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DateLine Saturday, 17 January 2009

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Human - elephant conflict

Can we imagine a world without elephants? A world without this magnificent animal will indeed be a dull place. Yet, Asia, including Sri Lanka, faces the grim scenario of the ultimate extinction of the Asian elephant. The cause? The much-talked about human-elephant conflict. The story is all too familiar. All over Asia, Farmers take over the local elephant population's territory in order to cultivate it, elephants don't know any better and hang around and farmers shoot the elephants to prevent them from damaging crops and threatening villagers. It is a very pathetic situation both man and animal, but only one side can 'win'.

The latest Wildlife Conservation Department survey has revealed that 2,241 elephants have died as a result of shooting, unknown reasons, electrocution, poisoning, accidents and natural and other causes from 1990 to 2007. This is a huge loss by any standard, as the current elephant population is estimated at only 3,500-4,000.

The only silver lining is that a gradual increase in the jumbo population has been witnessed in Mahaweli and Wayamba regions during the last four decades, but there is no assurance this is a permanent trend. One of the first steps that the authorities should take is educating villagers on the extent of the problem. In this context, the Gajamituro (Friends of Elephants) programme has been initiated with the involvement of all stakeholders of the human-elephant conflict in collaboration with the Nation Building Ministry. A more active role should be played by the Wildlife Conservation Department to intervene in the human-elephant conflict and mete out justice for both parties.

More than 860 human lives have been lost as a result of the human-elephant conflict between 1992 and 2007 while 3,103 properties including houses and furniture have been damaged between 2004 and 2007. But this need not be so. Some enterprising Sri Lankans and foreigners are teaching villagers that elephants can help raise their income, not only through tourism projects but also through unique ventures such as making paper from elephant dung. A new paper called Ellie Pooh, made from elephant dung, is fast becoming a hit in the US. The aim is to alleviate the situation by turning a natural elephant byproduct into a sustainable, valuable resource, giving farmers an incentive to co-exist peacefully with, and even nurture the pachyderms. As a bonus, the paper is non-toxic, tree-free, and biodegradable. The elephants should not be thought of as an enemy - they are our friends and we should strive to find ways and means to coexist with them. They are a natural resource we cannot do without.


A deplorable act

The Israeli Forces' offensive in Gaza has been widely condemned worldwide due to their sheer disregard of mounting civilian casualties. Almost 1,100 Palestinians, including 315 children, have been killed in aerial and shell attacks and nearly 5,100 injured.

Even as ceasefire efforts were underway in the corridors of world powers, Israeli forces shelled the United Nations relief agency headquarters in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, destroying tons of humanitarian food supplies. Several among the hundreds who had sought shelter in the UN building, perhaps in the belief that it would not be attacked, have been injured.

This is unthinkable even by the standards of Israel and should be vehemently condemned. Quite apart from the barbarism of killing innocents in cold blood, attacking and destroying a UN building shows Israel's complete disregard for international norms and written and unwritten laws of war. A UN building belongs to the community of nations and an attack on such a building, especially one that housed civilians, is an attack on the international community itself. Israel, which said militants fired from inside the building, later apologised for the incident.

The apology came too late. Israeli shells also hit Al-Quds hospital, run by the Palestine Red Crescent Society, where hundreds were taking refuge. The UN said two other hospitals also were hit. This is yet another glaring example of Israel's unethical conduct. Worse, there is evidence that Israeli Forces have denied access to medical care for Gaza civilians.

Human Rights Watch has called Israel's use of the shells in densely populated areas a violation of the requirement under international law to take all feasible measures to avoid civilian casualties.

Unfortunately, Israel has turned its offensive against Hamas into an offensive against the Palestinian people, contravening every known rule of warfare.

One can argue that some civilian casualties would be inevitable in a conflict of this nature, but if the term genocide can be applied anywhere in the world at the moment, it is Gaza. The targeting of civilians, including women and children, has been a hallmark of the current Israeli campaign.

Israel's contempt for the court of world opinion is utterly disgusting and not the least surprising. But it is not too late take steps to take some steps to minimise harm to civilians including the opening of a route for civilians to escape the fighting and the provision of medical care to the sick and injured.

We also hope that Israel would agree to a ceasefire, efforts towards which are being intensified globally. Permanent peace in the region may be a long way off, but all sides must strive to protect civilian lives.

Hypocrisy of LTTE ‘liberation’

The Security Forces have already recaptured vital areas, which were considered landmarks of the Tamil Eelam. It shows the duplicitous nature of the so-called liberation struggle.

Full Story

Universities, Doctors and Society - Part III:

University Society interaction

In many of the situations discussed below it is necessary to remember that students, staff, parents, ordinary people who have no direct connection with a university, society at large, the university as a body corporate,

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On My Watch: Lucien Rajakarunanayake

Politics of diversion and the macabre

“By refusing to allow the land he loves to be destroyed by an enemy within, by proving that terror can be opposed and defeated, President Rajapaksa has reawakened the hopes of his countrymen and shown a model of leadership to a watching world.

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