ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 24

After the fire: Verbal battle rages as people suffer

By Asif Fuard

As the government and the LTTE traded accusations over the shelling of the refugee camp in Kathiraveli, a coastal hamlet in Vakarai, thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) are suffering as food convoys to the area have been grounded since October 31 due to the prevailing volatile security situation.

The IDPs that are housed mainly in schools, temples and makeshift camps are facing a crisis situation as they have not been getting food, medicine, clean drinking water and are also facing sanitation problems an NGO worker told The Sunday Times.

Moves are underway for the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) to try and ease the food crisis.

A spokesperson for ICRC Davide Vigneti said , "an ICRC convoy of six ambulances, a bus, a truck and three cars reached Vakarai hospital to which the dead and wounded had been brought. Sixty nine urgent cases have been transferred to the Valachchenai hospital, a better equipped hospital.”

But other NGO workers said more food convoys would be needed to overcome the crisis.

The government has come under international pressure to carryout a full investigation into the shelling where 65 refugees were killed.

According to the Defence Ministry the LTTE had fired at government troops positioned in Batticaloa and they had retaliated by pounding Kathiraveli using multi barrel rocket launchers.

The LTTE initially claimed that 45 civilians were killed and 125 injured during the shelling.

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission delegation that visited the scene soon after believes that the death toll could have increased as many were critically injured . They also said there was no evidence to show that the LTTE had fired from the camps in which the IDPs were housed.

SLMM spokeswoman Helen Olafsdottir told The Sunday Times that they had taken up the matter with the government.

“There are around 30,000 civilians trapped in Kathiraveli. Only a few have managed to come to government controlled areas. There is also no aid-flow to the area We visited the site and found that the LTTE had no military installation in the area. There were also no signs that the LTTE had fired from the area or that they were using civilians as human shields,” she said.

“Our SLMM delegation tried to go to Kathiraveli to further investigate the matter. But they were unfortunately turned away at the Army check point on Friday,” she said.

Most of the IDPs who have fled Kathiraveli are said to be in a government forces-controlled camp in Valachchanai where they are being reportedly looked after by aid workers.

However Military Spokesperson brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe told The Sunday Times that the LTTE had been using civilians as human shields and that the government forces fired back at the area detected on their radars.

“Our radars managed to pickup LTTE gun positions from where they were firing at us. There was a possibility that they had been using civilians in the area as human shields. For the past few days the rebels in the east had tried to push the government forces behind so that they could gain control of more territory,” he said.

“We have reports that the LTTE is not allowing civilians to cross over to the government controlled areas and they are being forced to dig bunkers and build military installations,” Brigadier Samarasinghe said.

When asked why the SLMM team was not allowed to enter Vakarai at the Sri Lanka Army checkpoint on Friday he said he was unaware of such a situation.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday expressed regret and sorrow at the senseless loss of lives of innocent civilians at Kathiraveli and condemned the LTTE's tactic of directing long range artillery fire while using civilians as human shields.

As a mark of protest over the killing of civilians the Tamil National Alliance organized a hartal campaign in the towns of Batticaloa and Ampara towns on Friday.

Activities at government and private institutions, shops, banks and schools came to a complete standstill and all transport ceased on Friday and yesterday, The Sunday Times learns.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.