Fears grow for Sri Lankan civilians

UN agency says children particularly at risk as military advances on Tamil Tigers.

    Red Cross officials are pushing for a safe passage for the civilians wounded in the conflict [EPA]

    "A UN convoy was able to leave the frontline on Thursday and managed to take out 50 children injured from the conflict. [They had] shrapnel wounds, burn wounds. And they have been taken to a government hospital where they are getting support.


    Tamil Tigers 'cornered'

    "Obviously these children are at great risk: they are getting caught in the crossfire."

    Lisabeth List, a medical co-ordinator of Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Sri Lanka, told Al Jazeera that she had seen women, children and elderly people whose limbs had been amputed as a result of injuries sustained in the fighting.

    "We saw a young boy with both arms amputated. We have seen malnourished children," she said.

    Safe passage

    Red Cross officials have asked the Tamil Tigers to allow civilians to leave the area.
    "We are negotiating with the LTTE to ensure safe passage for many more patients that need urgent medical attention," Sarasi Wijeratne, an ICRC spokesperson, told the AFP news agency.

    Focus: Sri Lanka
    Q&A: Sri Lanka's civil war
    The history of the Tamil Tigers
    Timeline: Conflict in Sri Lanka
    But the government on Friday rejected calls for a ceasefire, vowing to continue the military offensive against the Tigers.

    P. Ramasamy, a former adviser to the Sri Lankan peace process, told Al Jazeera that government troops were "actually firing on innocent Tamil civialins women and children".

    He said that the Tamil Tigers were not opposed to facilitating the safe passage of civilians, but questioned why Tamil civilians should have to leave.

    "There are homes of Tamils who have been living there. Why should they go to different zones just because the Sri Lankan government thinks this is the only way to defeat the LTTE? To me this does make sense at all," Ramasamy said.

    However, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka's human rights minister, said that the government was trying to protect civilians.

    "Our fight is not with the civilians. These are Sri Lankan citizens. These are our people," he told Al Jazeera.

    "Our fight is with terrorism, and we want to eradicate terrorsim and restore democracy and ensure people's rights which are enshrined in the constitution."

    He said the military would continue to take on "precise LTTE targets".

    "We have not at anytime fired into civilian areas. We will not do that in future. Our objective is to ensure civilian safety," he said.

    Shelling claims

    The military has accused the Tamil Tigers of using civilians as human shields and firing artillery into an army-declared no-fire zone with the hope of creating a crisis to build pressure for a truce.

    Sri Lankan troops have captured major towns from the Tamil Tigers in recent weeks [AFP]
    The separatists deny the accusations and have continually accused the military of shelling the no-fire zone.

    The Sri Lankan government pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered truce with the Tamil Tigers a year ago, and has since been battling to dismantle its de facto state in the north.

    Following months of heavy fighting, government troops captured the Tiger's political capital of Kilinochchi and, later, the Tamil Tiger bastion of Mullaittivu on the northeast coast.

    More than 70,000 people have been killed in the LTTE's struggle for an independent homeland in the north and east of the island.

    Ethnic Tamils have long complained of marginalisation at the hands of successive governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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