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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2555

Excellent Humanitarian Work Continues Under Trying Conditions: ICRC

Colombo, 10 Februaty, (Asiantribune.com): The escalated fighting in the north and east also posed greater risk for humanitarian workers and complicates aid delivery. However, thanks to its longstanding record as a strictly humanitarian and neutral organization, the ICRC is known and accepted by the parties to the conflict and is thus able to gain access to persons in need of protection or assistance on either side of the front line.

Here is the latest ICRC report published this month:

Since the beginning of the year, the ICRC has observed an increase in civilian casualties as the number of indiscriminate attacks grows in the north, east and south of the country. Intensified fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and Mannar districts has also led to a rise in the number of displaced persons.

"We are concerned about the impact the heightened violence is having on civilians," says Toon Vandenhove, the head of the ICRC's delegation in Colombo. "Civilians and persons no longer taking direct part in the hostilities, such as sick, wounded or captured soldiers, must be protected in all circumstances under international humanitarian law (IHL)."

Under IHL, the parties to the conflict have a duty to distinguish at all times between civilians and civilian objects on the one hand, and fighters and military objectives on the other. Attacks may only be directed against the latter, not against civilians and civilian objects. Moreover, constant care must be taken in the conduct of military operations to spare civilians and civilian objects.

The escalated fighting in the north and east also poses a greater risk for humanitarian workers and complicates aid delivery. Thanks to its longstanding record as a strictly humanitarian and neutral organization, the ICRC is known and accepted by the parties to the conflict and is thus able to gain access to persons in need of protection or assistance on either side of the front line.

Meanwhile, the northwest monsoon brought unusually heavy rains around the third week of December, displacing, according to local authorities, an estimated 6,100 people (around 1,700 families) in Anuradhapura district, in North Central province. The displaced found temporary shelter in community centres, schools and family homes. Although the ICRC's mandate is to protect and assist the victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence, the organization teamed up with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society in the Anuradhapura area to help the flood victims. National Society disaster response teams, working with support from the German and the British Red Cross, provided food, sheets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets, hygiene items and hurricane lamps to affected families in the northern, eastern and central districts. All displaced have since returned to their homes.

ICRC staff has maintained a constant presence at the Omanthai crossing point to facilitate the passage of civilians wishing to cross the line between government-controlled and LTTE-held areas.

Acting as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC facilitated the crossing of more than 6,800 vehicles and over 62,600 civilians, including 275 patients from the north who travelled to the south for hospital treatment. It transported more than 40 bodies of fallen fighters between areas controlled by the government and the LTTE, and installed or refurbished two cold storage rooms in the Vavuniya Hospital mortuary.

"The ICRC has maintained a presence at various crossing points since 1999," says Vandenhove. "While only the parties to the conflict themselves can open or close the crossing line, the presence of ICRC staff reassures people who want to go across that security guarantees have been given for their safe passage." Protection of civilians and persons held in relation to the conflict.

The ICRC continued to monitor violations of humanitarian law affecting civilians throughout the country and to discuss them with the parties to the conflict. As in the past, it met with the victims and their families, who reported cases of missing relatives, arrests, unlawful killings and ill-treatment of civilians.

With the cooperation of both government officials and the LTTE, the ICRC also visited the growing number of people arrested for security reasons and provided them with recreational items, clothes and toiletries. It carried out visits to around 55 different places of detention, registering or holding private interviews with almost 645 detainees.

The families of 370 detainees received financial assistance to visit their loved ones in detention, while nearly 170 released detainees were provided with funds to return home on public transport.

The ICRC, working in close cooperation with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, continued to maintain and restore links between members of families separated by the conflict. During the reporting period, it collected 290 family messages and distributed over 220.

In the aftermath of the claymore attack on a civilian bus close to Okkampitiya, which killed 27 people and injured almost 70 on 16 January, the ICRC provided Moneragala hospital with bandages, iodine solution and dressing materials to treat 200 patients.

In the north and east of Sri Lanka, the ICRC continued to supply health facilities with the essential drugs and materials needed to respond to conflict-related health needs. It donated medical and x-ray equipment to Vavuniya and Mannar general hospitals, and provided dressing materials to Sampathnuwera hospital in Anuradhapura District and to Batticaloa general hospital.

As part of its work in conflict-affected areas, the ICRC continued to assist displaced persons unable to return to their homes and returnees in Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Kilinochchi and Vavuniya. It distributed shelter and sanitation assistance, food and household items, mosquito nets, and baby and hygiene kits.

Between 20 December 2007 and 31 January 2008, the ICRC has provided improved access to health care as follows:

Jaffna district:Prostheses and mobility aids were provided to more than 30 patients, 26 of whom were amputees. Almost 50 patients, accompanied by 40 caretakers and 12 medical officers from the Jaffna Teaching Hospital, were flown to Colombo on ICRC-chartered flights. Routine vaccines, 180 medical samples and medical equipment were also flown between Jaffna and Colombo on a weekly basis for use at several health facilities.

Vavuniya district: the ICRC continued to facilitate the Ministry of Health immunization programme and prenatal care in Vavuniya North, where more than 250 children were vaccinated and over 65 women received routine prenatal care.

Batticaloa district: The ICRC distributed 790 hygiene kits, 100 baby parcels, 770 kits containing essential household items, over 1,000 mosquito nets, around 600 farm implements and more than 1,310 complementary food parcels to 8,300 returnees.

Trincomalee district: Around 920 hygiene kits, 370 baby parcels, 130 kits of essential household items, 655 tarpaulins and 1,465 complementary food parcels were distributed to 15,000 returnees.

Kilinochchi district: The ICRC distributed 65 kitchen sets, 60 hygiene kits, 20 baby parcels, 65 tarpaulins, 85 mosquito nets and 65 sets of essential household items to 260 displaced persons.

Vavuniya district: the ICRC provided 110 displaced persons with 40 tarpaulins, 15 hygiene parcels, 10 baby parcels, 15 kitchen sets and 15 kits of essential household items.
Jaffna district: Farm implements were distributed to over 7,000 people.

Anuradhapura district: around 1,060 sets of essential household items, a number of hygiene parcels and tarpaulins and about 1,200 kitchen sets were distributed to 4,800 people displaced by floods.

Batticaloa district: The ICRC provided tarpaulins to 690 families in the Chenkalady division and shelter materials to almost 320. Returnees in the villages of Koppavely and Rugam

Jaffna district:16 toilets and three septic tanks were built or renovated in the Krishnan Kovil. Another 12 toilets and two septic tanks were built or renovated in Yogapuram, Kopay division.

Trincomalee district: The ICRC cleaned more than 25 wells in Srimangalapura and constructed seven toilets for the displaced from Mutur East. Tarpaulins and shelter materials were given to returnees in Uppural and Seenanwely.

Kilinochchi district: Five toilets were renovated at the Mulankavil Divisional hospital, and eight hand pumps were repaired in six villages and two schools.

Mannar district: Close to 90 shelters were constructed for displaced persons in Musali.Worked to enhance respect for international humanitarian law.

More than 235 civilians, including university students, NGO staff and community leaders, and almost 95 navy personnel attended sessions on humanitarian law and ICRC work.

It provided support for National Society disaster preparedness, tracing and dissemination work

Around 30 volunteers from the Mullaitivu branch of the Sri Lanka Red Cross society were trained in tracing work.
Another 12 volunteers in Mannar and Vavuniya districts were trained to clean wells and build shelters.

- Asian Tribune -

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