/ 2 March 2009

Sri Lanka army ‘holds back its strength’ against Tigers

Advancing Sri Lankan forces are holding back their strength against Tamil Tiger rebels in order to comply with international rules of war, a Sri Lankan minister told the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday.

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka’s minister for disaster management and human rights, accused the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of committing ”increasingly brutal acts of terrorism” against people trapped inside a shrinking war zone.

”The Sri Lankan armed forces on the other hand are very versed in the laws of war, from the rank and file to the high echelons,” he told the UN body, saying troops carry human rights handbooks as part of their standard kit.

”Currently we are holding back our strength even at the cost of increased casualties to our forces.”

Sri Lanka’s military has encircled the Tiger guerrillas in a bid to extinguish Asia’s longest-running civil war, which has killed about 70 000 people since 1983.

Aid groups say the LTTE, which the United States, Canada, and India have designated as a terrorist group, have resorted to the forced recruitment of both adults and children, and used civilians as shields against Sri Lankan soldiers.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and others have also faulted Sri Lanka’s government for failing to investigate and prosecute political killings, disappearances and other abuses linked to the country’s long-running conflict.

Freedom of movement
Samarasinghe said the separatist rebels have now been restricted to less than 40 square kilometres in the Indian Ocean island’s northeast, and would soon be unable to stop people from escaping their northeastern territory.

”We expect the flow of persons seeking safety to grow exponentially in the coming days when the capacities of the LTTE are degraded to such an extent that they are unable to prevent civilians from moving freely,” he said.

In his remarks to the 47 member-state council, Samarasinghe said the rebels and their supporters — who run the website www.Tamil.Net — were spreading falsehoods to governments, the international press and human rights groups to win support.

He said the Sri Lankan government was prepared to assist all those leaving LTTE-controlled areas and eventually to address the political concerns of the ethnic Tamil minority in the Sinhalese-dominated country.

”The government is confident, Mr President, of its ability to care for all these persons, Sri Lankan citizens, and ultimately return them to the places of origin, guaranteeing them a stable and secure future,” he said, addressing the UN body’s president Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi of Nigeria.

”That future can only be assured if massive development is undertaken, infrastructure restored and most important democratic institutions at the local government and provincial administration level are re-inaugurated and re-established.” — Reuters