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Nearly 50,000 civilians flee Sri Lanka war zone

Wednesday, Apr 22, 2009, Page 1

Thousands more civilians streamed out of the Sri Lankan war zone yesterday, the military said, bringing the exodus of the past two days to nearly 50,000 as a government deadline passed for separatist Tamil rebels to surrender.

The ultimatum expired at 12pm yesterday without a response from the rebels, who are cornered in a sliver of coastal territory amid signs they are facing total defeat after a 25-year fight for an independent, ethnic Tamil homeland.

Rights groups say tens of thousands of civilians remained trapped in the rebel-held enclave and fear the civilian death toll could spike if the military launches a final assault.

On Monday, Sri Lankan soldiers broke through a barrier that the Tamil Tiger rebels had erected to defend their ever-shrinking slice of territory.

A total of 39,081 civilians fled the war zone on Monday, the largest exodus in a single day, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said. At least 10,000 people crossed over yesterday, he said, but the stream was continuing.

Government forces in recent months have ousted the rebels from all their strongholds in the north and east of Sri Lanka and trapped them inside an area measuring only 20km².

More than 4,500 civilians have been killed in the past three months, UN estimates showed. The UN Children’s Fund said it feared for the safety of children still trapped in the war zone if fighting continues and the rebels refuse to allow people to leave.

Human Rights Watch, which said between 50,000 and 100,000 civilians remained stranded, warned more would die if the government launches a major attack.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that the final offensive by government forces “could lead to a dramatic increase in the number of civilian casualties.”

The International Crisis Group urged the rebels to allow civilians to leave and asked the government to establish “a humanitarian corridor” to let them out.

The government and rights groups have accused the rebels of forcing civilians to stay in their territory to use as human shields, while the rebels have said remaining citizens are there by choice.

The number of fleeing civilians made it clear that the government had vastly underestimated how many people were caught in the fighting. While aid groups had estimated that about 100,000 civilians were trapped ahead of this week’s exodus, the government had said the figure was about 40,000.

The UN and others have called for a negotiated truce to allow civilians to leave the dwindling, rebel-held enclave.

But the government has rejected such calls, saying it is on the verge of crushing the rebels and putting an end to the quarter-century-long conflict that has claimed more than 70,000 lives.





No peace without Taiwanese

Fidel Ramos’ key message in his article “Constructing Asia’s missing links” (April 16, page 8) was that peace between Taiwan and China will be established when Taiwan is annexed by China, and when the US stops its arms sales to Taiwan. This is a political position that ignores the Taiwanese who do not want to be part of China, and it ignores the fact that China has about 1,500 missiles aimed at the island and an “Anti-Secession” Law legitimizing a military attack on Taiwan.

Most politicians in Taiwan, regardless of party ideology, agree that deeper economic agreements and an open dialogue with China form part of the way to peace and mutual understanding. This is precisely why Taiwan and China experienced the largest economic integration during Taiwan’s eight years under the Democratic Progressive Party, with independence as its ultimate objective. A pro-China supporter like Ramos should take note of this.

Taiwan’s current Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government is trying to reach a kind of free trade agreement with China. In this context, however, Taiwan is experiencing a heated debate, as China has set the acceptance of a “one China” policy as a condition for an agreement and thus Taiwan would formally become part of China. This is pursued despite 80 percent of Taiwanese being opposed to an agreement with a “one China” condition. Thus, Ramos is speaking against a vast majority of Taiwanese.

US arms sales to Taiwan are, according to Ramos, “a major obstacle to easing tensions.” Arms races are rarely a success, but if China maintains its “Anti-Secession” Law providing for an attack on Taiwan if it will not become part of China, and continues to set up missiles during the current negotiations, Taiwan has the right to buy defensive weapons.

It does not promote understanding of a complex conflict to make a one-sided and distorted analysis of reality while ignoring Taiwan’s democratic population of 23 million people.




Two treaties with real impact for Taiwanese

By Chen Yi-nan 陳逸南
Wednesday, Apr 22, 2009, Page 8

‘Today Taiwan is on a path for the pursuit of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, human rights and independence.’

On March 31, the legislature passed the Act Governing Execution of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (公民與政治權利國際公約及經濟社會文化權利國際公約施行法).

This gave the two international covenants legally binding force in Taiwan. It was reported that Taiwan’s Instrument of Accession to the two UN human rights treaties would be deposited at the UN Secretariat.

The first item in Article 1 of both covenants stipulates that: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

The third item of Article 1 states that “the States Parties to the present Covenant, including those having responsibility for the administration of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories, shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.”

Both treaties were adopted by the UN General Assembly on Dec. 16, 1966, and came into effect on March 23 and Jan. 3, 1976, respectively.

The government of dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) signed the two treaties on Oct. 5, 1976, but the legislature did not discuss their incorporation into domestic law until the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) pledged to turn Taiwan into a human rights-oriented country.

Forty-two years after the signing of the treaties, the government of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has now had the bill relating to the covenants pass the legislature.

This was despite the fact that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) opposed human rights bills when it was in opposition.

The Taiwan Relations Act, which was passed by the US Congress 30 years ago, states that the future of Taiwan should be determined by peaceful means. This means that in the eyes of the US Congress, the problem of Taiwan’s international status remains unresolved.

This perception originated with the declaration by US president Harry Truman in 1950 that “the determination of the future status of Formosa must await the restoration of security in the Pacific, a peace settlement with Japan, or consideration by the United Nations,” and was reinforced by the inconclusive Treaty of San Francisco signed in 1951.

Today Taiwan is on a path for the pursuit of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, human rights and independence.

It is therefore perfectly just that the Taiwanese public should enjoy the right of self-determination. In this context, the passing into Taiwanese law of the two UN human rights covenants in the legislature carries great significance.

Chen Yi-nan is vice convener of the science and technology subcommittee at Taiwan Society North.


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