08/11/2006, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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NGO: Open humanitarian corridors in north-east

by Danielle Vella

The Jesuit Refugee Service has joined its voice to other aid agencies that are being prevented by the Sinhalese government from reaching thousands of displaced people who have fled the conflict.

Muthur (AsiaNews) – The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Sri Lanka has called for international lobbying to put pressure on the government to allow aid agencies access to people displaced by recent fighting.

The urgent appeal comes as the Sri Lankan army announced it will press ahead with its latest offensive in Kathiraveli to take control of Maavilaru water gate in Trincomalee. Heavy fighting between the army and the rebel Tamil Tigers under way since the end of July has exacted a high civilian toll. Only yesterday, the Tigers said 50 people had killed and 200 injured in their territory. And both sides have lost combatants: according to medical sources, six troops have been killed and more than 50 were injured along the canal.

The government refuses to permit humanitarian agencies to reach thousands of displaced people trapped in areas where the fighting is raging.  JRS Sri Lanka director, Vinny Joseph SJ, said: "We must plead the cause of Sri Lanka's internally displaced people in India and at international level. Over the last four days, nearly 45,000 people in Kathiraveli have gone hungry but the army has not given permission for food supplies to be taken into the area. 

 "The situation is very precarious and demands our presence and service: we are trying our level best to ease the suffering of innocent civilians, but the government is not allowing humanitarian agencies to visit the affected people and to work with them."

The JRS appeal was echoed by the London-based Minority Right Group (MRG). "In situations of conflict minority communities are often the last to be given access to aid and we hope this will not be the case in Sri Lanka," said Clive Baldwin, MRG advocacy head. In recent weeks, other aid agencies have called for humanitarian corridors in war-torn areas. But so far their appeals have been in vain.

As fighting continues relentlessly, fears are growing that this spate of hostilities will be the one that plunges the country back into full-scale civil war that has dragged on for over 20 years. The 2002 ceasefire is clearly not being respected by both sides.

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