Caritas calls for an urgent ceasefire in Sri Lanka
12 May 2009
Caritas says the threat to civilians in Sri Lanka’s war is so great that only an immediate ceasefire by both sides can guarantee their protection.
Injured civilians lie on the ground in a make-shift hospital in this photograph released by the pro-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) group 'Mercy Mission to Vanni' on April 20, 2009 showing what they say are wounded civilians who were fleeing from an area still controlled by the LTTE in the 'No Fire Zone' near the village of Putumatalan in Puthukkudiyirippu, northeastern Sri Lanka.
Government forces are fighting Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels in Vanni in the north of the country with 50,000 people still trapped in the war zone.
Caritas says that all combatants have duties under the Geneva Conventions to protect the lives of civilians caught in the war zone.
Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Lesley-Anne Knight said, “Clearly civilians are paying a high cost for the fighting in Sri Lanka. Both sides must do all they can to ensure their protection. Practically that can only mean an immediate ceasefire. Continuing military action will cost more innocent lives. That is unacceptable.
“Aid agencies must have access to all people affected by the fighting. Our staff on the ground are reporting a lack of medical treatment, a lack of food and clean water, and high levels of trauma. Sri Lanka’s war victims need immediate help.”
More than 196,000 people have now crossed into government-controlled areas and are in camps in Vavuniya , Jaffna and Trincomalee. Up to 1,700 injured people have been transferred to various hospitals in Mannar, Trincomalee, Anuradhapura, Colombo.
Caritas is providing much needed food and other assistance to the many displaced people. Caritas is providing food for over 7,000 people in seven camps in Jaffna and some 12,500 in Mannar.
Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa met with Catholic Bishops and Caritas staff on 11 May. He updated them on the situation and told them three more camps would be set up in Jaffna, Trincomalee and Mannar. Colombo’s Archbishop Oswald Gomes explained about the work of Caritas Sri Lanka and the President expressed his appreciation and requested them to carry on.
The fighting has claimed the life of Caritas worker, Anthonipillai Uthayaraj Raj. The volunteer driver was caught in the crossfire on 8 May at Mullivaikal in the no-fire zone in Mullaitivu district.
Father Christopher George Jeyakumar, director of Caritas’ Human Development Center (HUDEC), the social affairs arm of the Jaffna diocese, said, “We have lost a good fearless driver who worked for many years in a war zone.”
Another Caritas priest, Father T.R. Vasanthaseelan, who ran a branch of Caritas in Kilinochchi, lost a limb in an artillery attack on April 23 and is being cared for in a Colombo hospital.
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