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Sunday, 1 February 2009

Sri Lanka Crisis

Australia's ABC News discusses Unicef reports that up to a quarter of a million civilians, many of them children, are trapped in the East of Sri Lanka as Sinhalese Government troops continue to close in on the Tamil Tigers. In all my years of reporting on Sri Lanka, when it comes to the conflict now in it's third decade, I find it is mainly civilians who are the innocent victims. As it is, conditions in the war-torn North and Eastern villages mainly inhabited by Tamils are dire, with continuous power cuts, a paucity of medicines, and unsafe conditions.

But with no journalists allowed into areas of unrest, and even those in Colombo, the capital, under threat, the only news that comes out from this beautiful island tends to be via the State Government.

The rhetoric is the same as in any war zone. When impotent aid agency and foreign government spokesmen talk about 'a humanitarian crisis' the response comes that civilians are being used as human shields. While some Tamils feel motivated enough to join the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam it is hard to believe that all civilians caught up in the conflict are connected to the Tamil Tigers, as they are commonly known, or are being used as human shields.

Despite the push to the East of the island, the Tiger leader,Velupillai Prabhakaran remains at large. Elusive and not prone to giving access to the media, he is credited with building the Tigers into a highly effective fighting force capable of surgical precision and known for pioneering suicide attacks. Tigers typically wear cyanide capsules around their necks.

But the Sinhalese army has made gains in recent times with the capture of strategic areas. In this latest assault it boasts of capturing submarines and a camouflaged underground bunker it describes as a command centre. The inference is that it was Prabhakaran's.

So what happens next is important now that the Government has been able to capture vital land and port areas. The Tigers may transmute into a guerrilla army but one thing is certain; the marginalisation and the grievances felt by the Tamil population as a whole, will not have been solved by this latest conflict.

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