Rev. Fr. T.R. Vasanthaseelan, the local director of Caritas in Sri Lanka’s war-torn Vanni region, was severely injured in the ongoing fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebel forces.
Both of Fr. Vasanthaseelan legs were injured and one of his legs has already been amputated. Fr. Vasanthaseelan was wounded when shells hit St. Anthony’s Church in Valaignarmadam this morning.
Caritas also learned that Rev. Fr. James Pathinathan, a member of National Commission for Justice, Peace and Human Development was also injured and brought to the hospital in Anuradhapura on Wednesday, April 22. Caritas Internationalis is a Catholic organization dedicated to reducing poverty and injustice throughout the world.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today announced that he will immediately send a United Nations humanitarian team to the shrinking conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka, calling for the mission to be allowed into the area as soon as possible.
The team is being dispatched to the five square-mile pocket of land where fighting rages between the government and the LTTE.
Tens of thousands of people, including women and children are trapped in a small pocket of land. Many have sought safety in St Anthony’s Church.
The security forces of the Government of Sri Lanka have captured almost all the areas that were under the control of the Tamil Tiger rebels and are now entering into the “Safe Zone” where the LTTE is keeping the civilians as human shields.
According to the official statistics over 100,000 civilians have been brought out from the “Safe Zone” and are being sent to Welfare Camps. The rescue operation continues.
Rev. Fr. Vasanthaseelan is Director Caritas Vanni-Hudec, and had been living with the people in Vanni providing humanitarian assistance and moving with the people.
Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Lesley-Anne Knight said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Vanni and Caritas colleagues of Fr. Vasanthaseelan and Fr. James Pathinathan.
“Vasanthaseelan is a much loved figure in Sri Lanka and throughout the Caritas confederation. He is a man of peace, courage and hope. He has lived among the people he seeks to serve and accompanied them through their suffering. He has been a sign of love and faithfulness throughout such difficult times,” said Knight.
“That aid workers are suffering only underlines how innocent people, women and children are being killed and injured in Sri Lanka’s civil war and reinforces our calls for an immediate ceasefire,” said Knight.
“Both the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tiger rebels have obligations to protect the lives of civilians and allow humanitarian access. The United Nations and the international community must hold them to these commitments,” said Knight.
“So many lives have been sacrificed and there is no time to lose,” Mr. Ban stressed, calling on the parties to respect the call issued by the Security Council yesterday, in which it urged both sides to respect international humanitarian law and allow aid agencies access those affected by fighting.
Wednesday’s statement, read out by Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, which holds the Council’s rotating monthly presidency, also strongly condemned the LTTE’s use of civilians as human shields and its actions that block people from leaving the conflict area.
The 15-member body also appealed to the Tamil rebels to “renounce terrorism, allow UN-assisted evacuation of remaining civilians in the conflict area and join the political process of dialogue in order to put an end to the conflict.”
Today a senior UN relief official put the number of civilians still trapped in the conflict zone in the Vanni region at 50,000.
Reuters video report.
Catherine Bragg, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that the Government has reported that 103,000 people have left the area and are in transit to camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs)
“We hope that those numbers are accurate,” but the world body cannot verify them, she said at a press briefing in New York.
The most current information also points to 26,000 new arrivals at transit centers, as well as 95,000 IDPs seeking refuge in camps, up from 80,000 Wednesday, Ms. Bragg said at a press briefing in New York.
She also underscored the need for extra camps to accommodate the expected influx of more than 100,000 people, noting that the UN has been pressing the Sri Lankan Government for additional sites and relocation of IDPs now in camps to live with host families.
“It is in the interest of the Government and the IDPs to be able to leave these camps as soon as possible,” Ms. Bragg said.
She emphasized that both the Government and LTTE are violating international humanitarian law regarding the protection of civilians, with heavy weapons being used in the so-called no-fire zone and the LTTE preventing people from fleeing the “very horrendous situation” in the region.
Also today, the UN issued an urgent plea for funds to meet the needs of IDPs who have fled the combat zone, with less than one-third of its $155 million appeal having been met to date.
The exodus of tens of thousands of people has stretched humanitarian and Government capacities, according to a statement issued by the world body’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka.
Many of those who escaped conflict “were forced from their homes more than a year ago, and it is something of a miracle that they have survived such a terrible ordeal,” said Neil Buhne. “We need to ensure that no more lives are lost by meeting their immediate needs, and beyond that to help them get back on their feet, so that they can eventually return to their homes.”
He said he recently saw first hand how relief teams are scrambling to provide assistance to “crowds of weary and hungry people.”
At camps at the town of Vavuniya which is housing most of the civilians who fled fighting, “I saw infants with dysentery, malnourished children and women, untended wounds, and people dressed in the ragged clothing they’ve been wearing for months,” Mr. Buhne said.
The funds requested by the UN are intended to cover the costs of basic needs, such as food, medicine, water, sanitation, shelter and clothing, and also to help put children back into school to “give them some semblance of normality.”