Sri Lanka: dark side to “victory”

As celebrations break out in Colombo over the Sri Lankan armed forces’ taking of the last small strip of coastline controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebels, there are ominous signs that the coming “peace” will be a grim one at the very best. AP reports May 18 that three Sri Lankan doctors who treated hundreds of badly wounded civilians in understaffed, makeshift hospitals in the besieged zone were detained on accusations they gave false information about the casualties to the media.

With journalists and nearly all aid workers barred from the war zone, Thurairaja Varatharajah, Thangamuttu Sathyamurthi and V. Shanmugarajah became some of the few sources of information on the war’s civilian toll. The doctors fled the conflict zone last week as the government’s military campaign aneared its conclusion. An anonymous health ministry official said the doctors were detained by the military when they fled and were later turned over to police.

The TamilNet news service May 17 sees a threatening undercurrent in the celebrations:

Sinhala mob carrying the Lion Flag of Sri Lanka, and shouting “jeyawewa” (victory), menacingly hover around the Tamil suburbs in Colombo such as Ko’l’lup-piddi, Ve’l’la-vaththai, Bambalapiti, Dehiwela, Koddaagn-cheanai and Maddakku’li, news reports from Colombo said. Their vehicles in which they roam around, are also guarded by flag-carrying police and intelligence vehicles, the reports said. The Tamil pedestrians are humiliated and ridiculed by this gang and by the armed personnel at security points by being specifically addressed and told that their leader Pirapaharan has been captured and everything was over, the reports further said.

In another May 18 report on TamilNet, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, international spokesman for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), said that the rebel group’s leader Velupillai Pirapaharan (nom de guerre Prabhakaran) is “alive and well,” and warned:

The Sri Lankan Government may have declared a military victory. But it does not realize that it is a hollow victory. It has completely lost the trust and confidence of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

A May 19 report in India’s The Hindu asserts that Prabakaran is “believed dead”—but concedes:

The military commanders on the ground are unable to officially confirm the death of Prabakaran as they have not been able to trace him or his body in the continuing combing operations. Sri Lankan military commanders believe that a burnt body beyond recognition recovered from the battle zone could be that of Prabakaran.

LTTE spokesman K. Pathmanathan (the same as S. Pathmanathan?) said in a statement to The Hindu May 18:

This battle has reached its bitter end. Against all odds, we have held back the advancing Sinhalese forces without help or support, except for the unending support of our people. It is our people who are dying now from bombs, shells, illness and hunger. We cannot permit any more harm to befall them. We remain with one last choice — to remove the last weak excuse of the enemy for killing our people. We have decided to silence our guns. Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer. We can no longer bear to see the innocent blood of our people being spilled.

On May 15, the UN news agency IRIN warned of the urgent need for humanitarian aid for the more than 13,000 displaced by the conflict:

Relief workers in Sri Lanka report hundreds of war wounds among people fleeing the last pocket of the long-running conflict. “There are people with shrapnel injuries, others with limbs that need to be amputated,” Sarasi Wijeratne, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told IRIN. Many of their wounds were either infected because bandages had not been changed or they had not been treated properly with antibiotics, she said.

See our last post on Sri Lanka.

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