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Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan schoolgirls killed and injured amid escalating violence

UNICEF Image: Sri Lanka schoolgirl injured in bombing
© UNICEF/2006
A schoolgirl injured in a bombing incident lying in bed at Mullai Hospital, Mullaitivu District, Sri Lanka.

By Kun Li

NEW YORK, USA, 16 August 2006 – Children are being displaced, injured and killed as the violence in Sri Lanka intensifies. Dozens of schoolgirls reportedly lost their lives and many more suffered injuries this week when bombs hit a compound in Mullaitivu, a district in the northern part of the country.

UNICEF and the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) immediately sent their staff to the scene. “As our team was driving towards the compound, where the incident had happened, they encountered many ambulances and vehicles coming away from that direction carrying bodies of children and young people who had been killed and injured,” recounted UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka JoAnna Van Gerpen.

“The compound was showing a lot of damage – one building was still burning. The SLMM team reported that about 10 to 12 and possibly even more bombs had been dropped in the area,” said Ms. Van Gerpen.

UNICEF Image: Sri Lanka displaced people
© UNICEF/2006
Children and their mother resting on a mattress at a camp for people displaced by violence in Kantale, Trincomalee District, Sri Lanka.

The team then visited four hospitals in the area where they saw about 100 children being treated for their injuries. Some of the children told UNICEF that they were in the compound to attend a two-day first-aid training.

Aid workers targeted

The escalating conflict between the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also known as the Tamil Tigers, has forced more than 125,800 people out of their homes since April. A further 6,600 Sri Lankans have fled to Tamil Nadu in India since the beginning of the year.

Early in August, 50,000 people from Muttur town and its surrounding areas were displaced when fighting broke out in a dispute over water sources. Seventeen aid workers on a humanitarian mission for the aid agency Action Against Hunger were later found killed in Muttur.

The Tamil Tigers and the government have blamed each other for the latest upsurge in fighting, which has claimed more than 1,400 lives by official count since December. The killing of the schoolgirls is just the latest incident of human suffering caused by the rising violence.

UNICEF Image: Sri Lankan displaced people
© UNICEF/2006
A family sits in their tent in a camp for displaced people set up at the Zahira Pre-school in Kantale, Sri Lanka.

Children bear the brunt

“This is another tragic example of children getting caught in the middle of a conflict where the two parties have not taken adequate care to make sure that children are protected from this kind of violence,” said Ms. Van Gerpen. “Regardless of the circumstances, this is an extremely tragic event, and it’s just another sad example of what is happening in Sri Lanka these days.”

Adding her voice to the growing international calls for a ceasefire, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, urged the parties to end hostilities and return to the negotiating table.

“The latest shocking developments in Sri Lanka show once again that children continue to bear the brunt of this conflict,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy.

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman called on all parties to respect international humanitarian law and “ensure children and the places where they live, study and play are protected from harm.”




15 August 2006:
UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka JoAnna Van Gerpen describes the bombing incident in which dozens of schoolgirls were killed.
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