Sri Lanka: Hospitals bombed, civilians massacred

Issue 

Sri Lankan Air Force bombers destroyed the Ponnampalam Memorial Hospital in the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu in northern Sri Lanka on February 6. According to Tamilnet.com, 61 patients were killed in the attack.

The hospital had previously been attacked twice before. Other hospitals have also been subject to aerial and artillery bombardment.

These attacks are part of the Sri Lankan government's war against the Tamil people.

The Sri Lankan Army (SLA) is conducting an offensive to capture areas of northern Sri Lanka previously held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a group fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government promotes Sinhalese (the island's largest ethic group) chauvinism.

The SLA has recently succeeded in capturing large areas of land from the LTTE, including the towns of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. Hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians fled the advancing SLA into the remaining LTTE-controlled areas.

These civilians are the main victims of the continual aerial and artillery bombardment of LTTE-controlled areas. These attacks often cause 50 to 100 deaths in a single day.

A February 3 Tamilnet.com article reported that Sri Lanka's defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa justified the attacks in an interview with the BBC by saying, "No hospital should operate outside the safety zone ... everything beyond the safety [zone] is a legitimate target".

But even inside the government-declared "safety zone", Tamil civilians have been bombed and shelled.

The government claims that the LTTE is on the verge of complete defeat.

Certainly, the SLA has made major territorial gains over the past two months. However, Tamilnet.com reported that "there have been a number of surprise attacks and ambushes by LTTE units operating deep inside the SLA-occupied territory in recent weeks", and claimed that the LTTE has inflicted heavy casualties on the SLA.

It is difficult to know the true situation since the SLA keeps reporters away from the war zones.

Meanwhile, Tamils in that United States have requested the US attorney-general Eric Holder to charge Rajapaksa and SLA commander Sarath Fonseka with genocide and war crimes.

Bruce Fein, counsel for Tamils Against Genocide, presented Holder with a 1000-page proposed indictment against Rajapaksa and Fonseka under the Genocide Accountability Act and the War Crimes Act.

This indictment chronicles more than 3750 extrajudicial killings, approximately 30,000 Tamils suffering serious bodily injury, and more than 1.3 million displacements since December 2005.

Rajapaksa, the brother of Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa, is a US citizen, having lived in the US before returning to Sri Lanka to join his brother's government. Fonseka is a US Green Card holder.

Fein argued that these US links strengthen the obligation on the US government to apply its own laws on genocide and war crimes to these two men.

Sri Lanka has received military aid from a range of countries including the US, Israel, India, Pakistan and China. But this has not stopped Sri Lankan politicians from complaining of "foreign interference" when international NGOs make any critical comments, no matter how mild, towards the government's policy.

On February 1, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a statement expressing "shock" at the second attack on Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital. The statement did not name the SLA as the source of the attack.

Nevertheless, this and other statements by the ICRC have angered the government. On February 6, a mob of Sinhalese chauvinists attacked the ICRC offices in Colombo.

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