Yesterday, the Government of Sri Lanka informed UNHCR and other agencies that an estimated 40,000 people had fled areas where the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are engaged in heavy fighting. They were expected to reach the districts of Vavuniya and Jaffna within 48 hours. This would bring the estimated total to have fled the conflict zone to more than 100,000, a majority of whom have fled in recent weeks.
Of the anticipated 40,000 displaced, so far we have confirmed reports that some 5,500 people have reached sites in Vavuniya, while another 2,000 new arrivals were recorded in Jaffna yesterday. As civilians are transported into the sites, UNHCR is still ascertaining the total number of new IDPs in the two districts.
“What we are seeing is intense fighting in a very small area overcrowded with civilians who have fled there,” said the ICRC’s director of operations, Pierre Krähenbühl. “The situation is nothing short of catastrophic. Ongoing fighting has killed or wounded hundreds of civilians who have only minimal access to medical care.”
The ICRC is concerned that the final offensive in the area by government forces against fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) could lead to a dramatic increase in the number of civilian casualties…
“The LTTE must keep its fighters and other military resources well away from places where civilians are concentrated, and allow civilians who want to leave the area to do so safely,” said Mr Krähenbühl. “On their part, government forces are obliged to ensure that the methods and means of warfare they employ make it possible to clearly distinguish at all times between civilians and civilian objects, on the one hand, and military objectives, on the other. In this situation, we are particularly concerned about the impact on civilians of using weapons such as artillery.”
Meanwhile, Reuters captures some compelling images from the incredible mass-exodus.