Civilians not allowed to leave by LTTE
By Raisa Wickrematunge
Many civilians in the coastal areas are not given
safe passage and allowed to cross to cleared areas
by the LTTE while food items to the areas have not
been transported since Wednesday (25).
Military Spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara
said that a total of 36,337 civilians had traversed
to government controlled areas as of Friday (27).
added that on Wednesday, a total of 431 civilians,
of whom 386 were patients, were transported by boat
However, only 19 people had crossed over on Thursday
(26). When asked the reason for the dramatic
reduction of crossovers between the two days,
Nanayakkara said that many of the civilians were in
coastal areas, and that the LTTE was not allowing
them to cross. He added that it was "not possible
for the civilians to leave, as there is the lagoon
on one side and the sea on the other." As a result,
he said, some civilians were trapped in the coastal
areas since the LTTE was not allowing them safe
Meanwhile, the ICRC had not transported any food
items since Wednesday.
ICRC Media Coordinator, Sarasi Wijeratne confirmed
that on Wednesday the ICRC had escorted a
consignment of food, in its role as a neutral
"The boat contained food items such as dhal, flour,
sugar and cooking oil," Wijeratne said, adding that
they had not facilitated the movement of any
civilians on Wednesday. The vessel left from
Trincomalee and was bound for Puthumathalan,
Head of CHA speaks out
Thiagarajah is Chairman, Institute for Human Rights,
a Sri Lankan NGO and Executive Director, Consortium
of Humanitarian Agencies. Thiagarajah has worked in
the NGO sector in Sri Lanka since 1984, holding
executive positions in several humanitarian and
human rights organisations. In an interview with The
Sunday Leader Thiagarajah spoke candidly of the
disturbing humanitarian situation in the Wanni and
its long term consequences.
Q: In terms of numbers how many civilians are
currently displaced as a result of the war?
A: The entirety of the civilian population of
Killinochchi, Mullaithivu, a few thousands from
Mannar, Vavuniya North and Jaffna constitute the
They are joined by older IDPs, some dating back 20
years. As of mid July 2008, the all-island figures
for new IDPs totalled 211,852 displaced persons in
welfare centres, with friends and relations, in
rented accommodation and other places.
Q: For how long have they been displaced and do they
have proper shelter and food?
A: Some have been displaced for almost 20
years, and many have been displaced multiple times.
The Government of Sri Lanka with the support of the
UN, INGOs and NGOs did take steps to
resettle/relocate IDPs subject to the availability
of land and funds for relocation and housing. The
list of interventions included: Mine clearing,
voluntary resettlement or relocation, relief and
humanitarian measures including the provision of
food, drinking water and sanitation, provision of
internal, rural and farm roads, marketing
facilities, nursery/primary schools, reconstruction
of damaged infrastructure including schools,
hospitals, roads, water supply schemes, markets etc.
Much of this was seen on a significant scale in the
2002-2004 period e.g. over 300,000 houses were
damaged in the conflict in respect to the old IDPs.
Of these, 120,000 families were resettled and a sum
of Rs.25, 000 and food rations was being given for
at least 15 months after permanent resettlement.
The numbers indicate a deficit in fully meeting all
the old IDP shelter needs. This deficit has widened
with additional destruction. UNICEF, UNDP Transition
Programme contributed US$ 22 million over the period
from 2004-2008 for livelihood assistance along with
UNHCR. The WB and ADB have also chipped in, along
with further contributions from NGOs. Many of these
investments need to be re-incurred given the damage
Q: How many are still trapped in the battle zone?
A: Unfortunately as has been the case on
innumerable occasions in the past, we have been
unable to agree on the demographic composition of
the civilians. Extreme figures are bandied about.
For those affected it is a vulgar display of our
inability to engage in rational, credible,
conversations. The numbers are sufficient to have
attracted the attention of the US, the UK, EU,
India, Canada, Switzerland, Germany and the UN to
name a few! Equally important is the fact that GoSL
supplies are being transported by the ICRC via the
sea to meet the essential needs of people in the
conflict zone. Without these supplies the
consequences for civilians would be dire.
Q: What steps have been initiated by organisations
like yours to preserve the lives of civilians
trapped as a result of the ongoing war?
A: There was one public statement which was
picked up in Delhi and London but not in the Colombo
press! We have also engaged in ceaseless non public
conversations with all significant actors and
interlocutors. We have even committed to physically
go to the conflict areas if passage was facilitated.
Some of our employees and their dependents are still
trapped with the other civilians.
Q: Has there been great loss of civilian life in the
last few weeks of fighting? If so, what are we
talking about in terms of numbers?
A: The numbers are estimated to be
significant. We have our own estimates, but the best
indicators are the injured being brought out and the
nature of injuries, the visuals available, and the
fact that ICRC was compelled to publicly warn of a
significant human disaster, all of which point to
the fact that the toll is high.
Q: After President Mahinda Rajapakse announced safe
passage for trapped civilians how many have been
able to take advantage of this offer?
A: Close on 33,000 have straggled out.
Q: What steps have been taken to meet and stabilise
the needs of displaced civilians?
A: The effort to meet the needs of civilians
is backed by a group drawn from the GoSL, UN and
CHA. They support a regional committee based in
Vavuniya. The first step has been to find
transitionary accommodation in 12 centres. However
many of these centres are schools and those housed
in them will shortly have to be resettled elsewhere.
