More than 100,000 Sri Lankans face “total annihilation” unless an evacuation begins immediately, a northern Sri Lankan bishop has warned the country’s president.
Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam of Jaffna said that government and rebel forces are preparing for “the final battle” in his message to President Mahinda Rajapaksa pleading on behalf of those trapped in the war zone in northeast Sri Lanka.
The armed forces of the Colombo-based government are preparing for a final showdown with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers, Aid to the Church in Need reports.
The bishop’s letter, a copy of which was sent to ACN and LTTE political chief Balasingham Nadesan, manifests his fear for those cut off in the narrow seven-mile-long “safe zone” in the coastal district of Mulaithivu.
Emphasizing “the perilous situation of total annihilation of civilians in the no-fire zone,” he said the “extremely dangerous” situation requires “fast and stern action” to protect the safety of civilians.
The bishop calls on both the government and the LTTE to work together on a plan to evacuate people to a safe area within the districts of Kilinochchi and Mulaithivu.
Saying government forces have until now ignored his “repeated requests to open a safe corridor” for evacuees, he said the Sri Lankan Army has “persisted in using heavy weapons like artillery and mortar shells and simply drove the people away from a safe corridor to the present situation.”
He noted that the area has “very few trees” to provide shade from the “blazing hot sun,” which could aggravate the looming humanitarian crisis.
Bishop Savundaranayagam proposed a five-point emergency plan to be implemented “at the earliest opportunity” by both sides in conjunction with United Nations observers. He also called for immediate relief aid from the World Food Programme and called for a cease-fire to allow UN representatives to investigate and report on the region.
The bishop has made several previous appeals to the government on behalf of civilians affected by the fighting and has carried out a mission of mercy to the region with food aid supplied by ACN.
The conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers began in 1983 and appeared to be ending in a lasting peace after a 2002 cease fire was brokered.
However, in January 2008 the government announced its withdrawal from the truce after a sudden escalation of violence in 2006.
At least 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict and hundreds of thousands have been displaced.
The Tamil Tigers, who ACN says are fighting for a separate ethnic homeland, were driven into the far north at the end of 2008. They appeared to be nearing complete defeat after the government captured their administrative headquarters in the north at Kilinochchi.
Bishop Savundaranayagam has been highly critical of the conflict and has argued that a military solution can never bring about “a lasting solution to the present problem.”