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Amnesty International USA: Tamil Tigers, Sri Lankan Government Endangering Lives of Tens of Thousands of Newly Displaced Persons

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 14, 2008
10:31 AM

CONTACT: Amnesty International USA
AIUSA media office
202-544-0200 x302

 
Tamil Tigers, Sri Lankan Government Endangering Lives
of Tens of Thousands of Newly Displaced Persons,
Reports Amnesty International
Human Rights Organization Reports 70,000 Fled Their Homes Since May 2008
 
WASHINGTON - August 14 - Thousands of families who fled the recent fighting between Sri Lankan forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) must be allowed to move to safer areas and to receive necessary humanitarian assistance, Amnesty International said today.

“These people are running out of places to go and basic necessities,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka researcher. “The Tigers are keeping them in harm’s way and the government is not doing enough to ensure they receive essential assistance.”

Government aerial bombardment and artillery shelling since May has forced more than 70,000 people to flee their homes, primarily in Kilinochchi and Mulaitivu districts.

Amnesty International has estimated that a third of these families are living without shelter. Some families have been forced to move several times. Many cannot receive food, tarpaulin for temporary shelters or fuel. This is due to a lack of access into LTTE-controlled areas and restrictions on goods going through Omanthai - the crossing point between government- and LTTE-controlled territories.

Lack of cement to build adequate toilets and washrooms has forced people to use open bathing facilities. The lack of adequate privacy for women and girls has led to a notable increase in reports of sexual and gender-based violence.

In the LTTE-controlled Wanni area, the Tigers have impeded the movement of thousands of families to safer places by imposing a strict pass system and, in some instances, forcing some family members to stay behind to ensure the return of the rest of the family. These measures seem designed in part to use civilians as a buffer against government forces -- a serious violation of international humanitarian law. The LTTE has also engaged in forced recruitment.

Amnesty International has also received reports that the government housing for those who escaped LTTE areas often operate as de facto detention centers. Witnesses from Kalimoddai camp in Mannar district told Amnesty International that more than 200 families held there cannot exit the camp for any reason (except to go to school) without obtaining a pass from the government’s security forces.

“Both sides to this long conflict have again shown that they will jeopardize the lives of thousands of ordinary people in the pursuit of military objectives,” said Yolanda Foster. “In the absence of independent international monitors, Sri Lankan civilians lack protection and remain at the mercy of two forces with long records of abuse.”

Background

The Sri Lankan military has launched a major offensive to reclaim areas of the north and east previously controlled by the LTTE. Families have been displaced multiple times. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as of June 30, there are some 467,000 individuals displaced by conflict in Sri Lanka’s north and east. This figure includes an estimated 194,900 persons who were displaced after the fighting intensified in April 2006.

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