Drug shortfall in Sri Lanka

Place: Jaffna | Courtesy: BBC
| Date: 20000417

The humanitarian aid agency, Medecins Sans Frontieres, has warned of a serious shortage of medicine in parts of northern Sri Lanka, where Tiger rebels are fighting for a separate Tamil homeland.

The head of MSF (Doctors without Borders) in Sri Lanka, Isabel Simpson, said clinics and hospitals have closed or are no longer receiving patients because they cannot provide treatment for civilians.

An unwinnable war? Timeline of conflict Leading the Tigers The ethnic divide It urged the government to allow supplies into the north, in particular the districts of Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi. But a spokesman for the Sri Lankan military said they were only blocking items that could be used by the Tigers to treat their war injured.

There has been heavy fighting between Tiger rebels and government forces in the past three weeks in the northern Jaffna peninsula, with both sides suffering heavy casualties.

Defence lines

MSF said a large stock of medical supplies were waiting for approval to be transported to the north, where stocks were running dangerously low.

It said that at one hospital more than 800 patients had left without receiving treatment for serious medical problems.

Twice last week, it was prevented by security forces from transporting drugs and medical supplies through the military defence lines to hospitals in the north.

Fighting over Jaffna in the north Many of the patients are women and children and are suffering from diabetes, asthma, cardiac problems and epilepsy.

On Sunday, the government said that its troops shot dead 13 Tamil Tigers in fighting in the north.

A statement from the defence ministry said troops had killed nine men and three women on the Jaffna peninsula.

Another rebel was gunned down in a separate incident, and a soldier was wounded when he stepped on a land mine.

In an earlier statement, the ministry said its forces had shot 22 rebels.

More than 120 soldiers have been killed in the current round of fighting since 26 March.

Defence officials said the Tigers had lost more than 300 fighters.

Peace setback

In a separate development, the Sri Lankan Government rejected Tamil demands for an internationally-monitored ceasefire.

It said attempts to end the conflict would depend on talks between the two sides, which have yet to begin.

Sri Lanka also raised doubts over whether a Norwegian-sponsored peace plan would get off the ground following remarks by the Tamil Tigers' political adviser, Anton Balasingham, to the London-based Tamil Times newspaper.

Mr Balasingham called for a cessation of the violence and for the removal of what he termed the repressive conditions imposed on the Tamil people in the north and east.

Sri Lanka said his comments raised questions about the Tamils' sincerity and commitment to the peace process.

Both sides have invited Norway to bring the two sides to the negotiating table for talks on ending the 17-year old war, which has left more than 55,000 people dead.