11/20/2006, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Government to reopen road to Jaffna . . . for the time being

Colombo will allow humanitarian aid for 500,000 civilians to travel by land. Tamil Tiger rebels call the move a "political ploy". Tonight Sri Lanka's main donors are scheduled to meet. Bishop of Jaffna asks for help to avoid starvation.

Colombo (AsiaNews) –Sri Lanka's government announced that the A-9 Road that links Jaffna to the rest of the country will be reopened, for the time being, to allow humanitarian aid to flow into the isolated region where as many as 500,000 people are caught between the rebels and the army. The road had been shut down back in August when clashes between the two warring sides had intensified.

A spokesperson for Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse said last night that a convoy of heavy trucks was being organised to deliver basic necessities to Jaffna. The shut-down of the A-9 Road has led to shortages and sky-rocketing prices.

On October 28-29 Tamil Tiger rebels had said that reopening the road was a key precondition before resuming peace talks in Geneva. And the government's refusal had caused negotiations to collapse.

For the authorities in Colombo, the rebels are responsible for attacks and extortions on drivers travelling on the highway; they also accuse the Tigers of using the road to more easily move weapons and fighters.

Tamil Tigers for their part have reiterated their demand that the road link to Jaffna peninsula be permanently reopened, calling the government's move a "political ploy".

Rajapakse's decision comes on the eve of an important conference tonight in Washington by Sri Lanka's main international donors.

Delegates from the United States, Japan, Norway and the European Union are expected to renew calls for an end to hostilities and the reopening the A-9 as international human rights groups and the local Catholic Church have demanded for quite some time.

Yesterday in fact, Mgr Thomas Savundaranayagam, bishop of Jaffna, sent an urgent letter to the four donors who co-chair the peace process that began in 2003. In the missive the prelate, who has appealed to President Rajapakse several times in vain, reminded his interlocutors of the rapidly deteriorating situation people are facing and called on them to persuade the government in Colombo to respect the 2002 cease-fire.

"This," the letter says by way of conclusion, "is necessary to avoid starvation and malnutrition among the future generation."

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