Home » News

Q+A-What is fate of civilians in Sri Lanka’s war?

[Reuters, Thursday, 19 February 2009 16:10 No Comment]

The U.N.’s top humanitarian official, John Holmes, is in Sri Lanka this week to assess the plight of civilians trapped in its war zone and to look at relief efforts for those who fled the fighting in the 25-year civil war.

Here are some questions and answers about their situation:

HOW MANY ARE TRAPPED?

The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross say around 215,000 people, nearly all Tamils, are trapped by the fighting in the north. The government this week said the figure is between 50,000 and 70,000. The United Nations is already preparing for an exodus of 150,000. [ID:nLA754358] Already, dozens of aid workers are pouring into Vavuniya, a north-central town where most refugees are brought and where Holmes is due to visit on Friday.

HOW MANY HAVE ESCAPED THE FIGHTING?

According to the military, almost 36,000 have come out as of Thursday. Nearly all have escaped in the last two weeks.

WHAT KIND OF RISKS DO THEY FACE?

Besides the risks of fighting between the Sri Lankan armed forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighters, witnesses including Catholic nuns say the Tigers are shooting many who try to run. The jungles they have to get through are laden with booby traps and mines. Earlier this month, some who escaped were blown up or wounded by a suspected LTTE suicide bomber at a centre where the military registers refugees. The LTTE denied responsibility for that and for shooting civilians.

HOW MANY HAVE BEEN KILLED OR WOUNDED?

The ICRC, the only aid agency with a permanent presence in the war zone, has said hundreds have been killed and injured in the past few weeks, but not given an exact figure. Witnesses who escaped say 10-15 people were dying daily where they were.
The government says the overall figures are hugely inflated and include LTTE fighters masquerading as civilians.

This week, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said there may be some casualties, but not on a mass scale. He said the military had stopped using artillery, mortars and airstrikes unless they had precise targeting information on areas without civilians.
Pro-rebel web site www.TamilNet.com has reported thousands being killed, but it has used unidentified sources or Tiger officials. Verifying any account is next to impossible in a war zone sealed off to independent observers.

WHY HAVEN’T MORE FLED?

Human Rights Watch, aid agencies and the government have said the Tigers have forced people to stay at gunpoint, and are using them to fight, build defences or act as human shields. The Tigers, who for years have had a policy of making every family hand over one person to fight, deny that. They say the people are staying of their own free will and fear government persecution at army-guarded refugee camps. The government says its camps are of an international standard, and rejects criticism they will be turned into concentration camps.

WHAT IS BEING DONE ABOUT THEM?

The Sri Lankan army a week ago set up a new 12 km (7 mile) long no-fire zone on the coast north of the port of Mullaittivu, to replace an older one inland. The LTTE and government had traded accusations of firing inside the old one, and now, the new one. Plans are being discussed by the U.N., ICRC and others to increase sea evacuations that carry aid in and people out.

[Full Coverage]

(For updates you can share with your friends, follow TNN on Facebook, Twitter and Google+)

Comments are closed.