|Safe passage for trapped civilians|
|Monday, 19 January 2009|
COLOMBO: Amid calls by the UN, ICRC and the Indian government for protection of civilians, the government Saturday assured safe passage would be negotiated on their part and urged the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to request the same from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Army Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said civilians were arriving in government controlled areas safely and that government forces consistently support aid agencies to move between the Forward Defence Lines. He insisted that no impediments were being placed by the Army and called on the ICRC to negotiate with the LTTE for safe passage along the 300m stretch of road.
The assurance follows a statement by John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, urging the LTTE to allow civilians to move freely to areas where they feel most secure and the government to receive newly displaced people according to internationally agreed principles.
“As fighting surrounds the areas towards which families have been displaced, and with few choices about where to move, they are increasingly susceptible to harm due to the fighting,” he said.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that around 230,000 people have been displaced due to intensified fighting in the north of the country during the second half of 2008.
“While they have had access to basic food, in large part due to government and UN assistance, which was transported through the lines of fighting they have few, if any, reserves and the conditions of their basic shelter, water and sanitation are increasingly inadequate as many have been displaced multiple times over the last months, weeks and days,” he said.
The Under-Secretary-General’s plea follows a similar appeal from the ICRC, which also announced in a press release, that it was extremely concerned by the fact that no safe passage has been arranged since January 9. This has put at risk the lives of patients who cannot receive suitable treatment on the spot and therefore need to be transferred to the Vavuniya Hospital.” It goes on to add that these concerns have been notified to both parties in recent days.
“The ICRC also continues to monitor possible violations of international humanitarian law affecting civilians throughout the country. When necessary, it makes representations to the authorities concerning missing persons, arbitrary arrests, under-age recruitment, unlawful killings and ill-treatment of civilians or detainees by weapon bearers. Allegations of violations are discussed confidentially with the parties to the conflict,” the statement added.
Meanwhile, Indian foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon has expressed strong concern that the Sri Lankan government should ensure the safety of around 200, 000 Tamil civilians trapped in the Mullaitivu district, within which the LTTE has now been confined as a result of the military victories.
Sources close to President Rajapaksa said Menon who met the president in Kandy Saturday morning has conveyed India’s concern about the safety of civilians in Mullaitivu.
Responding to him President Mahinda Rajapaksa had said that the government is very concerned about the people who have been kept as human shields by the LTTE leader and military operations are being conducted very carefully in order to rescue trapped civilians.
When Menon questioned the government’s handling of Internally Displaced Persons from military operations, the President and the Sri Lankan delegation had given a detailed account of facilities already given to those who had crossed to government controlled areas, and the plans to accommodate the others.
The facilities expected to be provided were also outlined. Restoration of democracy and the development of the North was also taken up for deliberation and Menon had asked the government to accommodate civilians who were living with the LTTE, and misguided youth who joined the LTTE into the democratic fold. The Sri Lankan delegation had explained how the youth who were with the LTTE will be rehabilitated and accommodated in the democratic process.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Military said thousands of civilians caught up in the fighting in the Wanni were continuing to flee into government-controlled areas, sometimes risking their lives.
Since the start of this year an estimated 3,000 civilians have sought refuge with the security forces, stretching from areas in Paranthan to Chettikulam, Killinochchi and Dharmapuram in the north to Omanthai closer to Vavuniya, the military said, adding that some 170 people had fled North Friday as fresh fighting erupted across several fronts. It said the 170 men, women and children had sought shelter in government-controlled areas in the North.
“The number of refugees is expected to gather swell in the coming days as the security forces push deeper into the last LTTE-held positions in Mullaitivu which is confined to around 40 square kilometres. According to most recent reports thousands of displaced persons are waiting for the first opportunity to flee the LTTE and join their families in the government-held areas,” Brigadier Nanayakkara said.
The ICRC on Friday warned of a "massive displacement" of civilians, many of whom had already been forced to move numerous times.
However, there is sharp disagreement over the actual number of civilians trapped in LTTE-controlled areas, with a senior government minister saying the Tigers are exaggerating numbers to win the sympathy of the international community. Government sources estimate the number of civilians at between 100,000 and 150,000, while the World Food Programme puts the figure much higher at 230,000.
Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare and government defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwelle said the LTTE, who have been suffering a series of defeats at the hands of the Army over the past four months, have been using the civilians’ plight to draw international attention to Sri Lanka. However, when troops took control of such areas, including Killinochchi, they found no evidence to suggest a large civilian population had been living there.
“Over the past few years a large number of people have been moving out of these areas, and are living in areas stretching from Puttalam to Colombo,” the Minister said. “The Army has been moving very swiftly into places like Killinochchi and Dharmapuram, and it would have been impossible for a large number of people to have moved out that fast, assuming they were actually living there.”
A Presidential Secretariat source estimated the number of civilians remaining in uncleared areas in the Wanni at between 100,000 and 150,000, but Minister Rambukwella would not speculate on the numbers.
The World Food Programme (WFP), which sends food and other supplies to civilians in LTTE-held areas, puts the number at 230,000. On Friday, a food convoy left Vavuniya carrying 895 metric tonnes of food. More than 6,600 metric tonnes of food have been sent into uncleared areas since the first food convoy left for the Wanni in October last year.
The WFP obtains its numbers from Government Agents, who in turn get their information from Assistant Government Agents with the help of Grama Sevakas.
The last population counts for the Mullaitivu and Killinochchi districts were done in 1981 and 2001.
The 1981 census put the Mullaitivu population at 77,189, and the population estimate for 2001 was 121,667; the Killinochchi population in 1981 was 91,764, and the estimate for 2001 was 127,263.
|Last Updated ( Friday, 14 August 2009 )|
|< Prev||Next >|