(New York: 9 November 2006): "Yesterday's massive attack on civilians shows that force continues to be used indiscriminately in the conflict in Sri Lanka," said Jan Egeland, United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs.
A Sri Lankan Army artillery bombardment yesterday hit Kathiravelli School, which was hosting some 1,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Vaharai area in Batticaloa District of Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission in its initial report on Wednesday said that they had counted 23 bodies and that 135 people were being treated in the hospital with serious and minor injuries, but the number of fatalities is expected to increase. The Monitoring Mission found no evidence of military installations. However, there have been equally disturbing are reports that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) prevented some 2,000 civilians from fleeing to safety. Shelling between the two parties has continued in Vaharai over the last few days.
"The people trapped in this camp are terrified and feel that they are completely at the mercy of others," said Allan Rock, Special Advisor on Sri Lanka to the United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. "The time has come for all parties to respect the basic human rights of these people, which are simply not being observed at the moment," he added. After his visit to the camp today, Rock described it as a "shocking sight."
Vaharai is a narrow peninsula north of Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka, controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It hosts over 30,000 IDPs who left their homes in Trincomalee province due to the fighting in August 2006. They have since lived in public buildings and ad-hoc camps in the location, which is quite close to the frontlines. At the moment, UN agencies' access to the area due has been limited by the fighting.
The fighting in Sri Lanka between the LTTE and the Government has displaced almost 200,000 people since April 2006. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans are displaced due to previous conflict and by the tsunami.
On 2 November, Sri Lankan Army aerial bombardment hit the vicinity of the hospital in the LTTE-held town of Kilinochchi, in northern Sri Lanka. The bombing killed 5 civilians and damaged the hospital's maternity ward.
"I call upon all parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians under all circumstances in accordance with International Humanitarian Law," Jan Egeland said.