The Red Cross is warning of a catastrophe as the Sri Lankan government launches a "final" assault against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE ), who ignored the government's calls for surrender and are now cornered in a small piece of coastal territory.
Tens of thousands of civilians are caught in the crossfire, although some 50,000 others escaped to government-controlled areas. Both the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government have been accused of humanitarian abuses.
The Tamil Tigers have long fought for an independent state for Sri Lanka's Tamil ethnic minority, which is often at odds with the majority Sinhalese community. Seen by some as a prototype for modern terrorism, the Tamil Tigers pioneered the suicide bomb jacket and the use of women in suicide attacks.
The 25-year civil war is one of Asia's longest-running conflicts, and was more deadly than the war in Afghanistan last year. Watch a video of Tamils in New York protesting the Sri Lankan offensive: Sri Lanka launches "final" assault against Tamil Tigers.
Worldfocus.org's weekly radio show explored the root causes of conflict and life in Sri Lanka.
Worldfocus anchor Martin Savidge hosted a panel of guests:
Rohan Gunaratna is the head of Singapore's International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research. He is a senior fellow at the Fletcher School for Law and Diplomacy's Jebsen Centre for Counter Terrorism Studies and at the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma. He was invited to testify before the 9-11 Commission on the structure of al-Qaeda and is the author and editor of 12 books including "Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror."
Ahilan Kadirgamar is a spokesperson for the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum and contributing editor of Himal Southasian magazine. In that capacity he has worked on the peace process in Sri Lanka. His interests include state reform in Sri Lanka and political solutions to the ethnic conflict. He has written about the international dimension of the peace process and worked on human rights concerns related to the conflict.
Jeffrey Lunstead is a former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. He entered the Foreign Service in 1977 and has also served in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Malaysia. He also served at the State Department as the chief of South Asia analysis, director for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and as Afghanistan coordinator. He is the author of "The U.S. in the Sri Lanka Peace Process" and "Big Powers and Small Conflicts: The U.S. and Sri Lanka."