Red Cross urges Sri Lanka to respect lives of Tamil civilians
Thursday, January 29, 2009
The Sri Lankan government troops and the (LTTE), with an estimated 250,000 civilians caught between the fighting according to the ICRC.(ICRC) and other agencies have raised the issue of a unfolding in the battle between
Violence has intensified over the past few days in the-dominated northwest, where government forces have made strategically important gains, including the capture of , the last rebel stronghold. But hundreds of thousands of civilians, nearly all Tamils, remain trapped within a 300 square kilometer war zone.
The ICRC, the only aid agency with a permanent presence in the war zone, says 250,000 people are trapped in the fighting, a figure that was repeated by the United Nations. The ICRC also claims that hundreds of civilians in the area have been killed or wounded, though an exact number was not given.
Sri Lankan officials say these figures are too high, though they have acknowledged the existence of some civilian casualties. In an effort to help civilians seek shelter, the government has unilaterally established a 32-square-km "no-fire zone" in the middle of the war area. The army dropped pamphlets urging civilians to go there for safety.
However, the LTTE have accused the Sri Lankan military of firing artillery shells into the safe zone, while the government denies such accusations. Likewise, the LTTE have denied the claim that they are using civilians asby forcing them to stay in the area while holding them at gunpoint. The LTTE have yet to answer the military's accusation that they deliberately placed their heavy weapons near populated areas and hospitals.
In response to accusations of firing at civilians, President Indian External Affairs Minister , the president assured his forces would "minimize the effects of conflict on Tamil civilians." Mukherjee has pledged to send aid materials into northern Sri Lanka. However, some Indian media sources suspect this is a political move aimed at gaining favor with the , a Tamil party in the southern Indian state of .pledged that his military would respect the boundaries of the no-fire zone. In a late-night meeting with
|We have a very large number of people, including tens of thousands of children, trapped in a fast-shrinking conflict zone.|
—James Elder, UN spokesman
Meanwhile, the fate of civilians in the war zone remains uncertain, as the violence has prevented most foreign media and international agencies from entering the area. The ICRC has called on both sides to respect the lives of civilians. "People are being caught in the crossfire, hospitals and ambulances have been hit by shelling and several aid workers were injured while evacuating the wounded," said Jacques de Maio, the head of operations for the ICRC in South Asia.
The ICRC says hundreds of patients are in need of emergency medical treatment. However, the UN says the LTTE have fired at their convoys and refused to allow evacuations to the nearest hospital, while the military had resumed firing during an attempted evacuation. The UN condemned this as a violation of international humanitarian law, which requires a guarantee of safe passage for aid workers on both sides.
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"It's an incredibly serious situation," said James Elder, a U.N. spokesman. "We have a very large number of people, including tens of thousands of children, trapped in a fast-shrinking conflict zone." ICRC spokeswoman Sarasi Wijeratne did not explicitly accuse the LTTE of firing on their convoy, simply stating that the convoy had not been given full security assurances.
Sri Lankan military officials say the rebels are nearly defeated, with only about 30 kilometers of seafront remaining under their control. Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara claims the LTTE have 1,200 well-trained cadres left, while the Sri Lankan army has around 50,000 troops deployed.
- "Tamil Tigers promise to fight back against Sri Lankan forces" — Wikinews, January 27, 2009
- "Sri Lanka Army captures Tamil Tiger's capital of Kilinochchi" — Wikinews, January 4, 2009
- C. Bryson Hull. "What is fate of civilians in Sri Lanka's war?" — , January 28, 2009
- C. Bryson Hull. "Wounded Sri Lankans blocked from leaving war zone" — , January 28, 2009
- Sen Lam. "Civilians 'trapped' in offensive against Tamil Tigers" — , January 28, 2009
- Bharatha Mallawarachi. "Amid war, Sri Lanka pledges to respect 'safe zone'" — , January 28, 2009
- "India plea for S Lanka civilians" — , January 28, 2009
- "Hundreds killed in Sri Lanka, says ICRC" — , January 28, 2009
- "Red Cross: Crisis unfolding in Sri Lanka" — , January 28, 2009
- Matt Wade. "250,000 people stranded in combat zone" — , January 28, 2009
- Steve Herman. "Concerns Mount About Civilian Casualties in Sri Lanka" — , January 27, 2009
- Press Release: "Sri Lanka: massive displacement of civilians amid escalating conflict" — , January 15, 2009