Over the last three months the fighting has intensified with the security forces forcing the LTTE to retreat into a smaller territory which is currently estimated to be under 30 square kilometres. () Estimates of both civilian casualties and the actual number of displaced in the Vanni are difficult to confirm, given the heavy fighting and the lack of independent verification. The fatalities for the period from January 2009 are reported to be higher than 2,000, but this figure has been contested by the Government. The total number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Vanni is also challenged by the Government which insists that there are only 60,000 IDPs.
United Nations (UN) Agencies on the other hand initially calculated 200,000-250,000 and are currently in the process of examining if the figure is between 130,000 - 150,000. The District Secretaries of Killinochchi and Mullaitivu put the figure at around 400,000. ()
The majority of those displaced are trapped in the Vanni. The LTTE has imposed stringent restrictions on IDPs leaving the Vanni and has even shot at some IDPs attempting to flee while subjecting those trying to escape with severe repercussions, including torture. By restricting the IDPs freedom of movement the LTTE is using the civilians as human shields. The LTTE is also accused of carrying out other human rights violations including firing weapons from locations close to civilian spaces such as hospitals or welfare camps, as well as forcibly recruiting adults and children into its ranks. ()
Civilians within the Vanni are at great risk as evidenced by the reports of daily fatalities and injured as a result of aerial bombardment, multi-barrel rocket launcher and artillery attacks, gun-fire and mines. Both the Government and the LTTE stand accused of carrying out attacks which have targeted civilians. The Government has unilaterally announced the creation of safe / no-fire zones within LTTE-controlled areas but both sides are accused of carrying out attacks within these zones. The Government has also been accused of firing at civilians. () .
Access to the Vanni for humanitarian actors has been a critical issue. (). Only the ICRC was permitted to continue operating in the Vanni. The LTTE refused local personnel from the Vanni and their dependents the right to leave and in recent weeks has forcibly recruited some of these individuals. The Government is not willing to accord these local personnel the protection due to them as humanitarian workers. Instead it is arguing that they should be treated as normal Sri Lankan citizens. One ICRC worker was killed in the Vanni, highlighting the lack of protection for humanitarian actors. ()
Further, recent weeks have witnessed direct attacks on the few hospitals and medical centres in the conflict area, resulting in civilian casualties. () The need for a ceasefire and an evacuation of civilians from the fighting areas is critical and an immediate need. ()
In such a situation, while national security concerns are paramount, it is important to stress that national security has to conform with national and international standards in respect of civilian protection. ()
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