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S Asia A - Plight of civilians at end of Sri Lanka's war

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by kds1980, May 1, 2009.

  1. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    MBO (Reuters) - A truce looks out of the question in Sri Lanka's war, but the government has said it would no longer use heavy weapons as troops advance into a tiny rebel pocket where tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped.

    Here are some questions and answers about their plight:

    HOW MANY ARE TRAPPED?

    That is a subject of great debate and confusion. The International Committee of the Red Cross has said it is less than 50,000, while the United Nations has said up to that number are in danger. Sri Lanka's government estimates between 10,000 and 20,000. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) say it is 160,000. Diplomats say the number is immaterial with so many in harm's way, and a host of nations have pushed for a humanitarian truce. The civilians are in a tiny strip of northern coast with the ocean to the east and a lagoon to the west, measuring no more than 5 square km (2 sq miles), according to the military.

    HOW MANY HAVE BEEN KILLED AND WOUNDED?

    A U.N. working document, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, said 6,432 civilians had been killed and 13,946 wounded in fighting since the end of January. A U.N. spokesman declined to comment on it. The government has consistently called casualty figures inflated to serve LTTE propaganda purposes, and the government and the rebels blame each other for killing civilians. Getting accurate information is nearly impossible, since very few people inside the war zone can be said to be free of rebel influence and few independent observers have been permitted in.

    HOW MANY HAVE ESCAPED?

    Early this week, the military said it had registered more than 113,000 since an exodus began a week earlier when troops punched through an earthen barrier the Tigers erected to block entry and exit. The government says more than 200,000 have left since the beginning of the year. Doctors treating the wounded pouring out said they suffered from horrific injuries from shelling and gunfire.

    WHY CAN'T ANYONE GIVE AN ACCURATE FIGURE?

    Most estimates by aid agencies were based on the number of tents seen in satellite imagery of the no-fire zone. That number was then multiplied by four or five on the assumption each tent contained a family. Local employees of aid agencies also provided data. The government always said the figures were inflated to serve a Tiger aim of manufacturing a civilian crisis to forestall military defeat. That said, the recent exodus exceeded the government's mid-February estimate of 70,000.

    HOW ARE CONDITIONS FOR THOSE STILL TRAPPED?

    Dangerous if not outright deadly. The Red Cross has said the situation was "nothing short of catastrophic" for those trapped and packed tightly into the tiny area. Food, water and medical care are in short supply, the Red Cross says. That is to say nothing of the fighting. Despite the government pledge to stick to just small arms, the Tigers say shelling and air strikes have not stopped. The government denies that, but U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said in prepared remarks on Thursday "... most accounts indicate that shelling into the conflict zone continues."

    IF THINGS ARE SO BAD, WHY HAVEN'T THEY RUN?

    The rebels intimidate the civilians by shooting at those who try to escape, witnesses and a host of nations have said. The LTTE denies that. The government has released video footage shot from an unmanned surveillance drone showing what it said were Tiger sentries firing at a packed group of several hundred people trying to escape along the beach.

    WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHO GOT OUT?

    Many are still making their way from the front to camps, the United Nations has said. The world body has warned the exodus strains available resources and has already exceeded the capacity of existing camps. It has asked the government to clear additional land to build more. Sri Lanka's foreign minister appealed for international aid last week, admitting the situation was "less than ideal." The LTTE have accused the government of putting people into "internment camps," but the United Nations has said the camps are up to international standards. The only exception is that people cannot leave, nor their relatives visit. The government says this is a temporary move to weed out Tiger infiltrators, and pledges to begin resettling people by next month.

    (Editing by Jerry Norton)
     
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