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Sri Lankan Government Should Halt Offensive Immediately and LTTE Should Surrender

Press Release by Sri Lanka Democracy Forum

by Sri Lanka Democracy Forum, 29 April 2009

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Sri Lanka Democracy Forum

For Immediate Release

29 April 2009

SLDF calls on the Government to immediately halt all offensive action and
indiscriminate fire within the “No Fire Zone”.

SLDF calls upon the LTTE to lay down its arms and surrender.

SLDF calls upon the UN and ICRC to negotiate a mechanism with the
Government for the surrender of LTTE cadres.

SLDF is extremely concerned about the catastrophe unfolding in the “No
Fire Zone”, where the UN and ICRC estimate that up to 50,000 civilians
remain trapped in perilous conditions. Taking into consideration the
urgent humanitarian crisis, we call upon the Government to halt its
offensive and cooperate with UN officials so that they may inspect the “No
Fire Zone”, assess the situation, and safely evacuate civilians.

SLDF is shocked at the already high number of civilian deaths and
casualties, particularly amongst children. News reports of evacuees
reveal the extent of suffering caused by indiscriminate fire from both
forces. This suffering is needlessly exacerbated through the absence of
prompt and sufficient medical care. There are several reports of people
dying en route to hospitals and camps. The plight of the fleeing
civilians suffering dehydration, starvation, disease, and loss of limbs is
nothing short of a scandal. Moreover, it is unacceptable that civilians
who escaped from the LTTE are subject to internment and held under
inhumane conditions.

The Government recently announced that the military will now stop “…the
use of heavy calibre guns, combat aircraft and aerial weapons which could
cause civilian casualties”. This announcement implicitly admits that the
armed forces have, in fact, been launching heavy artillery and air-strikes
in a narrow strip of land packed with civilians that it declared to be a
“No Fire Zone”. This strongly indicates the commission of war crimes.
Furthermore, reports suggest that the security forces continue to use
heavy weapons in this densely packed strip of land. Despite mounting
international pressure, the GOSL is adamant to continue its offensive
without taking into account civilian casualties. SLDF is gravely
disappointed by the government’s refusal to allow the UN
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs to visit the “No Fire
Zone”. The Government’s continued refusal to allow UN officials to visit
the “No Fire Zone” suggests that the Government is not adhering to its own
claims: instead, there is every indication that the Government continues
to indiscriminately fire into the “No Fire Zone” with callous disregard
for the plight of civilians trapped there.

To the Government of Sri Lanka

The civilians who are still trapped in the “No Fire Zone” were taken there
forcibly by the LTTE as a deliberate strategy. We remind the Government
that these civilians are citizens of Sri Lanka, and are entitled to the
same rights and protections, including the right to life, as all other Sri
Lankans. Neither the LTTE’s refusal to surrender, nor its firing from
among civilians, grants the Government justification to massacre its own
citizens. The safety of civilians should not, under any circumstances, be
sacrificed for military expediency. We reiterate that a military victory
won over mass casualties is unlikely to pave the way for lasting peace or
create conditions conducive for a political solution.

SLDF urgently calls on the GOSL to:

  • halt the military offensive;
  • cooperate and facilitate a UN inspection of the ’No Fire Zone’ to assess
    the situation, and plan for the safe evacuation of civilians;
  • immediately allow food, water, and other medical supplies to reach the
    people trapped in the “No Fire Zone”;
  • immediately grant full access to the UN and other international and
    local NGOs working on relief and rehabilitation efforts to care for IDPs;
  • guarantee that LTTE members who surrender or who are captured, are treated humanely and according to the laws of war. The GOSL should seek the help of the UN and the ICRC to set up a mechanism by which members of the LTTE can surrender under international oversight. Execution of summary justice and extra-judicial punishments will be a breach of International Humanitarian Law;
  • set up a programme of rehabilitation for (LTTE) child soldiers;
  • immediately de-militarise the internment camps holding IDPs, grant full access to the UN and ICRC, and involve them in the screening process of new arrivals; and
  • immediately release those civilians found not to have had significant
    connections with the LTTE, and those who may have been compelled into
    providing non-combatant support to the LTTE, and grant them full freedom
    of movement.

To the LTTE

SLDF expresses its unreserved condemnation of the LTTE for continuing
hostilities within the “No Fire Zone”, where tens of thousands of men,
women, and children continue to be trapped, and for holding civilians as
human shields and killing them when they attempt to flee. We reiterate
that holding civilians against their will, and intentionally placing them
at risk constitutes a war crime. The LTTE should accept defeat and
acknowledge that its continued stand off endangers the lives of innocent
Tamils, who have already suffered immeasurably throughout the last 25
years of war.

SLDF calls on the LTTE to:

  • lay down its arms and heed the UN Security Council’s call to surrender;
  • allow its members who wish to surrender to do so;
  • stop recruiting children and civilians to maintain its defences; and
  • allow civilians who want to leave the area held under its control to do so.

To the United Nations, ICRC, and international community:

The UN Security Council should hold a more substantial discussion on Sri
Lanka, and take more comprehensive and concerted action, instead of
dismissing a grave humanitarian crisis, the commission of serious war
crimes, and the slaughter of civilians as internal matters. Rather, the
UN should impress upon both sides that war crimes committed now will be
investigated even after the conflict ends.

SLDF calls on the UN, the ICRC, and the international community to:

  • contribute to meeting the immediate humanitarian needs of civilians in the conflict-affected areas;
  • negotiate with GoSL to set up a mechanism with sufficient international oversight that will manage the process of surrender of LTTE members, and that will ensure that they are treated in accordance with international law;
  • monitor and facilitate the screening of Tamil civilians in internment
    camps, and monitor conditions in these camps; and
  • work towards timely resettlement of all displaced people to their
    original homes.

Sri Lanka Democracy Forum
- SLDF Statements are drafted by its twenty member Steering Committee.

For Media Queries Only Contact: spokespersons(at)lankademocracy.org
- SLDF Spokespersons: Rengan Devarajan and Ahilan Kadirgamar