Intensification of conflict exacts an unbearable human cost

[Full Text of Press Release By National National Peace Council of Sri Lanka]

The unbearable human cost of the ethnic conflict has surfaced once again in a brutal form in the killing of between 23 and 60 civilians and injury to between 135 and 600 others in Vakarai in eastern Sri Lanka. The figures vary because of the propaganda war and the inaccessibility of LTTE-controlled territory where this attack has taken place. This incident has to be taken together with other incidents of bombings, abductions, killings and displacement, including the fighting at sea in which several naval and LTTE vessels were destroyed and a passenger ship placed in jeopardy.

The National Peace Council condemns the Vakarai attack especially as it has killed and injured innocent civilians, including children, who were internally displaced due to earlier fighting and had taken refuge in schools. It is clear that Government forces were responsible as the artillery fire came from government-controlled territory. We welcome President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision to ask for a military inquiry but we demand that the government should conduct an independent inquiry and to take disciplinary action against those responsible for this humanitarian catastrophe.

We are also greatly grieved at, and condemn, the callous assassination of Nadarajah Raviraj, Member of Parliament for Jaffna District, who was killed in Colombo along with his bodyguard. It was only the day before that he had been in the forefront of a protest demonstration in front of the United Nations Office in Colombo about the humanitarian crisis in the country. Next week he was scheduled to participate in a public event organized by the National Peace Council and other civic organizations that sought a public dialogue on peace between political and religious leaders. Raviraj was always prepared to engage with like and unlike-minded persons inside and outside Parliament with dignity and with great courage.

The intensification of the violence is an indication of the continuing belief in a military solution to the conflict between the government and LTTE. We are saddened that three decades of bitter experience has not taught the present leaders of the country that the military option is an unviable one, and an inhuman one, not befitting of a civilised and democratic society. The danger exists that the latest incidents will lead to retaliation in a like or more severe manner. We therefore ask that even at this late stage the government and LTTE make a declaration to cease hostilities to enable a more realistic dialogue on peace to take place.

An unfortunate and dismal aspect of the situation is that both sides have shown scant respect for humanitarian and human rights norms. And yet, the present situation has so much positive potential if only our leaders would commit themselves to a political solution. . The government and main opposition party have committed themselves to a bipartisan approach to the peace process, and an all party conference is on the verge of presenting a proposed political solution. There is a need for people of goodwill, both locally and internationally, not to be discouraged but to continue to work positively on the government and LTTE to stop the military action and to negotiate a solution peacefully.

Executive Director
On behalf of the Governing Council

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