Profit plans stymie passage to Jaffna
[TamilNet, Sunday, 09 April 2000, 09:08 GMT]
The private operators of the passenger ship service to the north are quoting more than four thousand rupees (58 USD) for a return ticket to Jaffna from Trincomalee said a Jaffna Kachcheri official when contacted this morning by TamilNet over the continuing delay in obtaining the consent of the ICRC to escort such vessels. The official said "this ticket price structure is unfair". He added it could further compound the problem because the ICRC has no mandate, as far as he was aware, to escort a profit making passenger ship service.
The Sri Lankan government press has charged that the ICRC is responsible for the continuing delay in beginning a regular passenger ship service to Jaffna. Tamil civilians, government officials and NGOs now depend almost exclusively on a precarious passenger service by between Jaffna and Trincomalee due to the fighting in the north.
The ICRC's assistance was sought by the Sri Lankan government to begin a regular passenger service by under the protection of its flag.
Last week, the state run Daily News carried a lead story blaming the ICRC for the delay in starting the passenger ships operation.
The paper said - "President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has directed that ships be imported in order to facilitate transport of members of the Armed Forces and civilians in the North and East."
"It has been reported that the transport services to and from the North has been weakened due to the negative response to a request made by the Government to fly the ICRC flag on civilian vessels..."
"It has also been revealed that the ICRC has backtracked and postponed the extension of its cooperation to permit these vessels from carrying its flag despite their being agreeable to the request around two months ago". (Daily News April 6, lead story)
The spokesman for the ICRC Mr.Harsha Gunawardena, however, told Tamilnet,
"In January this year the Commissioner General Essential Services (CGES) approached the ICRC regarding the possibility of escorting a passenger vessel, 'Lanka Rani', from Trincomalee to Kankesanthurai in Jaffna, under the ICRC flag.
"In the same month, the Ministry of Defence too approached the ICRC regarding escort for the vessels 'Lanka Rani' and the 'City of Trinco'. Thereafter, the ICRC sought an official request from the Government about providing the escort. In this connection, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made an official request to the ICRC on 1 February to escort a passenger vessel".
"And on 9 February, the ICRC headquarters in Geneva officially responded to this by stating that in principle the organisation was committed to providing escort to a vessel for transporting passengers to the North, while seeking clarification on the roles and responsibilities of the various governmental and non-governmental parties regarding such a delicate operation".
"On the 16 March, a draft of the Memorandum of Understanding was sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, regarding the escort of the vessel 'City of Trinco'.
"At a meeting on 29 March with the ICRC's Head of Delegation in Sri Lanka, the President decided that a single vessel, the 'City of Trinco' should be escorted by ICRC, for transporting to the north".
"On 5 April, a finalised version of the Memorandum of Understanding was sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Development of the Northern Region for approval prior to signing by both parties".
"The ICRC reiterates that it has always acknowledged the need for civilian transport to the North East, and has always been ready to co-operate in such an endeavour. ICRC has also made it clear that written security guarantees from both the Government and the LTTE is a pre requisite for starting an operation of this nature, particularly in the context of the current security situation in the northern parts of the island".
Mr. Gunawardena also drew attention to the fact that ICRC has in the past escorted several cargo vessels to the North on request of the Government, and at present escorts convoys of governmental food supplies to the Vanni every week under the ICRC flag.
Meanwhile, Jaffna kachcheri officials said that the situation is getting worse every day with thousands of passengers eager to return home for the Tamil new year next held up due to the problem being unresolved.