At least 20 people were killed and nearly 300 injured yesterday when a hospital in the last area of Sri Lanka held by the Tamil Tigers was shelled in what one doctor described as the worst day of bloodshed since the start of the military campaign.
The doctor, Thangamutha Sathiyamorthy, blamed the Sri Lankan army for firing shells that landed next to two health facilities in Putumattalan, on the northern end of the tiny strip of the Sri Lankan coastline where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped by the fighting. The military strenuously denied the allegation.
Sathiyamorthy said 22 people, including an 18-month-old child and a medical worker, were killed and 283 injured in the attack, which started soon after dawn yesterday. He described how he found dead and wounded civilians on the site of the first blasts, which occurred as about 500 people queued beside a mother and baby clinic to receive milk powder and food rations.
Since stepping up the military campaign since the start of the year the Sri Lankan armed forces have driven the last remnants of the once-powerful Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) into a narrow strip of land estimated to be no larger than 20 sq km. Estimates of the number of civilians trapped alongside them vary, with the UN putting the figure at about 100,000 and Sri Lankan authorities claiming it is no more than 40,000.
Yesterday Sathiyamorthy said conditions inside the no-fire zone were now desperate, with 13 people dead from starvation and 69% of children below the age of five showing signs of malnutrition.
“Of course the food supply is inadequate. Many children are at risk. Yesterday we distributed milk powder and I saw very thin children coming to the clinic,” he said. He estimated that more than 5,000 people had died since the start of the latest offensive. “Every day they expect some solution because everybody was asked to go to the no-fire zone, but actually the people reached this area and unfortunately the government is shelling this area,” he said. “It is a real disaster. We didn’t expect this amount of disaster.”