Civilians Continue to Die As Sri Lanka Pushes Tigers to the Brink
Various media outlets report that civilians continue to die in Sri Lanka as the government's army continues its relentless pounding of the last vestiges of the Tamil Tigers. Although reporters are not allowed in the fighting areas, reports state that hundreds of civilians have died, including those in so-called "safe zones".
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sounded the alarm on Tuesday January 27th over what it said was a big humanitarian crisis in northern Sri Lanka. India’s foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, on a visit to Sri Lanka, also stressed the need for measures to protect civilians caught up in the fighting.
Sri Lanka’s government accuses the rebels of holding the civilians as human shields. The army has designated a “safe zone” for them within Tiger-controlled territory, promising not to direct fire at this location. But the United Nations and the ICRC, which have staff in the area, maintain that civilians are dying or being wounded as artillery shells exploded around them. They do not say who is responsible but are urging the warring factions to let civilians leave the combat zone.
Hundreds of people have been killed and scores of wounded are overwhelming understaffed and ill-equipped medical facilities according to a statement from Jacques de Maio, head of operations in South Asia for the ICRC. He said that hospitals and ambulances have been hit by shelling and that several aid workers were injured while evacuating the wounded. Mr de Maio said it was time to take decisive action to stop further bloodshed
The government and LTTE are trading allegations over civilian deaths and injuries. The pro-rebel TamilNet website accused the army of keeping up a “continuous inhuman artillery barrage” on the safe zone. A spokesman for the Sri Lankan army denied that troops were firing into the safe zone. He also said that the Tigers have instructed their fighters to don civilian clothing to give the appearance of heavier casualties among non-combatants. The claim and counter-claim is characteristic of a war has been marked by appalling human-rights abuses by both sides.