BRUSSELS: While Sri Lanka is celebrating success in its decades-long conflict with the Tamil Tigers, the international community wants answers about how victory was achieved.
According to the United Nations, the Sri Lankan government’s moment of triumph has come at the cost of thousands of innocent lives lost in indiscriminate shelling, and the UN’s rights body now wants a war crimes probe.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, the only neutral organisation that has been allowed to work in the war zone, has described ‘an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe’.
The European Union has also joined calls for an independent inquiry into alleged human rights violations. EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels yesterday said the 27-nation bloc was ‘appalled’ by reports of high numbers of civilian casualties, including children, in fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels.
‘The fighting must stop now,’ said the EU, which stressed the need for international humanitarian and human rights laws to be respected.
‘The EU calls for the alleged violations of these laws to be investigated through an independent inquiry. Those accountable must be brought to justice.’
While calling the Tamil Tigers a terrorist movement using civilians as human shields, the EU said human rights had to be respected in the fight against terror. It called on all sides to work urgently towards a political solution that addressed the concerns of everyone in the country.
The EU statement also urged Colombo to cooperate fully with the UN to resolve the humanitarian crisis and take immediate steps to ease the civilian evacuation.
The military said on Saturday it had freed the last of 72,000 civilians trapped in the war zone.
But Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told reporters: ‘There are tens of thousands of people in desperate need of help.’
The EU also called for an end to restrictions on aid agencies, full access to people displaced by the fighting, and for the International Committee of the Red Cross to be allowed to monitor screening of people leaving the conflict zone.
Meanwhile, India has asked Sri Lanka to ‘address the root causes of the conflict’ with ethnic Tamils and to provide aid to tens of thousands of civilians displaced in the last months of the war.
India is home to millions of Tamils in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which is separated by a narrow strip of sea from Sri Lanka. About 74,000 Sri Lankan Tamils are also housed in refugee camps in the state.
India’s Foreign Ministry also called for ‘effective devolution of power within the Sri Lankan Constitution so that Sri Lankans of all communities including the Tamils can feel at home and lead lives of dignity of their own free will’.
India is also planning to ask Sri Lanka for scientific confirmation of the death of Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, so it can close a case connected to the 1991 assassination of former premier Rajiv Gandhi, police said yesterday.
REUTERS, ASSOCIATED PRESS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE