The Forgotten Sri Lankans

Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse thinks he sees light at the end of the tunnel of the 25-year on-again, off-again civil war that the government has waged against the rebel movement of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The only problem is, there are a whole lot of civilians — — still stuck in that tunnel.

The ceasefire that had cooled the long-standing feud between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government started to unravel about three years ago, and conflict has fully re-erupted in the past year. The government has pushed steadily into the rebels’ stronghold in the northeastern corner of the island country, reaching a small redoubt of 175 square miles known as Vanni, where journalists are forbidden and where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped, relying on UN World Food Program (WFP) aid convoys to survive.

Now security has deteriorated such that WFP has not even been able to send in a convoy — a measure they were forced to resort to after the government expelled the UN from the area this past September — for three weeks. WFP is warning that without an immediate halt to hostilities to allow in temporary aid, these quarter million civilians are at grave risk.

Though the situation is worse now than it has been in recent memory, the plight of Sri Lankans is unfortunately not unusual. Caught up in a rabid “identity war,” civilians appear to be the ones left out — and abused, neglected, and suffering — in the government’s fierce campaign to eliminate the LTTE. While observers herald the benefits of vanquishing the terrorist organization (though, of course, it will not be easy), the problematic aspect of this story seems, to me, to be the government’s neglect of its citizens (not to mention disregard for international humanitarian law and UN neutrality). In a country as warped by war as Sri Lanka, the only ultimate way forward will be to create a peace that will win the trust and allegiance of the country’s people — and in its haste to create a post-LTTE society, the government seems to have forgotten this.

(image from flickr user openDemocracy under a Creative Commons license)