Sri Lanka’s war zone: running the gauntlet

TRINCOMALEE, February 18, 2009 (AFP) – Shopkeeper Subramaniam Sudaharan says he is lucky to be alive after his two teenage sons were shot dead as the family fled Sri Lanka’s increasingly brutal war zone. What was left of the devastated family — he, his wife and a younger boy — were among 440 war-wounded evacuated from the conflict area to the nearby port of Trincomalee, leaving behind 100,000 people to run the gauntlet to safety.

“We came under fire. My two boys aged 14 and 16 were killed. Our younger son and my wife were also hit,” Sudaharan told reporters at Trincomalee as he walked off a Red Cross ferry and into a government hospital.

“I suffered minor injuries. We are lucky to be able to get out.”

He accused the Tamil Tiger rebels, saying they were using civilians as cover to launch attacks against government forces, a charge also repeatedly made by the military, international aid agencies and the United Nations.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in the northern region, where the military says it has slowed an offensive to crush the rebels out of concern for civilians.

The battle-scarred area is running