Sri Lanka conflict forces thousands to flee their homes

By staff writers
April 13, 2007

Christian Aid partners are working to help displaced people in Sri Lanka after renewed fighting has forced more than 155,000 civilians to flee their homes in recent weeks.

A surge in violence in Batticaloa district in the east of the country has driven people from their towns and villages either into camps for displaced people or to stay with friends and relatives in safer areas.

There are around 292,000 people displaced in Sri Lanka due to the conflict, according to the latest United Nations figure from March 2007.

Christian Aid partner organisations have been working in some of the camps in Batticaloa and in Trincomalee districts. Partners say that many of these camps are no longer entirely safe as some were recently targeted by shelling and others are being visited by armed groups.

There have been cases of people being arrested, or threatened, while families fear their children could be forcibly recruited by paramilitary groups.

In March, a group of people from Trincomalee who had fled to the camps in Batticaloa, were forced by the authorities to return to their homes in Muttur without adequate provision being made for their safety and welfare, according to Christian Aid partner OfERR, which works with refugees and tsunami survivors.

A group of international agencies including Christian Aid together with a local partner is due to assess the situation in Muttur town in April in order to give help to returnees and those families that remained throughout the clashes.

This is not always possible in places like Sampor in Trincomalee district, as militarisation, mining and unexploded ordnance make it difficult for civilians to return home.

Jaffna in the north of the island has been virtually cut off since August last year when the main road connecting it with the rest of the island was closed after a stand off between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). There have been food shortages and a rise in the price of basic essentials. Education is also being affected as schools and universities have to close down.

The fighting is destroying basic infrastructure such as schools, places of worship, roads and houses including those built for and by tsunami survivors, while electricity supplies are unreliable in many locations. In many eastern and northern districts boats are not allowed to go to sea as they are seen as a security risk, making life difficult in coastal areas where fishing is the backbone of the economy.

"There is no alternative to a negotiated agreement," said Laurent Viot, Christian Aid’s representative in Sri Lanka. "In the meantime we need to remind parties to the conflict of their moral and legal responsibilities towards civilians in war zones and offer as much physical and psychological support to the safe and voluntary return of displaced people and more generally to all civilians affected by this conflict".

In 2002 the government and the Tamil Tigers signed a ceasefire to end Sri Lanka’s 20-year civil war which had cost 65,000 lives. Despite the truce still being in place on paper, more than 4,000 people have been killed in the past 15 months, according to European ceasefire monitors.

Keywords:sri lanka
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