The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have accused the Sri Lankan air force of dropping cluster bombs on an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Vanni area on November 29, 2008. According to the TamilNet report three refugees were killed and 29 shelters of displaced persons were destroyed in the air strike. Recordings of oral accounts of those affected are also available on the Internet. The North East Secretariat on Human Rights (NESoHR) and the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), two NGOs who work in the area and are known for their pro-LTTE sympathies, have also published detailed reports of the incident.
Regardless of the source of these reports, the allegation needs to be thoroughly investigated by a neutral body because the use of cluster bombs on civilian settlements is most inhuman and should not be condoned under any circumstances. More so when the civilians were fleeing from the war and are housed in temporary shelters as in the case in point. If the reports are true, those responsible for it should be taken to task and the affected people should be adequately compensated.
The NESoHR has reported that the SLAF had dropped 16 cluster bombs on the IDP camp in Uzhavanoor in the early hours of the day. Identifying the camp location as four km down the Sundikulam junction on the Paranthan-Mullaitivu road, NESoHR report said that apart from the three deaths 26 people were also injured in the air strike on the camp. The TRO said in another report on the air strike that the camp, constructed and maintained by it and another local NGO, was set up in an area declared as “safe zone” in November by the Sri Lanka government. The photographs of bombs published with the reports showed markings in Russian.
Cluster bombs, like ‘jumping’ mines and claymore mines, are one of the cruel inventions of war from the World War II days. Each cluster bomb delivers about 2000 small bomblets known as sub-munitions over a wide area. Over the last six decades its deadliness has been refined to offer a bouquet of death to humans and materials through fragmentation, anti-armour, and anti-material varieties. A combination of these can be put together in one payload. Both artillery and aircraft can be used to deliver the deadly payload.
What makes cluster bomb use deadly to civilians is its residual effect. It releases many small unexploded bomblets over a wide area that are capable of killing and maiming civilians long after they are dropped. Israel gained a lot of notoriety when its left over bomblets of cluster bombing of Beirut in 2006 caused avoidable death and destruction to civilians returning to their bombed out city after they pulled out of Lebanon.
Considering the seriousness of the allegations, the casual treatment meted out to these reports by Sri Lanka is surprising. One reason could be that the reports were possibly an international propaganda ploy of the LTTE. The allegations of the LTTE and pro-LTTE NGOs have come at a time when the issue of use of cluster bombs is in international limelight. An international conclave of nations, international NGOs and UN bodies had just met at Oslo to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). Ninety two countries including Britain, Australia, Canada, France, and Germany signed the CCM at Oslo on November 3. Significant absentees at the Oslo convention included Russia, China, Israel, United States and India.
Though Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the CCM, it will be in Sri Lanka’s interest to clear the allegations for three reasons – the weapon is inhuman, its use on unarmed non-combatants is despicable, and Sri Lanka probably possesses some cluster bombs like most of the countries in the sub-continent. And if it is LTTE’s international propaganda effort, Sri Lanka has all the more reason to call the bluff.
(South Asia Analysis Group)