SRI LANKA: ONLY A POLITICAL SOLUTION CAN BRING PEACE

stop-genocide-of-tamils1The protests by Tamil demonstrators at Parliament Square this week have had the effect of at last drawing the media’s attention to the appalling plight of Tamil civilians caught behind the lines in the war in Sri Lanka.

By contrast, in January a massive 100,000-strong march in London by the Tamil community demanding a ceasefire attracted virtually no media coverage at all. It is depressing to think that the killing of innocent people in Sri Lanka becomes newsworthy here in the UK only when it results in the disruption of traffic across Westminster Bridge.

Tens of thousands of civilians are now trapped by the fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who launched an armed struggle for an independent Tamil homeland more than a quarter of a century ago.

According to the United Nations, over the last two months more than 2,800 civilians have been killed and 7,000 injured. The army continues to shell the small coastal area still held by the Tigers, apparently without regard for the fate of non-combatants.

Only yesterday it was reported that 22 people, including an 18-month-old child, were killed and 283 injured after shells landed near two health facilities, one of them a mother and baby clinic where 500 people were queuing for milk powder and food rations.

If the Sri Lankan government insists on continuing with its military campaign until the LTTE forces have been destroyed, the number of civilian casualties does not bear thinking about.

Perhaps Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse calculates that a crushing military victory over the Tigers will enhance the standing of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party among the Sinhalese majority population, thus ensuring a comfortable victory in the parliamentary elections due early next year.

If so, this is not only immoral but extraordinarily short-sighted. The military defeat of the Tigers, accomplished at the cost of so much bloodshed, will only pile up yet more bitterness among the Tamil population and inevitably produce further armed conflicts in the future.

Without an immediate ceasefire, followed by a political solution addressing the long history of oppression suffered by the Tamil minority that is the root cause of the war, Sri Lanka will remain locked in bloody conflict for generations to come.

I am pleased to see that David Miliband has called for a ceasefire and I fully support the proposal by Keith Vaz that the crisis should be debated as a matter of urgency by the United Nations Security Council.

The text of a letter I sent to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner on 18 March can be consulted here.