Food was initially delivered, but now cooked meals
are supplied from within the centers - this is a
significant logistical and financial challenge.
Water and sanitation require a significant focus.
Given the cold nights and dry dusty days,
respiratory illnesses are common. The enumeration
of those who have arrived, tabulating their needs,
recording supplies and recognising the contributors
on line is another vital task. Family reunification
The police are likely to issue IDs which should as a
first step allow limited movement within the
district. Ensuring the people in the centres do not
remain idle will be the next challenge. Education
for children and protection for the unusually large
number of young mothers and women is another focus.
The injured and accompanying family members will
need support now and in post hospitalisation
recuperation. A whole host of persons and agencies
have worked tirelessly. Some working from very
early morning to the wee hours of the next day,
Q: There are charges of 'aid pornography' taking
place. What are your comments?
A: The challenge of this level of
intervention is to avoid the pit falls of 'aid
pornography.' This includes an insistence of
steaming past Medawachchiya in brand new gas
guzzling SUVs and painting the names of donors on
everything from refuse bins onwards. INGOs
sometimes make nationals in and out of government
become silent spectators when determining the
future of IDPs and given their control of donor
purse strings accusations of neo colonialism, or aid
imperialism are inevitable.
Q: What plans have been made for building for the
A: While the emergency needs are
stabilisation and planning, understanding the hopes
and aspirations of all the displaced is also a
priority. Task group type mechanisms should be
driven by a desire to return people to their home
districts at the first possible opportunity. This is
an imperative, driven not least by the financial
considerations in a globally difficult environment.
Nationals overseas should also be encouraged to
donate to the resettlement and rehabilitation of
their land and their people. The war may peter out,
but the conflicts must not haunt us for long. This
requires adroit leadership skills.
Serious constraints says Minister
People in the LTTE controlled
areas will continue to get government assistance.
Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services Minister
Rishad Bathiudeen in an interview with The Sunday
Leader said the government was committed to assist
the people who were still trapped in LTTE controlled
areas. "The government has started to send essential
items by sea. A few consignments have already
reached the area. As a responsible government, we
have a duty to assist the people in need. The people
are not in a position to come as they are forcibly
kept by the LTTE. Even then, the government has been
sending items to LTTE controlled areas for a long
time," he said.
By Arthur Wamanan
Q: What are the immediate needs of the people who
are in LTTE controlled areas?
A: The people are undergoing severe
hardships. The most important of all is that they
lack proper shelter. In addition they are in need of
food and medicine. We as the government are sending
food and medicines to these people who are
The other issue is that the Government Agents of
Mullaithivu and Killinochchi are not there any more.
We are doing our best with the existing government
officials in the area.
do not in anyway say that what we are doing is 100%
enough for the people who are suffering. But, we are
doing our maximum in assisting them and we will
continue to do so.
Q: The government has started transporting essential
items to Mullaithivu by sea. How long do you think
this operation will continue?
A: The government has started to send
essential items by sea. A few consignments have
already reached the area. As a responsible
government, we have a duty to assist the people in
need. The people are not in a position to come as
they are forcibly kept by the LTTE. Even then, the
government has been sending items to LTTE controlled
areas for a long time. We decided to transport the
items by sea due to the problems on the land route
due to landmines etc. We intend to continue to send
essential items to the people.
Q: The government is in the process of constructing
transitional relief villages for the people who have
fled the LTTE areas and are in Vavuniya. What is the
present stage of the project and when will it be
A: The actual process is that the people come
and hand themselves over to the military. They
provide them with energy packets like glucose. Then,
the Government Agent will take them and they will be
provided with temporary shelter.
Now we are in the process of building transitional
relief villages in Vavuniya. We have planned to
build four villages out of which, one has been
completed. The four villages have been named -
Kadirgamar, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Ramanathan and
Arunachalam. We have completed Kadirgamar village.
There are 3,000 people already living there.
The reason for building these villages is to provide
them with proper education, health etc. Other
facilities will also be given to them in due course.
The other three villages are being constructed and
will be completed in the near future.
The people will be kept in these villages until the
infrastructure in their own places are complete.
These works will not take much time.
These things are done according to the directives of
President Mahinda Rajapakse. He has directed us to
treat them honourably till they are re-settled in
their own villages and towns.
Q: Is the government facing any problems due to the
drastic increase in the number of people fleeing
LTTE controlled areas, as the fighting increases?
A: There have been no problems so far. We are
continuing to carry out relief and resettlement work
smoothly. We have planned our work. First we will
resettle the people first in Mannar, then in
Vavuniya, thereafter in Killinochchi and later in
Q: There are people who still need to be resettled
in the east. Parliamentarian Basil Rajapakse during
his visit to the east a few days ago said that 80%
of the displaced in the east have been resettled.
When will the rest be resettled?
A: Yes. There are people to be resettled in
the east. They will be resettled during this year.
Q: It has been nearly 19 years since the Muslims
were evicted from the north. When are they likely to
A: The priority now is for those who have
fled the LTTE controlled areas. We have to look into
their issues and then move ahead accordingly. We
will first resettle the Tamil people who had fled
their homes and then resettle the Muslims.
The Muslims will not be forced to go back to their
homes. They have been living outside their hometowns
for 19 years and most of them have got used to the
environment and have settled down. Therefore, we
will resettle those who wish to go back.
But first, we have to look into the matters that
need immediate attention, and that is the Wanni