Aid distribution: Red Cross, India differ with Sri Lanka

B. Muralidhar Reddy

COLOMBO: India on Thursday formally handed over 1,680 tonnes of relief material to the International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) for distribution to civilians in northern Sri Lanka.

A brief ceremony at the ICRC warehouse here was marked by contradictory statements by India and ICRC on the one hand and Sri Lanka on the other. Colombo insisted the relief would be distributed by “government agents” in LTTE-occupied areas, under the supervision of ICRC. Sri Lanka’s Commissioner General of Essential Services, S. B. Divaratne, said the government had the machinery to ensure distribution in the warzone.

“The ICRC would be involved in a supervisory capacity and the actual distribution would be done by the Government Agents,” he said.

Indian High Commissioner Alok Prasad, who handed over the relief material, said the consignment has been sent as a follow up to the October 26 India-Sri Lanka joint statement, in which both sides decided India will provide humanitarian relief assistance in Sri Lanka.

“I am happy to note that this substantial consignment has arrived in Colombo within three weeks of that decision. It is a combined effort of the Government of India and donations received from the people of Tamil Nadu. It is a gesture of goodwill and intended to bring some relief to civilians in the conflict areas,” he said. The consignment consists of food, clothing, and personal hygiene items in 80,000 family packs. Mr. Prasad thanked Sri Lanka for facilitating the arrival and despatch of these items.

He thanked the ICRC for its role.

Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohana said there was no estimate of the displaced in the conflict zone as a census has not been conducted.

“We believe the figure of 2,30,000 to 3,00,000 estimated displaced by various agencies is grossly exaggerated. The government’s own assessment is that the figure could be around 1,00,000. I also take the opportunity to remind the world that the government was doing its best to reach out to the displaced and it was the LTTE which was holding them as human shield,” he said. Sri Lanka head of the ICRC, Paul Castella, said the relief material would be distributed directly by ICRC teams working in Wanni. “This is the first time that, through the ICRC, the Government of India has assisted in conflict-affected population of Sri Lanka and I would like to underline how much we appreciate the trust the Indian authorities have shown in us and their recognition of the ICRC’s work in Sri Lanka to date,” he said.

Defence line overrun

The military on Thursday claimed to have overrun the LTTE’s “first Forward Defence Line in Muhamalai and Kilaly in the Jaffna Peninsula.”

Since the fall of Ponneryn, the military has stepped up the offensive to dismantle LTTE positions in the Muhamalai sector. In the next few days, it hopes to open another land route from Mannar to the Jaffna Peninsula.

A Defence Ministry statement said that despite the LTTE’s stiff resistance, soldiers have advanced.

LTTE cadre are trying to protect the strategically-important defence line in Muhamalai and Kilaly. The Ministry said the LTTE has constructed an earth-bund ahead of a defence line from Nagarkovil to Kilaly, both north and south to the A-9, Jaffna-Kandy Main Road.

The Ministry said the Task Force-1, now marching towards Paranthan, has captured “one of the LTTE airstrips” in the Nivil area on Thursday.

Separately, in a statement, the government rejected the Amnesty International’s assertion that the government is blocking humanitarian aid headed for Wanni.

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