Sri Lanka: Situation Update

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During the past 3 months, the security situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated rapidly with fighting between the Sri Lankan Government forces and the LTTE intensifying. Although both the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE have officially not withdrawn from the CFA (Ceasefire agreement), heavy artillery fire, air strikes and ground battles have not only cost the lives of many combatants, but taken a heavy toll on civilian life


Over 200,000 people have been displaced in the North East of Sri Lanka during the past month. The majority of those affected are from the Trincomalee & Jaffna Districts. Among the displaced are Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese families. Hundreds of civilians have died in the cross fire.

Supplying humanitarian aid to these victims has become a challenge as many access roads remain closed. The ICRC Delegate-General for Asia Reto Meister who visited Sri Lanka last week, commented that Jaffan was “chocking” with the high influx of internally displaced persons and pleaded with both the Government and the LTTE to provide access to the peninsula for aid to reach thousands of civilians trapped in the conflict. There is a shortage of essential goods in these areas, including food and medicines.


The month of August was marred by several incidents that seriously undermined the rule of law and respect for human rights. Among these are the disappearance of a Catholic priest in Jaffna, the killing of 17 aid workers in Trincomalee and the assassination of the Government Peace Secretariat deputy Director General Mr. Kethes Loganathan at his residence in Colombo .


On May 13th 2006, 4 armed men went on a shooting spree in Alaipiddy in Jaffna District, killed 9 people. The Sri Lanka Navy and anti-LTTE Tamil political party EPDP gunmen were implicated in this incident. The Parish priest Father Amalraj who was in knowledge of this incident. It is believed that he was under immense pressure due to this fact. Father Amalraj was recalled from the Alaipiddy parish for safety reasons and he was replaced by Father Jim Brown.

From August 12th, on-going fighting between LTTE and SL Army caused damage to St.Phillip Neri’s church in Alaipiddy. Among the hundreds of civilians taking refuge in the church, 20 were killed and 54 injured in the shelling. Father Jim Brown took active steps to help over 800 refugees move to safer areas, transport the injured and provide food, water, clothing etc… to the victims with the aid of Caritas (social service arm of the Catholic Church).

On August 20th Father Jim Brown left Kayts at about 12.30 p.m to return to Alaipiddy on his motorcycle accompanied by a 40 year old social worker, Wenceslaus Vimalathas. He was last seen by another Catholic Priest, Father Peter Thurairatnam at the Allaipiddy road Junction military post manned by the SL Navy at 1.50 p.m. He has not been seen since. The young and dedicated Priest was only 34 years old at the time of his disappearance. A complaint was lodged with Kayts police as well as with the Human Rights Commission regarding their disappearance.

The disappearance of Father Jim Brown is the latest in a long series of abductions and killing of Catholic Priests.

* Father Mary Bastian from Vankalai abducted in 1985 by unknown persons.

* Rev. Jeyarajasingam and his wife found burnt to death in their vehicle at Murunkan in 1985

* Father Wenceslaus at Tholagatty monastery killed in 1986

* Father Chandra Fernando of Batticaloa shot dead by gunmen in 1988.

* Father Herbiet an American Jesuit Priest went missing when traveling through Eravur in Batticaloa District in 1990.

* Father Selvarajah - missing in Sorikalmunai in Amparai District, in 1990.

* Rev. Vincent Vinodharajah of the Evangelical Church of the Apostle from Ellaitheru in Meesalai missing since August 11, 2006.

A pattern of disappearance is re-emerging in Sri Lanka. Sixty-two cases of disappearances of civilians in the North of the country have been registered by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka over the past year. The Commission is also investigating the status of 183 other individuals, both Tamils and Sinhalese who are still missing. The increase in such abductions and disappearances of civilians, mostly Tamils during the last few months is a very disturbing trend. During the month of August 2006 alone, 50 Tamil civilians have been abducted according to a report in ‘The Nation’ newspaper of 3rd September 2006. There has also emerged a culture of extortion. News reports have highlighted that over 20 wealthy Tamil businessmen in Colombo have been abducted by extortionists, demanding huge ransom for their release. Tamil paramilitary groups have been accused of carrying out this extortion racket.

The execution of 17 aid workers from the French aid agency Action against Hunger (ACF) in August sent shock waves among the local international community. The workers – 16 Tamils and 1 Muslim were found shot dead in the office compound in the besieged town of Muttur . This incident has created fear in the minds of aid workers. Some international agencies have withdrawn their staff from conflict areas. There have been requests to the Government and the LTTE to ensure safety of aid workers so that the life line of essential aid to civilians caught in the conflict can be maintained. The UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston in a statement said that “the situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated significantly” since his visit last year, and impressed the importance of an independent inquiry to resolve some of the recent events.

A staff member of the NCEASL who was engaged in humanitarian relief work in Mulaitivu in the North-east has is missing since the 4th of September 2006. It is believed that this 21 year old young man was abducted for training.

Please pray for his safe release and for the safety of all pastoral and aid workers in the war torn areas. Pray also for the civilian population who are living amidst untold hardship and horror.