5 years on The White Flag Incident (2009 — 2014) – Part 4
13th May 2009
The same hospital hit again
More than 100 civilians, including children, medical staff, a voluntary doctor and a Red Cross worker, were killed in Sri Lankan artillery attack that targeted a makeshift hospital for the second time in 24 hours. See more from TamilNet here.
The CRC confirmed that one of its employees, identified as Sivakurunathan Majuran, was killed alongside his mother in the shelling. The organisation confirmed the hospital had been “hit by shell fire for the third time”.
In another incident of shelling, at least 39 female patients were also killed at a counselling aid centre for mentally ill women located in the final conflict zone.
The OISL reports that at the time, UN estimates said there were “more than 100,000 civilians remained trapped within three square kilometres”.
“By 13 May, with shells falling all around, sometimes into the compound, the only treatment that could be given was basic first aid and medication”
“Letters seen by OISL, consistent with witness accounts, including from United Nations and humanitarian workers, indicate that GPS coordinates of most hospital and other humanitarian facilities, including when they were relocated due to fighting, were transmitted to the Government, the SFHQ in Vavuniya and other Sri Lankan security forces, as well as the LTTE, to ensure that these facilities would be protected from attack.”
“During that time, the ICRC ship – which at that stage would have been the only possibility for taking patients for life-saving medical treatment – was not able to approach the shore because the shelling and gunfire was continuing.”
Photographs: The aftermath of a shell attack on May 13th 2009.
Obama calls for an end to the shelling
US President Barack Obama stepped out on to the White House lawn to make a statement on Sri Lanka. He called for “urgent action” and for the Sri Lankan government to “stop the indiscriminate shelling that has taken hundreds of innocent lives”.
See extracts of his statement below.
“As some of you know, we have a humanitarian crisis that’s taking place in Sri Lanka, and I’ve been increasingly saddened by the desperate news in recent days. Tens of thousands of innocent civilians are trapped between the warring government forces and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka with no means of escape, little access to food, water, shelter and medicine. This has led to widespread suffering and the loss of hundreds if not thousands of lives.”
“Without urgent action, this humanitarian crisis could turn into a catastrophe. Now is the time, I believe, to put aside some of the political issues that are involved and to put the lives of the men and women and children who are innocently caught in the crossfire, to put them first.”
“I’m also calling on the Sri Lankan government to take several steps to alleviate this humanitarian crisis. First, the government should stop the indiscriminate shelling that has taken hundreds of innocent lives, including several hospitals, and the government should live up to its commitment to not use heavy weapons in the conflict zone.”
“Second, the government should give United Nations humanitarian teams access to the civilians who are trapped between the warring parties so that they can receive the immediate assistance necessary to save lives.”
“I don’t believe that we can delay. Now is the time for all of us to work together to avert further humanitarian suffering.”
A Vice Ministerial Troika from the European Union (EU) visited Sri Lanka and visited the Menik Farm camp where tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were being detained. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband meanwhile called the conflict zone “as close to hell as you can get”.
Though a statement said the EU is “deeply concerned about the high number of civilian casualties and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Northern Sri Lanka and reiterates its primary concern for the civilians in the conflict zone who are surviving under appalling conditions,” it went on to state,
“The EU recognises that the current crisis is approaching a final phase with the defeat of the LTTE militarily. The EU acknowledges the efforts and welcomes the commitments made by the Government in assisting its citizens that have escaped the conflict zone.”
See the full statement here.
The UN Security Council speaks
The UN Security Council released a press statement on Sri Lanka, its first official reaction on the issue.
Extracts reproduced below. See the full statement here.
“The members of the Security Council express grave concern over the worsening humanitarian crisis in north-east Sri Lanka, in particular the reports of hundreds of civilian casualties in recent days, and call for urgent action by all parties to ensure the safety of civilians.”
“The members of the Security Council strongly condemn the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for its acts of terrorism over many years, and for its continued use of civilians as human shields, and acknowledge the legitimate right of the Government of Sri Lanka to combat terrorism.”
“The members of the Security Council express deep concern at the reports of continued use of heavy calibre weapons in areas with high concentrations of civilians, and expect the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its commitment in this regard.”
“The members of the Security Council demand that all parties respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.”
“The members of the Security Council call on the Government of Sri Lanka to take the further necessary steps to facilitate the evacuation of the trapped civilians and the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance to them.”
Leaked US Embassy cables reveal the negotiations that took place behind the statement.
“The UK, France and Austria circulated a draft Security Council press statement on Sri Lanka in the evening of May 12, and formally introduced the text in Council consultations under other matters May 13. They stressed that the Security Council must react in a formal way to the situation in Sri Lanka. Strongly supported by the U.S., Croatia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and for the first time, Uganda and Burkina Faso, the text was negotiated throughout the day and adopted late on May 13.”
“China and Vietnam initially opposed any official statement by the Council, but eventually joined the negotiation. In a change to its previous position, Russia accepted the idea of a press statement, although it unhelpfully mentioned that the Security Council had not addressed “similar” issues such as Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Gaza, and the August 2008 conflict in Georgia.
Russia, China and Vietnam only accepted the press statement after references to reported violations of international humanitarian law and to welcoming the Secretary-General’s intention to visit Sri Lanka were stricken from the draft.”
See the full cable here.
Also on 13 May, the UN Secretary-General made his fourth phone call since early April to Sri Lanka President Rajapaksa to “reiterate concerns over the protection of civilians”.
UK Special Envoy meets India
A leaked US embassy cable from this day reveals that British Special Envoy for Sri Lanka Des Browne told diplomats in New Delhi,
“I don’t think anybody can change events over the next 10 or so days”.
Mr Browne had met with India’s Foreign Secretary Menon and National Security Advisor Narayanan earlier that week. US Charge d’Affaires Peter Burleigh who was briefed by Browne wrote the cable, with extracts reproduced below.
“Browne said he expected military operations would end soon and that he hoped a humanitarian catastrophe could be avoided.”
“While the Sri Lanka government had openly opposed international interference in the conflict, not least because of the political points it scored, Browne believed it would be willing to accept a role for the international community post-conflict. “At the end of the day they’ll want the money,” he noted, adding that the government had expended vast resources conducting the war.”
“Indian officials told Browne that it was useful to have Sri Lanka on the UNSC’s agenda, and to issue periodic Presidential Statements, but that it would be counterproductive for the UN to “gang up” on Colombo; providing Rajapaksa with a rationale for fighting off international pressure would only serve to bolster his domestic political standing.”
See the full text of the cable here.
Diaspora protests continue
Tamil protests continued in capitals around the world.
In Toronto, thousands of Tamil Canadians took to the grounds of Queen’s Park calling for an immediate end to the Sri Lankan military offensive.
Photographs: Tamils protest in Toronto on May 13th 2009.