Don't play with civilians

In the clash of arms -- laws may be silent -- as we see in the US-UK backed Israeli assault on Lebanon. The death toll and sufferings of the population there have made the headlines in our newspapers too and rightly so, but we seem to be more horrified by the violence there than the atrocities taking place on our own doorstep.

All killings are inhuman, but the killing of 17 NGO workers ranks on par with the killing of Muslim civilians fleeing the fighting in Mutur in terms of barbaric acts. And these are only the latest in a host of such massacres of civilians in all these near 25 years of what has been dubbed Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict.

With military offensives being mounted on both sides, the death toll has been rising day by day. All those who are bent on ensuring that this conflict does not spiral into a real ethnic conflict must guard against the temptation of picking easy targets like unarmed civilians, pumping an overdose of racial hatred into the victims' side. Forces that see this as a 'terrorist problem' must restrain their men from what we called last week a 'no-holds-barred conflict' in this country. It will only make a bad situation worse.

The LTTE seems to be resorting to old guerrilla tactics in using human shields for its defences as well as its advances. Its digging in at Mutur on the grounds that it was preventing Security Forces ground troops from capturing the Mavil Aru anicut resulted in more than 40,000 civilians being dislodged from the area.
Likewise, the LTTE has now asked civilians to vacate areas in the Jaffna Peninsula on the grounds that it is preparing an assault into the region. The end result would be that these civilians will also need to end up in refugee camps.

It would seem quite obvious that the civilian refugee issue is what the LTTE is trying to trigger to get international support on its side -- and if the LTTE finds the situation going badly for it, it will hope the International Community (IC) will urge a ceasefire.

The IC is believed to be sending signals to the Government to halt the fighting -- but it might also do well to send the same strong signal to the LTTE.

Kadir's legacy

A year ago, this country lost one of its greatest sons in contemporary history; Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar a man who personified - and worked relentlessly towards - a united, multi-ethnic Sri Lanka.

The nation - certainly a vast majority - genuinely grieved at his death, yet another victim of terrorism that has engulfed this island for nearly a quarter of a century. But the Police inquiry into his assassination, for instance, has, by all accounts, gone into limbo. Too much work, probably. There was a flurry of activity this week to mark Mr. Kadirgamar's first death anniversary.

One of these events has been the renaming of the Sri Lanka Institute of Strategic Studies, (introduced in 2000 following a Committee report headed by ex-Ambassador Neville Kanakeratne) as the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies.

Placed as we are geographically in the world, there are always some who overplay our geo-political importance, while others equally are dismissive of it. As a Foreign Minister who understood the evils of global terrorism long before 9/11, Mr. Kadirgamar saw such an Institute as a sine-qua-non to a vulnerable state like Sri Lanka required to survive in a turbulent world.

A think-tank is what it is - where research and study and coordinated action on a national scale and long-term basis could be undertaken instead of the patch-work strategies that have been adopted all these years. It is incredible that for 50 years and more since Independence such a National Institute never existed.

Mr. Kadirgamar studied similar institutes in the West, in West Asia (Middle East) and Asia before he personally spearheaded the formation of a new Strategic Studies Institute, and it has rightly been named after him.

Sri Lankan Governments are famous for renaming existing institutions - the General Hospital became the National Hospital for instance, but slow to bring in improvements; Colombo's only International Airport has been renamed thrice over, but we haven't even been able to construct a second runway there. The list goes on.

Even this Institute never got off the ground after it was established in 2000 partly because of the change in Governments, and each Government's aversion to carrying through what the other has initiated.

Let us therefore hope, that this 'new' Institute, albeit with some minor deficiencies will not be a mere name change - nor a place as is customary nowadays to lump and dump political cronies - but will serve this nation truly and sincerely; and in the process serve the memory of a man who loved his country so dearly.

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