/ 18 March 2009

Sri Lanka war rages, thousands trapped

Sri Lanka’s navy rescued more than 640 people who fled the war zone in a clutch of small boats as Tamil Tiger rebels fired, the military said on Wednesday, but tens of thousands remained trapped.

The military has the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cornered in 28 square kilometre of the Indian Ocean island’s northeast, and is battling to deal a final blow to their 25-year separatist rebellion.

At least 18 more rebels were killed in the latest clashes in the shrinking war zone, a military official said on Wednesday.

The United Nations children’s agency Unicef in a statement overnight said hundreds of children were among the 2 800 civilians who have been killed in fighting already, and warned that many more were still at risk. The government calls the figures unsubstantiated.

The United Nations said last week the Tigers are forcibly holding thousands of people inside the war zone and making them fight or build defences.

The LTTE says people are staying out of choice. About 44 000 have fled so far this year, almost 5 000 of them since Saturday. On Wednesday, 643 people in 35 small boats escaped a no-fire zone after navy sailors chased away LTTE boats that were firing on them, military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said. The Tigers could not be reached for comment.

Nanayakkara said troops had recovered the bodies of 18 Tamil Tigers on Tuesday, and that fighting raged again on Wednesday.

Preventable deaths
Hundreds of deaths due to wounds and serious diseases could have been prevented if more medical supplies and facilities were available, the top government medical officials inside the war zone said in a letter to the Health Ministry.

The regional health directors for the Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts have been forced to quickly move their facilities across northern Sri Lanka as the Tigers made the civilian population flee with them when the army advanced.

”More than 500 civilian deaths, either on or after admission, have been registered at the hospitals and thousands of civilian deaths could have gone unrecorded as they were not brought to the hospitals,” the letter said.

The Health Ministry confirmed the letter’s authenticity and said there may be a drug shortage because of the difficulty of bringing in supplies, which come in a large ferry and are then carried ashore in small boats amid the fighting.

”As of now there may be acute shortage because of the current situation, because transferring drugs to uncleared areas is not very fast as compared with the past,” Dr HPA Kahanddaliyage, secretary to the Health Ministry, told Reuters.

The Tigers are on United States, European Union, Canadian and Indian terrorist lists largely for extensive use of suicide attacks during a civil war that erupted in 1983 as a fight for a separate state for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority. — Reuters