- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) - All surgeries have stopped at a makeshift hospital in Sri Lanka’s war zone because of a lack of basic supplies such as anesthetic and blood bags, the top government health official there said Sunday.

Dr. Thurairaja Varatharajah said the situation was so bad that bed sheets were being used for bandages, while sticks were being used to brace fractured limbs.

“We don’t have bandages or gauze, we tear up bed sheets to bind the wounds and use palm sticks to support fractures. We are in need of a quick supply,” Varatharajah said.

Four civilians died in the hospital Saturday from injuries, while 48 others were awaiting treatment, he said.

Varatharajah said he sent a report to the government pleading for supplies.

The fate of tens of thousands of civilians caught in the war zone has become a matter of international concern. The U.N. high commissioner for human rights said Friday that she believed 2,800 have died since Jan. 20, a number the government says is unsubstantiated and based on figures given by the Tamil rebels.

The government says the rebels, who are fighting for a separate state in the north and east of the island, are using the civilians as human shields in a desperate attempt to avoid defeat.

The rebels could not be reached for comment, and it was not possible to verify the reports independently because reporters are barred from the coastal war zone.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay warned Friday that civilian casualties could reach “catastrophic” proportions if the two sides do not suspend fighting. She said 150,000 to 180,000 people remain trapped in the rebel area _ estimated at 13.5 square miles (35 square kilometers) _ on Sri Lanka’s northeast coast.

But the government has rejected the calls for a cease-fire in its drive to capture the shrinking rebel enclave and end the island’s 25-year-old civil war.

Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said Pillay’s report failed to tell the rebels to let civilians in the area leave.

“If the high commissioner for human rights is concerned about these civilians, then the high commissioner must call on the LTTE to let them go,” he told reporters Saturday.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam countered Sunday with a statement that called on the United Nations to investigate the military’s treatment of civilians. The statement, posted on the pro-rebel Web site TamilNet, did not comment on charges by Pillay that the rebels may have committed war crimes.

The government has said repeatedly that it does not target civilians.

The rebels have fought since 1983 for an independent state for the Tamil minority, which suffered decades of marginalization at the hands of governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.


On the Net: https://www.TamilNet.com

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