Rights group slams Lanka’s post-war policies
COLOMBO AN international human rights group on Friday warned that the militarisation of Sri Lanka’s former war zone and discrimination against minority ethnic Tamils threaten to lead the island back into violence.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report that there are government moves to change the demographics in what were once Tamil majority areas by sending in ethnic Sinhalese settlers. Sinhalese are the largest ethnic group in the country, wielding the most power in the government, military and business community.
“By adopting policies that will bring fundamental changes to the culture, demography and economy of the Northern Province, the government of Sri Lanka is sowing the seeds of future violence there,” the report said.
Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009 when government troops crushed separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, who fought for more than 25 years to create an independent state in the island’s north for Tamils after years of discrimination by Sinhalesecontrolled governments.
Friday’s ICG report said important decisions of governance in the north were now being made by Sinhalese military officials and politicians at the exclusion of the local Tamil people and their elected leaders.
The predominantly Tamil north now has streets and villages renamed in the Sinhala language, dotted with war monuments and Buddhist shrines, the religion of the majority.
Many of these are built on land that Tamils left behind during the height of the conflict, it said.
The ICG called on aid agencies supporting Sri Lanka’s postwar reconstruction to demand change in government policies and not to pay for “policies that may lead to violence.” The government has continuously denied that it follows a policy of exclusion and says it is not creating Sinhalese settlements.
According to a UN panel report, tens of thousands of civilians may have been killed in just the last few months of the civil war, and hundreds of thousands more left homeless. Both the government and rebels have been accused of committing war crimes during the final stages of the conflict.
“While the situation is calm now, the Tamil population is exhausted by war, broken by defeat and, after decades of LTTE (Tamil Tigers) tight control, sadly acclimatised to authoritarian rule, it will not necessarily remain that way,” the report said. Tamil lawmakers on Thursday asked the UN Human Rights Council to press the government to investigate alleged wartime abuses and share power with the ethnic minority to prevent renewed violence.
The United States is planning to bring a resolution before the UN rights council, currently meeting in Geneva, urging Sri Lanka’s government to investigate allegations of human rights abuses and to seek reconciliation.
The ethnic Sinhalese-dominated government has arranged protests across the country against the resolution, which it calls interference in Sri Lanka’s affairs.
On Thursday, more than 10,000 people marched in the capital to denounce the proposed resolution.
Taliban talks off; Karzai tells NATO to pull back AP KABUL THE American campaign in Afghanistan has suffered a double blow: The Taliban broke off talks with the US, and President Hamid Karzai said NATO should pull out of rural areas and speed up the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces nationwide in the wake of the killing of 16 civilians.
Thursday’s moves represent new setbacks to America’s strategy for ending the 10-year-old war at a time when support for the conflict is plummeting. Part of the US exit strategy is to transfer authority gradually to Afghan forces. Another tack is to pull the Taliban into political discussions with the Afghan government, though it’s unclear that there has been any progress since January.
Although Karzai has previously said that he wanted international troops to transition out of rural areas, the apparent call for an immediate exit is new. Karzai also said he now wants Afghan forces to take the lead for countrywide security in 2013, in what appeared to be a move to push the US toward an earlier drawdown.
A statement released by Karzai’s office said that during his meeting with visiting US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, the president “requested that the international forces come out of Afghan villages and stay in their bases.” Karzai also said that the “Afghan security forces have the ability to provide security in the villages of our country,” the statement said. But a senior US official said Karzai did not make any demands to have US troops leave villages immediately.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose details of a private meeting, said it’s unclear that the US would be able to pull all of its troops out of the villages even by 2013. He noted that the US plans to continue counterterrorism operations and advising the Afghan forces around the country.
A rapid pullout from rural areas would have a devastating effect on US ability to challenge the Taliban on the battlefield.
Unlike the Iraq war, where most combat was in towns and cities, the Afghan conflict is a struggle to secure rural hamlets and remote mountain valleys used by the militants to move in and out of sanctuaries in neighbouring Pakistan.
It would essentially mean the end of the strategy of trying to win hearts and minds by working with and protecting the local populations.
Karzai is known for making dramatic demands and then backing off under US pressure.
The call for a pullback, even if aimed at his domestic audience‚ will likely become another issue of contention between the Afghans and their international allies at a time of growing war weariness in the United States and other countries of the international coalition.
Karzai spoke as Afghan lawmakers were expressing outrage that the US flew the soldier suspected of gunning down 16 civilians early Sunday in two Afghan villages to Kuwait on Wednesday night.
They were demanding that the suspect, a US Army staff sergeant, be tried in the country.
10 Saturday, March 17, 2012 www.qatar-tribune.com PAKISTAN / SOUTH ASIA Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in Kandahar, recently. (EPA)