Humanitarian crisis feared as conflict in Sri Lanka worsens

By staff writers
March 16, 2007

Catholic aid agency CAFOD has said it fears a new humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka following a recent escalation of ongoing violence in the north and east of the country.

In the past two weeks increased conflict, especially in the east of the country, between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has displaced more than 90,000 people from their homes.

A 2002 ceasefire has collapsed and the military has vowed to wipe out the rebels militarily, which analysts say means a war that has killed around 68,000 people since 1983 -- around 4,000 of those in the past 15 months alone -- will escalate.

This month's exodus comes on the heels of an influx of thousands of refugees in December and January in the face of another military offensive to capture a Tiger eastern stronghold.

The rebels have warned of a bloodbath across the island if the military pushes on with its plan to completely defeat them within the next 2-3 years.

As more refugee camps are set up in the eastern town of Batticaloa and the northern Jaffna peninsula, CAFOD’s partner Caritas Sri Lanka is providing temporary shelters, cooked meals, clothing, and trauma counselling to those forced to flee their homes.

Father Damian Fernando, director of Caritas Sri Lanka, said: "The situation is very volatile. At any moment, anything can happen.

"The government appears to have gone on the offensive and to be seeking a military solution to the conflict. So the country is on a war footing.

"Caritas Sri Lanka is seen as neutral by both the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. They accept our presence and our work, so we continue to be allowed to travel to and from affected areas."

As government forces advance into the east, capturing important rebel areas, people leaving their homes are descending on Batticaloa, the main town in the east.

Fr Damian says: "The town has seen an influx of 10,000 families, that’s about 50,000 people. They talk about fleeing in the middle of the night, crossing jungle terrain to reach a place of relative safety."

CAFOD has supported partner organisations in Sri Lanka for more than 20 years. An important part of its partner’s work is bringing different communities together in the search for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Mary Lucas, CAFOD’s programme manager for Sri Lanka, says: "As the United Nations Human Rights Council meets in Geneva this week, CAFOD is calling for a renewed effort by the international community and the government of Sri Lanka to work for a lasting peace.

"A political solution which respects the rights of all communities is essential if we are to see peace and an end to suffering in Sri Lanka."

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