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Tamil civilians face tough choice as Army advances
The plight of innocent civilians caught between the LTTE and the advancing Sri Lankan Army deserves international attention, for they face a choice between an uncertain life and a certain death.

BELYING SPECULATIONS that he might have fled Sri Lanka, recent reports of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader Velupillai Prabhakaran being spotted in the no-fire zone in Puthukkudiyiruppu have raised new concerns for the Sri Lankan establishment.

Prabhakaran and his son, Charles Anthony, who have emerged occasionally from their bunkers to interact with the civilians, according to news reports from the war zone, are believed to have requested the Tamils to rise-up against the government forces and not to leave their homes.

The Sri Lankan defence ministry has alleged that by doing so, Prabhakaran was attempting to precipitate a humanitarian crisis. But a humanitarian crisis has existed much before Prabhakaran's “recent attempts” to create one. The Sri Lankan armed forces have regularly targeted civilian settlements of the Tamils under the cover of eliminating “Tiger strongholds”.

Besides civilian casualties, there are huge sections of the population that have been rendered homeless. Going by UN estimates, it is believed that more than 1,00,000 Tamil civilians are trapped in the Puthukkudiyiruppu region, the last bastion of the Tigers. The Sri Lankan government has criticised the estimates as being exaggerated, also accused the Tamils Tigers of holding the civilians as hostages.

Interestingly, in separate reports, the Sri Lankan military claimed that the fighting force of the LTTE was reduced to less than 500 combatants. It is logically impossible for 500 fighters, who are locked in combat with an advancing army, to hold such a huge number of people at gunpoint. Firstly, the Sri Lankan government has done little to disseminate proper information about the “safe-zones” to the trapped civilians.

Secondly, the reality is that a huge majority of the trapped civilians are reluctant to move over to the government held areas, fearing possible interrogation, torture and even murder by the government forces. These fears are not entirely unsubstantiated. There have been numerous incidents in the recent past where Tamil civilians, suspected of having connections with the Tigers, were taken for interrogation from camps in Vavuniya and never returned.

The absence of independent human rights monitors in these regions makes it impossible to check occurrences of abuses by security forces and the curbing of the press ensures that many such incidents are rarely highlighted in the media.

All these work to the advantage of the Sri Lankan government, which, in its “war on terror”, has paid little heed to humanitarian concerns. What is happening in Sri Lanka can easily be classified as genocide by any international standard.

The Tigers on their part should not discourage those civilians who wish to move over to the government zones. Prabhakaran can be expected to fight to the finish and he would expect the same from his cadres. After all, the Tigers consider themselves combatants waging a liberation war against a genocidal state. But the plight of innocent civilians caught between the LTTE and the advancing Sri Lankan Army deserves international attention.

The sad situation for the Tamil civilians is that their choices are limited. If they move over to the government zones, they might be killed. If they remain in the war zones, they will be killed. It is a choice between an uncertain life and a certain death.

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