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09COLOMBO277 2009-03-11 12:14:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Colombo
Cable title:  

Northern Sri Lanka SitRep 29

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1. (SBU) Summary: The UN reports heavy shelling within the safe
zone on March 10, resulting in many civilian casualties. A medical
team arrived from India to establish and run a field hospital in
Pulmoddai that will treat medical evacuees from the safe zone.
Despite Government pledges to cease use of heavy artillery,
Government-run television showed footage of army shelling of
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) positions. End Summary.

"Worst Day" in Safe Zone


2. (SBU) The UN Resident Representative shared with Ambassador
reports of increased shelling within the safe zone on March 10,
causing 124 deaths and 254 injuries due to artillery fire. A
reputable local contact working to provide medical care in the safe
zone referred to March 10 as "the worst day ever," noting "air burst
shells, incendiary shells (white phosphorous) in addition to high
explosive shells" within the safe zone. According to the UN, this
medical worker "literally begged" the UN for medicines to treat
injuries, as they are forced to operate on severe injuries without
anaesthetics. (Note: The Government has not permitted anaesthetics
to be shipped into the safe zone due to fears they will be used to
aid wounded LTTE cadres instead of civilians.) ICRC pushed for an
immediate evacuation effort for the wounded, however ICRC reports
this ship was turned back on March 11 due to government concerns of
a potential security incident.

3. (SBU) The UN further reports that shelter and sanitation
conditions in the safe zone worsened due to heavy rains on March 10.
Heavy seas also forced a ship carrying food aid to depart the safe
zone on March 9 after only 30% of the 500MT was offloaded (ref A).
The ship is still in Trincomalee waiting for the weather to clear.

Army Shells LTTE Positions


4. (SBU) Despite repeated Government pledges that they will no
longer use heavy artillery, tanks or aerial bombing given the number
of civilians in close proximity to the conflict (ref K), the
state-run news channel, ITN, ran footage on March 10 showing army
shelling of LTTE positions near Puthukkudiyiruppu. The Government
continues to maintain that there is no deliberate firing into the
safe zone. Ambassador is scheduled to meet with Defense Secretary
Gotabaya Rajapaksa March 12 to protest government shelling into the
safe zone.

Indian Medical Team Arrives


5. (SBU) On March 9, an Indian medical team arrived in Sri Lanka,
following the Government of India's pledge to provide expertise and
resources to assist trapped civilians. The team traveled to
Pulmoddai, where they will establish a field hospital capable of
receiving ICRC-assisted medical evacuees from the safe zone (ref B).
The change in disembarkation location from Trincomalee to Pulmoddai

(half the distance from Mullativu) will cut travel time at sea,
potentially allowing more frequent evacuations and relieving
pressure on the overburdened Trincomalee hospital. The Ministry of
Health announced on March 5 that the new site at Pulmoddai would be
operational by March 13.

Government Comments on Sea Evacuation Plans


6. (SBU) Media outlets continue to refer to potential plans for the
U.S. military to evacuate civilians by sea. Foreign Minister
Rohitha Bogollagama is quoted in the Sri Lankan Daily News as
calling these reports "baseless and incorrect." He further notes
that while the GSL has not received any such proposals from foreign
countries, the government welcomes proposals from countries or
foreign agencies "if they are not concerned in safeguarding the
terrorists." (Comment: The Foreign Minister's use of this rhetoric
brings into the official lexicon language first used by the
Sinhalese extremist politician Wimal Weerawansa, ref A.)

IDP Statistics


7. (SBU) The Government reports 297 civilians were rescued in
Puthukkudiyiruppu East on March 10 and were transferred to
Kilinochchi welfare centers (Note: No international organizations
are present at this location, where the government conducts initial
screening of internally displaced persons.) The UN estimates that a
total of 36,575 IDPs arrived in Government-held territory from
January 1-March 5.