"Deep concern over deteriorating situation"

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 03 August 1999, 12:43 GMT]
The New York based international monitoring organisation, Human Rights Watch, yesterday urged the Sri Lanka government and the Liberation Tigers to" reach an immediate agreement which would guarantee safe passage of civilians and essential supplies" to the parts of the Vanni which are not under the control of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA).

An HRW statement said the organisation expressed "deep concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka in the wake of the closure by the Sri Lankan Army nearly five weeks ago of the only supply route to two crucial districts in the Vanni region"

HRW also urged the Sri Lankan government and LTTE to enable" free and unimpeded access for international humanitarian relief agencies operating in these vulnerable areas".

"Conditions for the civilians trapped in northern Sri Lanka, including hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons, have become critical," said Jeannine Guthrie of Human Rights Watch.

"Civilians have been without adequate food, medical care and other humanitarian assistance for weeks, and the risk of acute malnutrition in children is growing."

Humanitarian assistance to civilians in Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi Districts in the Vanni has come to a near standstill since movement was banned across the forward defence lines with the closing of the Paappamoddai checkpoint on June 26, 1999.

"International humanitarian agencies operating in the area have reported that thousands of civilians have been trapped without access to assistance on both sides of the checkpoint; families have been separated; and no food rations have been delivered for five weeks since the supply lines closed," the HRW statement said.

"Although government officials responsible for distribution of assistance to the displaced in the two districts have apparently been granted permission to purchase food rations locally, distribution has not commenced" HRW said.

"Aid agencies report that civilians are facing increasing difficulties obtaining any food -- the availability of purchasable food is reportedly on the decline, and what is available for sale is becoming increasingly expensive and beyond the reach of most local families. The risk of serious health problems, particularly in children, is high," said HRW.

Human Rights Watch acknowledged the importance of the new transfers by sea of some seriously ill patients, but noted that less than ten of some one hundred patients in the Vanni currently awaiting transport to hospitals south of the checkpoint had been moved as of August 2.

Human Rights Watch also welcomed the lifting of a physical blockade on the offices of international agencies in the Vanni by demonstrators demanding that the organisations pressure the Sri Lankan military to open a supply route.

The organisation urged the LTTE to impress on the civilian population in its areas of control the critically important and non-partisan role-played by these agencies.

Human Rights Watch stressed that in the long run humanitarian agencies must be given safe access to all civilians:

"The Sri Lankan government and the LTTE must guarantee free and unimpeded access to all people in need; a failure to do so is likely to lead to a humanitarian disaster."


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