Monday, June 08, 2009

Sri Lanka- Vanni Civilians held back in Ki’Linochchi in Thousands

The final stages of the military flush out operation that the Sri Lankan army conducts against the LTTE has witnessed a further rise in the civilian casualties. In its final assault on Mu’l’livaaikkaal, the Sri Lankan army has herded thousands of persons including non-combatants who had been working in the political and judicial wings of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Many have been detained in internment camps in Ki’linochchi instead of being sent to the camps in Vavuniyaa. According to available official statistics, 1,70,553 persons belonging to 56,361 families have been sent to Vavuniya internment camps until 16 May. However what would be the fate of the people staying in Ki’linochchi internment camps remain unknown.

Sri Lanka- War Crime in the Massacre of LTTE Officials

Further, reliable sources have informed TamilNet that the clash on 18 May was in reality a well-planned massacre of unarmed civil officers of the LTTE with the aim of annihilating its political structure. This has led to speculation that adherence to the international community’s prescription of surrender would have yielded the same results. The LTTE's International Relations Head S. Pathmanathan rubbished Colombo’s claim of killing V. Pirapaharan. He further alleged that the Sri Lankan army had murdered the head of LTTE’s political wing Mr. B. Nadesan and Mr. Puleedevan using deceit. The men were unarmed and carrying white flags with the intention of peace negotiations when they were shot. The incident came in the wake of the good will gesture of the LTTE where they released seven Sri Lankan prisoners of war.

UN's Ban in Kandy, Never Called It a Bloodbath, No Word on the Doctors

The visit of the UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon sparked much controversy. He went out of his way to emphasize that he never called Sri Lanka a ‘blood bath’. Inner City Press' questions, including those on detained doctors, were not taken or allowed. Ban’s humanitarian chief John Holmes was vague on most issues asked which ranged from overcrowding in UN camps, to suspension of humanitarian activities, to disappearance of doctors. NGOs have acknowledged that they were not in a position to stand up to the Rajapaksha government. They claim that the UN and OCHA should take up this responsibility. They in turn continue passing the buck. This is evident of a desperate attempt by UN to become relevant in the existing state of things.

A Sudden Rise in Conflict Induced Displacement in South Asia

Geetisha Dasgupta

Of late, a lot has been happening in South Asia. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have shot to overnight prominence, quickly displacing the Indian elections from the slots. After a 26 year civil war, LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed by the Sri Lankan army. And, on the other end of the South Asian territory, in Pakistan’s Swat, thousands of Sikh inhabitants have been displaced in a sweep by the Taliban to capture space in north east Pakistan frontier. Both the areas have head protracted history of conflict and displacements emanating from the latter.

What is most inconspicuous and yet probably most important during such conflicts is the huge number of people who are forced to leave their habitual places of residence and flee to newer areas, destabilizing their entire mode of survival. The problem rolls on and snowballs after the actual war situation recedes; as has been the case of Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Government has been accused of an ethnic cleansing spree and aid officials, human rights campaigners and politicians claim, Tamils have been out of north-eastern areas by killings and kidnappings carried out by the pro-Government militia. This is not something very strange as the same happens everywhere when one particular regime of control is dissolved and replaced by another per force. In this case, the Government is said to have been encouraging members of the Sinhalese majority in the south of Sri Lanka to relocate to the north, and space is being vacated by not very good means. Reportedly, the number of Tamils disappearing around Trincomalee, 80 kilometers south of the final conflict zone in Mullaitivu, has been increasing over the last three months. One foreign charity worker said that among 15 people known to him who had disappeared, three were found dead later. The bodies exhibited signs of torture and two were found with their hands tied behind their back and single bullet wounds on their foreheads. Killing has been used as a strategy to drive out Tamils and many villagers had to move out after the army declared their land as part of a “high security zone”. There is also the habitual scampering to take over the power vacuum left by the demise of Prabhakaran. Everyone now waits to see how the Government devolves administrative and political authority to the hitherto LTTE occupied authority. There remains a huge population therefore, who are actually unguarded. There have been human rights violations during the war, which have lead to world bodies converging now for justice. But the greatest cost remains the human displacement under threat of ethnic cleansing after the already incurred huge costs of people moving on account of the war itself. Much is being said by the Sri Lankan Government about infrastructural development of the re-occupied areas. This raises eyebrows because Tamils allege that in the name of developmental work, Tamil villagers are being moved out to make way for roads, power plants and irrigation schemes while simultaneously planting Sinhalese workers in these areas with prospects of land and accommodation at zero costs.

Shifting focus to the north eastern region of Pakistan, there have now been human displacements at a compounding rate as a result of war waged by the Talibans to capture Pakistan’s Swat, Dir and Buner and the counter war against the extremists on this point by the Pakistani army with help from the US air attacks. Estimates say that there has already been a good two million people forced to move from their residences. Swat refugees have reported that they fled both because of the Taliban as well as army atrocities. The ground level working groups have been sending out SOS for doctors, nurses, community health workers for the areas housing the displaced temporarily. Many women among the IDPs are likely to give birth and therefore there is an immediate need of gynaecologists and women medical practitioners.

