The medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) says it is concerned about a claim by Secretary of Defense Gotabhaya Rajapaksa that MSF was present in 2009 in Sri Lanka’s war zone and received surrendering militants to be treated.
In an interview published on February 6th in India and reproduced in the Sri Lankan media, the Secretary of Defense is purported to have said that MSF teams were present in the battle zone during the fighting.
“… Mr Gotabaya said international agencies, including the French MSF (Medicines Sans Frontiers) and the Indian medical team, were present in the battle zone to receive survivors and surrendered militants,” an Indian media report had said.
However in a statement emailed to The Sunday Leader MSF said it had made numerous requests to the government for access to the battle zone in northern Sri Lanka and these requests were repeatedly denied, despite expressing extremely serious concerns about the fate of civilians who were trapped in the heavy fighting.
Ahead of the final offensive, in September 2008, along with most other international organisations, MSF was given a government directive to leave Kilinochchi.
Thereafter, MSF repeatedly requested permission to enter the battle zones to provide medical care to the civilian population. Permission was sought from numerous ministries, including the Ministries of Health as well as Defence, but at no point was this request granted during the final stages of the conflict in late 2008 and 2009.
It is only after the end of the fighting in May 2009 that MSF was able to provide medical assistance to the victims of the conflict in North Vavuniya and this was outside the battle zone at the Omanthai checkpoint.
MSF provided surgical support in Vavuniya hospital and in addition established an emergency field hospital for the displaced population living in camps in Menik Farm.
Again, all of this activity was outside the battle zone, MSF said in the statement.
MSF France meanwhile says it remains committed to working alongside the Ministry of Health to support the District General Hospital of Mullaitivu in 2012, and develop assistance in mental health care in the Mullaitivu District.
MSF says it is a private, international, humanitarian, non-profit organisation, providing humanitarian assistance to people in need, irrespective of race, religion, ideology or politics and adheres to the principles of independence, impartiality, and neutrality.