President Mahinda Rajapaksa has given LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran 48 hours to release civilians in his clutches so that they could reach safety. Prabhakaran's compliance is in serious doubt, given his callous disregard to human suffering.
Last week, President Rajapaksa told newspaper editors that the troops could wipe out the LTTE overnight but what was preventing them from doing so was the civilian presence. No victory is worth achieving at the expense of innocent men, women and children. Similarly, none should be allowed to use humanitarian concerns as a façade to open an escape route for a bunch of criminals hiding among civilians.
How many civilians are really trapped in the conflict zone? No official census has been taken for decades in that part of the country and one has to rely on the numbers provided by the LTTE and various organisations and individuals most of whom are sympathetic to it. The Vanni population dwindled over the years owing to large scale migration and displacement but the LTTE continued to benefit from food, medical and fuel supplies, tsunami relief etc by inflating population figures. This is how the LTTE has also managed to paint a gloomier picture of the humanitarian situation in the Vanni, which unarguably is bad enough.
How the LTTE has helped itself to goods the government sends to civilians could be seen from the walls made of bags of rice and lentils around LTTE bunkers and huge fuel dumps unearthed in the Vanni. Last year, Director General of Essential Services S. B. Divaratne told this newspaper that the government was aware that the numbers it got even from official sources were highly inflated. He said the liberation of Vakarai had revealed that officials and NGOs had, in their documents, doubled the number of people living there! The victim industry (read the collective of NGOs involved in humanitarian work), is fraught with corruption and information it furnishes should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Whatever the number of civilians exposed to danger may be, their safety must be ensured. There is no argument about that fact that the government must act with restraint and it is only natural that it is coming under international pressure to do so. But, strangely the international community is skirting tough measures required to make the LTTE fall in line. Countries such as Britain, Canada, France, Norway and Australia are, by harbouring thousands of LTTE members, leaders and sympathisers, unwittingly aiding and abetting the LTTE's crimes against civilians in Sri Lanka. It is high time pressure was brought to bear on those big Tigers living abroad and funding the terrorist war here to pressure the LTTE to release civilians it has taken hostage. Else, they must be thrown out of their safe havens. No amount of pleading or firing paper missiles at the Tigers through their foreign offices or missions will be of any help.
The DMK yesterday faulted the LTTE for not responding to the government's request positively. It is surprising that the DMK still does not know the LTTE for what it really is. Prabhakaran is not the liberator he claims to be. He and his lieutenants unable to fight like men are hiding behind hapless men, women and children. The onus is on the DMK as a notorious LTTE backer to ensure that Prabhakaran will allow civilians to be evacuated.