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Civilians in danger as Sri Lanka rejects ceasefire calls

Oliver Scanlan
8 April 2009

Walter Kaelin, the representative of the UN secretary general on the human rights of internally displaced persons, on Tuesday warned of a "blood bath" if tens of thousands of civilians are not allowed to leave a tiny enclave held by the Tamil Tigers. On Wednesday, the Sri Lankan military issued a final warning to the group, whose official name is Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), urging them to surrender and free the civilians or else be destroyed.

The LTTE have been pushed into the tiny enclave, which is less than eight square miles in size, after bitter fighting with the Sri Lankan army, which has left five hundred rebels dead, according to Sri Lankan government forces. They are now living in the midst of tens of thousands of civilians who are currently unable to leave this government-declared "no-fire zone". The UN has urged extreme caution but the Sri Lankan government has said that any ceasefire would result in the LTTE's leaders' escape.

The toD Verdict: This apparently final chapter in Sri Lanka's twenty-five year civil war threatens to be one of the bloodiest. Certainly, there can be little doubt of the LTTE fighters' resolve. Many of the five hundred battlefield deaths they have sustained over the past week have been reportedly due to rebels refusing to surrender, despite running low on ammunition. Tamil Tigers wear vials of cyanide around their necks, to be consumed in case of capture. It is not clear what the government forces will do, but if a peaceful solution cannot be reached, the alternatives for the reportedly 150,000 civilians are equally appalling. If the military moves on the LTTE's position, it seems inevitable that thousands of innocents will be caught in the crossfire.

However, restraint on the government's part will not guarantee respite as conditions in the "no-fire" zone are steadily deteriorating. In the absence of a more favourable resolution, slow starvation will apparently be the outcome of any prolonged "waiting game".      

Somali pirates seize Americans

The A.P. Moller-Maersk Group confirmed on Wednesday that one of its ships, the Maersk Alabama, was "presumed hijacked" after being attacked by Somali pirates. Although the container ship is Danish, its crew which is over twenty strong, are all American nationals and this is thought to be the first occasion when a predominantly American crew has been captured. The attack occurred in the Indian Ocean, roughly 645 km from the Somali capital Mogadishu.

Pirates seized fifteen ships in March this year, which represents a significant increase on the two hijacked in January and February. In 2008, close to 130 pirate attacks, including 50 successful hijackings, were reported. 

North Korea defiant over missile launch

A mass rally was held by the DPRK on Wednesday to celebrate its successful launch of a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, carried out on Sunday in the face of international opprobrium. North Korea also warned of military action against any state that tried to retrieve debris from the rocket. This comes after a warning, delivered to the 15-member UN Security Council on Tuesday, that any move made by the international body in retaliation for the launch would be met by "strong steps". 

These steps could include boycotting six-way disarmament talks and even restarting its plutonium programme at the Yongbon reactor. International opinion is divided, with the US, Japan and South Korea calling for punitive measures and China and Russia urging restraint. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has referred to the threat of sanctions against North Korea as "counter productive".

Clinton call for reconciliation with Taliban "moderates"

Speaking at The Hague on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton called for the reintegration into Afghan society of those Taliban members who agreed to renounce violence and support the constitution. Clinton was speaking in front of officials from more than seventy countries who had gathered in the Netherlands to debate their respective contributions to the ongoing reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.

Less than twenty-four hours after her speech, four suicide attackers struck at a provincial council building in Kandahar, killing at least eleven people, with sixteen people wounded. Among the dead were the head of education for Kandahar and the deputy head of health.

Bomb attack in Iraq kills seven

On Wednesday, in an attack that bore the modus operandi of Iraq's al-Qaeda wing, a roadside bomb exploded in northwest Baghdad, killing seven and wounding 23. The attack occurred in the Shi'ite Kadhimiya district, near one of Iraq's holiest shrines. Coming a day after a car bomb attack in the same district killed nine and Monday's multiple car-bombings which left 37 people dead, this attack will underline fears expressed in several quarters that the Obama administration's proposed troop withdrawals will lead to an escalation of renewed terrorist violence. On Tuesday, the most senior surviving Ba'ath party official and Saddam Hussein loyalist Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri called for insurgents to destroy "what remains of the invading forces and their agents". Thursday will mark the sixth anniversary of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime from power by a US-led military coalition.

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