01/23/2009, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Columbo army creates safe zone for civilians fleeing war

by Melani Manel Perera
The head of the military in Vanni meets with the head of the Red Cross to plan access and protection of civilians in the area. Catholic and Anglican bishops express appreciation for the army's decision, and call upon the Tamil Tigers not to violate the area with attacks against soldiers and refugees.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Catholic and Anglican bishops view as positive the decision of the Sri Lankan army to extend the safe area in the district of Mullaittivu in order to offer refuge to the civilian population of Vanni.

Humanitarian agencies say that at least 230,000 people have been trapped behind the firing line between of the army of Colombo and the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). On January 21, in agreement with the defense ministry, the head of the International Red Cross in Vavuniya, Valerie Petitipierre, and the commander of security forces in Vanni, General Jagath Jayasuriya, talked about how to guarantee access and the protection of civilians in the safe zone.

The general reaffirmed the army's commitment not to cause victims among the population, according to the principle of Zero Civilian Casualty. Jayasuriya explained that the forces in Colombo are making every effort to keep the rebels from using the buffer zone in order to attack regular troops. "The LTTE's use of innocent civilians as human shields should also be deplored from all quarters."

The defense ministry has also stated that Jagath Jayasuriya has met with the head of logistics for the World Food Program, in order to verify the progress in providing humanitarian aid supplies to the refugees in the districts of Mullaittivu and Kilinochchi.

In order to make the aid program more effective, the Red Cross has asked for a detailed report about the patients in the general hospital in Puthukudiyirippu, the victims of the most recent terrorist attacks that have indiscriminately struck the civilian population.

Representatives of the Catholic and Anglican churches on the island have expressed their approval for the creation of a safe zone, signing a joint document in which they say that the decision "will protect and save the lives of numerous civilians."

The statement, made public on January 22, is signed by the Catholic bishops of Mannar, Jaffna, and Anuradhapura, and by the Anglican bishops of Kurunegala and Colombo. The bishops also ask the LTTE to respect this decision for the safety of the civilians, permitting them to reach the area and make use of all of the initiatives on behalf of their protection.

The bishops also invite the government to involve the ICRC, the UNHCR, and independent representatives of the Tamil population in order to make the area more accessible.

The leaders of the two main Christian confessions in the country share the common intention of praying for "greater trust amongst the communities and a non-violent and just Sri Lanka for all."

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