Bishops appeal for aid as thousands are displaced by war
by Melani Manel Perera
Food, medical treatment and shelter are in short supply. Fighting intensifies, forcing people to flee. United Nations and other aid agencies pull out of war zone after government says it can no longer ensure their safety.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – The situation of civilians in rebel-held Kilinochchi is getting worse. Fighting between the army and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is intensifying as the United Nations pulls its staff out of the area. Mgr Joseph Rayappu, bishop of Wanni and Kilinochchi, and Mgr Thomas Savundranayagam, bishop of Jaffna, call for food and assistance for the thousands of displaced persons (DP) stuck in the area.

Sri Lanka’s army is pushing ahead with a major offensive to drive out the Tigers. Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said that troops were now just 5.5 kilometres from LTTE headquarters in Kilinochchi.

Given the dire situation Tamil Tigers are now putting more pressure on families with two children to hand one of them over to the guerrilla movement to fight government forces. Increasingly the LTTE is using coercion to get recruits.

With fighting intensifying civilians are on the run. About 160,000 people have been displaced within rebel areas and now find themselves homeless, living under trees, in huts and temporary shelters (see photo).

“We could hear continuous shell attacks by government forces as they advance toward LTTE area,” some of them said.

The refugees’ fate has alarmed bishops Rayappu and Thomas Savundranayagam because of the lack food, shelter and medical care. Many priests have chosen to accompany the DPs rather than abandon them.

United Nations staff is moving from LTTE-held areas to Vavuniya, following a request by the Sri Lanka government, which said it could not longer ensure their safety.

In Colombo UN spokesperson Gordon Weiss said that fighting had “increased considerably” with shelling coming close to the UN compound, making it "too dangerous to remain.”

Other aid agencies have already left or are preparing to leave.

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