Sharing the blame

Video clips of civilian casualties in Puthukkudiyiruppu seem to have added strength to those foreign Governments and agencies pressurising the Sri Lankan Government to stop its final thrust to liquidate the LTTE's conventional fighting machinery. Equally gory is the footage released by the Security Forces showing guerrilla cadres shooting into the sand, preventing the hapless civilians from leaving what is now the LTTE's last bastion.

Is the latter not evidence enough of how 'endearing' the LTTE has been to these civilians whose 'sole representatives' it has claimed to be? Does it not remind people of the pictures of 10-year-old Hitler Youth defending crumbling Berlin in the face of the advancing Allied Forces? There is no denying the 'catastrophe' in and around Puthukkudiyiruppu. But leave aside the LTTE holding the trapped civilians as 'human shields' and the Government determined to militarily crush the LTTE, shouldn't the Western powers -- euphemistically calling themselves the International Community -- and, of course, India take some blame for this crisis?

In recent years when the LTTE was on a murderous rampage to create its separate state by force of arms, using the capitals of the Western world for fund raising and propaganda purposes, and these countries were asked to do something to stop them, the stock response was "where is the evidence?" Sri Lanka's sleuths unfortunately couldn't string together a convincing dossier to show what the LTTE was up to worldwide. It was not until the advent of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar that Sri Lanka's demands were heard in the corridors of power of the Western world.

The results were soon evident. Country after country began banning the LTTE as a 'terrorist organisation'. This was done not on the whim of an individual but on the substantial evidence provided. The LTTE seemed genuinely baffled. Despite all it had done, it still believed that it was a 'liberation movement' not a 'terrorist organisation'. After 9/11 and the eyes of the US were opened to the menace of global terrorism (they often live in a world of their own), the LTTE did its best to distance itself from the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, but it was, alas, still a group that relied on arms to achieve their political goals.

So what did the so-called International Community do after it banned the LTTE? It just pussy-footed the whole issue. Lankan diplomats would trudge to the respective Foreign Offices, only to be politely told "the matter will be looked into". During the past weeks, however, these same countries have faced the consequences of their inaction and lackadaisical approach to this problem with street violence breaking out and clashes with local police in London, Paris, Toronto, Oslo and elsewhere.
This worldwide network that supports the LTTE is not to be considered a lost cause - the guerrillas still have their tentacles into the very top of some of these administrations. Take the typical case of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This week, giving testimony at a Congressional hearing, she asked that Pakistan take more action against (Islamic) extremists and asked Sri Lanka to 'pause' action against (Tamil) extremists. To cap it, she asked Pakistan to adopt a 'paradigm shift' and called for a 'change in mind-set'. Look who's talking.

And the UN, as far back as 1998 sent its Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Ottunnu to Sri Lanka. He reported back to the General Assembly that "the LTTE leadership undertook not to use children below 18 years of age in combat and not to recruit children less than 17 years old". Mind you, the UN did not ask the LTTE not to wage a terrorist insurgency, just not to recruit and use children in combat. What has the UN done about it ever since? Nothing. Now, UNICEF expresses its "concern" about the children affected by the fighting and calls for a 'pause'. These cries from the so-called International Community and much of this suffering may have been avoided had these UN agencies and Western powers taken more concrete steps in previous years to stem the rot.

The UN and electioneering India have exerted pressure on Sri Lanka to 'pause'. Responsible as they are for starting this bloody war (India), and ignoring the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka's North and East for the past 25 years (India and the UN) until it has become a full-blown conflict, they too must take collective responsibility for what has happened all these years in a conflict that has taken an estimated 70,000 lives and brought untold suffering to the whole nation.

All well-meaning humanitarian assistance should be welcomed, as long as this is not a ruse to allow the remnants of the LTTE to live to fight another day. And hopefully, the Government will not falter in its determination to see this miserable war through and at the same time, bring some solace to the suffering civilians out there.

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