Sunday, May 10, 2009

Crisis in Sri Lanka

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Sri Lanka as reports come out that close to 400 civilians, including many children, have been killed in what’s been described as the “bloodiest day of fighting” in the ongoing war between the country’s government and the Tamil Tiger - a militant organization based in northern Sri Lanka. Since 1976, the Tamil Tigers have waged a secessionist campaign for the establishment of an independent Tamil state in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

Of the recent bloodshed the Associated Press reports:

An unrelenting hail of artillery in Sri Lanka’s war zone killed at least 378 civilians, according to a government doctor who survived the attack as shells flew near the makeshift hospital. More than 100 of the victims were children, the U.N. said Sunday.

A rebel-linked Web site blamed the attack on the government, while the military accused the beleaguered Tamil Tigers of shelling their own territory to gain international sympathy and force a cease-fire.

The attack marked the bloodiest assault on ethnic Tamil civilians since the civil war flared again more than three years ago. Health officials said a hospital in the war zone was overwhelmed by casualties, and the death toll was expected to rise.

Reports of the fighting are difficult to verify because the government bars journalists and aid workers from the war zone, but the U.N. confirmed a heavy toll from the attack.

The Genocide Intervention Network has issued a statement strongly condemning the “ongoing killing” of civilians and urging all sides to “refrain from actions that will lead to further violence.”

“As government forces attempt to achieve a military victory against [the rebel forces], civilians are paying the price with their lives,” says Sam Bell, Executive Director of Genocide Intervention Network. “Each side needs to live up to its obligations under international humanitarian law.”

Recent United Nations’ casualty estimates have placed the number of civilian deaths since mid-January at close to 6,500 civilians. This rate of direct killing, notes the Genocide Intervention Network, ranks among the highest – if not the highest – of any ongoing conflict in the world. The organization cautions that both parties are to blame for the high rates of death. “The [rebels] have prevented civilians from leaving the conflict zone and the government forces continue indiscriminately shelling the area,” it says.

An organization I support is Doctors Without Borders. (For how I came to support this group, click here.) Recently, Paul McMaster, a physician working with Doctors Without Borders in a hospital in Northern Province of Sri Lanka, spoke to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! Here’s what he said about the situation there.

About three-quarters of the injured coming in now have suffered from blast injuries, and the rest are gunshot wounds and mine explosions that we’re seeing who survive in the field and actually reach us. We see abdominal injuries. But many of the chest or head injuries, we suspect, don’t survive the blasts to get to us.

We’re doing a lot of amputations, and many of the lower limbs are severely, severely injured and/or blown off. So we’re doing emergency amputations. In a lot of these patients, we’re doing abdominal explorations for damage to internal organs and the bowel. And we’re dealing with chest injuries, draining damaged chests and lungs. And we’re dealing with some head injuries, as well. But the majority of the severe head injuries don’t make it to us.

The buses are bringing these people down, and people are dying on those buses, and bodies are being taken off the buses sometimes, as well. We’re seeing a lot of men with severe injuries, but we’re also seeing a lot women and a lot of children. We’re doing amputations on children. We’re doing abdominal explorations for internal damage, as well, in children. And sometimes we’re operating on both a mother and father and a child from the same family that have been wounded in the same explosion or mine.

Want to help?

Click here to find out how you can help Doctors Without Borders in its crucial work – not just in Sri Lanka but around the world.

And pray with me for justice and peace in Sri Lanka and throughout all parts of the world - including within each and every human heart. Manifest with me peace and justice in your own daily life; in your interactions with family, friends, strangers, and opponents. Let us make such mindful manifestation of justice and peace our primary form of prayer. I strongly believe that, ultimately, a transformed world can only be the result of transformed people. At a very foundational level it really does begin with each one of us - including you and me.

Recommended Off-site Links:
“Hundreds Dead” in Bloodiest Day of Sri Lankan Battle to Destroy Tamil Tigers - Gethin Chamberlain (The Guardian, May 10, 2009).
UN Deplores Killing of Sri Lankan Civilians - Ravi Nessman (Associated Press, May 10, 2009).

Image 1: Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil victims of a shell attack wait outside a makeshift hospital in Tiger controlled No Fire Zone in Mullivaaykaal, Sri Lanka, Sunday, May 10, 2009. An all-night artillery barrage in Sri Lanka’s war zone killed at least 378 civilians and forced thousands to flee to makeshift shelters along the beach, a government doctor said Sunday.The army and Tamil Tiger rebels blamed each other for the barrage, which the doctor said left at least 1,100 people wounded. He said it was the bloodiest day he had seen in months of fighting. (AP Photo)

Image 2: A displaced Tamil woman holds her baby at a camp in Chettikulam, northern Sri Lanka on April 29, 2009. At least 64 civilians were killed and another 87 wounded Saturday, April 25, in an attack on the last remaining medical facility inside rebel-held territory in northeastern Sri Lanka, a pro-rebel website reported.
(Pedro Ugarte/AFP)

Image 3: A file photo of a Sri Lankan soldier guarding a military checkpoint in Colombo. The president of Sri Lanka said Thursday the island’s long-running war against the separatist Tamil Tigers was “rapidly” nearing its end. (AFP/File/Ishara S. Kodikara)

Image 4: French surgeons performing surgery in the operation room of the French emergency rescue operation hospital near the northern Sri Lankan town of Cheddikulam. (Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images)

Image 5: An injured Tamil woman who lost her leg is carried into the main hospital in the town of Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka May 6, 2009. (Reuters/Stringer)

Image 6: A Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil woman holds her malnourished child at a makeshift hospital in the Tamil Tiger controlled no fire zone in Mullivaaykaal, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, May 6, 2009.(AP Photo)

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