Sri Lanka's dominant Tamil political party is seeking humanitarian assistance from India in the form of essential food supplies to offset serious shortages in parts of the island's northeast.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which supports the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), has made the request to the Indian high commission in Colombo, said one of TNA's 22 MPs, MK Shivaji Lingam.
"There is a major humanitarian crisis in Jaffna," Shivaji Lingam told on telephone from Chennai, speaking after a four-day trip to the Jaffna peninsula, which remains cut off from the mainland by road since Aug 11 following a standoff between Colombo and the LTTE.
Shivaji Lingam spoke of widespread shortages of staple food items, baby food, fuel and even the most essential medicines despite government efforts to supply food by ships and sell them through state-run cooperative stores.
He warned that the serious shortfall in supply was expected to rise because further shipments to Jaffna from Trincomalee or Colombo could become a problem with the sea turning rough because of a depression in the Bay of Bengal.
The government closed the only highway that links the Sri Lankan mainland to the Jaffna peninsula, passing through a narrow isthmus called Elephant Pass, on Aug 11 following an LTTE offensive. Colombo refuses to reopen the road, an economic lifeline, but says it can supply food to the besieged population by sea.
Asked why the Tigers were not ready to accept food shipments to end civilian suffering, Shivaji Lingam said the LTTE felt that if such a system was allowed to take root, the government would be tempted to permanently close the highway, called A9.
The LTTE, which reportedly collects in tolls and custom duty millions of rupees a day from those using the highway, has vowed to go for further talks with Colombo only if the A9 is opened.
He said he and his fellow MPs from the TNA had met Indian diplomats in Colombo and sought humanitarian aid from India for the people in both Jaffna, which the government holds, and the LTTE-controlled Vaharai area on the island's east.
Both the places, he said, suffered from similar problems although the extent of the crisis was more serious in Jaffna because of its larger population.
Shivaji Lingam said that against a monthly need of 11,000 tonnes of essential items for the Jaffna peninsula's over 600,000 people, the supply during the past three months was only 19,000 tonnes.
He said while rice and sugar were sold in cooperative stories in Jaffna with regulated prices, there were leakages to the black market where a kilo of rice cost over Rs 150 and sugar more than Rs 400.
He said bread was available but people had to queue up for hours to buy it. And many used the bread to feed their cattle because access to fodder was near impossible both due to night curfews and tit-for-tat killings that kept people away from the streets.
"Even coconut and vegetables like eggplant cost a lot," Shivaji Lingam said. "Diesel shortage is so severe that at one time all public transport came to a halt. Pepper and spices are not available. Garlic and ginger cost the sky. Except for government employees, there is no economy in Jaffna. Even basic medicines have disappeared from shops."
He said a Sinhalese soldier at the Palaly airport literally shed tears while speaking about the shortages in Jaffna.
"The soldier came up to me and said: 'We can fight them (LTTE), but we can't see children suffer like this. I am also a father.'
"The man spoke from the heart," the TNA MP said. "All Sinhalese are not bad. But they have limited options. I know of (Sri Lankan) army officers who give away food to people who ask. The situation is very bad."