The Sri Lankan army (SLA) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) might be fighting it out for territorial supremacy in northern Sri Lanka but the civilians in the region have a battle closer at hand and home — displacement.
Thousands of civilians in northern Sri Lanka have been displaced from their homes as the fighting between the SLA and the LTTE intensifies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Amnesty International (AI) have said in two separate statements in the last 24 hours.
“Government aerial bombardment and artillery shelling since May has forced more than 70,000 people to flee their homes, primarily in Killinochchi and Mullaitivu districts,’’ AI said about the two worst affected districts in the north.
On Thursday, the ICRC had said several thousands of civilians had fled areas affected in the fighting. Thousands, according to the ICRC statement, have abandoned their homes for fear of their lives. Many have had to do it more than once, the statement said. “Access to food, shelter, sanitation and clean water is an urgent priority,” the ICRC said.
Yolanda Foster, AI’s Sri Lanka researcher said: “The Tigers are keeping them in harm’s way and the government is not doing enough to ensure they receive essential assistance.’’
The ICRC has provided relief items to over 16,500 people in four of the worst-hit areas.
Amnesty indicated that the picture was grim for those who have been caught in the crossfire. “In the LTTE-controlled Wanni area, the Tigers have hindered thousands of families from moving to safer places by imposing a strict pass system or forcing some family members to stay behind to ensure the return of the rest of the family. These measures seem designed in part to use civilians as a buffer against government forces — a serious violation of international humanitarian law,’’ it said.
Foster said: “In the absence of independent international monitors, Sri Lankan civilians lack protection and remain at the mercy of two forces with long records of abuse.”