Sri Lanka – ICRC Bulletin No. 13 / 2007
25-05-2007 Operational Update No 07/13
Latest report on ICRC activities in the field
23 April - 24 May 2007
Over the past month, fighting between the Sri Lanka Security Forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has continued in the Topigala and Tarawai areas of Batticaloa district and in the Madhu and Valitikulam areas west of Vavuniya. Shelling at the Omanthai entry/exit points caused the closure of the ceasefire line on 17 May after an explosion occurred a few hundred metres from the lines. ICRC staff was evacuated from the area on security grounds. The Uyilankulam entry/exit point in Mannar was also closed on 18 May on the orders of one of the parties to the conflict following shelling nearby. Omanthai entry/exit point was closed again on 22 May after shootings occurred close to the lines. In the wake of these security incidents within five days that jeopardized the safety of civilians and ICRC personnel, the ICRC decided immediately and temporarily to withdraw its employees from Omanthai and Uyilankulam crossing points. Nevertheless, during the closure the lines were briefly opened to allow across medical cases and as well as the handover of the bodies of nine combatants. (The ICRC transported the bodies of 22 combatants during the period covered by this bulletin.)
On the island's east coast, the return of internally displaced people to the Batticaloa South-West area (Velaveli, Porative and Palugamam) has progressed smoothly and some 15,000 people were able to return to their homes. In Vaharai, where almost all 15,000 residen ts have returned, the local authorities have worked with humanitarian organizations to distribute food parcels. According to the authorities, there remain 120,000 displaced people in Batticaloa itself. Over 60,000 of them are living with host families while the others are in over 80 camps set up by aid agencies.
Over the past four weeks, the ICRC has continued to provide water, sanitation and shelter in 11 camps of Batticaloa district. It supplies tents as a stopgap measure, then gradually replaces them with temporary shelters. More than 450 new shelters for about 2,300 persons have been constructed in the camps for displaced people in Kiran, Chenkalady, Manmunai and Kalawanchikudi divisions. The ICRC has continued to play a major role in providing basic household items such as hygiene sets, jerrycans and tarpaulins for about 10,000 displaced people in Batticaloa district. The kits contain much-needed items such as washing powder, soap, shampoo and toothpaste.
Responding to a request from the World Food Programme, which faced a supply shortage, the ICRC provided 750 tonnes of rice on 9 May, enough to feed over 120,000 displaced people for one month. Some 600 tonnes are now being distributed to 100,000 people in Batticaloa district and the remainder to 24,000 people in Trincomalee district.
The ICRC continued its support for the health authorities in Northern and Eastern provinces. Fifty-one patients in need of specialized treatment in Colombo hospitals were flown there by the ICRC from Jaffna, as were over 200 laboratory specimens. Likewise, sensitive medicines such as vaccines and other items requiring refrigeration were flown from Colombo to the Jaffna Teaching Hospital and government health services in the city. The ICRC also transported essential materials for the production of prostheses to the Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation. The ICRC supplied surgical items, enough to treat 100 warwoundvictims, to the Jaffna Teaching Hospital.
In the Vanni area, the ICRC furnished medicines to the health authorities in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, and dressing material to nine health-care facilities. It also transported several amputees to specialized centres for the fitting of prostheses and facilitated the transfer of more than 800 patients across the ceasefire line.
In Batticaloa, the ICRC facilitated the transfer of seven amputees from camps for displaced people to the Handicap International centre for the fitting of prostheses. One wounded person was taken to hospital by the ICRC and more than 20 others by the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society.
Sri Lankan Red Cross volunteers continued to promote good health practices and sound disease-prevention techniques in the camps for displaced people in Trincomalee and Batticaloa. Sri Lankan Red Cross ambulances continued to provide invaluable services in Vavuniya and Batticaloa.
Over the past month, the ICRC has provided some 10,000 displaced people in Batticaloa district with 1,800 hygiene kits (washing powder, soap, shampoo, etc.), 800 baby parcels (baby soap, towels, baby lotion and powder, etc.), 500 jerrycans and 40 tarpaulins. In Trincomalee district, some 350 people have received about 100 hygienic parcels and 40 baby parcels, while in Echillampattai the ICRC aided the local population with 300 kg of rice and dhal and 150 kg of fish, milk powder, sugar and salt. In addition, the fishermen living in the area have received 1,500 floats, 300 kg of lead weights for their lines, 400 rolls of rope and 200 nylon nets.
In the Vanni, more than 2,500 people have received 2,400 hyg iene kits and an equal number of baby parcels, mats, hurricane lanterns, towels. The ICRC also distributed 200 saris and several hundred implements such as pitchforks, shovels and hoes.
Water and habitat
The ICRC has continued to provide water, sanitation and temporary shelters for 11 camps for displaced people in Batticaloa district. Over 450 new shelters for 2,300 persons were constructed in the camps in Kiran, Chenkalady, Manmunai and Kalawanchikudi divisions. In addition, 185 tents, enough for about 1,400 occupants, were built along with 40 latrines in two other camps in Manmunaipathu division to host displaced families previously sheltering in local schools. The ICRC set up a mortuary with a capacity of six bodies at Valaichchnai hospital.
In Trincomalee district, the ICRC has continued construction work at KiIlivetti camp for displaced people, where over the past four weeks 42 shelters for about 250 persons have been completed along with four bathing wells.
In the Vanni, the ICRC has finished repairing seven hand pumps and disinfected 10 open wells and two tube wells. In addition, the ICRC office in Kilinochchi has distributed shelter materials to 1,800 families (about 8,000 people).
Restoring family links
The ICRC has been working closely with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society to restore and maintain contact between members of families separated by the conflict. Over the past month, the ICRC has collected 132 new family messages and delivered 153.
Over the past four weeks, the ICRC has continued to visit people arrested on security grounds. Delegates carried out 33 visits to 33 places of detention in which they registered and held private interviews with 524 detainees.
Promoting protection of the civilian population
As part of its confidential dialogue with the parties to the conflict, the ICRC reports violations of humanitarian law that have affected the civilian population, including disappearances.
ICRC presence at crossing points
In the past four weeks, the ICRC has acted as a neutral intermediary to facilitate the crossing of about 19,000 civilians at Omanthai and 6,000 at Uyilankulam.
Cooperation within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
Given the specific context of Sri Lanka where post-Tsunami reconstruction and conflict related humanitarian activities overlap, the various partners within the International RedCross and Red Crescent Movement working in Sri Lanka met in May to make sure
humanitarian work is carried out in a coordinated and efficient manner. They have also discussed policies designed to further cooperation between the members of the Red Cross / Red Crescent family. These policies provide a foundation for strong cooperation driven by the seven fundamental principles (humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality). This spirit of cooperation allows the Movement to work to its strengths, for example by combining the local expertise of Sri Lankan Red Cross branches with the technical capacity available from other partners in areas such as restoring family links, disaster response and community health.
Davide Vignati, ICRC Colombo, tel +94 11 250 33 46 or +94 77 728 96 82