Tuesday’s LTTE artillery attack on MV Bintan carrying essential food items to people trapped on the Vanni front would severely affect attempts to move in supplies and evacuate the sick and wounded with the help of the ICRC, government sources said.
A Foreign Ministry official asserted that the attack could be part of the LTTE’s strategy to block supplies to civilians, now believed to be fewer than 70,000, to bolster its call for an immediate ceasefire.
Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said that the humanitarian operation launched with the help of the ICRC was evidence of the Rajapaksa administration’s commitment to provide assistance to civilians.
ICRC spokesperson Ms. Sarasi Wijeratne told The Island that since the launch of medical evacuations on February 10, 3175 sick and the wounded and some of their relatives had been moved out of the 20 sq. km. civilian safety zone. Responding to our queries, she said that passenger vessel Green Ocean had been deployed on nine occasions to carry out the evacuations, the last deployment being on March 6. She said that the next operation hadn’t been finalised.
She said that the ICRC, in its capacity as neutral intermediary had facilitated the movement of ships carrying essential items to the LTTE-held area. According to her, the operation got underway on February 18th and so far over 170 metric tons of essential items had been moved to Puthumathalan.
Navy headquarters said that MV Bintan had returned to Trincomalee and would remain there until a decision was taken. An official told The Island that it was purely a civilian operation involving the Commissioner General of Essential Services (CGES) and the ICRC.
Ms. Wijeratne declined to comment on the number of civilians trapped in the LTTE-held area now down to about 45 sq. km. The ICRC last January estimated the figure at over 200,000.
She added that the ICRC had suspended the transfer of bodies between the frontlines of the army and the LTTE due to the absence of an overland route.
The government and the WFP moved the last food convoy overland to Mullaitivu on January 30. Since then the government and the WFP had sent 70 and 60 metric tons of good items by sea as of February 26. According to the United Nations Office of the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, in January a total of 2,673 metric tons of food had been sent to Mullaitivu. The UN office said that the WFP was working on modalities to send 250-300 metric tons of essential items to the civilian safety zone.