01/21/2009, 00.00
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Shelling and aerial bombing of refugee camps in Vanni cause tens of civilian casualties

by Melani Manel Perera
More shelling and bombs have affected villages where displaced people had found refuge and which the government had declared “neutral” zones last month. Tens of people have died, including children and the elderly. Jaffna bishop appeals to President Rajapaksa for a lasting truce and an end to the hostilities.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – The village of Suthanthirapuram in the Vanni area was shelled around noon today. Local sources told AsiaNews that several civilians were among the victims (see photo), including infants, children and elderly people. Since the operation is still underway, the number of casualties could go higher. The area has been the scene of violent clashes between the Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tiger rebels.

Local sources report residents feel “hopeless,” demanding an “immediate cease-fire” and a stop to the genocide of the Tamil people. They want a “lasting truce” that can raise spirits in a population marked by tragedy.

Attacks took place today in Vaddakachchi, Tharmapuram and Visvamadhu, where refugees from Vanni had taken shelter back in December and for that reason declared “neutral” and combat-free zones.

Local media have launched appeals to the local population to seek refuge in protected areas, away from the shelling.

Early reports from the villages of Suthanthirapuram, Thevipuram and Udayarkaddu speak of two dead and ten wounded, including three badly hurt children.

In yesterday’s shelling in Vanni 17 people died and five more were seriously injured.

Six bombs exploded next to a shelter, housing 25 displaced families. One adult and a child were killed. The same happened to a baby girl and a youth in the village of Udayarkaddu, with 30 wounded.

Civilians are also being badly affected by the government’s decision to shut down the A9 Road, which links the north to the rest of the country. This has left 56 seriously wounded people stranded and in need of immediate medical treatment; two of them have already died.

Despite repeated appeals to the Defence Ministry, the authorities have refused to allow NGOs into the area.

Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church has mobilised on behalf of war victims. Mgr Thomas Saundaranayagam, bishop of Jaffna, sent a letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, appealing for an end to the shelling and aerial bombing of the area.

The prelate wants a “safe corridor” opened to allow aid in for those displaced, calling on the parties to end the carnage of the innocent.

In the letter the bishop also urged the authorities to “collaborate with the UN agencies” to the “meet humanitarian needs” of the population.

He also reiterated his desire and that of his diocesan priests to “help” in the “urgent life-saving work” because the situation is increasingly desperate.

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See also
Vanni hospital hit: at least nine dead and dozens wounded
Thousands of refugees living in the woods; army is blocking aid
Amnesty for rebels but no pity for Tamil Tiger leader
Government rejects ceasefire extension, fighting resumes after New Year ceasefire
Senior peace adviser to the president resigns


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