The fact that comes through is huge amount of human movement, with their entire households and added pressure on the national governments for arranging relief measures because outside aid comes after a lot of deliberations on the international fora and resolutions. The original problems are far from being resolved and the humanitarian costs incurred escalate every day. Moreover, in both the areas, control remains in the hands of people who are least bothered about the state and the people in context.

Michel Warschawski. 2005. On the Border. London: Pluto Press

Supurna Banerjee

The conflict between Israel and the Arab world forms one of the most consistent chronicles that characterize our post 2nd World War world. The hostility owes its existence to numerous factors. As a result much has been written about it from a wide range of perspectives. It is in this respect that the book On the Border is unique. Michel Warschawski, popularly known as ‘Mikado’ is an Israeli anti-Zionist activist and this book chronicles his experiences at what is probably one of the most volatile borders of our times, the Israel-Palestine border. The border is a construction, which he feels is central to the Jewish existence. It is the permanent questioning of the ‘us’ and the ‘them’, at the other side of the border through which he feels a Jew arrives at the quintessence of his identity. “The border is a pivotal concept in the life of every Israeli: it is a formative element in our collective life, it defines our horizons, serves as the boundary line between threat and feeling of safety and between enemies and brothers. In a country that is simultaneously a ghetto and besieged bunker, the border is omnipresent, we run into it with every step. Yes, the border is not only in the heart of each soldier, as the song says, but in the heart of each citizen of Israel, an essential part of his make up.” (p.3) However the book is not meant to be a treatise on the centrality of the border but rather the rejection of this prevailing definition of border in the Israeli psyche. For him the border is not only a place of conflict and confrontation but it offers an opportunity of fruitful exchange. It is in the dynamic and interesting dichotomy between the ‘border runner’ or one whose mission is of erasing the fractured lines and replacing them with spaces of cooperation and mutuality and the ‘border guard’ or the one looking to defend the sovereignty and security of his border from the other, that the essence of the book unfolds.

The book is divided into three parts, which in turn are divided into several chapters. Each part deals with a chapter in his life as well as that of the history of Israel. The first part traces his first encounters with border. As the book unfolds this theme is elaborated in further details. Born in Strasbourg he was familiar with borders—physical, cultural and psychological. His rejection of the role of the occupier as a consequence of the 1967 war led him to move towards the socialism and internationalism of the Israeli Socialist Organization better known as Matzpen and anti-Zionism. This formulated his perspective towards the prevailing conflict, a stance that was distinct from the traditional Israeli or even the Arab line. The internationalism, which set this group apart, placing them against the current of Israeli nationalism naturally led to ostracism. They were thus placed outside the borders of recognition and even national identity.

The rise and ebb of hope which the different stages of the Israel-Palestine relation evoked on both sides of the border, the account of his imprisonment on the charge of aiding illegal Palestinian organizations and finally the space he and his group carved out as sections of the Israel society started recognizing the futility of Zionist jingoism—all these go towards describing the different stages of the conflict. In this it also traces the fractures within the Israeli society, which he terms the ‘internal borders’. This socio-political struggle within the Israeli society cannot be reduced to a mere replica of the Arab-Israel conflict though the latter did have an impact on it.

The book is largely autobiographical, something that he himself warns the readers in the very first line. It is not so much a dispassionate recording of the facts concerning the border as it is the story of his life within the Arab-Israel conflict. It thus traces the shift in his own ideological position in his quest to find the perfect solution. His internationalism led to a vehement rejection of the ‘tribalist’ Israeli Hebrew patriotism. However the socialism he had adopted at the beginning was soon replaced by the spiritual identity with which he had begun his life. He fails to explain or rather recount what led to the loss of his religious faith in the intervening stage. This gap remains a significant lacuna in the book. In espousing his sympathy and commitment towards Palestine he had never rejected his Jewish identity. In the final analysis he remained somewhat a diasporic Jew with anti racialism and solidarity with the oppressed remaining the consistent elements in his mental make up. His solution never was an either or answer. He fought for a meaningful peace solution, which would enable the two warring countries to live side by side with friendliness and compassion. It demands the conversion of Israel into a normal state where all residents live peacefully and repatriation of the Palestinians to their country. The border in this scenario would not signify a dividing line between enemies but rather a place for fruitful exchange. The struggle was not against the Palestinians, Arabs or even Jews but against the forces of Zionism, imperialism and Arab reaction.

In the present global scenario the relevance of On the Border should be acknowledged. It provides a meaningful insight into the role of the border as a space for facilitating exchange where two disparate cultures exist side by side. The book offers a hope not only for his actual and his adopted homeland but also to all the warring communities separated by a border, which are locked in a conflict-ridden relation.