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The ITT List

Friday, May 15, 2009, 3:22 pm

Sri Lanka’s Impending ‘Bloodbath’

By Jeremy Gantz

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The situation in Sri Lanka has reached a critical point, poised on the edge of a horrific civilian massacre.

Sri Lankan government forces are closing in on the last remaining redoubt of the Tamil Tigers, a mile-long strip of beach in the island's northeast flanked by a lagoon and the Indian Ocean. No journalists or outside observers are allowed in the area. The Times reports:

[W]ith the army advancing from north and south, its units just a mile or so apart, the rebels appeared to be nearly cornered.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in a speech on Thursday that government forces could seize the rebels’ last remaining refuge within 48 hours, the Defense Ministry reported.

As Sri Lankan soldiers closed in on the few hundred rebels who remained on the boggy beachfront, concerns mounted over what the United Nations said were at least 50,000 civilians still trapped in the combat zone.

Relief workers with the Red Cross, which has accurately called the situation "an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe," have been barred during the last four days from helping the trapped refugees escape and delivering aid. Some of the trapped people, Tamils who some say are being used as a shield by the Tigers, have literally dug themselves into bunkers.

All of these people – who could number up to 100,000 – could be killed during the final battle of this terrible 26-year-old war, as this BBC correspondent reports:

What can be done to stop what appears to be an impending massacre? The UN is calling for a ceasefire. Washington is beginning to flex its diplomatic muscle, with Secretary of State Clinton coming out against a $1.9 billion IMF loan request from Sri Lanka, which has emptied its coffers while rapidly increasing the size of its military during the last three years. President Obama has condemned the bloodshed.

At this point, you can sign this Amnesty International petition to be delivered to Obama, which asks him to 1) pressure the Sri Lanka government to allow food and medical supplies and journalists/monitors into the war zone, 2) Push Japan (a top donor to the island) to pressure Sri Lanka to improve the situation and stop the atrocities, and 3) Establish a commission to investigate war crimes.

God knows there have been enough war crimes in Sri Lanka during the war in '80s and '90s and – almost definitely – during the last three years, since the collapse of the ceasefire. I knew it would get bad when I left the island in 2005, but I never thought that the conflict's endgame would be so horrific. Please sign the petition, or call the State Department and demand the United States do everything in its power to put a stop to this awful situation.

Jeremy Gantz is a contributing editor at the magazine. He is the editor of The Age of Inequality: Corporate America's War on Working People (2017, Verso), and was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012.

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