Jan 15, 2009

World - Growing concern over civilians’ fate in Sri Lanka

B. Muralidhar Reddy

COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan Air Force on Tuesday claimed it had carried out 10 raids targeting “observed LTTE gathering places and defence line” in Mullathivu district.

The Air Force stepped up its offensive in Mullathivu, the last remaining stronghold of the Tigers in the Wanni region, to flush out LTTE leaders and cadre from their hideouts in the thick jungles.

However, civil society within and outside the nation is concerned about the fate of civilians stranded in areas that continue to be under the control of the LTTE as the exodus has not been on expected lines.

Air Force spokesperson Janaka Nanayakkara said the LTTE defence line south of Mullathivu were targeted on four separate occasions to assist the ground troops advancing towards Mullathivu. He said jets raided LTTE gathering places in Mullathivu on five occasions.

Separately, the government said it was fully prepared to handle the mass exodus of civilians from Wanni and Vavuniya was being readied as a humanitarian assistance hub to cater to their needs. “Arrangements are under way to provide relief for those coming from un-cleared areas seeking shelter and safety,” said Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services Minister Rishard Bathuideeen.

According to the Ministry, 1,168 people have sought refuge with authorities and they have been housed at the Menik farm and the Nelumkulama welfare centre in Vavuniya. Steps have been taken to clear 80 acres in Vavuniya to construct temporary shelters.

Over 200 displaced people have sought refuge with the military at various destinations on the northern front in the last two days and many others are on their way despite an LTTE threat to their safe passage, the Ministry claimed. In a report posted on its website, the LTTE alleged that four civilians were killed in shelling by the Army on Thoddiyadi in Visuvamadu in the Mullathivu district on Tuesday.

“Frequent shelling attacks around the small area in which the IDPs of Wanni are crowded is resulting in heavy casualties on a daily basis. The displaced hospitals in this area are also coming under frequent attacks,” the Tigers claimed.

The LTTE further charged that Army artillery firing hit one of the Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital wards. “There were about 200 inpatients and 700 outpatients at the hospital at that time. Two of the patients at the hospital sustained minor injuries. Following the shell attack the hospital ward hit by the shelling was immediately evacuated,” it said.

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