TOPICS : Supplies to Tamil areas in army’s hands

With the UN and other international humanitarian agencies vacating the Tamil rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi in Sri Lanka, now under army siege, the onus of maintaining essential supplies to tens of thousands of civilians in the area called the Vanni has fallen on the government. “We will have to work harder now to get the supplies in, there is no shortage yet, but if the World Food Programme (WFP) convoys get delayed then we will have problems,” Nagalingam Vedanayagam, the government agent in Kilinochchi in Tiger-held areas, said.

But according to reports appearing on the LTTE-backed website TamilNet, the Sri Lankan army, on Wednesday, stopped 15 lorries from delivering supplies to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kilinochchi. No indepndent confirmation was possible. On Sept. 5 the Sri Lankan government served notice on the UN and other humanitarian agencies to relocate from the Vanni to Vavuniya town on the grounds that it could not guarantee the safety of their staff.

Colombo has vowed to capture the Vanni in the north of the island as a follow up to wresting the east, a year ago, from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which has been fighting to create a separate Tamil homeland in these areas of the Sinhala dominated island. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has declared that the Vanni would be captured by the end of the year, though analysts say the group may then retreat in the jungles and wage a guerilla war.

According to government sources, the LTTE has about 5,000 fighters but defence analysts have said the highly motivated and trained group may have about twice that number and are already entrenched in the jungle terrain around Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts. “We moved all our international staff and offices, we do not have any permanent staff there (in the Vanni),” Gordon Weiss, UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, said.

The relocation had been suspended for three days before that owing to public protests that blocked the only access road out of the Vanni. UN officials then held discussions with the LTTE to secure safe passage, Weiss said. Government forces had also ensured safe passage for the convoy through areas of fighting south of Kilinochchi.

The relocation is the latest development in two-and-a-half months of heavy fighting in the Vanni, especially on the western flank, with government forces driving into Tiger-held areas on multiple fronts. According to UN statistics there are at least 160,000 IDPs in the Vanni and at least 70,000 have been displaced. At least 150,000 persons had benefited from supplies moved to the Vanni by the WFP in August.

The Sri Lankan government has appealed to the civilians to move out of the Vanni and reach government-controlled areas, but as fighting closed in on Kilinochchi — they were less than 10 km south of the Tiger showpiece — civilians were moving deeper into Tiger-held areas, the Kilinochchi government agent said. — IPS