Sri Lankan soldiers take the battle to the rebel territory in new offensive.
|Only 40 per cent of the supplies needed in the Jaffna
peninsula have been delivered in recent weeks
The continued closure of a main civilian supply route by the Sri Lankan army has led to a serious shortage of food, medicines, fuel and other essentials in the army-controlled district of Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka.
The area is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis as only 40 per cent of supplies have been delivered by sea because of heavy monsoon rains and and shelling by the Tamil Tiger separatists.
The 600,000 people of Jaffna are desperate to get hold of supplies and many queue for hours to buy them from army-run ration shops.
A few kilos of rice, lintels, flour, a packet of biscuits and milk power is all a family gets for the whole month.
Selvam, a Jaffna resident, told Al Jazeera: “There is a big scarcity of rice, flour, sugar. The government says there is enough supply, but we do not receive anything.
“People wait from morning to evening and go back empty-handed most days. I have been here since five in the morning. I don’t know if I will get anything.”
Supply route shut
Supplies have been erratic since August when the government shut down the A9 road – a key supply route from the government-controlled south that passes through territory held by the Tamil Tiger separatists.
|The army closed the A9 road to Jaffna after a
surprise attack by Tamil Tiger separatists
Most people in the predominantly Tamil district want the road to be re-opened.
Paramasivan, another local resident, said: “After the road shut down there are no jobs and no food. I am a construction worker, I have no work because there is no cement or steel coming through the A9.
“If the road is open … I will get work and the money to buy food. Now I don’t have work or the kind of money to feed my family.”
In Jaffna city, the shortages are everywhere to see.
Some stores have not been restocked since August and the prices of vegetables has risen 10 times in the last four months.
A tailor in the city, who declined to give his name, told Al Jazeera that most ordinary people can no longer afford cloth.
He said: “I have very little work … when people don’t have money for food to feed their children, how can they buy cloth or get dresses stitched?”
Tamil Tiger attack
The army says it cannot risk opening the A9 permanently because they do not trust the Tamil Tigers. The road was shut after the separatists launched a surprise attack through it.
Major General Chandrasiri, Sri Lankan army commander in Jaffna, said: “They’re using it for various other anti-government, anti-security forces activities. They use this A9 road to bring their weapons into this area, to bring their cadres and create scenarios where the security forces have to act in a different way, so for that reason we found that closing the A9 road is very important.
“We have also found that if they want to launch a major offensive against the security forces in Jaffna peninsular the A9 road is the main land access.”
Although fighting is continuing around the A9, the government has offered to open the road to allow a convoy of 500 supply lorries to stabilise the situation, or even to bring in supplies through an alternative land route.
But the Tigers have rejected the offer and say they will not return to talks with the government till the A9 is open.
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting government forces for more than two decades in an attempt to secure a separate homeland for the minority Tamil population.