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In Sri Lanka, Tens Of Thousands Escape, But More Remain In Danger

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Author Topic: In Sri Lanka, Tens Of Thousands Escape, But More Remain In Danger  (Read 105 times)
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« on: April 23, 2009, 07:25:31 am »

                                 In Sri Lanka, Tens of Thousands Escape, but More Remain in Danger

Amantha Perera /
Thu Apr 23, 2009

Twice the size of Central Park. That was the answer U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes gave in early April when asked how large the area was where more than 100,000 civilians were trapped with bloody battles raging around them in northern Sri Lanka. This week, that small area was reduced by a quarter when government forces gained control of a 3-km stretch of the 12-km coastal sliver that had once been a stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

As troops drove the Tigers deeper into their fast-shrinking zone, since Monday, some 90,000 civilians who had been cornered there since February have broken free and crossed the front lines to safety, according to the Defense Ministry. On the morning of April 20, the army pierced a fortified earth bund manned by armed Tigers, allowing trapped civilians who had been held back by the Tigers to escape. On the run for over a year and having experienced multiple displacements, those desperate civilians finally walked to safety through the shallow waters of Mulaithivu lagoon, carrying the injured, the weak and the young. Most made the crossing with only the ragged clothes on their bodies. The army reported that the Tigers had fired at the fleeing civilians and said 17 people were killed and more than 200 injured when three suicide bombers detonated themselves among the fleeing civilians on April 20. Despite the obvious dangers of the flight, more are expected to follow. The army was anticipating that at least another 10,000 would make the crossing on Wednesday. (Read a brief history of the Tamil Tigers.)

Remaining within the tiny but bloody battlefield would be nothing short of courting suicide. "We're seeing the final stage of this war, with the government determined to wipe out the Tigers' control of Sri Lankan territory once and for all, and the Tigers using every means to resist them," warned Gordon Weiss, a U.N. spokesman in Colombo. "Tragically, tens of thousands of civilians remain caught between those two ambitions." While welcoming the mass escapes, the U.N. has raised alarms over the safety of as many as 100,000 people, all ethnic Tamils, who are still trapped behind Tiger lines. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has repeatedly called on both sides to ensure the safety of the civilians and asked the Tigers to allow the civilians to leave the combat zone freely. The last such call came on April 20.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has been evacuating the sick, the wounded and their caregivers by sea, says the situation within the combat zone is extremely dire. "The humanitarian situation within the conflict area is catastrophic," Sarasi Wijeratne, an ICRC spokesperson, told TIME. For the civilians who have survived in the area since February, when the land links into the combat zone were closed due to fighting, there is only one makeshift hospital in the area under Tiger control - and that, too, is under tremendous pressure. The ICRC has evacuated more than 10,000 civilians from the war zone since February, and the Green Ocean, an ICRC-flagged ship that has been making the precarious journey, headed back on the morning of April 22 to rescue yet another batch of injured and scared civilians. The journey was delayed when the army gained control of the area where the ship usually anchored, and the Tigers gave the ICRC new coordinates. "We have obtained security guarantees from both sides," Wijeratne said. The ship, however, was not carrying food supplies as it had on some of its journeys. (Read about the Tigers' leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.)

The U.S. State Department also warned of a deteriorating situation within the combat zone. "There continues to be firing from both sides into the no-fire zone, and we have credible reports of increasing casualties as a result of intensified military actions," Robert Wood, acting department spokesman, said on Tuesday. There is unlikely to be any lull in the fighting as the Sri Lanka forces push to dislodge and deal the Tigers - who have been fighting a bloody separatist war since 1976 - a final and telling blow. The military said two divisions had linked up in the area, and the push into the small area where the Tigers are now holed up will intensify. Nine divisions from the army with as many as 50,000 troops are now engaged in the assault on the Tigers, which is backed by air power and a naval blockade. It's the largest concentration of government troops on a single Tiger force. And for the trapped civilians, it would make a world of difference to flee across the firing line rather than remain between the fighting parties and the sea.

Watch a video about civilians caught in Sri Lanka's conflict.

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« Last Edit: April 23, 2009, 07:27:11 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2009, 07:31:11 am »

                                               Sri Lanka seeks int'l aid to care for displaced

Bharatha Mallawarachi,
Associated Press Writer
April 23, 2009
Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka pleaded for international help Thursday in what it called an "emergency humanitarian situation," after a medical relief group warned that civilian casualties are rising rapidly in the country's war zone despite the exodus of more than 100,000 in recent days.

Red Cross spokeswomen Sarasi Wijeratne said Wednesday about 1,000 badly wounded people were in desperate need of treatment or to be evacuated to better hospitals outside the conflict zone. Only two ill-equipped makeshift hospitals function in the tiny zone.

