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Artillery attack on Puthukudiyirippu hospital
Govt rejects BBC report

Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe addresses the press. Health Secretary Athula Kahandaliyanage looks on.
Pic. Sujatha Jayarathne

Dismissing a recent BBC report on heavy loss of life due to an artillery attack on the Puthukudiyirippu (PTK) hospital, the government yesterday emphasized that there hadn’t been a single death at any hospital in the LTTE-held area due to military action.

Health Secretary Dr. Athula Kahandaliyanage warned that had the medical staff of PTK hospital given false information to the media, they would be severely dealt with. Addressing a press conference at the auditorium of the Met Department, he accused the BBC of exaggerating what he called a minor incident. Responding to queries, he said that a blast caused by the explosion of a shell in the vicinity of the PTK hospital had caused minor injuries to two patients.

Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and Peace Secretariat chief Professor Rajiva Wijesinghe urged the media not to be misled by LTTE propaganda. Wijesinghe said that the LTTE would claim maximum damage as part of its strategy to deceive the international community.

The Health Secretary quoted a doctor from Puthukudiyirippu, whom he had met in Vavuniya on Monday (19), as saying that only two patients received minor injuries due to the blast. According to the doctor who had served the government hospital at Kilinochchi for over two years, 285 babies were delivered at the PTK hospital in December 2008. Had the combined security forces offensive disrupted health services in LTTE-held area, the medical staff couldn’t have handled such a large number of cases at the PTK hospital, he said. Minister Samarasinghe and Messrs Wijesinghe and Kahandaliyanage reiterated the government’s commitment to maintain health services despite the war on the northern front.

They severely criticized the ICRC for not acting swiftly to transfer a wounded soldier handed over to the PTK hospital by the LTTE. The Health Secretary asserted that the ICRC had been too slow in moving the wounded soldier after the senior medical officer based at the PTK hospital had requested the ICRC to transfer the patient. The doctor had called for the ICRC’s intervention as the hospital wasn’t equipped to meet the medical requirement.

Responding to The Island queries, the minister said that the LTTE had handed over two wounded soldiers to hospitals in the area under its control. The Health Secretary said that he called a meeting with the ICRC to discuss the issue.

ICRC spokesperson Sarari Wijeratne told The Island that since January 9 they didn’t have regular movements to and from the LTTE-held areas due to intensification of fighting in the area east of the A9 road. "We are in the process of making arrangements to transfer 40 wounded civilians from the LTTE-held area to Vavuniya," Wijeratne said.

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