Ban Ki Moon’s Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar is in Sri Lanka today in an effort to free tens of thousands of civilians trapped between Sri Lankan military forces and the LTTE (AKA Tamil Tiger) militia. Their situation is becoming more grave by the day. For the past three months the Sri Lankan government has engaged in a military campaign against the Tamil separatists, believing that this offensive can deliver the once and final blow to the Tamil Tigers 25 year violent insurgency. However, in prosecuting this campaign the Sri Lankan military has not exactly adhered to the highest standards of international humanitarian law. According to a document leaked to the AP, the United Nations puts the civilian death toll at around 4,500 with 12,000 civilians wounded. Five children a day are dying from starvation and diarrhea.
At the moment, the LTTE is backed into a small territory on the north east of the island. So too are thousands of ethnic-Tamil civilians, many of whom the UN believes the Tamil Tigers are using as human shields. This has not deterred the Sri Lankan military from using artillery to shell civilian populated areas, including so called “safe-zones.”
The Sri Lankan government has prevented the press from entering the war zone since the start of the offensive. So, via The Lede, the video below is a rare glimpse of what life is like for civilians caught in the cross-fire. Warning: the images are very disturbing.
So what is to be done? For starters, I’d like to see the Security Council call for a ceasefire. The brutal Tamil Tiger milita may very well be on the ropes, but that does not justify counterinsurgency methods that do not discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. It’s time for the Security Council step up. Thousands of lives hang in the balance.
UPDATE: Apparently upset that top UN humanitarian official John Holmes concluded that the LTTE were using civilians as human shields, Tamilnet suggests that the the UN and the international communtity are supporting the Sri Lankan onslaught. In fact, the United Nations and the United States have called for a ceasefire.