The latest news from Sri Lanka is a sobering reminder of what a conflict means and a reminder of the huge personal risks taken by Dishani and her fellow peacebuilders.
24 March: Most recent reports state that more than 3,000 people crossed into government controlled areas in the Putukkudiyiruppa area over the weekend. On March 21 alone 1,100 civilians fled, many of them children, on March 22 another 890 escaped in the same area. Since March 15, more than 7,000 civilians have crossed over into government areas, bringing the number being housed at transit camps and welfare centres in Mannar, Jaffna and Vavuniya to just under 50,000 since December of last year. A UN document on civilian casualties in the Vanni area which was leaked in the press last week, highlights the number of civilian casualties between January 20 and March 7 as 9,924 – 2,683 deaths and 7,241 injuries. This claims that the number of people killed every day has doubled in one month. The document claims that between January and February 2009 the combat area was reduced from 100km2 to 45 km2, including the ‘no fire zone’ (NFZ) of 14 km2. As the combat area reduces, the number of people killed and injured rises. The UN has used satellite imagery to calculate the population and density of civilians in the combat zones – based on shelter structures and head counts inside the NFZ – the conservative estimate is that there are at least 100,000 people within the NFZ. The UN estimates that 150,000 to 200,000 people remain trapped in the combat zone (including the NFZ), however the government puts this figure at closer to 70,000. One thousand tonnes of food aid has been shipped this month; however estimates suggest that 3,000 tonnes of food is needed for the 200,000 people. A CARE member of staff was killed in the Vanni last week. Two UN staff members and dependants, including a 16-year-old girl were forcibly recruited by the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE); the LTTE has given no response to requests for their release. Reports suggest that forced recruitment has stepped up in the last few weeks. China blocked discussions in the UN Security Council on the situation in Sri Lanka arguing that it is ‘merely an internal matter’ and not a threat to international peace and security.