India to send 2,000 tonnes of relief goods to Sri Lanka

November 6th, 2008 - 2:05 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 6 (IANS) In what is a sharp departure from what it did in 1987, India will soon ship 2,000 tonnes of relief material to Sri Lanka for tens of thousands of people displaced by war. This time, however, the delivery will be done through the international Red Cross. The Tamil Nadu government will put together individual family packs containing food and non-food items including clothes and hygiene products in a bid to ease hardships to civilians forced to flee their homes due to fighting between the military and the Tamil Tigers.

New Delhi is coordinating with the Tamil Nadu authorities and help facilitate and transport the material to Colombo, where the Indian high commission will receive it. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will then take charge and do the distribution to those in need of food and shelter.

This will be the biggest Indian humanitarian intervention in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami.

It will also be the most significant relief effort since India undertook a controversial and unilateral sea and air borne operation to deliver food to the civilian population in Jaffna in June 1987.

Like in 1987, the present situation in Sri Lanka’s north, where the military is trying to seize areas the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) holds, has led to protests in Tamil Nadu and caused concern in the Indian capital.

“Yes, we have been approached by the government of India about (providing) assistance in Sri Lanka, chiefly in Wanni,” Francois Stamm, head of the ICRC Regional Delegation here, told IANS.

Wanni is the name of a large area that includes the districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts where the LTTE is now resisting an advancing army.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time India has approached ICRC for such a purpose,” Stamm said. “We are very glad.”

Until now, New Delhi had kept a distance from the ICRC, whose main task in India is to oversee the welfare of prisoners in Jammu and Kashmir.

Stamm said the ICRC was now discussing details of the logistics with the Indian foreign ministry.

“There is clear intent by India to provide assistance and do to it through the ICRC,” he said.

Stamm, who took up his assignment in New Delhi this year, described the situation in Sri Lanka’s north as “dire” and said people had been displaced and houses destroyed due to fighting.

“We are not targeting any specific ethnic group. We have people (in Sri Lanka) to assess the needs (of the population). We want to make sure that the end users are the intended beneficiaries and there is no diversion. We have the means to do it. We will see how quickly, how efficiently we can distribute this,” he said.

Since Indian troops deployed in Sri Lanka’s northeast returned home in March 1990 after losing nearly 1,200 men in fighting against the LTTE, New Delhi largely kept away from the ethnic conflict — for a long time.

Once again, India has begun playing a pro-active but largely diplomatic and political role in Sri Lankan affairs.

The latest relief effort has also led to an unprecedented involvement of ICRC, a development that has pleased the Geneva-based body, which hopes to build a closer relationship with India.

“We see it as a positive assessment of the ICRC (work) in Sri Lanka,” Stamm said. “This is an indication of the good level of trust (between ICRC and the government of India).”

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