As the Sri Lankan army presses its advantage against the Tamil Tigers in the country’s north-east, the UN is warning of a mounting humanitarian crisis. About a quarter of a million civilians are caught in the Tiger-controlled territory, with the Tigers saying they want to stay and the government saying they can have safe passage amidst claims this remains impossible.

The UN’s secretary-general, Ban-Ki Moon, has expressed deep concern over the “grave humanitarian consequences” for the civilians trapped by the fighting. However, the Sri Lanka government has claimed there have been no or few civilian casualties.

Pro-Tiger news outlets have reported hundreds of casualties following government forces bombings in the shrinking Tiger-controlled region.

UN and Red Cross staff were ordered from the area, making confirmation impossible. However, a final Red Cross report did say that civilian casualties were extensive.

The Tamil Tigers now hold a sliver of land along the coast near their recently captured fall-back capital of Mullaittivu. In recent months, the Tigers have lost control of a vast swathe of land know as the “Vanni” in Sri Lanka’s north.

The Sri Lanka government says it wants the complete military annihilation of the Tamil Tigers, following more than three decades of separatist conflict. A Norwegian brokered ceasefire in 2002 broke down following mounting belligerence on both sides from early 2006.

Many in the Sri Lanka government camp now accuse Norway of supporting the Tamil Tigers, a claim not supported by evidence. The Government of Sri Lanka also say that UN intervention supports the Tigers, and has rejected the Secretary-General’s call for respecting international humanitarian law.

One of the problems with receiving independent reports from the conflict is not only do journalists or other independent agencies no longer have access to the conflict area, Sri Lankan journalists are now also, literally, under the gun.

Following the recent murder of questioning Sunday Leader editor, Lasantha Wikramatunga, another journalist, Rivira editor Upali Tennakoon has been attacked. These attacks have now led to an exodus of fearful Sri Lankan journalists, including:

  • Daily Mirror ‘s Kasun Yapa Karunaratne.
  • Former editor of Siyatha , Manjula Wediwarden.
  • Former Deputy Editor Athula Vithanage.
  • Lankadeepa ‘s Upul Joseph Fernando and Sunanda Deshapriya.
  • Sunday Times ‘s Iqbal Athas.
  • The Nation ‘s Keith Noyahr.
  • The Lake House ‘s Sanath Balasuriya and Poddala Jayantha.
  • Free Media Movement convener Uvindu Kulukulasuriya.
  • MTV head Chevan Daniel Namal Perera Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi

Along with the Tamil Tigers, it seems that Sri Lanka’s forces are also shooting the messengers.

Peter Fray

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