In response to your article titled ‘Major sea rescue of 25,000 civilians’, appearing on page 1 of The Sunday Times dated 15 February, referring to talks held between the Sri Lankan Government and the International committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about the evacuation of civilians from Mullaitivu district, the ICRC wishes to state that its spokesperson has been largely misquoted.
During that interview, the ICRC did not confirm having talks with the Sri Lankan Government or with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) about plans for a large-scale evacuation of civilians from the conflict area, as suggested in the report.
The spokesperson mentioned the ICRC's role as a neutral intermediary and the discussions the ICRC has with both parties to facilitate the safe passage for wounded and sick persons from the Wanni to receive medical treatment in hospitals in government-controlled area, and for urgently needed humanitarian aid to reach the civilians in the conflict area.
NEWS EDITOR’S NOTE: The Sunday Times stands by the story. The ICRC Communications Coordinator, Sophie Romanens not only confirmed that discussions about evacuating civilians from the safe zone in Mullaitivu was in progress, but also said she “welcomed the move.” If she was referring to evacuating the injured and the ill there was no necessity to welcome it, because that was already happening.
This week further confirmation about the ongoing talks came from the Army. The Army, on a report about the ICRC Delegation head Paul Castella meeting with Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka this week, filed the following report on its official website.
“Mr. Castella in talks with the Army Chief discussed matters of concern, regarding the receipt and evacuation of besieged civilians from un-cleared areas in the Mullaitivu district.
In the meantime, a two-member ICRC Sub Delegation in Vavuniya held talks with Major General Jagath Jayasooriya, Commander, Security Forces Headquarters in Wanni on Tuesday (17) afternoon.
Talks largely centered on evacuation of civilians arriving in the ‘Safe Zone’, Return of those taken to Trincomalee for medical treatment by ship, Future of the ‘Safe Zone’, Supply of food convoys and a few more matters of importance to the ICRC.