Sri Lanka reopens road to avoid starvation

Following an appeal by the local Catholic Bishop, the Sri Lankan Government has temporarily reopened the road linking the northern city of Jaffna to the rest of the country as food shortages take their toll.

AsiaNews reports that the opening of the road will allow humanitarian for 500,000 civilians to arrive by land instead of sea. But rebel Tamil Tigers described the move as a "political ploy".

The road was closed in August following clashes between Government and rebel forces.

The announcement came on the eve of an international aid donors meeting in Washington DC.

Delegates from the US, Japan, Norway and the EU are expected to renew calls for an end to hostilities and the reopening the A-9 road as international human rights groups and the local Catholic Church have demanded for quite some time.

Local diplomatic representatives including Australian High Commissioner Greg French and western aid donors are also scheduled to leave Colombo today on a Humanitarian Mission to Jaffna to evaluate the humanitarian situation, informed sources told Tamil Net.

A spokesperson for Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse said that a convoy of heavy trucks was being organised to deliver basic necessities to Jaffna.

Tamil Tiger rebels had earlier said that reopening the road was a key precondition before resuming peace talks in Geneva.

For the authorities in Colombo, the rebels are responsible for attacks and extortions on drivers travelling on the highway; they also accuse the Tigers of using the road to more easily move weapons and fighters.

Jaffna Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam also sent an urgent letter to the four donor countries who co-chair the peace process that began in 2003.

Accusing the authorities of being "blind", Bishop Savundaranayagam recalled the rapidly deteriorating situation people are facing and called on the donors to persuade the government in Colombo to respect the 2002 cease-fire.

"This is necessary to avoid starvation and malnutrition among the future generation," Bishop Savundaranayagam concluded.

First starvation case

Meanwhile, Reuters says that reports are emerging that an odd-jobs man has died of starvation at Point Pedro on the Jaffna peninsula.

However, a local judge denied that the death was linked to the Jaffna food shortage.

"This is the first time a person has died of starvation," said Nadarajah Thangarajah, acting judge at the district court of Point Pedro, who conducted the inquest and signed the death certificate.

"But please don't try to connect this death to the shortage of food in Jaffna," he added. "It is not relevant, because this person was almost like an orphan. He didn't have a permanent home, he was a daily wage earner doing odd jobs. He lived like a vagabond."

Government to reopen road to Jaffna . . . for the time being (AsiaNews, 20/11/06)
Sri Lankan Bishop Says Government `Blind' to Jaffna Aid Crisis (Bloomberg, 20/11/06)
Foreign diplomats, aid agencies to embark on Humanitarian Mission to Jaffna (Tamilnet, 20/11/06)
Death Due To Starvation - first case reported in Jaffna peninsula (Tamilnet, 16/11/06)
Odd-job man starves to death in Jaffna (The Peninsula, 16/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam (Catholic-Hierarchy)

Sri Lankan priest disappears as civilian toll mounts (CathNews, 25/8/06)
Sri Lanka ceasefire in tatters (CathNews, 11/8/06)
Caritas calls for pressure as Sri Lankan church bombed, schoolgirls killed (CathNews, 17/8/06)
Troops storm Church as Sri Lanka on brink of war (CathNews, 19/6/06)
Caritas calls for urgent mediation in Sri Lanka (CathNews, 27/4/06)

21 Nov 2006