Fighting Cuts Off Northern Sri Lankan City Sri Lankan government forces are battling with Tamil Tigers in northern Sri Lanka. The fighting has driven some out the northern city of Jaffna. And others, who were gone when the fighting started, are waiting to get back home.

Fighting Cuts Off Northern Sri Lankan City

Fighting Cuts Off Northern Sri Lankan City

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6095922/6095923" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A Tamil mother and baby at a refugee camp in Trincomalee, northeastern Sri Lanka. They're among several hundred thousand people who have fled their homes because of fighting between the Tamil Tigers and government forces. Philip Reeves, NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Philip Reeves, NPR

For weeks the city of Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka has been more or less cut off from the outside world.

A flare-up in fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger guerrillas has stranded its population, leaving the city reliant on aid supplies delivered by sea.

Although they have managed to get by so far, there are concerns that Jaffna's residents -- at least 300,000 people, who're almost all Tamils -- will eventually run out of food and medicine.

An official from the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, the international body set up to monitor the much-abused 2002 ceasefire, has warned of a possible humanitarian crisis. While many people in Jaffna want to get out, there are also people desperately trying to get back.

They were out of town when the war flared up last month, and have been unable to return. They're now among the estimated 200,000 people displaced by the renewed fighting in the island's north and east.

Several thousand of them are to be found in the government-controlled town of Vavuniya, 50 miles south of Jaffna.

Some of these people are now living in a squalid refugee camp outside town, including Ratinam Rathneswari.

Rathneswari was on a trip to the south when the fighting kicked off, but her husband stayed behind in Jaffna. She's since learned that her husband fell ill and died.

She's pleading with the authorities to be allowed back home, but the road north to Jaffna has been closed, both by government forces and the guerrillas.

There's frequent fighting close to the city, which is on a peninsula on Sri Lanka's northern tip, connected to the island by a sliver of land. More than 10,000 people have fled by boat to nearby southern India.

As the human misery mounts up in Sri Lanka -- a year and a half after 30,000 were killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami -- there's pressure on both sides to return to the 2002 ceasefire.

The Tamil Tigers, who want a homeland in the north and east for the island's 3.2 million Tamil minority, say they're willing to talk, though with conditions. So does the Sri Lankan government, which is dominated by the majority Sinhalese.

But previous attempts to return to the negotiating table and restore the broken ceasefire have broken down.