January 28, 2009

MSF Denied Access to Assist Victims in War Zone

MSF is very concerned for the safety of an estimated 250,000 people trapped in heavy fighting in the Vanni in northern Sri Lanka. Hundreds of civilians are reported to have been wounded and killed during the last days as the LTTE-controlled area has shrunk in the face of the government of Sri Lanka’s military offensive.



Sri Lanka 2007 © Henk Braam

In September 2008, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) withdrew its staff from the hospital in Kilinochchi town, in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)-controlled Vanni area, after a Sri Lankan government directive warning of the impending military offensive into the region. MSF's request to gain re-entry into the area, which has been under heavy bombardment for weeks, has been ignored.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is very concerned for the safety of an estimated 250,000 people trapped in heavy fighting in the Vanni in northern Sri Lanka. Hundreds of civilians are reported to have been wounded and killed during the last days as the LTTE-controlled area has shrunk in the face of the government of Sri Lanka’s military offensive.

MSF has received reports from the Vanni that the plight of the civilians is dire. Hospitals are coping to the best of their ability, but are running low on drugs and medical staff. Ambulances are having difficulty moving across front lines to evacuate wounded. MSF is standing by with medical staff and supplies, but has not been permitted to enter the area since the government told all NGOs and UN to leave the area in September 2008. This despite several requests from Sri Lanka Ministry of Health staff still in the Vanni.

Though roughly 2000 people have managed to cross to the relative safety of Vavuniya in the past weeks, most of the population is unable to leave. It is vital that both parties to the conflict respect the right of the civilians to seek safety, and to facilitate their movement in whatever way possible.

In the Vavuniya area, MSF is prepared with mobile clinics in case of large-scale displacement and a surgeon will soon arrive to provide additional support to the Vavuniya hospital.

MSF already provides mental health support by strengthening existing structures in the Vavuniya area and provides laboratory support to the hospital, as well as ambulatory feeding programmes in the area. MSF also works in Point Pedro hospital in the Jaffna Peninsula, at the northern tip of Sri Lanka, providing medical and surgical activities, obstetrical, and gynecological treatment and training to the hospital staff.

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