of dead civilians piling up in Sri Lanka war
By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, Jan 29 (IANS) Hundreds of Tamil civilians, including
children, have been killed and wounded in Sri Lanka's war
against the Tamil Tigers, international relief agencies say,
with some calling it a humanitarian crisis.
Although Sri Lanka insists that civilian deaths have been
nil or minimal, there is growing disquiet in world capitals.
Even the usually reticent international aid agencies are starting
to speak out about the killings but opinion is divided as
to who is more to blame: Colombo or the LTTE.
Almost all the deaths and injuries are reported from Mullaitivu
district, where the military has cornered the bulk of the
guerrillas in a partly forested 300 sq km area that is also
packed with civilians whose estimates range from 150,000 to
Colombo alleges that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE) is forcibly holding on to the civilians as a human
shield and that its fighters fire from crowded places, leading
to retaliatory action. But Tamils, including those opposed
to the LTTE, allege the military is deliberately targeting
the Tamil community.
Many of the civilian dead do not belong to Muallaitivu but
had moved into the region following earlier fighting in neighbouring
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Wednesday
that hundreds had been killed after being caught in the fighting
between the military and the LTTE. Scores of wounded were
crowding understaffed and ill-equipped medical facilities,
the ICRC said.
"People are being caught in the crossfire, hospitals
and ambulances have been hit by shelling and several aid workers
were injured while evacuating the wounded," said the
ICRC, which has worked in Sri Lanka for years.
Some Tamil sources said that in the hurry to wrap up the final
phase of the war, the military was forging ahead unmindful
of the Tamil civilians caught up in the war.
Informed non-Tamil sources in Colombo who did not want to
be identified in any manner told IANS that the situation was
"It is a very dire situation," said one source with
access to the Sri Lankan establishment. "Food is running
out in LTTE territory and there is no water either. The wounded
are piling up in hospitals, which are running short of supplies."
The United Nations, which has two representatives in the war
zone, is desperately trying to evacuate the seriously wounded,
including 50 children, but says it faces hurdles from both
the military and the LTTE.
A statement purportedly issued by the Regional Director of
Health Services in the town of Mullaitivu, which the military
has seized, said that heavy fighting and artillery shelling
had led to over 300 deaths and 1,000 injuries in the areas
of Suthanthirapuram, Udaiyaarkaddu and Vallipuram. Colombo
denounced the statement as a hoax.
Another non-Tamil source reported that at least 160 Tamil
civilians had been killed in just three days: Jan 25 (55),
Jan 26 (60) and Jan 27 (45).
It was the on Jan 27, or Tuesday, night that Indian External
Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee made a hurried trip to Sri
Lanka saying India was concerned over the plight of civilians.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa promised him that Colombo would
do everything to "minimise" civilian casualties.
One Tamil rights activist alleged that Colombo was uncaring
because the dead were Tamils.
"The government does not care about Tamils who are dying,"
the activist with wide contacts in Sri Lanka's northeast told
IANS over telephone. "People are getting killed even
in so-called safe zones. But this is what the LTTE wants.
It can then raise a storm in Tamil Nadu and other places."
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