Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Tuesday, 12 May 2009 16:18 UK

S Lanka war grinds on despite protests

By Adam Mynott
BBC world affairs correspondent

Sri Lankan ethnic Tamils react to the deaths of relatives in shelling in the Tamil Tiger-controlled war zone, in Mullivaaykaal, Sri Lanka, on 7 May
The scenes of human suffering have prompted demands for the fighting to stop

Sri Lankan Government forces have been "on the brink" of the total defeat of Tamil Tiger (LTTE) forces for months and now rebels are clinging onto an ever-shrinking pocket of land near the town of Mullaitivu.

It has been described as being no bigger than Central Park in New York (340 hectares; 840 acres).

As well as the remaining LTTE fighters, many thousands of civilians occupy this small area of territory in north-east Sri Lanka.

The precise figure is impossible to verify because access to the area has been restricted and information coming out of the pocket of land has been very unreliable.

Thousands of people have been killed and at the weekend the United Nations described what is going on as a "bloodbath". Last month, the UN said both sides may have committed war crimes.

The LTTE have accused government forces of indiscriminately shelling civilians and of targeting hospitals. The Sri Lankan government has accused the rebels of using civilians as human shields, and of killing people and blaming the killings on the government.

Calls unheeded

As the human suffering has increased so has the clamour of the international community.

But the growing intensity of worldwide demands for the killing to end has, so far, been powerless to interrupt the fighting.

Tamils protest in front of the White House in Washington on Monday
The fighting has continued despite the calls from politicians, diplomats and protesters

The G8 group of industrialised nations, the European Union, the United States, Japan, Norway and others have led calls urging the LTTE to surrender and the Sri Lankan government to stop the onslaught, so that civilians can get out of the area.

Delegations of heavyweight international politicians have beaten a trail to Colombo.

During the past month the United Nations humanitarian chief John Holmes left after a three-day visit without being able to persuade Sri Lanka to open a humanitarian corridor to the rebel-held territory.

The Sri Lankan government feels it is a position to crush, once and for all, the LTTE

The British and French foreign ministers, David Milliband and Bernard Kouchner, led another delegation to the Sri Lankan capital. They were listened to but apparently had little or no impact on the government position.

The United Nations Security Council has discussed the deteriorating situation but, conspicuously, Sri Lanka has not been a full agenda item in a Security Council meeting because of a reluctance by Russia and China, full members of the Security Council with veto rights, to include it.

They view the issue as an internal matter, and not appropriate for Security Council deliberation. This has undoubtedly emboldened the government in Colombo to remain unmoved by international pressure.

The Sri Lankan government feels it is a position to crush, once and for all, the LTTE and capture and kill its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

In its 30-year struggle with the LTTE the government believes it has held back from pushing home an advantage because of international concerns and it does not want to make what it considers that mistake again.

Over the water

Sri Lanka undoubtedly has one eye on the election in India.

Electors in the southern India state of Tamil Nadu vote in the final stage of the election on Wednesday. Many more ethnic Tamils live in India than in Sri Lanka.

Leading Indian Tamil politicians who hold considerable sway with the Delhi government have called on India to invade Sri Lanka and come to the rescue of the LTTE.

The Colombo government may even be delaying a full, final onslaught until the Indian election is over.


Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific