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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2707

Sri Lanka: ICRC presence at crossing points

The ICRC agreed to extend its presence at the Omanthai crossing point in the district of Vavuniya to five days a week, beginning 27 August. This was done at the request of the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Omanthai crossing point, which is on the A9 highway is the main source of access to Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts and the northern areas of Vavuniya. The only other point of entry to LTTE-controlled areas is the Uyilankulam crossing point in Mannar on the west coast. During the Madhu festival, which began on 5 August, the ICRC maintained a presence in Uyilankulam for seven consecutive days, from 10-17 August, in order to facilitate the passage of pilgrims. About 14,000 people were able to cross over. In the last four weeks, the ICRC has acted as a neutral intermediary to facilitate the crossing of nearly 40,000 civilians at Omanthai and Uyilankulam.

N. Kumudini, aged 35, was one of those who had to trek across no-man’s land at Omanthai in the blistering heat. Accompanied by her four-year-old son, Prasad, she was on her way to visit her sister in the Vanni. Even though Kumudini had not seen her sister for a year and was looking forward to their meeting, she took no pleasure in crossing over. "It is a difficult and dangerous journey to make on foot, especially with a young child," she said, dabbing the sweat on her brow with a handkerchief. The crossing point, which is manned by government forces on one side and the LTTE on the other, is about 1 km long. This includes the stretch of no-man’s land in the middle where members of the ICRC’s staff are positioned. Civilians and vehicles carrying goods are checked by both sides before they are allowed to go across. Kumudini, who left Jaffna with her husband and three other children to settle in Vavuniya, bore it all smilingly. She was going to spend three days with her sister.

Also in no-man’s land, her hold-all in front of her, was S.L. Devi, aged 59. She was returning home to Kilinochchi after being treated for an ulcer and for heart problems in a hospital in Colombo. "I had an operation a year ago and have had to go to Colombo for further treatment as it is not available in Kilinochchi,” she said. “I visit my doctor here in Kilinochchi. He tells me what further treatment I need and prescribes medicine for which I go to Colombo.” Devi has made the journey to Colombo four times already.

While the crossing point meets a number of humanitarian needs such as family reunions, access to medical services and free passage for ambulances, it also enables vehicles carrying goods to come and go and creates commercial opportunities for the enterprising.

S. Saroja, a 46-year-old mother of five from Vavuniya, earns 500 rupees a day by delivering goods to her contacts in LTTE-controlled areas. Her earnings are her family’s only means of sustenance as her husband is unemployed. She crosses over every day with goods for her contacts. Once she is on the LTTE-controlled side, she makes her sale. "I can carry about 25 kilos of goods including potatoes, onions, beedis and areca nuts,” she said. ”If there are no hold-ups in the checking, I can make one trip a day. Otherwise, I have to stay overnight in a school building on the other side. But I am hoping that things will improve now that the lines are going to be open more." The crossing point remains an invaluable conduit for those on either side of it.


The ICRC flew 26 patients and 9 members of hospital staff, as well as 147 laboratory specimens, from Jaffna to Colombo. Vaccines, laboratory supplies and medical equipment were transported from Colombo to government health services in Jaffna.

The ICRC also facilitated the passage of ambulances from within the Vanni to government hospitals in the south; this benefited 634 patients. In the east, 14 amputees from camps for displaced persons in Batticaloa, and one from Trincomalee, were transported to the physical rehabilitation centre in Batticaloa to be fitted with prostheses. Medical supplies and equipment were donated to the hospital in Eachilampattai, south of Trincomalee.

Economic security

In August, the ICRC provided about 3,000 displaced people in Batticaloa and 2,540 returnees in Vaharai with 1,325 hygiene kits (washing powder, soap, shampoo, etc.), 158 baby parcels (baby soap, towels, baby lotion, and powder), 107 jerrycans, 956 vegetable seed kits, 810 tool kits, 323 crowbars, 158 rakes and 323 knives.

In Trincomalee, about 2,800 returnees were given 700 hygiene kits, 1,130 tarpaulins, 1,100 jerrycans, 300 work tools (hoes, sprayers), 60 kits of essential household items (metal buckets, hurricane lanterns, rope, jerrycans, towels, mats, bed sheets) and 175 baby parcels.

In the Vanni, about 550 displaced persons received 10 kits containing essential household items, 10 hygiene kits, 90 baby parcels, and 50 tarpaulins, 30 baby mosquito nets and a dozen saris and work tools.

In Vavuniya, 1,850 persons were provided with 5 sewing machines, 135 hygiene kits, 20 baby parcels, 5 tents, and 40 each of seed kits and kits of work tools.

In Jaffna, 3,870 persons from the islands of Karainagar and Velanai received non-food relief items in the form of 445 hygiene kits, 772 kitchen sets (kettles, cooking pots, kerosene stoves, cups, plates, etc.), and 759 plastic items (cups, bowls and plates).

Water and habitat

In western Batticaloa, the ICRC distributed 573 shelter kits (wooden poles, iron nails, plastic sheets, coconut leaves and wood) to returnees in the Velaveli and Vavunatheevu divisions. Five out of eight camps for displaced persons were decommissioned and, so far, 54 pit latrines, 125 shelters and 18 tap stands have been dismantled. Left-over materials are being used, in a joint operation between the ICRC and the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, to reconstruct returnees' houses.

In the Maha Oya division of the district of Ampara, 11 hand-pumps were inspected and eight have been rehabilitated.

At the Sandilipay welfare centre in Jaffna, the ICRC’s water and habitat unit completed the construction of four toilets with septic tanks and the rehabilitation of one tube well and one open well. At the Addakiri welfare centre, the construction of two toilets is in progress; at the Kaddudai welfare centre, the rehabilitation of one well was completed.

In Kilinochchi, the ICRC distributed 237 shelter kits, repaired 3 hand-pumps, and cleaned and disinfected 16 open wells and 4 tube wells.

In Trincomalee, the ICRC completed the rehabilitation of 4 wells in the Muthur and Seruvilla divisions and cleaned 29 wells in Muthur, Morawewa, and Eachilampattai.

Restoring family links

The ICRC, in close cooperation with the Sri Lanka Red Cross, continued to restore and maintain links between members of families separated by the conflict. Since the beginning of August, the ICRC has collected 133 family messages and distributed 153.

Visiting detainees

The ICRC continued to visit persons arrested on security grounds. Its delegates carried out 17 detention visits to 13 places of detention and registered or held private interviews with 221 detainees.

Civilian population

Families throughout the country continued to report abductions of relatives by unknown persons. In the last three weeks, 34 abductions and 25 arrests were documented. Members of the ICRC’s staff transported the bodies of three combatants during the period covered by this report.

Cooperation within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

In August, the ICRC’s water and habitat unit organized a training session for volunteers from the Vavuniya and Mannar branches of the Sri Lanka Red Cross. The training was in such areas as support for displaced persons, the functioning of the water supply system, provision of basic shelter, and emergency latrine construction. Most sessions were held outdoors and emphasized “learning by doing.” These trained volunteers, seven in each district, add to the emergency response of the branches and to their ability to cope with any abrupt displacement of families.

- Asian Tribune -

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