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Sri Lanka: increase in military activity and humanitarian needs

04-07-1995 News Release 27

More than two months after the end of the truce between the Colombo government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), there has been an alarming deterioration in the situation in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, with heavy loss of life among fighting units, thousands of families displaced and an upsurge in attacks on civilians. The LTTE's lightning operation of 28 June against the Mandaithivu garrison left more than 110 dead, three of them civilians.

This attack was yet another incident in a spectacular series of military operations, accompanied by acts of violence directly affecting the civilian population. Two Sri Lankan navy vessels were sunk on 19 April in Trincomalee, marking the end of a three-month ceasefire. On 28 and 29 April, 92 people died when two transport planes of the Sri Lankan air force were shot down near the Palali base. A few weeks later, on 26 May, 42 Sinhalese civilians were massacred in a fishing village north of Trincomalee. Meanwhile there has been a sharp rise in the number of people arrested in the capital Colombo and in the eastern part of the island. Since April the ICRC has visited and registered the identity of more than 300 detainees all over the country.

 A single surgeon for a 1,000-bed hospital  

Medical services in the conflict areas have also been affected by the deteriorating situation. A recent ICRC survey found that there is only one experienced surgeon left in Jaffna's 1,000-bed university hospital, and the hospital's sanitary installations are in an extremely dilapidated condition. There are no surgical facilities in Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu or Mannar d istricts. The Trincomalee government hospital has only one surgeon and one anaesthetist working half-time. The embargo on medicines was reinstated after the hostilities resumed, and stocks are rapidly running out.

To cope with the most urgent needs, the ICRC has decided to double its emergency medical stocks in Jaffna and plans to send in additional medical staff. It remains extremely concerned, however, about the growing isolation of the region's civilian population, the movement of people and goods between the Jaffna peninsula and the rest of the country being severely restricted because of hazardous security conditions. Jaffna's civilian population is becoming increasingly dependent on relief shipments of medical and food supplies and other basic necessities, which are ferried from Colombo to the peninsula by government ships under ICRC protection. Up until early June an ICRC-chartered ship had been transporting medical cases and people rejoining their families, but on 4 June the vessel hit a mine and sank in Kankesanturai harbour. The ICRC is currently attempting to find another ship, and is seeking new security guarantees from the belligerents.