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16 civilians die in Lanka fighting

world Updated: Feb 12, 2009 07:04 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

The thousands of Tamil civilians trapped in the north-eastern district of Mullaitivu continued to face the brunt of the war between the SLA and the LTTE with 16 more of them dying in shelling inside a makeshift hospital.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had to hurriedly evacuate patients from the Putumattalan hospital after it was repeatedly hit by shells on Tuesday evening. Ironically, the patients were moved to this hospital after the earlier one in Puthukkudiyiruppu was shelled last week.

``We are shocked that patients are not afforded the protection they are entitled to,'' said Paul Castella, head of the ICRC delegation in Colombo.

He added: ``Once more, we call on both parties to meet their obligation under international humanitarian law to spare at all times the wounded and sick people, medical personnel and medical facilities at all times.''

Following the shelling and the deaths, patients were moved out from the Putumattalan hospital to the eastern town of Trincomalee in small boats.

On Tuesday night, 240 patients were evacuated followed by 160 more on Wednesday.

``A ferry flying the flag of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is currently evacuating over 240 patients from Putumattalan to Trincomalee. They had fled Puthukkudiyiruppu Hospital in the northern Wanni region on February 4 after it sustained repeated shelling,'' an ICRC statement said.

The ICRC added that the evacuation operation started after both the SLA and the LTTE granted safe passage. Civil authorities, medical staff, the fishermen's union and church representatives supported the evacuation. The aid agency was negotiating with both parties to continue evacuating the sick and wounded from the Wanni.

``Medical facilities are no longer functioning. There are a few makeshift medical points, but these cannot cope with the increasing influx of patients. Urgent medical evacuations must continue to take place regularly,'' Castella said.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in intense battle in the last three weeks with the SLA continuously pushing into the remaining rebel territory in Mullaitivu. Both the military and the LTTE have leveled allegations against each other of killing civilians.

Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said on Tuesday that 32000 civilians have moved to government-controlled areas since February 2.

Most of the displaced population is dependent on outside aid. But the last food and medicine convoy reached them on January 29.

Military spokesperson, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara denied that the civilians were killed in army shelling.