Safe passage for civilians
The safety of civilians has been of paramount
importance to the Government and the Security Forces throughout
the humanitarian missions in both the North and the East.
In fact, the very term humanitarian mission denotes a
campaign to liberate civilians from the grip of the LTTE. This
was augmented by a Zero Civilian Casualty Policy that saw very
few casualties in both Northern and Eastern theatres.
In the few instances that any casualties occurred, it was
entirely due to the Tigers’ practice of using civilians as a
human shield. In one instance in the East, the Forces who
repulsed an attack had absolutely no knowledge that the Tigers
were actually firing from within a civilian concentration.
Unfortunately for Vanni civilians, the Tigers are continuing
this practice in the very limited area that they are now
confined to. International humanitarian agencies have appealed
to the Tigers to stop the barbaric practice of firing shells
from behind civilian concentrations.
They are holding the civilians hostage in a conflict zone
without letting them cross over to safer areas now under Forces
control. Civilians who braved LTTE threats and rough seas and
jungle terrain to come over to cleared areas have given the
Forces a clear picture of what is life is like under the LTTE.
Various countries and organisations have rightly expressed
concern over the welfare of civilians in the North, especially
those in the last remaining resistance pockets of the Tigers.
The Government contends that it could have regained these
areas much earlier if not for the civilian factor. This alone
exemplifies the Government’s concern for the civilians.
Moreover, food and other essentials were sent regularly to the
The Government has not stopped at just assuring the
civilians’ safety. It has declared a safe zone for them and
urged the LTTE to allow free movement of civilians within 48
hours to ensure their safety and security. This assurance was
made personally by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“For all those civilians, I assure a safe passage to a secure
environment. I also assure all those living in the North and
conflict areas in particular, that vacating LTTE held areas will
ensure their physical security and enable peace, freedom and
rights for all citizens of this country,” the President said.
As he said, it is unfortunate that the LTTE is exploiting
this declared safe zone for civilians by placing their heavy
artillery within the safe zone and using it as a launching pad
to attack Security Forces and indiscriminately kill civilians.
The LTTE must face the stark reality even at this late stage
that its days are numbered now and allow these civilians to
cross over to safe areas.
The remaining Tigers are only exhibiting their cowardice and
fear by hiding behind civilians. They are only delaying the
inevitable. It is time they surrendered to the rapidly advancing
Forces so that the Government can swiftly complete the mission
of completely liberating the Northern masses from terrorism.
Enhanced Russia-Cuba ties
The Soviet Union and Cuba were very close allies in
the Cold War era, but their relationship suffered in the
aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and much of
Eastern Europe in the late 80s and early 90s.
Today, both Cuba and Russia have changed, with new leaders at
the helm. Raul Castro, while still following in the footsteps of
his brother Fidel, is keen to stamp his individuality on Cuban
affairs and play a bigger role on the world stage. Hence his
landmark visit to Moscow to meet Russian leaders including
President Dmitry Medvedev.
This visit is even more significant in the context of
anticipated shifts in the US Policy towards Cuba and Russia
following the inauguration of new US President Barack Obama.
It is also significant that Russia is steadily becoming a
world power again. Russia’s ‘rebirth’ as some analysts describe
it could be a solution for the woes of a unipolar world. In
December a group of Russian warships visited Havana on a tour
widely seen as a challenge to US dominance in the region.
Nevertheless reconciliation is better than conflict. In a
promising sign, President Obama has already decided to close the
infamous prison at Guantanamo Base in Cuba. Now there are
growing calls for the return of Guantanamo to Cuba.
Cuba expects that Obama’s decision to close down the
Guantanamo prison camp “is followed by the decision to close
down the base and return that territory to the Cubans,” a base
that the United States “really does not need for its security
and defence,” Cuban Foreign Minister Perez Roque has said.
An even bigger question is whether the US would lift the
economic blockade on Cuba, denounced by almost every country in
the world. The US should give serious thought to this issue as
well if it wants to create peace and harmony in the region.
In the backdrop of these developments, enhanced ties between
Cuba and Russia will benefit both countries and are likely to
have ramifications far beyond their borders. Both countries will
have major roles to play in a new world order.