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Sri Lanka – ICRC Bulletin No. 18 / 2007

20-12-2007 Operational Update

20 November – 20 December - Latest report on ICRC activities in the field

  General situation  

The murder of yet another staff member of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society has shocked the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the wider humanitarian community in Sri Lanka. Sooriyakanthy Thavarajah (43) was abducted on 14 December by unidentified gunmen from his home in Kalviwan Kadu, Jaffna, in the presence of his family. His body was found two days later in Kaithady. Mr Thavarajah had been an active member of the Red Cross for many years and served as chairman of the Point Pedro Division for the past three years. Earlier this year, on 1 June, two staff members of the Society's Batticaloa branch were abducted from the Fort Railway Station in Colombo and murdered.

" The ICRC deplores this murder and is concerned about the safety of humanitarian workers in Sri Lanka, " said Toon Vandenhove, head of the organization's delegation in Colombo. " We are calling for an immediate, independent and impartial investigation into the killing. The ICRC demands appropriate measures to ensure that humanitarian personnel are respected and protected. "

Over the past weeks, an escalation in the fighting between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Mannar and Vavuniya districts has resulted in a high number of casualties. Several attacks with explosive devices in the north and east of the country have caused further deaths. Two bomb explosions in Colombo and an attack on a civilian bus in Kebethigollewa, in the North Central province, have killed at least 50 people and injured more than 50.

  Visiting detainees arrested in Colombo  

Following the two bomb blasts in Colombo on 28 November and the subsequent mass arrests of more than 2,000 people in the capital and other parts of the country, many of whom have been released in the meantime, the ICRC visited 469 of the recently arrested detainees at Boosa prison, south of Colombo, registering 372 of them for individual follow-up. The ICRC provided the detainees with hygiene kits and clothing. It also assessed the conditions of detention and the treatment of detainees held by the Terrorist Investigation Department, the Criminal Investigation Department and police stations in Colombo and across the country.

Over the past four weeks, the ICRC has continued its monitoring work and its dialogue with the parties concerned regarding their obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL). The ICRC is particularly troubled by allegations of attacks against civilians, disappearances and child recruitment affecting the civilian population throughout the country. It has continued to meet with victims and/or their families, who reported missing relatives, arrests and other IHL violations affecting them.

Since 20 November, the ICRC has funded family visits for 214 detainees being held in government-run places of detention. It also paid the public transport costs for 42 released detainees to return home.

  Constant presence at crossing points  

In the past four weeks, ICRC staff have maintained a constant presence at Omanthai crossing point. Acting as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC has facilitated the crossing of 16,460 civilians and 4,389 vehicles. In addition, 110 trucks transporting fertilizer to farmers in the Vanni region were able to cross on Saturdays thanks to this extended presence of the ICRC following a request by both the Government and the LTTE. After the bomb attacks in Colombo, temporary restrictions on civilian movements from north to south through the Omanthai crossing point were imposed by the Sri Lankan authorities. The restrictions also affected ambulances, humanitarian agencies and cargo trucks. They were lifted on 5 December. There were no restrictions at Omanthai on civilian and other movements from south to north.

  Food and shelter for displaced people and returnees in East and North  

With the monsoon rains pouring down, better housing is required for the displaced and returnee population of Eastern and Northern provinces. In the East, flooding in certain camps for displaced people has endangered hygiene and water-distribution systems.

According to the local authorities, there are still 26,400 displaced persons living in about 20 camps or with host families in Batticaloa district, 8,400 of whom came from Trincomalee district. Some 104,500 displaced persons have been resettled in the western and northern parts of Batticaloa district, and 13,849 in Trincomalee district. There are also 21,900 displaced persons still sheltering at 10 sites or staying with host families in Mannar district and 10,565 displaced persons spread across six different sites in Vavuniya district.

Over the last four weeks, the ICRC office in Batticaloa has continued to assist the returnees by distributing food parcels, hygiene kits and shelter materials to about 9,500 people, and by maintaining the two camps of Mawadivembu and Koralenkerni. In Mannar, the ICRC has completed the construction of 90 semi-permanent shelters, distributed tarpaulins, hygiene kits and other non-food items to more than 1,300 displaced persons, and continued the construction of a further 135 shel ters.

  Since 20 November 2007, the ICRC has:   Protection  
  • carried out 44 visits to 41 different places of detention in which it registered or held private interviews with 884 detainees;

  • collected 263 family messages and distributed 136 in cooperation with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society in order to help members of families separated by the conflict maintain contact with one another or get back in touch;

  • transported 23 bodies of fallen fighters between areas controlled by the government and by the LTTE respectively.

  • provided prostheses and mobility aids to 198 patients, 143 of whom were amputees, through the Jaffna Jaipur Orthopaedic Centre;

  • flown 65 patients, accompanied by 54 caretakers and 15 medical officers, from the Jaffna Teaching Hospital to Colombo, and flown vaccines, medical specimens and medical equipment between the two locations on a weekly basis for several health facilities in Jaffna;

  • continued to facilitate the Ministry of Health vaccination programme and ante-natal care in Vavuniya North (140 children were vaccinated and 32 women received routine ante-natal care in the area).

  Economic security  
  • distributed 173 hygiene kits, 23 baby parcels, 20 agricultural tools and 2,000 food parcels among 9,500 displaced persons in Batticaloa;

  • distributed 140 hygiene kits, 4 2 baby parcels, 140 kits of essential household items and 270 tarpaulins among 550 displaced persons in Trincomalee district;

  • distributed 180 kitchen sets, 180 kits of essential household items, 180 hygiene kits, 30 baby parcels, 180 tarpaulins, 210 mosquito nets (including 30 for babies) among 730 displaced persons in Kilinochchi.

  Water and habitat  
  • provided tarpaulin kits for 469 families in the Chenkalady division of Batticaloa and another 500 such kits for returnees in the villages of Koppavely, Kittulwewa, Mavapalan and Rugam;

  • completed the Valachenai Hospital mortuary and handed it over to the Ministry of Health;

  • repaired seven hand pumps in the Mallavi, Alampil, Theravil and Tharnapuram divisions of Kilinochchi and completed repairs to the water-supply system serving Thunnakkai and Uruthirapuram.

  For further information, please contact:
  Davide Vignati, ICRC Colombo, tel :+94 11 250 33 46 or +94 77 728 96 82
  Sarasi Wijeratne, ICRC Colombo, tel :+94 77 315 88 44
  Carla Haddad, ICRC Geneva, tel : +41 22 730 24 05 or +41 79 217 32 26