Sri Lanka
Amid violence, food from India reaches Jaffna
Jan 5, 2007 - 1:22:04 PM

New Delhi/Colombo, Jan 5 - A total of 3,500 tonnes of food bought in India have arrived in Sri Lanka's scarcity-hit Jaffna peninsula, and a minister said Friday that more shipments were expected in the coming weeks.

Bought by Colombo in Tamil Nadu, the varied food items sailed from Chennai midnight Wednesday and reached the port of Point Pedro in Jaffna before midnight Thursday, Sri Lankan minister Douglas Devananda said.

Devananda told IANS over telephone from Jaffna that the goods included sugar, pulses, coriander, tamarind, chilli, mustard, cumin seeds, turmeric, rice flake, jaggery and potato.

These are said to be most in demand in Jaffna, with some items going completely off the market. The crippling shortages in the overwhelmingly Tamil peninsula followed Sri Lanka's decision to close the only highway linking the mainland to Jaffna in August 2006.

'This is the first lot of food to come from India,' said Social Services and Social Welfare Minister Devananda, who visited New Delhi in November along with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and discussed the food shortages with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other officials.

Devananda added that the food will be distributed to people in Jaffna through cooperative societies and also sold to private traders to alleviate the serious shortages plaguing the region.

The shipment coincided with continuing violence in Sri Lanka's northeast, with the Tamil Tigers saying two people were killed when a covert security unit of the government detonated a land mine hitting a vehicle carrying fruit plants.

R. Ilannthirayan, military spokesman of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam -, told IANS over telephone from the Tigers-held Kilinochchi town that the incident occurred at Nedunkerni, an area administered by the rebels.

More than 3,500 people were killed in a dramatic surge in violence in Sri Lanka's northeast last year, and the bloodletting shows no signs of ending this year.

Minister Devananda described the food arrival from Tamil Nadu as 'a very important development'.

But he said that no such purchases were slated for other parts of the Sri Lankan northeast since they continued to be linked to Colombo by road.

He added that the shipment did not include medicines, which some reports say are also running in short supply in Jaffna, which is separated from Tamil Nadu by a narrow strip of sea.

Last month, the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance - had also called on Manmohan Singh. On a later occasion, one of the TNA MPs told IANS from Bangalore that people in Jaffna badly needed food and medicines.

According to aid workers, Jaffna residents queue up for hours to buy whatever is available in the government-run cooperative stores. What else is available and sold in the market is too costly for everyone to afford.

Sri Lankan sources had earlier said that a total of 10,000 tonnes of food would be bought in India for distribution and sale in Jaffna.

The closure of the A-9 highway linking Jaffna with the Sri Lankan mainland has become a major stumbling block to the resumption of any peace talks between the LTTE and Colombo. The LTTE wants the highway reopened to traffic. Sri Lanka has refused to, citing security reasons.

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