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Access to newly displaced "critical"

Displaced families in Batticaloa district in eastern Sri Lanka receive food assistance.
(Brennon Jones/IRIN)

Access to thousands of civilians who have fled fighting between government forces and the Tamil Tigers in the northwestern Mannar District between June and July was critical to prevent further hardship, according to UN officials.

About 12,000 familes have fled the fighting and moved farther north, closer to the town of Kilinochchi, under the control of the Tigers 300km north of Colombo, Gordon Weiss, UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, told IRIN.

"So far access to these IDPs has remained satisfactory ," he said. "But it is critical that we maintain these access levels to keep supplies moving. The situation in the areas is very fluid and UN supplies to these people are vital."

The World Food Programme (WFP) has already increased its caseload to supply the newly displaced and Weiss said there were at least 145,000 IDPs, including the newly displaced, in areas under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka's north, the Vanni.

"Over the past week, WFP transported 130MT of dhal and 10MT of vegetable oil from Vavuniya for its ongoing dry ration distribution in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts [under Tiger control]," the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) stated in a situation report released on 4 August.

"The general security situation in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts remains tense and unpredictable due to ongoing military operations and exchange of mortar/artillery shelling around the northern and southern Forward Defence Line areas, claymore mine attacks and air attacks deep inside the Vanni area," the report stated.

Tense environment

Most of the newly displaced fled the fighting in the northern areas of Mannar District to Kilinochchi in mid-July, according to IASC updates.

"These supplies [into Tiger-held areas] are vital if these civilians are to avoid further hardships," Thomas Saudranayagam, the Catholic Bishop of the northern town of Jaffna, 400km north of Colombo, told IRIN.



Photo: Amantha Perera/IRIN
About 12,000 families are among the newly displaced near Kilinochchi

"Because of the security situation it is sometimes difficult for government agencies to maintain supplies and they need all the assistance [they can get]," he said. The government also released Rs2 million (US$20,000) to officials in the affected districts to meet the immediate needs of the newly displaced.

No access

Weiss said there were an unknown number of civilians still trapped in areas of fighting in the southwestern parts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts and around 800 people had reached government-controlled areas by travelling south of the fighting. "We don't have access to these people still in the areas of the fighting and we don't have exact figures."

He told IRIN it was not clear what motivated the civilians to move farther north into Tiger-held areas and there was no indication whether they would begin to move south and cross into government-controlled areas where access to UN and other humanitarian agencies would be relatively easier.

Saudranayagam said that given the unpredictable security situation in areas under the Tigers, if the displaced could move back into their own villages, now under government control, their safety and supplies could be far better guaranteed.

"If we can provide a corridor for these people to move back into their villages or to areas south of the fighting it would make supplying [them with aid] easier. The rains will also come in the next two months and the situation could get bad."

If the civilians are to move into government areas, they would have to travel through the Omanthai crossover point that connects Tiger with government areas in the south, about 60km south of Kilinochchi where they remain now.

Sri Lankan military officials told IRIN the Omanthai crossover point was functioning smoothly. "They [the IDPs] can come to government areas if they want to through Omanthai," military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara told IRIN.

ap/mw


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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