The Canadian government calls for an immediate ceasefire in Sri Lanka

Tamils outside Parliament on Thursday condemn the Sri Lankan regime for its attacks on civilians
Tamils outside Parliament on Thursday condemn the Sri Lankan regime for its attacks on civilians

TAMILNET reports that the Canadian government has called for an immediate ceasefire in Sri Lanka.

‘We’ve asked the United Nations for an immediate ceasefire.

‘We’re very worried, of course, by the hostilities that are taking place, but we are particularly worried for the civilians that are in the combat zone in Vanni,’ said Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon last Thursday.

The call comes amidst continued Tamil protests for the third consecutive day that have severely disrupted the traffic in downtown Ottawa.

Cannon rejected a call by the Sri Lankan high commissioner to Canada to crack down on the protesters because they were waving banners that depict a tiger in front of a pair of crossed guns (the emblem of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE).

‘It’s not up to me to put an end to protest,’ Cannon told Canada’s National Post.

‘People are allowed to protest in Canada. We live in a democracy. People are allowed to go and express their ideas, their concern’.

Cannon’s remarks fly in the face of the assessment of Sri Lankan envoy Daya Perera, who said last Wednesday: ‘There is a limit; the freedom of expression has to stop somewhere.’

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff also called on Canada to pressure the UN secretary general to appoint a special representative to Sri Lanka to push for a ceasefire.

‘The humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka has continued to deteriorate, causing grave concern to the international community and demanding urgent and co-ordinated action to end this conflict,’ Mr Ignatieff said in a statement, according to the National Post report.

‘Sri Lanka’s so-called “no-fire zone” is now one of the most dangerous places in the world,’ said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

‘The Security Council has quibbled over protocol when it should be acting to bring an end to this ghastly loss of life.’

People in the government-declared no-fire zone told Human Rights Watch that several areas have been subjected to heavy shelling since April 7th, 2009, resulting in numerous civilian casualties.

According to a doctor at the make-shift hospital in Putumattalan, on April 7th the hospital received 133 wounded civilians and 20 dead bodies. He said that all were the victims of a shelling in Pokkanai, a seaside area within the no-fire zone that is crowded with displaced persons.

Two other shelling attacks hit the same area on the morning of April 8th. The doctor said the hospital received 296 wounded and 46 bodies on April 8th, and 300 wounded and 62 bodies on April 9th.

Because of a lack of access to the conflict area, Human Rights Watch is unable to confirm these figures independently. On April 9th the International Committee of the Red Cross evacuated 230 injured civilians plus their relatives by ferry from Putumattalan.

A witness to the first attack on April 8th said that it took place at 7.30am near Pokkanai primary health centre. Hundreds of civilians were waiting in line near a food distribution centre when four or five artillery shells hit the area, killing at least 13 of them immediately and wounding over 50 others.

The doctor, who examined the site two hours after the attack, said that the shells were 120mm rounds and appeared to have been fired from Sri Lankan army positions to the south.

A 35-year-old man told Human Rights Watch that he was waiting in the food distribution line with his wife and two-year-old child when the shelling started.

‘There had been no distribution of milk powder for three months, and so when they announced that there would be distribution today April 8th, hundreds of people queued up.

‘It was early in the morning. I heard the first shell, and hit the ground. Then several more landed near by, after three or four minutes. I survived by a miracle, but my 45-year-old uncle died on the spot – he lost both legs.

‘I tried to get him to the hospital by bike – there are no cars and no ambulances, and there were so many people – women, and children – injured in that attack.

‘Now I am staying in the hospital with my wife and child because we have nowhere else to go, and the hospital may be the safest place.

‘But there is also no place to stay here – there are so many injured people, and the new injured are being brought here all the time as we speak.’

Another attack followed several hours later. The doctor said new patients continued to arrive by the minute.

The Sri Lankan government continues to prevent the media and other independent observers from travelling to the war-affected Vanni region to report on the situation.

The doctor told Human Rights Watch that he and other medical staff who have been providing information from inside the no-fire zone have been threatened by the authorities and ordered not to speak to the media.

‘We decided that we are beyond the point where we can just complain to the authorities,’ the doctor said. ‘Because we told them a hundred times and they have failed to take any proper steps to stop the attack on civilians and did not send in the necessary amount of medications.

‘We have been reporting every day, every day providing reports to relevant authorities and to the international community, and still there are no real steps taken to save these innocent civilians.’

l Americans for Peace in Sri Lanka (APSL) a US-based human rights activists group, led a delegation of 11 different Diaspora organisations for a meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Robert Blake, (via video link) on 8th April in Washington, D.C. to discuss the current humanitarian crisis Tamils face in Sri Lanka.

The Tamil groups pressed for an immediate ceasefire and pointed out that no durable political solution is possible without the participation of the LTTE (Tamil Tigers), and told the State Department officials that:

‘. . . Negotiations should not preclude separation as a solution, and that confederation with power sharing at the centre may be a viable alternative to total separation.’

Assistant Secretary Boucher referred to the heightened anxiety of the Tamil Americans over the plight of their loved ones in the Tamil homeland, and expressed solidarity with them in this difficult time.

The discussion was divided into two parts: the humanitarian situation, led by Ambassador Blake; and views on a political solution, led by Assistant Secretary Boucher.

Tamil Americans asked for the support of the US administration to obtain clearance for any Diaspora initiative to take direct medical aid to the crisis zone.

Ambassador Blake revealed to the meeting that the government of Sri Lanka now plans to resettle 80 per cent of the Internally Dispalced Persons (IDPs) within one year – after clearing mines.

Tamil Americans cautioned that the over-emphasis on mine clearing operations can be a ruse by Sri Lanka to delay the resettlement while they engage in creating high security zones and colonisation by Sinhalese of the Vanni area.

They also asked Ambassador Blake and Secretary Boucher to check on reports over the weekend that the Sri Lankan military has used chemical weapons killing hundreds of civilians and combatants.

The news of the possession of internationally banned chemical weapons in the hands of the Sri Lankan forces has created alarm among the Tamil Diaspora that the Colombo government could engage in mass killings in the ‘safe zone’ with genocidal intent.

Tamil representatives pointed out that no durable political solution is possible without the participation of the LTTE.

Tamil Americans also put forward that negotiations should not preclude separation as a solution, and that confederation with power sharing at the centre may be a viable alternative to total separation.

Ambassador Blake stated that a viable political solution is one that the Tamils would be willing to accept, and appealed to the Tamil Diaspora to take part in such political discourse.

Several senior high ranking officials from the State Department and from the office of the United States’ Ambassador to the UN, Dr Susan Rice, were also present during the discussions.