06 December 2006
(AFP, PARIS) Western aid groups warned of a growing struggle to help Sri Lankan victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami and of the country's war, four months after the massacre of 17 aid workers, and blamed bureaucracy for blocking their work.
"The humanitarian situation is catastrophic," said Aloysius John, head of Asia for the French Secours Catholique, adding that his group can no longer work in northern Sri Lanka, particularly in Jaffna where thousands of people lack provisions after the main access road was cut off.
British NGO Oxfam said work had become "extremely difficult" to help victims of the December 2004 tsunami that killed 31,000 people and destroyed 75 percent of coastal infrastructure.
Nordic monitors of a truce signed in February 2002 between the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) say the ceasefire is holding only on paper.
The LTTE has been fighting for independence for the island's Tamil community in the majority Sinhalese country.
At least 3,400 people have been reported killed in the conflict this year.
Amid fighting between security forces and the Tigers, the 17 mostly Tamil aid workers from Action Contre la Faim (ACF) were shot dead on August 6 in their offices in the northeastern town of Muttur.
Now, four months on, thousands of civilians lack necessary help, particularly in "the most vulnerable", or Tamil, communities, said Eric Fort, head of ACF in the area.
"Zones under LTTE control are inaccessible," he said. "Authorities don't want NGOs to get through."
Fort complained of administrative hurdles complicating work of the group that has nonetheless decided to renew activities suspended after the massacre.
Other NGOS said their work was paralysed by bureaucracy.
Doctors Without Borders said three of its sections -- Dutch, French and Spanish -- were stuck in the capital Colombo.
In September, "an article accused us of collaborating with the Tamil Tigers and the next day we received an expulsion letter", said Gabriel Trujillo, who supervises the region.
"The management of access to humanitarian aid is obviously part of Colombo's strategy in the conflict," Trujillo said.
Medical charity Medecins du Monde recently closed its French section in Sri Lanka, after the departures of the Argentinian, Spanish and US sections, said Eric Chevallier, director of international missions.
Chevallier said certain ruling politicians seemed to have "a strategy of preventing the presence of international actors".
Sri Lankan authorities rejected the accusations.
An advisor to the Sri Lankan embassy in France, Himalee Arunatilaka, spoke of "confusion" about documents NGOs needed to provide and said that "security reasons" were behind stringent checks in affected areas.