No Safe Haven for Tamils in Sri Lanka
January 23rd, 2009
A major military campaign by the Sri Lankan government to defeat the LTTE – the Tamil Tigers – is causing immense suffering and increasing civilian casualties among the Tamil population. Fleeing their homes to avoid the fighting, men, women and children have been forced into an increasingly small area in the northeast of the country, near Mullaithivu. With humanitarian workers told by the government to leave the Vanni (north) in September, food and medical supplies are in short supply and information is limited.
We continue to hear from priests and others who have remained in the area, and they are appealing for United Nations intervention to stop the bloodshed. Read the Open Letter to UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon from the Priests and Religious in the Wanni
A re-located hospital in Mullataivu on the east coast was shelled earlier this week, despite assurances of the Sri Lankan military that it was a designated Safety Zone. According to local doctors, five people were killed and 15 wounded in the incident. The ICRC reportedly confirmed that the military had received the GPS coordinates of the intensive care and surgical units, which had moved to a school north of Mullaitivu center. Women and children, as well as men, have been killed as the fighting moves closer to heavily populated areas.
The Oblates have been pressing for the establishment of safety zones for the protection of civilians in the war-torn Vanni, administered and monitored by international personnel, and governed by international conventions. The Sri Lankan government, though, has refused to allow a UN presence in the conflict zone, saying it cannot guarantee the safety of the UN workers. But, it will also not allow a UN presence in government-controlled areas where the safety zones would be established. The Government is reported to have recently established a few safety zones, but despite assurances that civilians would be safe in these areas, it seems they also are subject to attack. In addition, Tamil civilians have not had freedom of movement once inside the ‘safety zones’.
The LTTE, for its part, is said not to be granting safe passage to UN workers who stayed behind in the conflict zone to help distribute relief supplies, and reportedly is not allowing Tamil civilians who so wish, to move to government-controlled areas to avoid the fighting.
Ceasefire and Renewed Negotiations Essential
To avoid massive loss of life, the government must declare an immediate ceasefire. In addition, the government must respect the provisions in the Geneva Convention regarding armed conflict where civilians and places of civilian refuge such as churches, hospitals, orphanages, are to be non-combatant zones. Both the government and the LTTE need to return to the negotiating table immediately.