International aid agencies are withdrawing from Sri Lanka's war-battered
northern region, as fighting intensifies between government troops and Tamil
Tiger rebels. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi that the withdrawal comes a
week after the government ordered aid workers to quit the region.
The United Nations and other aid agencies pulled
out their personnel, Tuesday, from territory held by Tamil Tigers in northern
U.N. agencies and about a dozen other aid groups were
providing food aid, clean water and other emergency needs to about 160,000
people who have fled their homes because of the fighting between the rebels and
U.N. spokesman in Colombo, Gordon Weiss, says the
escalation in fighting in recent weeks has made it too dangerous for aid workers
to operate in Killinochi. He says the aid workers will relocate to another town.
"It's going to leave a vacuum that needs to be filled," noted Weiss, "we
are much more effective, we work much better when we are close to our
beneficiaries, close to the people who need that help, but unfortunately it is
just not possible."
Last week, the government ordered aid workers to quit
rebel-held areas, saying it could not guarantee their safety as it pushes ahead
with a major offensive to capture the rebel stronghold, Killinochi. The
government says it can care for the displaced people.
But, earlier this
month, hundreds of civilians protested against the departure of aid workers,
blocking traffic to prevent U.N. vehicles from leaving the area.
of Colombo's Center for Policy Alternatives, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, says the
departure of international aid agencies will make the civilians vulnerable to
pressure from both the military and the rebels. He says the government wants the
civilians to leave rebel-held areas to isolate the guerrillas. On the other
hand, the rebel group, also known as the LTTE, wants them to stay.
the population does not move out as the government would like them to move out
of rebel-held territory, then the fear is the there could be some sort of siege
tactic employed to try to get them out," Saravanamuttu said. "On the other hand,
the LTTE stands accused of wanting to keep the civilians in as a civilian shield
against the advancing army. They (civilians) are caught between the two key
protagonists here who have no great regard for their safety and
Monday, President Mahinda Rajapakse ruled out negotiations with
Tamil Tiger rebels and expressed confidence that the military will soon crush
the guerrillas. Observers say the rebels will withdraw into the jungle to mount
a guerrilla war if the military captures their strongholds in the
The rebels have been fighting for a quarter century for an
autonomous homeland for the minority Tamil community.