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

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Lynn Neary.

Eleven people have been hacked to death in Sri Lanka. Government officials say the victims were from the island's Muslim minority living in the east. It's the latest in a growing list of atrocities that have coincided with renewed fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels. Fighting's flared up again around Jaffna in the north. For weeks, the city - which is under Tamil Tiger control - has been more or less cutoff.

NPR's Philip Reeves sent this report.

Ms. RATANANNE RATANSWARI(ph) (Refugee, Vavuniya, Sri Lanka): (Speaking foreign language)

PHILIP REEVES: This woman just wants to go home. Her name's Ratananne Ratanswari(ph). She's been stranded here for more than a month, cutoff by war.

She says while she's been away, her husband took ill and died. Today, she's come here to a military base to plead with the Sri Lanka, army to escort her home so that she can bury him.

Ms. RATANSWARI: (Speaking foreign language)

REEVES: Ratananne is from the city of Jaffna. Earlier this year, she left for a trip to Sri Lanka's south. Now she's stuck. The road back to Jaffna's closed. There's frequent fighting.

Ratananne's one of several hundred thousand people who, just a year and a half after the Indian Ocean tsunami, have been displaced by yet more turmoil.

A few months ago, after several years of an uneasy cease-fire, fierce fighting broke out again between Sri Lankan government forces and Tamil Tiger guerillas seeking to establish a homeland in the north and east.

(Soundbite of child crying)

REEVES: Some of the newly displaced people are here in a refugee camp outside Vavuniya. Until a few weeks ago, Souza Palin Meridas(ph) had a cushy job in a restaurant in France. He's on a trip back home to Jaffna to see his wife and four children for the first time in more than ten years. This is where his journey stalled. The area to the north of Vavuniya, running up to Jaffna, is Tamil Tiger territory. The road's blocked by the Tigers and by government forces. Meridas has run out of money, so he's wound up in the camp, sleeping with dozens of others in what looks like a cow shed.

Mr. SOUZA PALIN MERIDAS (Refugee, Vavuniya, Sri Lanka): (Through translator) I can't explain my feelings, but I want immediately go and see my family, my children, my wife. It's a really frustrating situation.

REEVES: Meridas says the same despair is felt by his family stuck inside Jaffna, and by many others, too. Jaffna is on a peninsula on the northern tip of Sri Lanka, attached to the rest of the island by a sliver of land. The population of several hundred thousand is Tamil. It's Sri Lanka's third city, viewed by Tamils as their cultural and political showpiece. Human rights lawyer Ramani Muttetuwegama.

Mr. RAMANI MUTTETUWEGAMA (Human rights lawyer): It's a very vibrant community, you know, large numbers of very educated people. Some of our political leaders and our leading professionals are from Jaffna. But the impact of the war has meant that people more able to leave Jaffna have left out of disgust, dismay, disappointment, depression.

(Soundbite of drums)

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

REEVES: In the five-star hotels at the capital, Colombo, a Sri Lanka band of white-clad musicians drums in a group of newly arrived Japanese tourists. Foreigners are still coming to this tropical island, despite the slide towards war. But Colombo's a far cry from the real battle zone. Conditions in and around Jaffna are very different. There are no flights. Communications are poor. The population's relying on supplies on aid brought in by sea. Rohan Edrisinha is from a think tank in Colombo called the Center for Policy Alternatives.

Mr. ROHAN EDRISINHA (Center for Policy Alternatives): The situation is one of apprehension and fear. There is a feeling that supplies could fast run out, and that there's concern that not enough ships will be traveling to the north on a regular basis to ensure that there are adequate food supplies and medical supplies.

REEVES: The outside world has been watching events with alarm. Forfina Ormason(ph) is spokesman for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, the international body that monitors the much-abused cease-fire. He agrees Jaffna's a city hanging by a thread.

Mr. FORFINA ORMASON (Spokesman, Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission): It is. And it's been hanging like that for weeks now. It must be very difficult to live there at the moment, being not sure if you get your supplies, curfew, most of the time. I mean, it's not acceptable conditions to live in.

REEVES: The displaced civilians of Jaffna say they just want peace, but they're not optimistic. The government and Tamil Tigers say they're wiling to return to talks, but previous attempts have failed.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Vavuniya.

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