Aid groups protest Sri Lanka’s obstruction of aid

[TamilNet, Thursday, 07 December 2006, 11:54 GMT]
Several Western aid groups this week warned of a struggle to conduct humanitarian work in Sri Lanka’s Tamil areas, citing official bureaucracy that has paralysed their work. Speaking to AFP news agency, they protested the Sri Lankan government’s “strategy of preventing the presence of international actors” amid escalating conflict and said aid was being blocked from reaching Tamils in LTTE-controlled areas.

"The humanitarian situation is catastrophic," Aloysius John, head of Asia for the French Secours Catholique, told AFP.

He added that his group can no longer work in northern Sri Lanka, particularly in Jaffna where thousands of people lack provisions after the main access road was cut off.

British NGO Oxfam said work had become "extremely difficult" to help victims of the December 2004 tsunami that killed 31,000 people and destroyed 75 percent of coastal infrastructure.

On August 6, 17 aid workers from Action Contre la Faim (ACF) – all but one of whom were Tamil - were shot dead in their offices in the northeastern town of Muttur.

International truce monitors blamed Sri Lankan government forces for the execution-style killings.

Now, four months on, thousands of civilians lack necessary help, particularly in "the most vulnerable", or Tamil communities, Eric Fort, head of ACF in the area, told AFP.

"Zones under LTTE control are inaccessible," he said. "Authorities don't want NGOs to get through."

Fort complained of administrative hurdles complicating work of the group that has nonetheless decided to renew activities suspended after the massacre.

Other NGOs said their work was paralysed by bureaucracy.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said three of its sections - Dutch, French and Spanish - were stuck in the capital Colombo.

In September, "an article accused us of collaborating with the Tamil Tigers and the next day we received an expulsion letter", said Gabriel Trujillo, who supervises the region.

"The management of access to humanitarian aid is obviously part of Colombo's strategy in the conflict," Trujillo said.

Medical charity Medecins du Monde recently closed its French section in Sri Lanka, after the departures of the Argentinian, Spanish and US sections, said Eric Chevallier, director of international missions.

Chevallier said certain ruling politicians seemed to have "a strategy of preventing the presence of international actors".

Sri Lankan authorities rejected the accusations, the French news agency said in a report filed from Paris.

An advisor to the Sri Lankan embassy in France, Himalee Arunatilaka, spoke of "confusion" about documents NGOs needed to provide and said that "security reasons" were behind stringent checks in affected areas.


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