The situation in Sri Lanka continues to unfold rapidly and with tragic results. As we noted recently, more than 140,000 civilians were trapped in a small strip of land the size of Central Park – under heavy fire from the Sri Lankan military and essentially held captive by Tamil Tiger rebels.
Government forces continue to push into the enclave. According to the U.N., close to 5,000 civilians have been killed since January. Both U.N. and Sri Lankan military officials agree that as many as 60,000 civilians fled from the enclave during the last day or two as the army pushed farther in and Tiger defenses collapsed.
The comments from the U.N. and aid groups make clear the incredibly harrowing situation on the ground:
"We are concerned that it is going to be a bloodbath." (Human Rights Watch)
"The situation is nothing short of catastrophic." (The International Red Cross)
"…Our greatest fear is that the worst is yet to come." (The U.N. Children’s Fund)
The Sri Lankan government, in a clear abrogation of its responsibility to its own citizens, has blocked aid groups from reaching the Orwellian-named ‘safe zone’ – which is now anything but.
The government of Sri Lanka clearly feels that the ‘decisive moment’ in its war against the Tamil Tigers is at hand. While it may be right at one level, the government also needs to understand that all of Sri Lanka and all of the world is watching how this plays out. Complete indifference to the safety of civilians in a bloody final confrontation should not only be investigated as war crimes, but could well sow the seeds for future conflict and unrest in Sri Lanka.
Maggie Fick contributed to this post.
Photo: Putumattalan, a coastal town in the government-declared safe area in northern Sri Lanka, where an estimated 150,000 civilians are trapped. Courtesy of Human Rights Watch