Monday, August 21, 2006

Sri Lanka: 'What Is the International Community Waiting For?'

Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA)
17 August 2006 - 19.00

“Even now, the army is engaging in artillery fire from the centre of the city to the southern districts; for weeks, not an hour passes without the sound of these shots and waves of bullets. The rebels respond in kind, shooting toward the port and the city.”

The bishop of Trincomalee-Batticaloa, monsignor Joseph Kingsley Swampillai, spoke to MISNA by phone from Trincomalee dalla MISNA. He describes what is happening in the northeastern port city. “This combat is different from what I have witnessed in the past” said monsignor Swampillai, who started to head the dioceses in 1983, the same year in which the ethnic conflict started.

“There are far more powerful and deadly weapons being used. Even the rebels appear to have these in great quantities. Obviously, the army has the advantage of the air force, which keeps bombing away as is this time they want to sweep everything away,” said the bishop, noting that recently both the rebels and the government army have violated all humanitarian laws. “Schools, hospitals, places of worship, civilian convoys: everything has been targeted by both sides. So what is the international community waiting for to intervene?” asks the bishop.

Monsignor Swampillai fears that weeks will pass before the international community “wakes up and starts looking on this side of the world” and puts pressure both on the government and the rebels to cease hostilities.

The latest official update from the army concerning today’s fighting in the Jaffna peninsula speaks of at least 98 dead and some 100 wounded, of which six military were killed and 60 wounded.

Meanwhile, Trincomalee is also experiencing a refugee problem. Monsignor Swampillai has just returned from visiting some schools and churches where Caritas has been helping 2500 people of Tamil ethnicity, who fled from Muttur two weeks ago due to intense fighting.

The ‘welcoming centers’ are all in the centre of the city, in the same areas as military posts. “It is the only area where you can get food and medicine supplies; transfer them to more isolated areas would cut them off and it is not a given that this would be more secure,” said the bishop to MISNA.

“I cannot give exact numbers, but I think there are at least 10,000 refugees in Trincomalee, assisted by NGOs, including Caritas”. The bishop also said that the government has given the green light to send aid to the refugees, but that as long as resources from the ministries are being used up, the NGOs are the ones taking care of refugees, preempting expenses and resources by borrowing from banks.

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