Sri Lanka rejects Vaharai safe haven proposal

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 29 November 2006, 04:37 GMT]
Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary, Gothabaya Rajapakse, clashed with international diplomats Tuesday over the humanitarian crisis in the Northeast, the Morning Leader newspaper reported Wednesday. Mr. Rajapakse had resisted the suggestion by German Ambassador Jurgen Weerth of a safe haven for civilians in the Vaharai area, the paper said. He had also defended the closure of the A9 highway, blocking supplies to 600,000 people in Jaffna. Last week the Co-Chairs – US, EU, Japan and Norway – demanded Sri Lanka open humanitarian access routes and set aside safe areas for civilians.

Diplomats from the EU, representatives of UN relief agencies and the ICRC met with Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and the Defence Secretary to discuss the humanitarian crises in the Northeast, the Morning Leader said.

The paper quoted informed sources as saying the meeting did not go well due to the Defence Secretary getting agitated over many "negative comments" made by the diplomats and what he saw as a lack of appreciation from the international community.

In their statement last week, the Co-Chairs called “on both sides to respect international humanitarian law and set aside demilitarized zones to protect internally displaced persons.”

The Morning Leader learnt the EU Ambassador had explained the concept of safe haven, which the Defence Secretary had accepted in principle but expressed concern of an area demarcated within Vaharai.

80 truckloads of relief items were to be taken into Vaharai Tuesday but that it was delayed due to ground conditions, the paper said.

Defence Secretary Rajapakse had charged that despite assurances by the LTTE to cease all hostilities to provide for the passage of relief supplies, artillery had been fired killing one soldier and injuring three others.

In response, the German Ambassador had reiterated the message of the Co-Chairs that the LTTE is a banned organisation due to its activities.

But, he had pointed out, a legitimate government cannot retaliate causing civilian casualties.

Even if the LTTE does not care for the people it is the duty of the government and the President to care, the Ambassador had said.

However, Mr. Rajapakse had said the commitment should be to achieve peace and not its postponement by giving the LTTE a military advantage.

The issue of the A9, which the government has kept closed since heavy fighting in August, was also taken up. An estimated 600,000 people in Jaffna are running short of food and medicine as no supplies have arrived since August.

Last week the Co-Chairs urged both parties “to depoliticize the issue of humanitarian access and for the immediate, permanent and unconditional opening of the sea and road routes for humanitarian convoys of essential supplies.”

In particular, they called for “the immediate, permanent and unconditional opening of the sea and road routes for humanitarian convoys of essential supplies.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Rajapakse had expressed concern over the military being blamed for the closure of A9 when, he said, it was the LTTE that was strengthening its positions at Muhumalai in preparation for an onslaught.

Mr. Rajapakse asked the diplomats to get a guarantee from the LTTE against this development stating he was willing to send 500 truckloads of relief supplies through the A9. He also agreed to provide access for 19 listed NGOs to the conflict zone.


Chronology:
15.11.06  Vaharai starves

 

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