The U.N. estimates more than 4,500 civilians have been killed the past three months, and the Security Council expressed concern Wednesday at the plight of the civilians trapped in the tiny coastal strip still controlled by the Tamil Tigers. The council and asked the rebels to lay down their arms, renounce terrorism and join talks to end the nation's 25-year civil war.

It also urged the government to allow international agencies access to those affected by the fighting.

But despite its calls for help caring for those fleeing, the government did not say if it would let aid groups into the war zone. Since September, only the International Committee of the Red Cross has had access.

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama did say, however, that the government was working to grant more access to those who had left the constantly shrinking strip of land which now measures just five square miles (12 square kilometers) and it says it packed with 15,000 to 20,000 civilians.

It says 102,790 civilians escaped the conflict zone so far this week.

Bogollagama called the flow of people from the region in the past few days an "emergency humanitarian situation."

"Our friends in the international community are most welcome to provide emergency relief assistance by way of semi-permanent shelter, water purification plants, sanitation facilities and medical assistance," he told reporters.

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said a growing number of badly wounded civilians suffering from blast injuries and gunshot wounds were arriving at a hospital near the zone.

"We've been seeing very severely wounded patients, the numbers of patients have increased rapidly over the last three or four days," Dr. Paul McMaster, a surgeon for Doctors Without Borders, said in an interview released by the Swiss-based group.

He said the 450-bed hospital now has more than 1,700 patients many housed on the floors, in corridors and outside and is close to being overwhelmed.

"About three-quarters of the injured coming in now have suffered from blast injuries, and the rest are gunshot wounds and mine explosions," McMaster said.

Troops in recent months have ousted the rebels from all their former strongholds and have hemmed them into what the government previously deemed a "no fire" zone to protect civilians along the northeastern coast. But troops entered the zone this week to fight the remaining rebels and free civilians trapped there.

They broke through a key rebel bunker on Monday and tens of thousands of civilians have been fleeing the area since then. They are being held in government camps for screening.

Catherine Bragg, the U.N.'s deputy humanitarian chief, said in New York that appeals to the government for access to the refugees and for permission to be present at the initial screening of refugees have received no response.

But Bogollagama cautioned that access to those fleeing would be "dependent primarily on the security situation on the ground," he told reporters Thursday.

He said 14 international aid groups and U.N. agencies were helping to care for the displaced.

The government also has ignored calls to stop the fighting so more civilians could flee, saying it is on the verge of crushing the insurgency.

Britain and France said Wednesday they were pressing for more international help for civilians, including perhaps sending boats for an evacuation mission.

The rebels have been fighting to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have faced decades of marginalization by successive governments controlled by ethnic Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.
« Last Edit: April 23, 2009, 07:33:46 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #2 on: April 23, 2009, 07:36:23 am »

                                   More than 100,000 civilians flee Sri Lanka warzone

By C. Bryson Hull
April 23, 2009

The flight of more than 100,000 people from Sri Lanka's war zone is beginning to overload the system, the United Nations said on Thursday, after the Security Council warned those still trapped remain in grave danger.

The military said that a four-day exodus was beginning to slow down with more than 103,000 people having come to army-held areas since troops cleared an earthen barrier it said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had built to stop them.

Despite the massive outpouring, the U.N. Security Council late on Wednesday said it had "deep concern" for the welfare of those remaining inside the LTTE-held area, a narrow coastal strip surrounded by troops aiming to win Asia's longest-running war.

The military says troops now control all but 13 square km (5 sq miles) of the Indian Ocean island, where the LTTE and founder-leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran are fighting a last stand in their war to create a separate state for the Tamil minority.

United Nations spokesman Gordon Weiss said the world body had confirmed that between 90,000 and 100,000 people have left the combat zone since Monday. They will join 80,000 people already in refugee camps away from the front.

"There is serious overcrowding in the camps and it is only to get worse in coming days," Weiss said in Colombo. "It is a huge exodus and it threatens to overwhelm the available systems."

The United Nations had urged the government of Sri Lanka to identify new sites and clear them as soon as possible to accommodate the outpouring, he said.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said combat operations remained underway.

"Troops are moving in a southern direction," he said, toward the remaining rebel pocket. He denied LTTE accusations that troops were shelling the area. "We are not using heavy weapons at all. We are only using small arms."

Independent confirmation of battlefield accounts is difficult because outsiders are generally restricted from it.

