ICRC suspends work in LTTE zone’s entry/exit point

November 13th, 2008 - 2:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Nov 13 (IANS) The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has temporarily suspended operations at the main entry/exit point in Sri Lanka’s rebel-held north, seeking security guarantee for civilian movement from both the military and the Tamil Tigers.According to official sources, the ICRC, which has been facilitating civilian movement to and from the territory held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), has withdrawn its staff since Wednesday from the entry/exit point at Omanthai on the Jaffna-Kandy road.

All those proceeding to Jaffna peninsula from mainland Sri Lanka by road have to cross the LTTE zone. The main entry point to the south of the LTTE area is located at Omanthai.

The government and UN agencies send essential supplies for the people in LTTE areas through this route.

“We decided to withdraw our staff temporarily due to security concerns. We are still working on assurances from both the government forces and the LTTE for the safe movement of civilians via this point,” ICRC Communication Coordinator Aleksandra Matijevic told IANS Thursday.

“This is a temporary (measure). We want to make sure that this entry/exit point is safe for civilian movement before asking our staff to monitor it,” she said, refusing to identify what prompted ICRC to take this step.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara confirmed the matter “is under discussion”.

Meanwhile, the military announced that the functioning hours of the Omanthai entry/exit point had been cut from eight hours to four hours from Wednesday.

“In order to streamline the functional entry entry/exit procedures and speedy clearance of traffic, it has been decided to keep this point open only between 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m.,” the military said.

It said the decision was taken by the security forces in the Wanni region in consultation with the ICRC to “accelerate the movements of food convoys and civilians within the shortest possible span of time”.

The military said the move was also meant “to ensure that no harm is caused to any civilians due to intensification of military operations in peripheral areas.

“Nonetheless, the entry/exit point would facilitate the movement of ambulances with seriously-ill patients under emergency circumstances and transfer of the dead as usual in co-ordination with ICRC,” it said.

The LTTE controls Mullaitivu district in Sri Lanka’s north in full and almost the whole of nearby Kilinochchi district. It is fiercely resisting the army’s bid to retake the region.

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