when will we listen and learn?

in a rare report from sri lanka nick payton walsh of england’s channel 4 reported from an internment camp in vavuniya where tamil refugees have been taken by the sri lankan army and where there walsh reports on everything from shortages of food and water to sexual abuse. this report is rare because of the media blackout in sri lanka that does not allow anyone to report on anything other than the military’s point of view (think gaza):

gethin chamberlain’s article in the guardian today about the sri lankan government’s war against the civilian tamil population reveals more devastation including the inability of the red cross to function and the continuing media blackout (also checkout chamberlain’s video on the guardian’s website):

The scale of the fighting forced doctors to abandon the last hospital in the so-called no-fire zone. One medic described how they were sheltering in a bunker, unable to reach the dead and injured lying inside the hospital.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said civilians trapped inside the war zone were finding it even more difficult to get water and food.

“Our staff are witnessing an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe,” said the ICRC operations director, Pierre Krahenbuhl. “No humanitarian organisation can help them in the current circumstances. People are left to their own devices.”

Douglas Alexander, Britain’s international development secretary, issued an angry statement expressing his outrage that the scale of the fighting had prevented the Red Cross from evacuating the wounded.

“I am utterly appalled that the ICRC is no longer able to continue its operations in northern Sri Lanka,” he said. “This deplorable situation rightly brings international condemnation of both parties to the conflict. There is simply no justification for allowing such needless suffering.”

One unconfirmed report suggested that some of the latest injuries were caused by the use of white phosphorus. The Sri Lankan military released pictures on Thursday claiming to show that the Tamil tigers had rigged phosphorus bombs around areas where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped.

There is no way of confirming the reports because independent media are prevented from entering the war zone.

interestingly it seems as though the united nations is actually trying to intervene here, though that remains to be seen. notice, however, that hillary clinton is applying pressure to sri lanka in ways she and her government refuses to do with respect to the zionist colonial terrorist regime in palestine as chamberlain continues:

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, sent his chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, to Sri Lanka for a second time to try to bring the conflict to a peaceful conclusion.

A UN spokesman, Gordon Weiss, said Nambiar planned to meet senior government officials after he arrived today and would push for ways “to secure the safety of the 50,000 to 100,000 civilians remaining inside the combat zone”.

The US applied pressure on Colombo by questioning Sri Lanka’s application for a $1.9bn loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said: “We think that it is not an appropriate time to consider that until there is a resolution.”

in contradistinction, the united states is rewarding the zionist colonist terrorist regime for its ongoing massacres and ethnic cleansing with more military aid–which you can work to stop by clicking on the link below to the u.s. campaign to end the occupation’s website and signing their petition:

Last week, President Obama sent his FY2010 budget request to Congress and, as expected, included in it $2.775 billion in military aid for Israel, an increase of $225 million from this year’s budget.

The budget request now goes to the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs for hearings and “mark-ups”.

This request for an increase in military aid to Israel comes despite the fact that Israel consistently misuses U.S. weapons in violation of the Arms Export Control and Foreign Assistance Acts.

During the Bush Administration, Israel killed more than 3,000 Palestinian civilians who took no part in hostilities, including more than 1,000 children. During its December-January war on the Gaza Strip alone, Israel killed nearly 1,200 Palestinian non-combatants.

Especially during this acute economic crisis, is this how you want Congress to spend your taxes? If not, then take action by clicking the link above.

but the link between palestine and the tamils of sri lanka is best viewed from the lens of the imposed silence, the refusal to let the media in, and our refusal–those of us on the outside–to listen and learn from the tamil people as john pilger explains in an important article in dissident voice this week:

In the early 1960s, it was the Irish of Derry who would phone late at night, speaking in a single breath, spilling out stories of discrimination and injustice. Who listened to their truth until the violence began? Bengalis from what was then East Pakistan did much the same. Their urgent whispers described terrible state crimes that the news ignored, and they implored us reporters to “let the world know.” Palestinians speaking above the din of crowded rooms in Bethlehem and Beirut asked no more. For me, the most tenacious distant voices have been the Tamils of Sri Lanka, to whom we ought to have listened a very long time ago.

