09/18/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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More than a hundred thousand helpless refugees flee fighting between army and Tamil rebels

by Melani Manel Perera
The Asian Human Rights Commission releases a damning statement about helpless refugees. Army and rebels are told to respect communication lines and allow “neutral areas” where refugees can find shelter and help.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – “Sri Lanka's internally displaced persons (IDPs) need speedy action to ensure their security and protection; the Sri Lanka government should honour the pledges it has made to provide protection and the necessities of these persons and also create possibilities for those who wish to leave the areas to do so safely; the United Nations and the international community should assist and monitor the situation of the internally displaced persons under the present circumstances,” said the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in a special appeal it issued in Hong Kong yesterday. In it the human rights organisation stressed the government’s “responsibility for ensuring the safety of internally displaced persons living in the Kilinochchi area,” who are still without food, water, medications or health care.

The statement noted that UN representatives have had to leave the area and that bishops Joseph Rayappu and Thomas Savundranayagam have clearly called attention to the lack of food and care for large groups of people.

As a result of the ongoing fighting between the army and Tamil Tiger rebels (LTTE), all 39,000 residents in the Mannar district have fled, the AHRC reported.

In the Vellankulam area some 21,000 have left, mostly staying by the side of the roads and in the nearby jungles without adequate shelter, food, medicine and other basic needs.

Similarly after recent aerial bombing and artillery shelling, people from the districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu have also fled en masse.

The whole region,” or about 400,000 people, “is on the move,” running from what has now become a war zone.

For the AHRC “there is a crying need to carve out one or two peace zones in each district for the safety and security of the innocent civilians in this intensive conflict situation.”

“The region of Jeyapuram Vannen and Akkarayan in District of Kilinochchi [should] be immediately declared a ‘NO CONFLICT ZONE” for the innocent civilians to find refuge.”

There is similar requirement also in the area of the District of Mullaithivu. . . . Action is to be urgently taken to enable the Government Agent and his staff to provide immediate assistance to the displaced people with food, medicine and shelter.”

Urgent action also needs to be taken to permit UN agencies and NGOs to easily reach these affected people and help them in their basic needs.” In turn this means that military operations should stay away from communication lines that are essential to reach otherwise isolated people.

It is quite natural for all Sri Lankans, irrespective of race, religion and creed to be concerned with the plight of the civilians who are caught up in the midst of the intensification of the fighting between the government forces and the LTTE,” said the AHRC statement.

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