The movement of essential commodities and relief supplies from Colombo to embattled and isolated Jaffna is now facing a new stumbling block.
Even as the Sri Lankan government is loading a vessel with 3,800 tonnes of relief material at the Colombo port, the LTTE has said that it will not allow the use of the sea route.
But it has offered to open the land route, the A9 highway linking Vavuniya with Jaffna through land controlled by it, as an alternative.
"We have reservations about the use of the sea route, but we have offered to open the land route with an assurance that the convoys will be given full security and the road will be mines free," the LTTE's media spokesman Thaya Master told Hindustan Times on Friday.
This message had been conveyed to the Sri Lankan government in writing by the political wing leader SP Tamilselvan when he met the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Kilinochchi on Wednesday, Master said.
Though the ICRC is supposed to ensure that no military personnel or munitions are put on a vessel meant to carry civilian goods, the LTTE feels that what is on board cannot be verified to its satisfaction.
This is because the LTTE has no access to the vessels at any point.
The LTTE complains that in the past, the Sri Lankan armed forces have used ships carrying civilian goods and escorted by neutral aid agencies, to carry munitions for their Jaffna garrison.
The LTTE feels that the land route is safer because the lorries can be checked at its checkpoints at Omanthai and Muhamalai.
Given the LTTE's objection to the sea route, the Sri Lankan government will not be able to send the second relief vessel, which is scheduled to leave Colombo for Jaffna on Saturday, with 3,800 tonnes of food and medicines.
Govt wants land route opened
The Sri Lankan government has said that it has no problem about using the land route and has in fact already opened it from its end.
"We have already opened the A9 highway from our side. It is up to the LTTE to open up that part of the road which is under its occupation," said Keheliya Rambukwella, the government Defence spokesman.
Throwing the ball into the LTTE's court, he said: "If the LTTE is really a liberation group it should allow relief supplies to go to the people."
" As far as the government is concerned it has a plan to send SLRs 3 billion worth of relief. It has already sent 1,600 tonnes by sea, and another 3,800 tonnes are waiting to go," Rambukwella said.
On Wednesday, 45 lorries with relief material for Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Mannar went through the government checkpoint at Omanthai and Uyilankulam, the ICRC told Hindustan Times.
Kilinoichchi and Mullaitivu districts are on the A9 highway and are under the LTTE's control.
Jaffna lives on edge
The food situation in Jaffna is dicey though not alarming residents say. According to trade sources in the peninsula, the current stocks may last for about 10 days.
Residents say that the 1,600 tonnes sent by ship recently has eased the situation, but it is vital to get the rest of the consignment of 3,800 tonnes.
"With the banks now open, people have access to money. But the shops will have to have goods to buy," a resident said.
An earlier plan to bring goods from Tamil Nadu by boats through established private trade channels did not take off because the Indian government had put a ban on the export of dhal and sugar.
A special waiver had to be obtained before the traders could export them to Sri Lanka.
There was also some opposition to handing over the task to private traders who, it was feared, might profiteer.
Given this difficult scenario, Jaffna residents are hoping that the 3,800 tonnes of essential commodities so desperately needed, would come whether by sea or land.