Tamil Tigers admit fall of Vakarai
Colombo, 20 January, (Asiantribune.com): After a total blackout of the Sri Lankan troops advancing into the coastal town of Vakarai -- a stronghold of the Tamil Tigers in the east -- TamilNet, the pro-Tiger website, last night admitted that the Sri Lankan forces have "entered the Vaharai hospital without facing any resistance from the Tigers."
It quoted an unnamed "Liberation Tigers Military Spokesman" who after verifying had said that "LTTE had no combatants in Vaharai village where the hospital is located."
Defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said: "The people of Vaharai have been liberated from the clutches of the terrorists."
"The troops entered the town around noon and captured the hospital. They are now on their way to Kathirveli," he said.
Tiger propaganda refused to admit the fall Vakarai until independent news agencies and SLMM monitors confirmed that Vakarai had fallen. Even the BBC was confused as the Tamil Tigers had said that they had repulsed the attack.
Sri Lankan forces have been advancing on all fronts in the east driving the Tamil Tigers out of their entrenched pockets. Vakarai was the biggest stronghold of the Tigers in the east.
It was also a strategic base for the Tigers linking the north with the east. The loss of Vakarai would cut off supply routes of the northern Tigers to their cadres in the east, weakening the grip of the Tigers further in the east.
The Sri Lankan forces have vowed to pursue the running Tigers and chase them further to the north, clearing the east. The government strategy seems to be to first drive the Tigers out of the east before they take them on in the north.
Military sources said that thousands of civilians who were used as human shields by the Tigers are pouring into Government territory. UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond confirmed the flood of refugees. He said that "several thousand more people began fleeing an embattled separatist rebel-held pocket of land on Sri Lanka's east coast today towards Government positions as Government forces were reported to be advancing amid intensified fighting."
"We call on both parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians and their freedom of movement," said Ron Redmond a news briefing in Geneva, noting that this is the second large-scale exodus from the area in a month.
UNHCR media release added: "In late December 2006, over 20,000 civilians previously trapped by fighting between Sri Lankan forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fled across swollen rivers and jungle paths into government-controlled areas of Batticaloa District to the south of Vaharai.
"UNHCR estimates that some 70,000 people have been killed and 465,000 displaced by the more than two decade-long conflict, including nearly 205,000 uprooted since fighting erupted anew in April 2006 despite a ceasefire signed in 2002.
"Before today's exodus, 9,500 people were estimated to still remain in Vaharai, which had seen months of heavy fighting. Humanitarian access has been limited since last October, with only one humanitarian convoy able to deliver aid in late November.
"Our staffs are out in the field trying to verify the numbers fleeing and their exact location, and to start arranging assistance," Mr. Redmond said. "UNHCR is very concerned about the safety of any civilians remaining in Vaharai, as well as those in other areas across Sri Lanka's conflict-riddled north and east."
"Since December, UNHCR and its partners have been working with local authorities to set up emergency sites to host the new arrivals so that schools which were initially sheltering the displaced can re-open in a matter of weeks. In late December, the agency distributed basic household items to over 5,000 families from Vaharai.
"We have more stocks to help the latest arrivals," Mr. Redmond noted. "Over the last four months, we have distributed over 500,000 basic household items (everything from toothbrushes to mosquito nets to sarongs and saris) to displaced people and host families."
- Asian Tribune -