(Reuters photo: A Tamil refugee prepares to bathe alongside the fence inside a refugee camp.)
“UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said Friday she feared both sides could be guilty of war crimes in the Sri Lanka conflict and that more than 2,800 civilians could have been killed since late January… [C]redible sources had told the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) that more than 2,800 civilians might have been killed, including hundreds of children, and more than 7,000 injured since January 20. ” —AFP, March 13, 2009
GOSL forces have contained the LTTE in a 50 sq km (19 sq mi) along with an enormous number of Tamil civilians. Originally estimated at up to 200,000, tens of thousands have escaped and thousands more have been killed by one side or the other, leaving an estimated 100,000 civilians in the tiny conflict zone. Reports indicate that LTTE has shot those who tried to escape, while GOSL has continued its all-out attack despite the civilian presence. This, incidentally, is not the first time the LTTE has used human shields– they did so in Jaffna in 1996 and again in Vakarai in 2008. However, this is apparently the first time GOSL has ignored the presence of human shields.
Those civilians who escaped have been brought to Vavuniya or Mannar areas. They are held in razor-wire-enclosed internment camps, because the government fears (with some validity) that there may be a handful of LTTE fighters among the refugees. My sources say there are over 32,000 Tamil civilian refugees in camps in the area, however access to the camps is restricted, even to aid agencies. Most aid is passed through government intermediaries, so little verification of the conditions inside the camps (or the experiences of the camps’ residents before they came there) can be made. At one camp, an aid ageny reported 1124 men, 1122 women, and 888 children from infant to age ten. (Over age 10 would be counted as men and considered potential combatants.)
Meanwhile, another source tells me that the Rajapakse administration is using the war to consolidate its hold on power in the south. “They’re making sure there will never be any effective opposition.” This is not unexpected– since it took office, the current administration has been short circuiting democracy, effectively disempowering Sinhalese in addition to the already disempowered Tamils.