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Religious leaders ask Secretary Clinton
to assert U.S. influence in Sri Lanka

New York, February 16, 2009 -- As the government of Sri Lanka presses its advantage against the insurgent Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), U.S. religious leaders have expressed alarm that tens of thousands of innocent civilians are trapped in the cross fire.

"It is reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross that as many as 250,000 civilians are trapped between the LTTE who are accused of using the people as human shields and government forces that are bombing and shelling this shrinking conclave with little regard to the cost in noncombatant casualties," the leaders wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ask for U.S. intervention. 

"No one knows the precise numbers of deaths and injuries because the government has refused independent international observers access to the area and has silenced the national media through various forms of violence and intimidation," the letter said.

The letter was generated by Miriam Young, Director of US Advocacy, US NGO Forum on Sri Lanka and Director of US Advocacy, International Working Group on Sri Lanka; and the Rev. Dr. Paul F. Jahn, Chair, US NGO Forum on Sri Lanka. The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, also signed the letter.

"Credible sources report the shelling of hospitals, civilians being fired upon while trying to reach so-called safe zones, life-threatening lack of food, medical supplies, shelter and sanitation," the letter said.  "It is reported that Tamil civilians that do evacuate the area are treated as captured enemy, leaving those in the combat zone mistrustful of the Sri Lankan Government's entreaties to make their way to safe zones."

The leaders called on Secretary Clinton to "consider explicit sanctions against the government of Sri Lanka if it does not agree immediately to a ceasefire and to allow the UN and the ICRC to carry out an evacuation operation. The UN must be able to specify the conditions and modalities under which such an operation is to be implemented.  In addition, we urge you to call for a discussion in the UN Security Council of the situation in Sri Lanka."

The Tamil insurgency to gain independence from Sri Lanka has been going on for 25 years. "The violence and suffering in Sri Lanka has been a deep concern for all observers," Kinnamon said. "The tragedy of the situation is beyond measure and the pain and misery is a daily reality. I hope Secretary Clinton will bring to bear all possible influence to bring it to an end."

The conflict in Sri Lanka is reportedly nearing an end.  According to Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the battle is now in the “mopping up” stages.

But the New York Times reports that an end to the fighting will not mean an end to the bitterness that is likely to linger for years.  Without outside diplomatic intervention, the situation will remain dangerously unstable.

The full text of the letter to Secretary Clinton follows:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Washington, DC

February 16, 2009

Dear Secretary Clinton,

We are writing to add our voices of concern and outrage over the humanitarian tragedy playing itself out in northern Sri Lanka.

When violence endangered the civilian population in Gaza, the news went out all over the world.  Unfortunately, a catastrophe, no less appalling, is taking place in Sri Lanka. Yet this disastrous conflict has received a fraction of the international media attention, allowing the tragedy to unfold without the worldwide scrutiny given to places such as Darfur, Gaza or the Congo.

It is reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross that as many as 250,000 civilians are trapped between the LTTE who are accused of using the people as human shields and government forces that are bombing and
shelling this shrinking conclave with little regard to the cost in noncombatant casualties.  No one knows the precise numbers of deaths and injuries because the government has refused independent international observers access to the area and has silenced the national media through various forms of violence and intimidation.

Credible sources report the shelling of hospitals, civilians being fired upon while trying to reach so-called safe zones, life-threatening lack of food, medical supplies, shelter and sanitation.  It is reported that Tamil civilians that do evacuate the area are treated as captured enemy, leaving those in the combat zone mistrustful of the Sri Lankan Government's entreaties to make their way to safe zones.

We appreciate the public statement of concern you issued together with UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband.  However, each day brings news of more deaths from bombing and a continued disregard for international humanitarian law.  Meanwhile, quiet diplomatic appeals seem to be ignored.

We would ask you to consider explicit sanctions against the government of Sri Lanka if it does not agree immediately to a ceasefire and to allow the UN and the ICRC to carry out an evacuation operation. The UN must be able to specify the conditions and modalities under which such an operation is to be implemented.  In addition, we urge you to call for a discussion in the UN Security Council of the situation in Sri Lanka.

This is an opportunity for the new administration to reassert this country's moral leadership on behalf of desperately vulnerable people.

Thank you for your attention to our shared concerns.
 

Sincerely Yours

Miriam Young
Director of US Advocacy
US NGO Forum on Sri Lanka
and Director of US Advocacy
International Working Group on Sri Lanka

Rev. Dr. Paul F. Jahn
Chairman
US NGO Forum on Sri Lanka

Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary
National Council of Churches USA

 

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell) , pjenks@ncccusa.org
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