Batticaloa, Human Security, IDPs and Refugees, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Trincomalee

Human Shields In The Battle Of Sri Lanka

The SLMM in a statement on Dec 12 said they are concerned over the alarming situation in Vakarai. They pointed to the LTTE failing to protect civilians by restricting their movement, and the SLMM being refused access by the army due to security reasons.

People are questioning whether there is human security in Sri Lanka, especially in North-East war affected areas, where civilians live as human shields, whether they are willing to or not. Behind this there are many political issues for both the government and LTTE.

In the past, the UN, SLMM, and human rights organizations have failed to take effective steps to stop this. They only issue statements condemning both parties some times. Closure of A9 highway to Jaffna and A15 to Vaharai has created many problems such as food shortages, other basic needs and lack of security for civilians. While the human shield issue is the face of the problem, there are other issues behind it. This has already happened in Mutur and now in Jaffna and Vakarai.

The reasons for human shields are:

The government trying to reach some goals through the closure of roads and economical sanctions such as:

a) To avoid supplies reaching LTTE cardres

b) To divide the people from LTTE and isolate the LTTE.

c) To prevent the LTTE demanding tax.

At the same time, the LTTE is trying to eliminate the above barriers through human shields for the following reason:

a) To defend their area of control area from government forces moving in. If civilians are affected while forces try to capture an area, this would be a major issue among the international community.

b) To get enough foods for the cardres. If there are people, the government has to supply food and services to the people, which the LTTE can also use.
c) To get financial benefits. ( eg: ability to demand tax)

d) To increase strength of LTTE cardres in the name of ‘people force’, where the LTTE trains civilians forcibly and they are called “people force”

Situation of people in the North.

The Vanni people in a way feel that they are invisible human shields. However they don’t like to come out of the Vanni LTTE-controlled area due to several reasons. Specifically they have vast land with few people occupying the land, no tight security in that area, no clashes between armed groups and no high security zones. This is attractive despite demands for tax, forceful recruitment of cardres and tight laws by the LTTE in many areas including alcoholism and prostitution.

People in Jaffna are tired by the war over twenty years and they were rebuilding their economical side over the last few years after the ceasefire agreement. They are bound to their environment due to owning land, possibilities for economic recovery. Some families of EPDP and other Tamil groups receive protection while living in High Security Zones in Jaffna.

Situation of ‘East’ people.

At the same time, the eastern region is facing the same situation. The situation in Mutur (many believe it was ethnic cleaning by the LTTE in Mutur, but the LTTE says they allowed Muslims to leave Mutur) and strikes by the LTTE in ‘Somadevi’, ‘Seruvila’ recently in Trincomalee district along with government forces striking ‘Vaharai’ where around 30,000 people are living under house arrest, is causing human shield problems.

The LTTE is not allowing them to go to a safe place. Over 90 civilians were killed and over 100 injured in air and artillery strike by government forces. Up to Dec 13th around 1000 families (6200 people) fled from Vaharai to Poonanai army camp. When we interviewed them they said they had to give surety of one person, i.e. someone in Vaharai had to guarantee that someone who leaves Vakarai would come back. “Due to this reason we couldn’t attend family occasions outside of Vaharai,” one person said. At the same night around 9.30pm the LTTE followed behind the people that fled from Vaharai and there was a clash between LTTE and TMVP. This is an indication of the threat to people by the LTTE.

In the meantime, the LTTE and government have to find a way to help people leave the conflict area. Specially, the LTTE have to consider civilian security. Regarding A9 highway, LTTE have to do some thing for the Tamil people who are in Jaffna. While demanding that the government opens the A9, the LTTE makes artillery strike at the Muhamalai front line. In this situation the government indicates reasons such as the lack of security for not opening the A9. Also the LTTE can allow the convey of goods to Jaffna by sea. However the people are in difficult situations in these areas as human shields.