|Colombo plans sea rescue of thousands from war zone|
|Thursday, 19 February 2009|
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is considering a sea evacuation of tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside its war zone, officials said yesterday as a government ally said there was a spike in non-combatant deaths.
Some 80,000 civilians remain inside the northern Wanni region, where government troops have cornered the Tigers into a narrow strip along the north-eastern shores. “We are looking at all options, including a sea evacuation to bring the people out,” Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told reporters.
Samarasinghe said 35,745 people have crossed over to government-held areas since January 1, but many more are still trapped as Tigers prevent civilians from leaving the area.
The government yesterday began sending emergency food stocks by sea to those inside the conflict zone as heavy fighting between troops and Tigers have prevented food convoys being taken by road, Samarasinghe said.
His comments came as a pro-government Tamil political leader yesterday highlighted a spike in civilian fatalities in the embattled north this month.
The total for deaths last week was 288 while 766 were injured, said the leader of the moderate Tamil United Liberation Front, V Anandasangari, in a letter to President Mahinda Rajapakse.
He said eight civilians had died between October and November.
Anandasangari, who is a staunch ally of the government, said the casualties were “shocking” and asked the president to intervene and ensure that civilians were not caught up in the crossfire. He accused the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of holding civilians as a human shield, a charge repeated by the Colombo government as well as international aid agencies.
“The area still under the control of the LTTE had shrunk considerably and the congestion within has probably resulted in the disproportionate increase in the casualties,” Anandasangari said.
He said the government should consider delaying the capture of the remaining areas till all trapped civilians were brought out.
A member of the Tiger-proxy Tamil National Alliance party, R. Sampathan, on Tuesday called for an immediate cease-fire.
“Tamil civilians are being rendered destitute and displaced, deprived of their food and medicine by the military action. This must stop,” Sampathan said.
There was no immediate comment from the government, but Colombo has resisted calls for a truce. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which has a limited presence inside the conflict zone, has said that “hundreds” of civilians had been killed since January, but did not apportion blame.
However, the ICRC has asked both sides to ensure the safety of non-combatants.
Food and medicine
Government said yesterday it would ferry 50 tonnes of food and medicine to tens of thousands of people trapped in a fast-shrinking war zone.
A boat was due to leave the eastern port of Trincomalee and would bring food to the north-eastern coastal area of Puttumatalan, where the military has established a new 12km no-fire zone.
Sri Lankan troops have cornered the Tamil Tiger rebels in a tiny swathe of jungle and are battling to finish off a separatist rebellion that has raged off and on since 1983 and is now one of Asia’s longest-running wars.
“There is no acute food shortage in the area but the government is loading 50 metric tons of food items such as milk powder, sugar, flour and medical supplies to be ferried today,” S Divaratne, commissioner general of essential services, told reporters.
Another 50 tonnes would be shipped soon, he said.
Aid agencies have said people trapped in the war zone lack medicine and face dwindling food supplies. They estimate around 200,000 people are trapped, although the government puts the number at 50,000-70,000.
Amid growing calls to protect trapped civilians, the military established a no-fire zone inland last month, and moved it to the coast last week.
It accused LTTE of firing artillery from the original no-fire zone and forcing people out of it towards the coast.
On Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross ferried out by boat 440 people, including sick and wounded, who were in the no-fire zone, its third evacuation from the area in a week.
|Last Updated ( Friday, 09 October 2009 )|
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