B. Muralidhar Reddy

Rajapaksa vows to eliminate the leadership of the LTTE

Military, Tigers blame each other for the attack

Growing concern over stranded civilians

COLOMBO: At least nine civilians were killed and 15 injured as shells hit an overcrowded Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital in Mullathivu district on Monday amid the all-out war between the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE.

Puthukkudiyiruppu and parts of Visuamadu are the two last remaining settlements of the Tigers with an estimated 1.2 lakh civilian population.

At an election rally in the south, President Mahinda Rajapaksa vowed to eliminate the leadership of the LTTE and renewed his appeal to the Tiger cadre to surrender to the advancing forces. According to independent sources, there are no signs of the Tiger cadre giving up the fight and the position of the 1.2 lakh civilians — as per government assessment — has become extremely vulnerable.

“We are extremely concerned about the plight of the ordinary citizens caught in the crossfire and with the LTTE boxed into a small territory along with large number of civilians, the next three to four days are very critical,” a diplomat who did not want to be named told The Hindu.

The shelling of the hospital, a part of the designated safe zone, has brought to the fore the vulnerability of the civilians. The Red Cross, whose representatives were present in the hospital premises, confirmed the shelling but was not in a position to identify the source.

The military and the Tigers blamed each other for the attack and accused each other of violating international norms. Sources told The Hindu that severe shortage of food items and medicines for the stranded citizens was a matter of grave concern.

The vast majority of those in the fast-shrinking LTTE-held areas are completely dependent on aid from outside. “These are people who have been displaced repeatedly and are surviving on next to nothing. The last food convoy which could move without hurdles from both sides was on January 16. The supplies were meant to last for two weeks,” said the source.

These sources said the hospital with a capacity of 150 beds had over 500 patients in addition to 300-odd civilians who had taken shelter in the compound.

“We understand 11 out of the 20 doctors in the hospital have left and those left behind are struggling to cope with the situation. Due to shortage of supplies, bed sheets are being used for bandaging and operations are being performed without anaesthesia.”

The government maintained that the LTTE alone was responsible for the misery of the civilians and it was doing all it could to reach out to the stranded.

Lakshman Hullugalle, director-general of the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS), accused the Tigers of holding a large number of civilians as human shield and said despite several constraints, the security forces were not firing at the designated safe zones.

Sri Lankan forces on Monday claimed that Tigers suffered heavy casualties in fighting in the general area west of the Nanthikandal lagoon in Mullathivu.

The Ministry also accused the LTTE of firing heavy artillery towards troops in Udayarkattukulama and dubbed it a “a cheap attempt” to provoke security forces to fire towards the declared civilian safe zone.

Separately, troops launched a swift assault on an identified LTTE resistance position in Udayarkattukulama, capturing the site and killing at least seven Tiger cadre.

The military claimed that despite LTTE “fastening grip” on the thousands of civilians entrapped in the outskirts of Mullathivu, many made their way towards the government-held regions during the past few days and said on Monday that 96 civilians reported at the Omanthai entry/exit point.

It added that an LTTE attempt to destroy the Iranamadu Tank bund, flooding an area which held two military divisions, was successfully averted by the Army.

In a report on the hospital shelling, the pro-LTTE TamilNet alleged that the indiscriminate attack had caused panic and tension among the hundreds of wounded civilians at the hospital.

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