For a fourth straight day, the military progress drove the Colombo Stock Exchange higher, traders said. Provisional data showed it up 1.5 percent in midday trade.
« Last Edit: April 23, 2009, 07:43:18 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2009, 07:37:37 am »


On Wednesday, at France's urging, the U.N. Security Council met for an informal briefing on the situation.

"The Security Council members, we expressed our deep concern about the humanitarian situation ... and the plight of the civilians trapped within the conflict area," Mexican U.N. Ambassador Claude Heller told reporters after the meeting.

In a summary of the closed-door meeting, he said council members "strongly condemned" the LTTE for failing to release the civilians.

Council diplomats said China, Russia and others had opposed the idea of a formal discussion of the Sri Lankan war, viewing it instead as an internal matter for the Sri Lankans.

The United Nations estimates tens of thousands are inside the remaining area, while the International Committee of the Red Cross has said at least 50,000 remain in "catastrophic" conditions.

The people who have fled have been on foot for days, and stuck in the war zone with minimal food, water or medical care, aid agencies said.

Pictures released by the government showed scores of people carrying their belongings on their backs, and others helping the sick or elderly to move.

One showed a woman giving birth inside a bus carrying her to a refugee camp, with two midwives helping deliver the child.

A former rebel spokesman, Daya Master, was being interrogated after he became the most senior rebel to surrender so far, Nanayakkara said.

Surrender is an act considered a betrayal to the cause and leader Prabhakaran's dictate that followers wear cyanide vials to be taken in case of capture.

Sri Lanka has ruled out any further truces, while the LTTE has said it will never surrender its fight to build a separate state for Tamils, which started in the early 1970s and erupted into a full civil war in 1983.
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« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2009, 07:40:28 am »

                                       Sri Lanka: Tigers resisting despite surrender call

Amal Jayasinghe
Thu Apr 23, 2009

Tamil Tiger rebels encircled in a tiny strip of land by Sri Lankan troops are still putting up stiff resistance despite calls for their surrender, the military said Thursday.

The army said the guerrillas controlled a mere 10-12 square kilometres (around four square miles) of territory on the northeast coast, where thousands of civilians are still trapped by the fighting.

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, the island's military spokesman, said the Tigers were using artillery and tanks.

"There are sporadic clashes but our priority is to get the civilians out. We can finish them off very quickly after the civilians get out of the way," he said.

"We can claim we have completely defeated the Tigers when we have captured the remaining area."

The rebels have been repeatedly accused of using civilians as human shields. Around 100,000 people have managed to escape rebel-held territory this week, and it was unclear how many were still trapped in the war zone.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has told the rebels to give up, but has ruled out any amnesty for rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, who has led a ruthless decades-long battle for a separate Tamil homeland.

The UN Security Council president also said on Wednesday that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) must now give up.

"We demand that the LTTE immediately lay down arms," said the current council president, Mexico's UN ambassador Claude Heller, following an informal discussion on Sri Lanka by the council.

There was no immediate comment from the rebels.

The Sri Lankan army has made steady advances in recent months, slowly beating back the guerrillas who at one time controlled more than one-third of the island, and the government insists the rebels are now all but finished.

On Wednesday, two senior Tiger officials -- including their spokesman and main contact with the outside world, Velayudam Dayanidi -- surrendered to government forces.

This was seen as a blow to the LTTE, whose members are under orders to commit suicide by cyanide capsule rather than give themselves up.

But as the army has slowly pinned the guerrillas down in the narrow strip of coastal jungle, the international spotlight has focused on the fate of civilians caught up in a conflict that has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives.

State television has shown thousands of people waiting for food; desperate civilians trudging through waist-deep water to get to safety; and a young woman giving birth on a bus carrying displaced civilians away from the war zone.

"This is such a terrible humanitarian tragedy," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

"We have been pressing the Sri Lankan government for a halt in the fighting so that we could secure a safe passage for as many of the trapped civilians as possible."

The Tigers have acknowledged losing ground but have accused the government of killing 1,000 civilians in recent days. The military for its part said fleeing non-combatants were fired on by the rebels.

The rival claims are hard to verify as independent reporters are not allowed into the area, but aid agencies have painted a grim picture.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the situation in the north is "nothing short of catastrophic," while Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said one hospital in the northern Vavuniya area was "saturated" with patients coming from the conflict area.

"The buses are still coming and they're actually unloading dead bodies at times as some wounded people died on the way," said Karen Stewart, an MSF mental health officer.
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« Reply #5 on: April 23, 2009, 07:45:23 am »

Graphic on the Sri Lanka conflict.

Two key Tamil Tiger officials have surrendered as Sri Lankan troops pressed a final offensive against the rebels despite an international outcry over the fate of trapped civilians.

« Last Edit: April 23, 2009, 07:46:22 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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