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UNHCR demands access to war-affected civilians By Easwaran Rutnam

August 19, 2006

Travel restrictions strictly enforced as fighting continues

UNHCR has called on both the government and the LTTE to permit urgent freedom of access to humanitarian aid workers to reach all affected populations from the ongoing fighting between the government troops and the LTTE.

The relief agency estimates more than 162,200 people had fled their homes since fighting erupted in April but remain within the country, while another 6,672 had crossed the Palk Strait to become refugees in India’s Tamil Nadu state.

“We and our partners are now seriously concerned about the welfare of civilians in areas inaccessible to humanitarian agencies because of strictly enforced travel restrictions, as fighting continues in the north and east of Sri Lanka,” UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told the press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva yesterday.

UNHCR notes that with the closure of the A9 access road to the Jaffna peninsula through the LTTE-controlled Kilinochchi District, supplies of food and water have fallen to alarmingly low levels in many locations and as a result, people are hoarding food,while merchants sharply hike prices in local markets.

The Daily Mirror learns however that the government, through the government agent in Jaffna, has warned of taking serious action against traders in Jaffna who sell their goods at exorbitant rates owing to the lack of stocks created by the fierce fighting in the area.

Pagonis meanwhile says the situation in Point Pedro, in the north of the Jaffna peninsula, is even more fluid and unpredictable than in the Jaffna town, as people in the town have sought refuge in large communal buildings while displaced civilians in Point Pedro are staying in vacant homes and with host families, creating electricity, water and sanitation problems.

Eastern districts face a similar crisis. Thousands of displaced families in Muttur, Eachchilampattu Divisions of Trincomalee District, and the Vaharai Division in Batticaloa District, are in desperate need of sustained humanitarian relief, UNHCR said.

Some 15,000 to 20,000 people are now said to be displaced in LTTE-controlled Kilinochchi District as a result of repeated artillery shelling and air strikes. Humanitarian agencies are targeting their help to those displaced people – some 9,500 individuals – living outdoors or in communal buildings.

Around 500 families have reportedly moved to the grounds of the Madhu Church in Mannar District, a previous displacement site during the 1983-2002 civil war. All permanent houses around the church are now fully occupied by displaced people, and nearly 75 families have erected tents in the surrounding area .-Daily Mirror

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