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    » 08/14/2008, 00.00

    SRI LANKA

    Thousands of refugees living in the woods; army is blocking aid

    Melani Manel Perera

    More than 75,000 people have been made refugees since June, while fighting intensifies between the army and the Tamil Tigers. The army is blocking humanitarian aid, claiming that it is going to the rebels. Bishop of Mannar: the safety of the population must be guaranteed, and their food needs must be met.

    Colombo (AsiaNews) - According to official figures from the United Nations, more than 75,000 people have fled their homes in the north of Sri Lanka over the last two and a half months. To these must be added the many already displaced over years of fighting. The area controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is a battlefield where the population is fleeing from one place to another, and where it is even difficult to bring aid from humanitarian organizations.

    The National Peace Council (NPC), a group that works for the rights of all the communities and seeks a peaceful solution to ethnic problems, explains that it is above all the army blocking the sending of aid to the people, out of fear that the supplies are going to the LTTE. Thousands of people are living outdoors, under the trees.

    "We hold that the welfare of the civilian population must not be compromised by military exigencies", the NPC says. "They must be safeguarded from collateral damage and not be used as human shields in any circumstance. We call on the government not to use its air and artillery power to attack areas in which civilians are residing". "We also call for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor, with the cooperation of UN agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, whereby people who wish to leave the areas of combat are permitted by both the government and LTTE to do so in accordance with the basic human right of freedom of movement. The people who leave the areas of combat should also be treated with respect and dignity, and permitted freedom of movement, without being confined to welfare camps as occurring at present at Kalimottai and at Sirukandal, as pointed out by Bishop Joseph in his statement".

    The government says it has proof that most of the humanitarian aid for civilians has been taken by the LTTE. Meanwhile, the army is gaining ground and retaking villages: yesterday, it took Mulankavil, described by the defense minister as a "Tamil Tiger stronghold".

    The bishop of Mannar, Jospeh Rayappu, has asked the government to study how it can guarantee security and safety for civilians in the northern part of the country, and permit the United Nations and humanitarian groups to bring them the food they need. He is also asking that a "neutral zone" be set up in each of the three districts where fighting is underway, a proposal that has been seconded by the NPC.

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    See also

    26/11/2008 SRI LANKA
    Situation worsens for 300,000 refugees in Wanni
    In a war zone, people are living in temporary shelters with little food and little health care. There is even a lack of drinking water, and the risk of disease is growing. Humanitarian organizations criticize the government, and call for the sending of international observers.

    26/03/2009 SRI LANKA
    Catholic and Anglican bishops: civilians desperate in Vanni, aid needed immediately
    The bishops are asking the government and Tamil rebels to "take immediate steps to alleviate the suffering" of the civilians, and not to hide behind the "endless debates" over the real number of refugees. The requests include that of permitting religious representatives to enter Vanni with the UN and the Red Cross.

    25/04/2009 SRI LANKA
    Vanni, government asks for international aid. Tamils issue accusations against authorities
    The humanitarian crisis in the war zones is becoming increasingly serious. The Tamil Tigers say about 165,000 civilians risk dying of hunger; accusations against the government, which is "deliberately" blocking aid. Colombo clarifies that care for refugees is a "priority," and it is preparing a postwar plan.

    13/03/2009 SRI LANKA
    Bishop of Jaffna: more than 100,000 civilians risk annihilation
    They are trapped in the no-fire zone on the coastline in the district of Mullaitivu. During the first 10 days of March, the hospital of Puthumaththalan admitted 964 wounded, and 119 have died, 40 of them children. The bishop is calling for a plan of emergency. And to the Tamil rebels he says: "This is the last chance."

    19/03/2009 SRI LANKA
    Religious visit the refugees, prisoners in the camps
    A delegation from the Conference of Major Religious Superiors visits refugees in Vavuniya. They describe a dramatic situation in the account sent to the bishops, and call for an action of solidarity from the Church on the national level. It is not enough to collect food and money, missions must be conducted among the population in the north.



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