Foreign nationals flee Sri Lanka 's north as shelling in the east leaves 5 soldiers wounded
Sun August 27, 2006 04:25 EDT .
KRISHAN FRANCIS - Associated Press Writer - TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka - (AP) Clutching pillows and hastily gathered belongings, the first foreign nationals to be evacuated from Sri Lanka - 's besieged northern Jaffna Peninsula arrived Sunday at an eastern port. Much of the fighting has centered around Trincomalee and Jaffna Peninsula, which Sri Lanka - 's ethnic Tamils consider the heart of their culture, but which is controlled by the government.
The Tigers made a major push to retake the peninsula on Aug. 11 and an 11-day battle resulted in the deaths of about 650 security forces and insurgents, according to the military.
Although fighting has largely subsided in recent days, the peninsula remains virtually isolated, with private road, sea and air access cut off, and its 500,000 residents under 20-hour curfews.
Most of the 161 passengers arriving in Trincomalee Sunday were international aid workers and ethnic Tamils with foreign passports who were visiting friends and family in Jaffna at the start of the fighting.
``I have never seen my town like this before. We had no link to the outside world. We didn't even know who was dying,'' Kadir Selvarani, an ethnic Tamil who has spent the last 20 years in Britain, told The Associated Press as she disembarked from the ferry.
The ICRC hopes to send several more passenger ferries to Jaffna, where there are an estimated 800 foreign passport holders hoping to escape the fighting.
Selvarani said she had lived through a similar experience in 1987, in the early days of the Tiger insurgency, when the rebels carried out guerrilla-style ambushes on security forces.
``This time, the ammunition is different: they are using shells and bombs.''
Although relieved to have escaped, Selvarani said she was concerned about those left behind.
``I am so sad about the plight of the people in Jaffna. They are slowly dying of fear,'' she said.
Clutching hold of her mother's hand, Nila Dayanadi, 9, said the nightly bombing and artillery raids in Jaffna had scared her. ``I cried a little bit,'' she said shyly.
The ferry had traveled more than 12 hours through the night along the teardrop-shaped island's eastern coast after receiving security assurances from the military and the Tamil Tigers, who are notorious for suicide attacks against the Sri Lankan navy.
Many people were seasick and emerged from the ferry looking tired, disheveled but incredibly relieved. Four buses would transport them to Colombo, from where many were hoping to get flights back home, ICRC Trincomalee head, Yvonne Dunton, said.
For Thomotharam Arumugan, 81, it was a harrowing reminder of an earlier escape from Jaffna.
In 1991, as the government and Tigers battled for control of the Tamil-majority peninsula, he and his family fled deep into rebel-held territory, fearing retribution by the Sinhalese-dominated security forces. Four years later, they moved to New Zealand.
``It was a narrow escape,'' he said.
Associated Press writer Bharatha Mallawarachi in Colombo contributed to this report.
Published: Sun Aug 27 06:24:46 EDT 2006