Aid groups: No access to Lankan war zone
THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER
GENEVA, May 29 — International aid groups said today they still could not access Sri Lanka’s former war zone from which hundreds of thousands of people fled, stalling efforts to help people return home.
Spokesman Florian Westphal said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has not been permitted to access the northeast strip the Sri Lankan military had advanced upon to extinguish the Tamil Tiger guerrillas.
The ICRC and its aid partners, including UN agencies, have faced obstacles reaching the huge military-run camps housing those who escaped the fighting, including the Manik Farm facility whose population is estimated at 220,000.
Sri Lanka, which has said it is in control of the refugee situation and that there is no problem with access, this week relaxed its restrictions and allowed aid vehicles into the camps. But other limitations remain in place, the ICRC said.
“We haven’t been able to access the areas where most of these people would have fled from since the ending of the most recent fighting,” Westphal told a news briefing in Geneva.
The government, whose troops have been accused of killing and mistreating civilian bystanders, also kept outsiders from the war zone during the fighting that officially ended last week, making claims of abuses on both sides hard to verify.
Aid workers have cited acute health, nutritional, water and sanitation needs in the camps holding mainly ethnic Tamils, on whose behalf the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said they were waging their insurgency against the majority Sinhalese.
The United Nations estimates that between 80,000 and 100,000 Sri Lankans have died since the civil war erupted in 1983.
The LTTE is notorious for having perfected the suicide bomb jacket and recruiting child soldiers, and was reported to have used civilians as human shields against the Sri Lankan military.
Western governments seeking to examine allegations of war crimes during the conflict suffered a major setback this week at the UN Human Rights Council, when Sri Lanka gathered its allies to pass a resolution celebrating its military success and asserting its right to act without outside interference.
The resolution praised Sri Lanka’s pledge to resettle “the bulk of” those driven from their homes within six months and “to further facilitate appropriate work” by aid groups to meet urgent needs in displaced-persons camps.
Today, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the government should do all it could to lay the groundwork for people to return to their homes in the region where the LTTE had been battling to establish an independent Tamil homeland.
“This may be somewhat of a time-consuming process but the work needs to begin now to prepare these areas of return. UNHCR for one certainly hopes that people will be able to go home as soon as possible,” spokesman Ron Redmond told the briefing. — Reuters