Feature Article

Government officials urge SLA to observe Safety Zones

[TamilNet, Saturday, 09 August 2008, 08:10 GMT]
The target of the artillery attack of the Sri Lanka Army in the early hours of Friday in Mullaiththeevu was a residential enclave located within 500 meters radius of the Mullaiththeevu General Hospital, housing the Mullaiththeevu Government Agent (GA), the Medical Superintendent (MS) and many other government officials, who coordinate the essential services of the district. The attack was timed before a token protest scheduled for Friday by the government servants to voice against the killing of the Deputy Planning Director, Poonakari, in a claymore attack two weeks ago. TamilNet’s Vanni correspondent talked to the GA and the MS on Friday noon.

Both the GA and the MS, the apex officials coordinating administration, humanitarian assistance and essential services of the district narrowly escaped the artillery barrage.

Artillery attack in the vicinity of Mullaiththeevu General Hospital
District Secretary (GA) for Mullaiththeevu, Imelda Sukumar
Voice: Interview with Imelda Sukumar

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The Government agent Ms. Imelda Sukumar and the wife and son of the Medical Superintendent Dr. V. Shanmugaraja sustained minor injuries in the attack that claimed the life of an 18-month-old child and injured many others.

The residence of the GA was just 25 meters from the hospital premises. The residences of the District Medical Officer, District Secretariat officials, the office of the Veterinary Surgeon and several residences of government officials were located in the enclave that was targeted by artillery barrage.

Ms. Imelda Sukumar said she was blown out of her bed around 1:00 a.m. when an artillery shell hit her residence. She was alone inside the residence at the time of the attack and chose to stay inside with injury till the shelling ceased, hoping that somebody would come to her assistance.

Until 8:00 p.m. Thursday night she was discussing with officials the token strike planned for the following day to protest the killing of the Deputy Planning Officer of the Ki’linochchi district.

She had instructed them that their protest should not disrupt the basic services in the district. Amid the insistence by her officials, who argued that they needed to express solidarity with the protesting government officials of the neighbouring Ki'linochchi district as the government officials in Ki'linochchi had earlier extended solidarity by protesting against the Claymore attack that claimed the life of a Mullaiththeevu District Secretary Nanthakumar, she had no other option than urging them to keep their protest as short as possible saying that their concerns had already been conveyed to the secretaries of all ministries in Colombo with English translations of their appeals.

Describing the artillery barrage, Ms. Sukumar told TamilNet that around 25 shells hit the area within 300 meters radius of the hospital. At least 6 of the shells exploded inside the residences. Scores would have died, had the area been densely populated, she explained. At least one shell continued to explode every 2 minutes and nobody dared to move out.

One of the last shells had hit the residence of the Medical Superintend Dr. V. Shanmugarajah. Yet, it was the MS, who came to her residence, just a few minutes after he himself along with his wife and 3 children, narrowly escaped from a shell that hit their bedroom, wounding his wife and a son.

The MS, after attending his family rushed to the residences of his fellow medical staff and the residences of the government officials located in the close proximity of the hospital.

The GA finally realised that she had an injury in her hand. While at the hospital, she witnessed a boy being brought dead to the hospital. His mother was stricken by shock. There were more than 15 wounded civilians, most of them women and elderly besides a child.

She also suffered from blood pressure after the attack and was taken to a peaceful location later.

Voice: Interview with Dr. V. Shanmugarajah

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Dr. Shanmugarajah gave exact figures on the casualties. One child was brought dead. There were 18 wounded. There was a pregnant mother among the wounded. Three elderly had fractions, one of them had to have a hand amputated by him. A child was among the wounded. He also had to attend the pregnant woman who was wounded in her stomach. Luckily, the womb of the mother had narrowly escaped from injuries, he said.

It was a miracle that many had narrowly escaped the barrage, he said.

Six of the patients had to be transferred from the hospital.

The GA also witnessed many patients evacuating the hospital area.

At that time there were around 100 patients warded in the hospital, which was upgraded to General Hospital status in November 2006.

This hospital is deprived of enough doctors and nurses. There are around 150,000 civilians depend upon the services of the hospital. Four MBBS doctors and one RMO serve nearly13,000 - 15,000 patients in the district.

The exact coordinates of the hospital were provided to the Health Ministry and forwarded to the Defence Ministry. The ICRC also has confirmed the coordinates, according to the MS.

Friday noon, when TamilNet correspondent talked to the MS, he was still waiting for the ICRC to come to the hospital to take an account of the episode. "The ICRC, which says it should serve the victims of war under any circumstance, is yet to come," he complains.

Artillery attack in the vicinity of Mullaiththeevu General Hospital
A mother with her wounded child
Artillery attack in the vicinity of Mullaiththeevu General Hospital
A wounded civilian, whose hand had to be amputated
Artillery attack in the vicinity of Mullaiththeevu General Hospital
Veterinary Surgeon's office in Mullaiththeevu was also hit artillery shells
Artillery attack in the vicinity of Mullaiththeevu General HVeterinary Surgeon's Office in Mullaitht
Veterinary Surgeon's office in Mullaiththeevu was also hit artillery shells
Artillery attack in the vicinity of Mullaiththeevu General Hospital
Government employees on a picketing campaign condemning targeted attacks against fellow officials
The GA admits that several humanitarian organisations were concerned of the security of their staff. The GTZ and the UNDP have refused to continue services due to security concerns, she says and adds that the ICRC, Solidar, OXFAM, CARE and several others were continuing amid security threats caused by the Claymore attacks.

"Everybody including the forces knows the location of the hospital. The facilities also carry necessary symbols marking the service places. Our DS vehicles are also stationed inside our premises." The GA relocated her residence along with those of her fellow officials to the present location after her residence was destroyed in 2004 Tsunami.

"I considered this place a secure location, I never expected such an attack" the GA said.

She also confirmed that the [Sri Lankan] 'security establishment' had the coordinates of her residence.

Under these circumstances, how far we can serve the people in the district becomes a question, she says. It is now that the people of the district need her services the most.

The government officials in the district already suffer from shortage of fuel and even batteries needed for torchlight.

There are 11,000 displaced families, including many who were already displaced from Maanthai East into Thu'nukkaay and Paa'ndiyanku'lam. Only one village exists in Maanthai East with around 500 families. All other families have displaced. 3,800 families had gone into Ki'linochchi, others to Oddisuddaan and Thu'nukkaay divisions. They altogether were forced to reside within five GS areas. Now they are again displaced and many of them don't have accommodation except under trees, the GS says. Most of them were heading towards towns (Ki'linochchi, Mullaiththeevu and Puthukkudiyiruppu) from villages.

The cultivation lands of six big irrigation schemes have been abandoned by the IDPs. 4,000 acres of paddy and dry land crops have been abandoned due to the displacement.

She had invited the NGOs and sought the assistance of WFP and the Sri Lankan ministry for resettlement to supply with food stock. Ms. Sukumar says she had secured food supplies till 15th of August. She was appreciative of the response by the ministry.

Dr. Shanmugaraja says that his humble request was that the Government should instruct military to keep 300 meters around the hospital as attack-free zone. "We seek re-assurance from all parties. The Government should cooperate with the continued safe functioning of the hospital," he said.

Artillery attack in the vicinity of Mullaiththeevu General Hospital
Artillery attack in the vicinity of Mullaiththeevu General Hospital


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