Thousands of civilians caught up in the fighting in the Wanni continue to flee into government-controlled areas, sometimes risking their lives, the military said.
Since the start of this year an estimated 3,000 civilians have sought refuge with the security forces, stretching from areas in Paranthan to Chettikulam, Killinochchi and Dharmapuram in the north to Omanthai closer to Vavuniya, the military said.
“The number of refugees is expected to gather swell in the coming days as the security forces push deeper into the last LTTE-held positions in Mullaitivu which is confined to around 40 square kilometres. According to most recent reports thousands of displaced persons are waiting for the first opportunity to flee the LTTE and join their families in the government-held areas”, Military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.
Meanwhile the ICRC has also expressed concern for the well-being of the civilians as more and more people are reportedly fleeing the LTTE-held areas to the government side.
In a statement the International Committee of The Red Cross said: “A major concern of the ICRC is to ensure that civilians, the sick, and wounded and medical personnel receive the protection to which they are entitled under international humanitarian law. The organisation has reminded the parties to the conflict repeatedly-in recent days especially of their obligation to protect persons not taking part in the hostilities”.
“The ICRC also continues to monitor possible violations of international humanitarian law affecting civilians throughout the country. When necessary, it makes representations to the authorities concerning missing persons, arbitrary arrests, under-age recruitment, unlawful killings and ill-treatment of civilians or detainees by weapon bearers. Allegations of violations are discussed confidentially with the parties to the conflict,” the statement added.
Bright student in clutches of LTTE
A 17-year-old Tamil girl who had successfully passed the recent Advanced Level examination was forcibly taken away by the LTTE to fight on the front lines, the girl’s father said.
Thevarajah Devadason, a farmer from Dharmapuram in the Killinochchi District and a father of five claimed that his daughter was forced to leave their home by LTTE guards on the very same day she received the good news of her examination results.
She was keen to study medicine, and the LTTE had assured the family that the girl would be sent to a medical faculty at a later date, Mr. Devadason lamented to our area correspondent in Vavuniya. The father is currently at the side of a sick relative at the Vavuniya Government Hospital and was unable to get back to his home owing the ongoing fighting.
He intends to take up the case with the military authorities at the earliest with the hope of tracing his daughter. -L.B
Between 100,000 and 230,000 civilians in uncleared Wanni
There is sharp disagreement over the actual number of civilians trapped in LTTE-controlled areas, with a senior government minister saying the Tigers are exaggerating numbers to win the sympathy of the international community.
Meanwhile, government sources estimate the number of civilians at between 100,000 and 150,000, while the World Food Programme puts the figure much higher at 230,000.
Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare and government defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwelle said the LTTE, who have been suffering a series of defeats at the hands of the Army over the past four months, have been using the civilians’ plight to draw international attention to Sri Lanka. However, when troops took control of such areas, including Killinochchi, they found no evidence to suggest a large civilian population had been living there.
“Over the past few years a large number of people have been moving out of these areas, and are living in areas stretching from Puttalam to Colombo,” the Minister said. “The Army has been moving very swiftly into places like Killinochchi and Dharmapuram, and it would have been impossible for a large number of people to have moved out that fast, assuming they were actually living there.”
A Presidential Secretariat source estimated the number of civilians remaining in uncleared areas in the Wanni at between 100,000 and 150,000, but Minister Rambukwella would not speculate on the numbers.
The World Food Programme (WFP), which sends food and other supplies to civilians in LTTE-held areas, puts the number at 230,000. On Friday, a food convoy left Vavuniya carrying 895 metric tonnes of food. More than 6,600 metric tonnes of food have been sent into uncleared areas since the first food convoy left for the Wanni in October last year.
The WFP obtains its numbers from Government Agents, who in turn get their information from Assistant Government Agents with the help of Grama Sevakas.
The last population counts for the Mullaitivu and Killinochchi districts were done in 1981 and 2001.
The 1981 census put the Mullaitivu population at 77,189, and the population estimate for 2001 was 121,667; the Killinochchi population in 1981 was 91,764, and the estimate for 2001 was 127,263.