Aid Groups Appeal for Access to Lankan Battlefield

As the Sri Lanka celebrated a holiday to mark its victory over Tamil Tigers, various aid groups has demanded an access to the former battlefield to check if there was any wounded civilians stranded there.

It should be noted that the government has barred journalists and international aid workers from the war zone for months, allowing only the Red Cross to periodically send a boat to the area to deliver food aid and evacuate the wounded.

According to Paul Castella, the head of the Sri Lanka office of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the organization has appealed for an access to the war zone, but the government says it does not need assistance.

“Yes we have concerns, yes we are asking for access,” he said. “We have no information from the ground to document these concerns.”

Last week when final battle was on between Lankan army and the LTTE, government doctors reported that nearly 1,000 wounded civilians were trapped in a makeshift hospital and the surrounding area with little food and no medical care.

Military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara said that troops rescued more than 60,000 civilians caught in the fighting in the final days of the war. He said that soldiers found several wounded people when they captured the area, but no one was in the hospital.

“There are no civilians still in that area. All of them have been evacuated,” Nanayakkara said.

However, Castella said that 19 local Red Cross workers along with their families were missing.

“These people were together with the population there and taking an active part in the medical evacuations. They have the same fate as the rest of the population,” he said. “We don’t know where they are and, as you can imagine, we are extremely worried.”

Besides, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes has also called for UN officials or the Red Cross to be allowed to go to the former battlefield to confirm that all civilians are out.

Aid groups complained that access to those displacement camps has been severely restricted since the weekend.

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