Saturday, March 08, 2008

Red Cross Reports 180 Civilians Dead in 2008 as Tensions Between Sri Lankan Govt and Tamil Minority Approach Boiling Point

The bloody war raging between members of Sri Lanka's (formerly Ceylon) minority Tamil population and the ruling government has shifted into an even deadlier and more violent phase.

Equally disturbing is a recent government crackdown on access by journalists and human rights observers to any areas near the battlefields and sites of violence, making the horrifying details almost invisible to any scrutiny by the world media.

The decades-old conflict is once again a hot media topic in a busy slate of world events dominated by the most violent terrorist attack against Israeli citizens in recent memory and mounting anxiety over the situation in Darfur.

The above photo of a Tamil Tiger soldier preparing to fire an RPG at government forces in the Sri Lankan jungles (note the small sticker on the rear of the weapon with an image of Tamil Eelam leader Velupillai Pirapharan) symbolizes the brutal nature of this conflict that has raged across this island nation since the late 1970's.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (frequently referred to as the LTTE or Tamil Tigers) is a nationalist organization formed by Pirapharan (also spelled Prabhakaran) in 1975 in response to frustration by members of the ethnic Tamil population over marginalization by the government and a desire for a separate homeland in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

The LTTE has been engaged an insurgent war for years, taking advantage of guerrilla tactics, small scale attacks against high-value targets such as local police and a number of political assassinations including Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah and even Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi in 1991.

A number of nations including Canada and India currently list the LTTE as a terrorist organization.

In January a brokered cease-fire agreement established in 2002 was declared void by the government of current Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Government troops have embarked on a coordinated offensive against the LTTE across the country - the Red Cross reports that at least 180 civilians have been killed since the start of this year alone. In recent days Sri Lankan officials claim to have killed at least 40 Tamil rebel fighters according to the BBC News Website.

There are civilian reports that a number of Tamil citizens are being systematically "dissappeared" by government forces.

There are numerous accounts of violence committed by government forces upon innocent ethnic Tamil civilians as well. The Tamil Eelam Website has disturbing photos and a detailed account of the Monday August 14, 2006 government attack that killed 61 schoolgirls and wounded 150 during a two-day first-aid training session for girls in Sri Lanka's Mullaithivu district.

Government Kfir jets bombed the compound where the training session was taking place.

The cultural mistrust, anger and hatred has claimed at least 25,000 lives and the UN reports there have been more disappearances in Sri Lanka in 2008 than in any other nation in the world.

This conflict illustrates a broader cultural schism that stretches across the socio-economic and Geo-political spectrum.

A tear in the fabric of mankind's cultural consciousness - a rip, one of many in the culturegeist that begs the question; how long will racial, religious and cultural divisions win out against reason and the desire to evolve as a species?

The 21st century is just getting started so what does this beginning say about the larger human condition?

At the least, it's an alarming signal that doesn't quite seem to be reaching everyone. It remains to be seen if a solution will emerge from within Sri Lanka and it's warring sides, or will this require more of an international focus and effort.

Hard for journalists and the media to raise the profile of this problem when Sri Lankan officials have put the clampdown on any outside access to the front lines of this simmering human tragedy.

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