09/29/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Justice and Peace accusation: government blocking food aid to 150,000 refugees

by Melani Manel Perera
The commission charges that the refugees of Wanni have been left to themselves, without shelter and with little food. They cannot ask for protection from the rebels, nor from the army. A prayer vigil of solidarity, and the request for immediate intervention, before it is too late.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Hundreds of priests, sisters, and lay people from various groups participated in the ecumenical prayer vigil on September 24, organized by the Christian solidarity movement, to give a Christian response to the humanitarian crisis in Wanni, held at the cathedral of Bauddhaloka Mawatha (Colombo). The Justice and Peace Commission of the diocese of Jaffna has denounced the complete abandonment of the more than 150,000 refugees in the area, after the departure of all of the humanitarian organizations.

"Even if the government tells the media that there has been special intervention to help [the refugees]", the commission charges in a document, "in fact there is no food aid. The defense minister has blocked all food shipments at the Omantai checkpoint. Twenty trucks carrying food has been sent back because they did not have authorization from the defense minister". The refugees have no resources, because "they had to flee in a hurry, leaving even their food behind in their homes".

They lack food, medicine, and clothing, and, having no stable shelter, they are sleeping along the streets and under the trees. They cannot go anywhere else, because they are caught in the middle of the war between the Tamil Tiger rebels and the army. "It is like they are living in an open-air prison", observed one person participating in the vigil.

A kilogram of sugar costs about 1,000 rupees in the zone, about 10 dollars. Food is used as a means to pressure the population. But it is not even safe to go into the areas controlled by the army, because many young and adult males have already "disappeared", possibly because they were thought to be supporters or potential members of the rebel movement.

Fr Rohan Silva comments: "It is terrible that humanitarian groups cannot reach these victims".

Fr Sarath Iddamalgoda and Anglican Reverend S. Sathiviel also participated in the vigil, calling upon all participants for concrete action.

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