Sunday, February 22, 2009

How Sri Lanka Put Terrorism on the Ropes

There's good news and bad in the Post's story summing up how Sri Lanka turned a corner in its fight against the Tigers. The good news is that cutting off foreign funding is a key part of the effort, and the US helped:
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, the American government also became more diligent about shutting down funding for overseas insurgent groups. This month, the U.S. Treasury Department froze the assets of a Maryland-based charity, the Tamil Foundation, that officials accuse of funneling money to the Tiger rebels.
The bad news is that the US is viewed as an obstacle to Sri Lanka's progress because it stalled military aid and expressed concerns over the government's tactics (and the tactics of a rebel leader who joined the government).  This forced Sri Lanka to turn to China for military assistance that didn't come with strings.  China is now Sri Lanka's go-to supplier and ally.

But the worst news is for the UN and human rights groups.  Sri Lanka, and even the groups, credit the government's progress to its determined opposition to UN and human-rights efforts to tell it how to fight the fight.  Here's what supporters of human rights groups are saying:

Last year, John Holmes, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, called Sri Lanka one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers after the still-unsolved killing of 17 people employed by a French aid group in August 2006. Soon after Holmes's comment, a cabinet minister accused him of being on the rebels' payroll. Holmes is visiting the country, urging both sides to protect civilians.

"We have senior government officials who came on national TV and called journalists and human rights workers terrorists," said Lal Wickramatunga, whose brother, Lasantha Wickramatunga, 52, a journalist and fierce critic of the government, was killed last month by unknown gunmen. "This is a way to win the war: Keep all outside eyes off the battlefields. Anyone who wants to know the truth will be called unpatriotic."

Seems to me that human rights groups would want to point to antiterrorism campaigns that succeeded without earning their criticism.  Otherwise, the Sri Lankan (or Chinese) approach could become a model, with bad consequences both for the US and for human rights groups.

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