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Update No. 96/2 on ICRC activities in Sri Lanka

05-07-1996 Operational Update

In the large-scale military operations launched by the Sri Lankan army at the end of April and the beginning of May, most of the Jaffna peninsula was retaken by the government forces after years of domination of this part of the island by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Hundreds of thousands of people who had been displaced by the fighting were able to return to their place of origin on the peninsula, while tens of thousands of others fled across the Jaffna lagoon to the Wanni region in LTTE-held territory.

During the hostilities ICRC staff remained on the Jaffna peninsula, based at the office in Point Pedro, to carry on their humanitarian activities for people affected by the conflict. Subsequently, some changes were made to the delegation's ongoing activities and projects in order to adjust to the new environment and humanitarian needs arising from the most recent military operations.

 ICRC office reopens in Jaffna town  

As a result of high-level discussions with the authorities in Colombo the ICRC was officially granted permission to reopen its Jaffna office, which had been moved to Point Pedro after the mass exodus of civilians in November 1995. A team of five delegates immediately started to visit detainees, carry out tracing activities for families separated by the recent population displacements and make general assessments of civilians'needs. The military authorities have given the go-ahead for delegates to move around independently in the newly controlled areas, although this will depend on security conditions as sporadic fighting continues. The ICRC office in P oint Pedro remains open for the time being.

 A permanent ICRC presence in Kilinochchi  

Since April, four delegates, including two nurses, have been based permanently in Kilinochchi in the LTTE-held Wanni region. The programmes being developed here are aimed at improving the living conditions of the hundreds of thousands of civilians still displaced or affected by the consequences of the conflict. In addition to carrying out visits for protection purposes to people held by the LTTE, the team organizes mobile health care clinics and water and sanitation programmes.

 Visits to detainees  

During the first five months of 1996 the ICRC carried out 729 visits to government-run places of detention (military camps, police stations and prisons) and registered 982 new detainees held throughout the island under the Emergency Regulations and Prevention of Terrorism Act.

In May and June visits were carried out to 60 detainees who had been arrested on the Jaffna peninsula and later transferred to police stations in Colombo. As from mid-May, visits started on the peninsula itself. By 21 June delegates had registered 197 new detainees held in military camps or newly established police stations.

Synthesis reports covering the period January 1995 to February 1996 have recently been submitted to theVice-Minister of Defence and to the commanding officers of the police force, the Special Task Force and the army. On 27 June a synthesis of these three reports was handed over to the President of Sri Lanka.

Between 7 and 9 June the ICRC visited 52 people, including army and navy servicemen, in LTTE custody in the Wanni region. These people had previously been visited by the ICRC on the Jaffn a peninsula before being transferred to the mainland after the most recent military operations. In addition, four Singhalese civilians were released from custody and transported by the ICRC to Vavuniya, where they were handed over to their families.

 Re-establishing family ties  

Following the mass displacements of April and May, the ICRC has been actively trying to restore links between families separated as a result of the events. Some 3,070 Red Cross messages have been collected in the Wanni region and distribution has started on the peninsula. The ICRC will continue to make this service available until normal postal services are resumed in the affected areas.

 Protection of civilians  

In all the regions affected by the ongoing hostilities, the ICRC has continued to monitor respect for the civilian population by the security forces and LTTE combatants and their conduct of armed operations in accordance with the principles of international humanitarian law. In the Eastern Province (Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara districts), in view of the higher frequency and level of armed confrontations, there has been a significant increase in the delegates'workload in collecting the necessary information and undertaking the resulting confidential steps with the respective military leaderships.

 Assistance to the population  

In May the delegation reconstituted its stocks of medicines in the Wanni region, enabling the six ICRC-supervised mobile health care clinics operated by the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society to carry on providing medical assistance to civilians living in remote areas.

In April/May an ICRC nutritionist carried out an intensive agro-nutritional survey in the Wanni and Eastern Province with a view to assessing the food security of the population living in those areas most affected by the conflict. The expert noted a general pattern of vulnerability and dependence on assistance, varying nevertheless from one region to another. A list of corrective measures considered necessary, such as sanitation and agricultural programmes, will shortly be presented to the appropriate authorities with the aim of resolving the shortcomings observed.

In order to be able to cope with any future population displacements, the delegation has set up an emergency buffer stock consisting of shelter materials, cooking utensils, soap, clothes and other basic necessities. The stock is being pre-positioned in the affected areas.

The delegation has drawn up several projects to improve access to clean water for the people currently living in the Wanni, where a serious shortage of water has resulted from the prevailing drought conditions and the arrival of large numbers of displaced people. An ICRC engineer has started to repair hand pumps, maintain and clean existing wells and monitor the sanitation conditions of latrines and refuse systems.

In the east the ICRC continues to provide protection for road convoys of government supplies (food and essential goods) to LTTE-dominated areas, although, given the new situation in the north, it is no longer escorting supply convoys by sea to the peninsula. However, the institution is still chartering a ship to transport its personnel and various goods essential to its activities.

 Dissemination  

Dissemination programmes aimed at improving combatants' awareness of humanitarian rules and standards continue for both the armed forces and the police, with emphasis on th e training of instructors from the military and police schools and academies. Similar sessions are held occasionally for LTTE combatants.

 Personnel  

There are currently 42 expatriates and 240 locally hired staff working on the ICRC's operation in Sri Lanka. Of the expatriates, five are seconded by the Red Cross Societies of Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.