I’m sitting on the porch, enjoying the rattle of neighborhood awakenings, reading the paper on line. And I realize what a terrible day it is, how terrible every day has been (since January), on a strip on land in Sri Lanka:
More than 100,000 civilians fled from the combat zone earlier this week but the United Nations estimates that anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 civilians remain trapped on the sandy spit of land. The assessment is based on satellite images and reports from United Nations workers in the conflict zone.
This sandy spit of land is 7 kil. long, off Sri Lanka’s NE coast. The government of Sri Lanka has stepped up its efforts to kill off the remaining members of an ethnic separatist group called the Tamil Tigers. According to the paper:
An average of 70 civilians have been killed each day since late January in fighting…
If you do the math…
Some 6,432 civilians, many of them children, have been killed over the past three months and 13,946 were wounded, according to a United Nations document obtained by news agencies.
And to put that in perspective, we’re talking about twice the number of people killed in the September, 2001 attacks, and half the student population of my university, in less than three months time. And it might be worse than that:
The toll was compiled by the United Nations from government doctors and United Nations workers and corroborated by the Red Cross. The tally may already by out of date. “Hundreds more civilians have been killed or wounded in recent days,” said Ms. Wijueatne, the spokeswoman.
Moreover, the humanitarian aid effort is frustrated by the massive number of displaced people–the article reports an estimate of 200,000–the “anger” and “humiliation” of the Tamil (which the article claims will promote further fighting out of revenge), and the resistance of the Sri Lankan government to international calls for a cease fire (including one by the Indian government).
Beyond the threat of death or recruitment into the fighting force, here’s what today will be like for the stranded population:
“There’s a lack of medical staff, supplies and drinking water. The people who remain are completely reliant on humanitarian aid and as far as we are aware no food has gone in there since the first week of April.”
That’s right. Scavenged food and drinking water, little medical aid. BBC News reports a UN official saying:
“I saw infants with dysentery, malnourished children and women, untended wounds, and people dressed in the ragged clothing they’ve been wearing for months”…
On Thursday, Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa rejected a UN appeal to allow aid agencies in.
It seems that international governments (I’ve seen news reports about France, Britain and India) are assembling resources to intervene. There are reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Catholic charity, Caritas, have been allowed into the area to offer support.