are laid out in an urgent action appeal issued by AI last Friday.  Please read that appeal to see what AI is calling for from both sides.  Please also consider writing to the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE as the appeal requests.

One final note:  today is World Press Freedom Day and J.S. Tissainayagam remains unjustly imprisoned in a Sri Lankan prison simply for his journalistic activities.  Please visit the AIUSA website and write to the Sri Lankan government on his behalf.  He should be released immediately and unconditionally.