Army vows not to let food into Vaharai, says will capture region
[TamilNet, Saturday, 18 November 2006, 19:41 GMT]
Despite a personal assurance given Thursday by the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse to Tamil parliamentarians that emergency food supplies would be permitted to reach tens of thousands of Tamil refugees facing starvation in LTTE-controlled areas, Sri Lanka Army at the border turned back convoys on Friday and Saturday. Saturday’s returning convoy was stopped by suspected paramilitary men and subsequently looted by refugees in government controlled areas. A local Army officier, has told civil officials not to send any more convoys, vowing the Army would not allow food into LTTE-controlled areas under any circumstances and saying the area would be captured soon.
Tamil parliamentarians who met with President Mahinda Rajapakse on Thursday raised the plight of 35,000 people (some 11,000 families) facing starvation in LTTE-controlled Vaharai area.
President Rajapakse was accompanied by Basil Rajapakse, Special Advisor to the President and Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President, when TNA Parliamentary Group leader R. Sampanthan and MPs Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and S. Jeyanandamoorthy met him.
The MPs pointed out that no food had reached LTTE-controlled Vaharai since October 27 and starvation had set in amongst the people.
They pointed out that Sri Lanka’s military was blocking food convoys.
Earlier last week, troops manning checkpoints at Mankerny, on the border between government and LTTE controlled areas turned back another convoy.
President Rajapske has assured the MPs that food would be sent that very day (Thursday) by that evening, if not by noon.
However no aid was sent that day.
On Friday ten lorry loads were sent, but at Cobra bridge six km south of the Mankerny FDL, the convoy was turned back by troops, who again said they had no instructions from the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
On Saturday the TNA’s MPs protested against the blockade in Parliament, disrupting proceedings.
Parliament was adjourned and at a party leaders’ meeting soon after, it was unanimously agreed that food should be sent as the government had a duty to the people there.
Government minister Jeyaraj Fernandepulle, who President Rajapakse had asked the TNA to liase with, urged the TNA to call off their protest.
Minister Fernandepulle spoke by telephone with Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse and agreed that three lorries and two ambulances (with medicine) would be sent.
Batticoloa Government Agent S. Punniyamoorthi Saturday confirmed that he had received MOD clearance that convoy will be allowed to enter into Vaharai and that it would return between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
The TNA had protested that was pitifully small amount for the massive needs in Vaharai.
Minister Fernandepulle had again spoken to Gothabaya Rajapakse by telephone and it was agreed 8 lorries and two ambulances would be sent.
Mr. Fernandepulle had admitted this was not enough, but said it was a start.
The TNA had agreed to call off their protest when the supplies reached the people and continued their noisy protest.
Mr. Fernandepulle had approached the protesting MPs again, urging them to stop their protest and assuring them that five lorries had already left and the others were being loaded.
The TNA called off its protest.
But in the east the military had again stopped the 10-vehicle convoy at Mankerny, along with Additional Government Agent, K. Mahesan, Koralaipattu North (Vaharai) Divisional Secretary, S. Kiritharan and media persons who accompanied the convoy.
Earlier troops claimed there was a risk of landmines. But later, pointing to smoke in the distance, the Army claimed the LTTE was shelling and it was too dangerous to proceed.
But civil officials say that, as in the past, SLA guns to the west, not the LTTE had fired the shells.
A local Army officer had warned civil officials not to send any more food convoys as the Army would not permit food to enter Tamil-Tiger areas under any circumstances.
The convoy turned back from Mankerny. But a makeshift barricade manned by Tamil gunmen stopped the convoy just short of the village of Pullavi, 150 meters from Mankerni SLA camp.
The truck drivers were told by the gunmen that the food was needed for displaced people in the area. Six food lorries were stripped, two escaping past the checkpoint.
Civil officials were also told by amused military personnel in the vicinity they need not worry about the people in LTTE-controlled areas as they would soon be under military control.
Other civil officials said they had resupplied the people in the Pullavi area only this week and that there was no reason for people there to forcibly take the convoy's supplies.
Batticaloa District GA said that the food convoys will not be sent to Mankerni border without security assurances from the Government.