Lanka pledges supplies to Tamils

IPS Correspondents

The Sri Lankan government will organise weekly food convoys and maintain supplies to 220,000 civilians trapped by fighting between Tamil rebels and the army for control over Kilinochchi town and the surrounding area known as the Vanni. “The plan is to move at least one convoy per week, we have already made arrangements,” commissioner for essential services, SP Divaratana, said.

On Thursday, a convoy of 51 vehicles carrying supplies from the World Food Programme (WFP) reached the Vanni, being the first relief after the UN and other international agencies working in the area moved out on Sept.16, following a government directive and deteriorating

security. “We are committed to providing supplies to the displaced in the Vanni, we will try to organise another convoy next week,” UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss, said as the convoy carrying 650 tonnes of supplies travelled across the Vanni to reach areas deep inside Tiger-held areas.

“It is crucial that a regular flow of humanitarian supplies is provided to conflict victims who are extremely vulnerable and in need of the most basic necessities,” Azeb Asrat, WFP acting country director in Sri Lanka, said. Seven UN officials accompanied the convoy to monitor the internally displaced persons (IDPs) at four different locations, according to Nagalingam Vedanayagam, government agent for Kilinochchi, who accompanied the convoy. Vedanayagam had, last week, warned that if supplies were further delayed ration stocks in the Vanni would come under pressure.

The latest UN humanitarian reports said there were signs of shortages. “Government agent — Kilinochchi reported on Sept. 24 that dry ration distribution was temporarily suspended in Kilinochchi district, due to shortages, for IDPs who have been registered in the district,” the Inter Agency Standing Committee, a collective of UN and relief agencies, said.

Nine vehicles that were due to be part of the convoy were detained by authorities after banned items, including explosives and 20 global positioning systems, were located hidden among the supplies. The UN said that the vehicles were among the 30 organised by local government officials.

“The convoy was reduced from 60 trucks to 51 after explosives and other illicit items were discovered on government-provided trucks that were due to join the convoy. The UN has reiterated that humanitarian convoys are protected under International Humanitarian Law, and has condemned the attempt by persons unknown to disrupt the aid effort,” according to the UN office in Colombo. The Oct. 2 convoy transported only food supplies, Divaratana said.

The arrival of Lankan forces on the outskirts of Kilinochchi is “the beginning of the end of LTTE terrorists,” defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said. But there are expectations that the LTTE may survive as a fighting force by falling back into the thick jungles around Mullaittivu, said to be where its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran operates from. Claiming discrimination by the Sinhalese majority, the LTTE has been fighting since 1972 to carve out a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island. The east fell to the army last year and efforts are being made to capture the last strongholds of the LTTE in the north.