Opinion

The Great Debate

from The Great Debate UK:

Sri Lanka’s death zone

Donald Steinberg is Deputy President of the International Crisis Group, www.crisisgroup.org-- Donald Steinberg is Deputy President of the International Crisis Group, www.crisisgroup.org. The views expressed are his own. --

Civilians are dying by the hundreds and possibly thousands in the northeast of Sri Lanka. As government troops converge on the remaining forces of the rebel LTTE (Tamil Tigers) in a tiny strip of coastal land, tens of thousands of civilians remained trapped in the crossfire -- getting killed and maimed in large numbers both by indiscriminate army shelling and by the rebels preventing them from fleeing, with equally lethal force.

Many thousands have managed to escape the free-fire zone in recent days, all with horrific tales to tell of those they left behind. Just how many civilians remain in the killing zone is not entirely clear. The government is saying that as many as 170,000 are now in government territory, with more than 100,000 people fleeing the zone since Monday.

Last month, however, they were claiming there were only 38,000 remaining to be liberated from LTTE control. Their current figure of 15,000 to 20,000 remaining with the LTTE should therefore be treated with great caution.

LTTE figures are also unreliable. The Red Cross says there could be 50,000 still trapped, and the UN publicly estimates 60,000. Sources on the ground put the figure significantly higher.

NATO and Russia

geadBy Gareth Evans, President, and Alain Délétroz Vice President (Europe) of the International Crisis Group. Any views expressed are the authors’ alone.

The biggest unresolved challenge facing the NATO countries’ leaders when they meet on the Rhine this week is how to manage the organization’s relationship with Russia. Nobody wants to relive the Cold War, but habits of mind from that era persist on both sides, continuing to influence behaviour and inhibiting the clean break from the past that would be in everyone’s interest.

Russia’s invasion of Georgian territory last year seemed to confirm every latent NATO fear about the aggressive resurgence of the beast-from-the-east which the organization was formed sixty years ago to counter. And it is hard to argue that Moscow’s response to the situation in South Ossetia was not an indefensible overreaction, whatever judgment one makes about President Saakashvili’s contribution to the course of events. But what was missing from nearly all the Western reaction was any thoughtful reflection on what its own leaders’ contribution might have been, over the years since the USSR collapsed, to Russia’s newly assertive posture.

Somalia’s slim hope

By Daniela Kroslak, Deputy Africa Program Director, and Andrew Stroehlein, Communications Director, of the International Crisis Group, Any views expressed are their own.

ICGPirates, Islamists, refugees, anarchy, civil war — not much good news has come out of Somalia in the last couple of decades. With warlord replacing warlord over the years and transitional governments constantly hovering between extremely weak and non-existent on the ground, the temptation will be to view this week’s election of a new Somali president with an eye-rolling, “so what?”

Yet there is a chance, albeit a slim one, that this moment will mark the start of some small progress for the shattered country. That is, if the international community plays the next few months very carefully and does not let ideology trump pragmatism.

Reinforcing what? The EU’s role in Eastern Congo

Neil Campbell, EU Advocacy Manager of the International Crisis Group, recently returned from eastern Congo. Any views expressed are his own.

Neil Campbell“Unacceptable and murderous.” Those were the words French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner chose to describe the situation in north eastern Congo at a press conference after October’s monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers. Sadly, Congo was not even on the agenda of that meeting.

In the following weeks, Laurent Nkunda’s rebels advanced on Goma, displacing up to 300,000 people; the Congolese army went on a spree of looting, raping and killing in that town; and there was a double massacre in Kiwanja on 4 November, first by pro-government Mayi Mayi militia, then by Nkunda’s rebels against suspected Mayi Mayi loyalists.

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