Since 1983, the island nation of Sri Lanka has been at war. On the one side is the Sri Lanka government, dominated by the Buddhist Sinhalese majority on the island, and on the other is the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization that has been staging a violent insurgency in pursuit of an independent homeland for the largely Hindu Tamil minority in the northern region of the country.
Over the years, the conflict in Sri Lanka has claimed upwards of 70,000 lives, most of them civilians, and displaced hundreds of thousands more, both internally and in India.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, (ICRC) — the only International aid organization permitted access to the conflict zone, approximately 250,000 civilians are trapped between the army and the LTTE in a 250 square kilometer area, which has come under intense fighting. They have no safe area to take shelter and are unable to flee, says the ICRC. These refugees face severe food shortages and have no access to emergency medical care.
Human Rights Watch, a New York-based international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, says that “hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in a war zone with limited aid because the government ordered United Nations and other aid workers out. ... People who manage to flee the fighting end up being held indefinitely in army-run prison camps.”
In a speech at a food relief donation ceremony on January 27th, U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake said, the Tamil Tiger leadership "must live up to its obligations under international humanitarian law to allow those trapped by fighting freedom of movement so they can escape the fighting. And both sides must exercise maximum restraint to ensure civilians are not caught in crossfire. Many civilians have been killed in recent days due to artillery exchanges.
“The LTTE must immediately desist from firing heavy weapons from areas within or near civilian concentrations. The Government must also resist the temptation to launch retaliatory shelling into areas populated by civilians.
“There is much work to be done to assist civilians affected by the conflict," said U.S. Ambassador Robert Blake. "We can only make progress by working together.”