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Donor reps inspect conditions in Northeast

1. Background

Bilateral Donor Group (BDG) [comprises] representatives of the British High Commission, Canadian High Commission, Australian High Commission, Swedish Embassy, Swiss Embassy, USAID and European Commission.

Monitoring missions to Ampara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Mannar, Vavuniya and Jaffna districts were conducted by the BDG during the last months of 2006.

The purpose of the field missions was to assess the humanitarian situation and aid delivery in the field and report back to stakeholders in Colombo.

The teams met with community leaders, affected populations, government representatives, business leaders, military leaders, SLMM, ICRC, UN and I/NGOs.

This report summarises the main findings on humanitarian access, security and protection, and the special situation of internally displaced people (IDPs). It concludes with a summary of recommendations for the implementing humanitarian agencies, the international donor and diplomatic community, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the LTTE.

These missions were undertaken late last year and some issues have been dealt with but others remain of concern.

2. Access and humanitarian situation

The representatives found varying degrees of humanitarian access in the six districts visited.

In general, the areas controlled by the Government are accessible for implementing agencies, but bureaucratic constraints, political pressures and ethnic tensions impede free movement.

The areas controlled by the LTTE are accessible for the UN-agencies and the ICRC, but also this access is limited and subject to lengthy government approval procedures.

LTTE controlled areas are generally restricted for INGOs, as indicated in the work permits issued by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), allowing access only to GoSL controlled areas.

As an exception, the MoD recently approved a select number of INGOs to resume their work in LTTE controlled areas.

The representatives also found that there are restrictions on certain goods into LTTE controlled areas.

Not only are fuel, cement and iron bars restricted (beyond the agreed levels in the CFA), but also tents and plastic sheets, with obvious implications for humanitarian operations.

There are no formal restrictions on food items, but a complex set of factors such as insufficient transport capacity, fuel shortage and low levels of local food production mean that food consumption is currently below the required levels (e.g. 60% in Batticaloa).

The IDP situation in Jaffna, Vakarai (Batticaloa) and Eechilampatu (Trincomalee) was reported to be the most severe, mainly due to the lack of access for humanitarian supplies and services.

The situation in the Jaffna peninsula is of particular concern, where also the government controlled areas have been cut off since the suspension of commercial flights and the closure of the A9 in mid-August.

As a result the representatives found the population in a state of near-complete isolation, dependent on only a very fragile humanitarian relief supply chain.

The Government is transporting basic food commodities (rice, flour, sugar, dhal) via sea, but this has become more difficult with the onset of the monsoon rains.

The representatives were informed that the flow is insufficient to meet the basic nutrition needs and that the majority of the population is food insecure.

The health system is also suffering from a supply distribution bottlenecks of essential medicines, limiting surgery and treatment of severe cases.

3. Security and protection

Military confrontation between the Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF) and the LTTE has increased in all districts visited.

In the Eastern districts it was reported that the military actions of the Karuna faction have become a major destabilising factor

The missions were informed of a steady increase this year of extra-judicial killings, abductions and disappearances.

The abductions of mainly men and boys were attributed by local stakeholders to both the LTTE and the Karuna faction (and the PLOTE and EPDP factions in Jaffna).

Especially worrying was the report of children being kidnapped from internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Batticaloa.

Local observers in the Eastern districts believe the SLAF and the Karuna faction are collaborating in their campaigns against the LTTE.

This was however consistently denied by the Government representatives interviewed by the missions.

A special security concern, also hampering humanitarian efforts in the districts, is the report that the parties to the conflict might be using civilians and civilian installations as shields.

For example, the civilian and IDP population in Vaharai is generally believed to be used by the LTTE as a human shield against SLAF and Karuna operations.

In the same way, SLAF and Karuna camps tend to be located in the middle of urban or otherwise populous areas, bringing military activity dangerously close to IDP camps and civilian areas.

Human rights observers reported that they are not aware of any serious attempt by the legal system to investigate abductions or other crimes committed against civilians. They point at a collapse of rule-of-law in the area, with full impunity as an automatic result.

4. Recommendations

The overall recommendations for implementing humanitarian agencies, the international donor and diplomatic community, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), are:

1. Respect, uphold and promote International Humanitarian Law, especially the humanitarian imperative to assist all those in need in line with the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality

2. Respect, uphold and promote Human Rights Law to ensure civilian protection and security

3. Allow free and unfettered access to all areas of Sri Lanka for the purposes of delivery of humanitarian assistance to all vulnerable populations

4. Continually assess, monitor and evaluate the humanitarian situation in all areas and the local, national and international response, in order to reduce suffering and provide timely assistance, meeting international standards, wherever it is required

5. Improve civil-military relations through interaction and dialogue at all levels, driven by GoSL, LTTE, other protagonists, civil-society, community leaders, implementing agencies and donors.

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