India and Sri Lanka have agreed on a plan to send emergency humanitarian supplies from India to beleaguered Jaffna by sea, according to the Sri Lankan government's Defence Spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella.
This has been necessitated by the absence of a safe air or sea route between Colombo and Jaffna.
"India has agreed to help. They have always been very helpful," Rambukwella told Hindustan Times on Saturday.
Asked what route the Indian vessels might take, Rambukwella said that was for India to work out.
According to commercial sources in Colombo, traders from Tamil Nadu and Jaffna have been using the Tamil Nadu-Point Pedro sea route for a long time, and this may be used by the Indian convoys.
The LTTE, which has a presence in the seas off Point Pedro, is expected to cooperate in view of the grave humanitarian crisis emerging in Jaffna, the heartland of its "Tamil Homeland".
Lankan supply ship being loaded
Meanwhile, a Sri Lankan supply ship was being loaded at the Colombo harbour, with 380 metric tones of essential commodities, Rambukwella said.
Dhal, sugar, wheat, rice, milk powder, medicines, potatoes and onions worth SLRs.250 million would be sent to Jaffna, said the Deputy Minister for Disaster Relief, Amir Ali.
"We are waiting for the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) to provide the escort. They are expected to come back to us with a sanction from Geneva in a day," Amir Ali told Hindustan Times.
But an ICRC officer, who did not want to be named, said that their headquarters in Geneva would have to be satisfied that the ship would not carry any military personnel or munitions before it agreed to escort the vessel.
"It might take three or four days for the clearances to be got," he said.
The ship would have to sail round the island to reach Point Pedro. The journey might take four to five days, if not more.
The shortest sea route will be from Trincomalee to Point Pedro or Kankesanthurai, but Trincomalee harbour is still not safe though fighting has ceased there.
The air link between Colombo and Jaffna has been snapped because shelling by the LTTE has damaged the Palaly airport, the only airport in the Jaffna peninsula. The airport cannot be used by fixed wing aircraft.
Major humanitarian crisis in Jaffna
The current round of fighting, which began on August 11, has caused a major humanitarian crisis in the Jaffna peninsula, sources in Jaffna told Hindustan Times over the phone.
The constant shelling of Palaly airport, Muhamalai, Kilali, and the Kayts, Mandaitivu islands, had led to displacement of a large number of people. They had to seek refugee deep in the countryside or in churches and temples.
Traders in Jaffna and other towns have added to the misery by exploiting the shortages by hoarding and profiteering.
Prices have gone up three times, with a kilo of potatoes selling now for SLRs 75, a coconut for SLRs 85, and a litre of petrol for SLRs 160/- when it should be SLRs 106/-
The curfew, relaxed for a few hours of the day, had brought life, education, and all economic activity to a grinding halt.
Daily wage labourers have no work and are on the verge of starvation.
There is electricity only between 8 pm to 11 pm. Many phone lines have ceased to work. Mobile phones were the first to be knocked off for security reasons.
Batteries are in short supply because they are not being allowed into Jaffna for security reasons.
Families find it very difficult to take the sick and the wounded to the hospitals because of the curfew.
An informed source in Jaffna said that the Security Forces were reluctant to allow young wounded persons to be taken to taken to hospital during curfew hours, for fear that they might be LTTE cadres.
People want war to end
The source in Jaffna said that the people were yearning for a cessation of hostilities so that they might lead a normal life and live to see the next day.
"People hope that the government and the LTTE will agree to a ceasefire soon and allow return to normalcy," the source said.
The Sri Lankan government had opened the gates in Omanthai in Vavuniya for a short while to enable people trapped in government-held territory to get back to their homes in the LTTE-held territory in the Wanni.
But those from Jaffna who were trapped in north Wanni, are still unable to leave because of the continued fighting in Kilaly, Nagarkoil and Muhamalai.
The international agencies have appealed to both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to allow free movement of trapped people and aid convoys.
A beginning has been made in this regard, with progress being registered in the Eastern district of Trimcomalee and Batticaloa. But Jaffna in the North still remains out of bounds for the aid agencies.
Meanwhile, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that he would do his best to attend to the humanitarian needs of the people of the North-East.
He has even offered to treat wounded LTTE cadres.