It is only now, as they take to the streets of western cities, and the persecution of their compatriots reaches a crescendo, that we listen, though not intently enough to understand and act. The Sri Lankan government has learned an old lesson from, I suspect, a modern master: Israel. In order to conduct a slaughter, you ensure the pornography is unseen, illicit at best. You ban foreigners and their cameras from Tamil towns like Mulliavaikal, which was bombarded recently by the Sri Lankan army, and you lie that the 75 people killed in the hospital were blown up quite willfully by a Tamil suicide bomber. You then give reporters a ride into the jungle, providing what in the news business is called a dateline, which suggests an eyewitness account, and you encourage the gullible to disseminate only your version and its lies. Gaza is the model.

From the same master class you learn to manipulate the definition of terrorism as a universal menace, thus ingratiating yourself with the “international community” (Washington) as a noble sovereign state blighted by an “insurgency” of mindless fanaticism. The truth and lessons of the past are irrelevant. And having succeeded in persuading the United States and Britain to proscribe your insurgents as terrorists, you affirm you are on the right side of history, regardless of the fact that your government has one of the world’s worst human rights records and practices terrorism by another name. Such is Sri Lanka.

This is not to suggest that those who resist attempts to obliterate them culturally if not actually are innocent in their methods. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have spilt their share of blood and perpetrated their own atrocities. But they are the product, not the cause, of an injustice and a war that long predates them. Neither is Sri Lanka’s civil strife as unfathomable as it is often presented: an ancient religious-ethnic rivalry between the Hindu Tamils and the Buddhist Sinhalese government.

Sri Lanka as British-ruled Ceylon was subjected to a classic divide-and-rule. The British brought Tamils from India as virtual slave labor while building an educated Tamil middle class to run the colony. At independence in 1948, the new political elite, in its rush for power, cultivated ethnic support in a society whose real imperative should have been the eradication of poverty. Language became the spark. The election of a government pledging to replace English, the lingua franca, with Sinhalese was a declaration of war on the Tamils. The new law meant that Tamils almost disappeared from the civil service by 1970; and as “nationalism” seduced parties of both the left and right, discrimination and anti-Tamil riots followed.

The formation of a Tamil resistance, notably the LTTE, the Tamil Tigers, included a demand for a state in the north of the country. The response of the government was judicial killing, torture, disappearances, and more recently, the reported use of cluster bombs and chemical weapons. The Tigers responded with their own crimes, including suicide bombing and kidnapping. In 2002, a ceasefire was agreed, and was held until last year, when the government decided to finish off the Tigers. Tamil civilians were urged to flee to military-run “welfare camps”, which have become the symbol of an entire people under vicious detention, and worse, with nowhere to escape the army’s fury. This is Gaza again, although the historical parallel is the British treatment of Boer women and children more than a century ago, who “died like flies,” as a witness wrote.

Foreign aid workers have been banned from Sri Lanka’s camps, except the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has described a catastrophe in the making. The United Nations says that 60 Tamils a day are being killed in the shelling of a government-declared “no-fire zone.”

In 2003, the Tigers proposed a devolved Interim Self-Governing Authority that included real possibilities for negotiation. Today, the government gives the impression it will use its imminent “victory” to “permanently solve” the “Tamil minority problem,” as many of its more rabid supporters threaten. The army commander says all of Sri Lanka “belongs” to the Sinhalese majority. The word “genocide” is used by Tamil expatriots, perhaps loosely; but the fear is true.

India could play a critical part. The south Indian state of Tamil Nadu has a Tamil-speaking population with centuries of ties with the Tamils of Sri Lanka. In the current Indian election campaign, anger over the siege of Tamils in Sri Lanka has brought hundreds of thousands to rallies. Having initially helped to arm the Tigers, Indian governments sent “peacekeeping” troops to disarm them. Delhi now appears to be allowing the Sinhalese supremacists in Colombo to “stabilize” its troubled neighbor. In a responsible regional role, India could stop the killing and begin to broker a solution.

The great moral citadels in London and Washington offer merely silent approval of the violence and tragedy. No appeals are heard in the United Nations from them. David Miliband has called for a “ceasefire”, as he tends to do in places where British “interests” are served, such as the 14 impoverished countries racked by armed conflict where the British government licenses arms shipments. In 2005, British arms exports to Sri Lanka rose by 60 percent. The distant voices from there should be heard, urgently.

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