|Hundreds evacuated from the Wanni|
|Friday, 30 January 2009|
50 critically injured children among those transported to safety; Local UN staff still trapped
The United Nations evacuated hundreds of injured people yesterday from Mullaitivu, which has been under heavy shelling for the past few days. The number included 50 critically injured children and their immediate families.
Colombo’s UN Spokesman Gordon Weiss said the injured had crossed the frontline last morning and were to be admitted to hospitals in Vavuniya.
The UN spokesman said the exact number of people evacuated could not be ascertained but that there were many. He said, however, that the number of children was estimated at around 50 and that they were non-combatants.
While the LTTE had said several civilians were killed and injured when shells fell in the ‘Safe Zone” in Mullaitivu, the government had warned that there was a possibility that LTTE cadres were among the wounded.
The evacuation was conducted by the UN yesterday; an earlier attempt had failed when the LTTE refused permission. The convoy evacuating the civilians had been trapped for days in the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu, which lies just across the line of confrontation, in territory controlled by the separatist LTTE.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had escorted 226 sick and wounded patients who required urgent medical treatment at Vavuniya Hospital plus 139 of their relatives.
"The wounded and sick had to wait for days before being transferred safely and it had become critical for these persons to be treated immediately," said Paul Castella, head of delegation of the ICRC in Colombo. The patients, accompanied by their family members, had travelled in three ambulances and four buses. The convoy included empty vehicles from the divisional secretary’s department, which were to be loaded with supplies to be sent back to the trapped population; and also one light vehicle belonging to the Ministry of Health. The convoy was escorted by the ICRC over the 4km stretch between the LTTE and the government controlled areas.
"It is essential that these convoys continue to operate to help patients access vital medical treatment and for humanitarian aid to reach civilians in the Wanni," said Mr. Castella. “Today shows that it is possible to care for people protected under international humanitarian law. It means hope for the future, for other people in need," he said.
Despite this positive development, the overall humanitarian situation remained precarious for thousands. Stocks were depleted and sustainable ways of producing food locally were almost non-existent. It was, therefore, vitally important and urgent that parties to the conflict continued to allow humanitarian organisations to bring food into the Wanni immediately, the ICRC said.
An estimated 250,000 civilians are trapped in areas of northern Sri Lanka, where fighting continues between government forces and the LTTE.
Meanwhile, the London based Amnesty International said in a statement yesterday that reports emerging from Sri Lanka suggested that the government forces and the LTTE were violating the laws of war by targeting civilians and preventing them from escaping to safety. Amnesty International had received information that the LTTE had (in at least one instance) prevented injured civilians from moving to safer areas or accessing medical care -- an act that could constitute a war crime.
“Recent fighting has placed more than a quarter of a million civilians at great risk. People displaced by the conflict are experiencing acute shortages of humanitarian aid, especially food, shelter and medical care. There has been no food convoy to the area since 16 January,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka researcher.
Meanwhile, Army headquarters said yesterday that two UN expatriates, detained by the Tigers in the uncleared area north of Puthukkudiyiruppu for more than ten days, had managed to get out last afternoon, but without their thirteen local employees.
The two UN expatriates, along with their local staff, had travelled to the Wanni on Friday, 16 January in order to deliver urgent food and emergency supplies to the displaced. The LTTE had prevented them from returning after delivering the goods. This had prompted the UN office to lodge the ‘strongest possible protest’ to the LTTE’ in a special communiqué after repeated attempts to secure their release had failed.
One of the detained UN expatriates, Mr. Haroon, after his escape from LTTE detention, had visited the Wanni Security Forces’ Headquarters and met Wanni Security Forces’ Commander Major General Jagath Jayasuriya, and described his ordeal and the sequence of events. The UN envoy had also reportedly expressed his concerns over continued detention of the local UN staff in the uncleared area, the Army said.
The Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights said it regretted a recent statement made in Geneva by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which had failed to note the current ground realities in Sri Lanka.
The ICRC statement had appealed ‘to both sides’ to allow and facilitate the safe and voluntary movement of civilians out of the combat zone’ and noted that ‘Hundreds of patients need emergency treatment and evacuation to Vavuniya Hospital in the government-controlled area.’
The government says the ICRC staff in Colombo may not be aware that the LTTE have been firing from the area, which the government has declared a safe zone. Initially the international community, which clearly never learned the philosophical skill of induction, was not sure who had fired. The government said the Bishop of Jaffna, as befitted his training, was sharper. In asking the government to extend the safe zone, he had declared that he and his colleagues ‘are urgently requesting the Tamil Tigers not to station themselves among the people in the safety zone and fire their artillery-shells and rockets at the army. This will only increase more and more the death of civilians, thus endangering the safety of the people.’
|Last Updated ( Friday, 14 August 2009 )|
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