Sri Lankan naval boats accompanied an emergency Red Cross shipment of food aid for tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the northeastern war zone, the government said on Wednesday.
The delivery came amid growing concerns for the safety of civilians in what remains of rebel-held territory, and warnings of a looming food crisis. But the delivery was only a fraction of what aid agencies estimate is needed.
Government forces have pushed the rebels to the brink of defeat in recent weeks, seizing their strongholds across the north and trapping them in a 39-square mile (100-square kilometer) strip of land along the coast.
Aid groups estimate about 200,000 civilians are stuck in heavy fighting, though the government says the number is less than 100,000.
The Red Cross said Wednesday it was sending 30 tons of dry rations, while aid workers say a minimum of 2,500 tons a month is required for their survival.
Navy spokesman Capt. D.K.P Dassanayake said naval boats were accompanying the Red Cross vessel.
The United Nations said earlier this week that those caught in the fighting were facing severe shortages of food, medicine and clean water. An increasing number have fallen ill. The government and human rights groups accused the rebels of holding the civilian population hostage, a charge the rebels deny. The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent state for minority Tamils, who have been marginalized for decades by successive governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.