Fears grow for Sri Lanka civilians

Aid groups say civilians caught up in violent conflict face humanitarian crisis.

    The fighting in the north has driven thousands of people from their homes [GALLO/GETTY]

    Aid organisations say a major humanitarian crisis is unfolding in northern Sri Lanka where government forces are engaged in fierce fighting with Tamil Tiger rebels.

    Around 350,000 Tamil civilians are crammed into the area where fighting is taking place, forcing them to endure heavy bombardments and acute food shortages.

    Foreign journalists are prevented from entering the conflict zone, but Al Jazeera has obtained exclusive pictures showing civilians fleeing the fighting as buildings burn and craters from heavy shelling pockmark the earth.

    'Pauperized'

    "We lost everything, our property and all," one fleeing civilian told Al Jazeera.  "It was the same at the last place we were staying, we lost everything there too."

    "We don't have any property now, we have lost everything. We are now worse than before, we don't have anything to eat."

    Civilians say they have lost everything
    The town of Mullaittivu in Sri Lanka's northeast is thought to be the last stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who have been battling government forces for 25 years, hoping to obtain an independent homeland for the country's ethnic Tamils.

    Aid agencies say at least 30 people are being either killed or wounded daily in the violence, and getting food and emergency medical supplies to the area is also becoming impossible.

    "For the last five days for example, there has been no aid that has reached this population at all because of the fighting," Paul Castella, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Sri Lanka, told Al Jazeera.

    He said they have been unable to establish safe passage into the region for aid convoys, although negotiations were taking place to open a so-called humanitarian corridor.

    "And its not just about aid or assistance, but also about healthcare for the sick and the wounded," Castella said. "As you know, a number of hospitals had to be evacuated because of the moving frontline."

    Two hospitals are reported to have been bombed so far, and one aid group claims civilians are being targeted.

    'Genocide'

    Selvamalar Ayadurai, who runs an aid organisation helping civilians in Sri Lanka's north, says the term genocide may be justified.

    "They use the term genocide - it may be right because the definition for genocide is a systematic and planned destruction of a social, racial or political group. So this is the destruction of a racial group, which are the Tamils of northern Sri Lanka," she told Al Jazeera.

    Sri Lankan government forces have achieved a string of victories against the Tigers in recent weeks.

    The government said a week ago that it had captured the strategic Elephant pass, which links the northern Jaffna peninsula to the mainland, for the first time since April 2000.
     
    And on January 2, the Sri Lankan flag was raised over Kilinochchi, a city that had been considered the Tamil Tigers' de facto capital.
     
    The conflict in Sri Lanka has raged since 1972 and about 70,000 people are thought to have been killed till date.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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