Daily Video

May 15, 2009

Civil War Rages in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is in the midst of a decades-long civil war between government forces and the rebel group Tamil Tigers, killing thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire.

The violence began in the 1970s when the ethnic Tamil minority formed a rebel group to fight for an independent homeland.

200,000 civilians have fled the combat zone for crowded refugee camps, but 50,000 people are still trapped there. The Red Cross and other humanitarian aid organizations have been unable to access the zone to provide people with medical care and supplies.

President Barack Obama spoke out on the issue for the first time, calling for both sides to lay down arms. He also condemned both the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government for their role in endangering civilian.

In this video, a two minute report describes the situation in Sri Lanka and the origins of the conflict, then NewsHour correspondent Margaret Warner talks to Ravi Nessman, the Associated Press bureau chief in Colombo, Sri Lanka about the growing humanitarian crisis in the region.


“Without urgent action, this humanitarian crisis could turn into a catastrophe. Now’s the time, I believe, to put aside some of the political issues that are involved and to put the lives of the men and women and children who are innocently caught in the crossfire, to put them first.” – President Barack Obama

“We’ve talked to some doctors in the area who said that they’ve abandoned the only functioning hospital there because the shelling was so intense that they couldn’t stay out of their shelters. They’ve been hiding for about 24 hours in bunkers, and they can hear about 400 badly, badly wounded patients inside crying for help, crying out for water and for food.” – Ravi Nessman, Associated Press

Warm Up Questions

1. What places in the world are currently experiencing war or large-scale violence?

2. What is the difference between: a freedom fighter, a rebel, an insurgent, a militant, a terrorist? What are some other words to describe people who use violence against their government?

Discussion Questions

1. The war has continued for 25 years, making this the longest-running war in Asia. Why do you think that the war has raged on so long?

2. Had you heard about this war before? Why do you think that the media pays relatively little attention to the situation in Sri Lanka?

3. President Obama criticized both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil rebels for their role in the fighting. Do you think that the U.S. should try to end the violence? Why or why not?

Additional Resources

Read the transcript

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