11/11/2006, 00.00
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Civilian suffering forgotten by the rest of the world

by Danielle Vella

The Jesuit Refugee Service has drawn attention to the tragic situation prevailing in the north and east of the country. The response of the international community to violence and hunger is "press releases".

Colombo (AsiaNews) – People trapped in Sri Lanka's war zones are facing shelling, starvation and death amid fear and despair but they seem to be largely forgotten by the rest of the world. The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) director in Sri Lanka has drawn attention to the "endless suffering" in the island's north and east, echoing a question on the lips of beleaguered civilians: why has no "concrete action" been taken by the international community to end their torment?

A religious sister living in besieged Jaffna in the north wrote: "We have totally lost our freedom. No freedom of movement and of expression, no freedom to work and educate the children… We are living in tension, fear and frustration. Are war, displacement and starvation to be our permanent future?"

Fr Vinny Joseph SJ, director of JRS Sri Lanka, said: "Today the question asked by everybody is: what is the role of Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission, UN agencies and the international community? Only press releases are issued and no concrete action has been taken to relieve the suffering of these people."

The deep concern voiced by JRS – an international NGO that serves people uprooted by war – comes as Sri Lanka plunges ever deeper into resumed civil war. The latest high-profile casualty was Nadarajah Raviraj, a Tamil MP who was killed in Colombo along with his bodyguard yesterday, 10 November.

This week saw far more bloodshed when clashes between the Sri Lankan army and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led to the killing of dozens of displaced people by army fire in Vakarai in the east. JRS International condemned the killing of civilians, saying they "should no longer be tolerated or ignored". A military spokesman conceded a civilian centre had been hit but accused the LTTE of using civilians as human shields.

Fr Joseph said: "So far we have not received any information about the JRS teachers working in these two camps [that were shelled]. The situation in Vakarai is really bad: NGOs and other agencies are not allowed to go there and food rations have not been sent for at least 10 days."

Meanwhile, things are going from bad to worse in Jaffna, isolated and denied essential food and fuel supplies by the closure of the A-9 road that links it to the rest of the country. The price of essential food items has rocketed to between four to six times the standard costs and even at those prices, food is not available.

"Hunger and starvation is visible in the faces of people," wrote the sister. "There are long queues outside shops from 3am onwards. Which queue to stand in: food rations, vegetable shops, milk powder or petrol? The lack of food items in shops has created quarrels and fighting on the streets. We are losing the values that we held dear to our hearts."

But a pressing lack of food is only one of the horrors facing the people of Jaffna: "Every day we live in the midst of murder, abduction, rape, search operations and arrests. The presence of soldiers is almost everywhere."

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